Saturday, August 31, 2002

developing grammar

Evangeline has been having a few problems keeping her personal pronouns straight, and she needs a little work on word order. Lately, when I go to take her out of the car after a trip, she says, "No! Mommy wants to pick you up."

Of course, Natasha weights about 70 pounds less than me and is also six months pregnant ...

in search of

While Isaac was out for his daylong visit with his birth parents, Evangeline kept asking where he was. Finally, she realized he was "outside" and decided to put some of his toys out there on the front step for him to play with.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

evil and god's justice

I realize as fully as anyone else here that kids are not innocent in the sense of being sinless. I remember what it was like to be a kid. I remember the taunts of other children all the way through high school. I remember how appealing suicide looked through the long and lonely years of middle school, and I recall all too vividly that I was no better than the other kids, because of the way I often bullied Matt Alsop when we were in elementary school. You want me to acknowledge that children are fallen creatures? I acknowledge it; hell, I'd be an idiot not to. My daughter's only 3 years old and she's already got a lot of the makings of a bully when it comes to her foster brother.

But nothing -- NOTHING -- justifies what I've seen some kids suffer. What sense does it make for a 5-year-old girl to be ripped out of her front yard by a complete stranger and raped and killed? What sin did she commit that brought her such a hideous fate? What did the Yates children do to deserve being drowned in the bathtub by their own mother? These are senseless crimes, they serve no purpose and they all altogether evil.

I don't make any argument against my own suffering. Like Dostoevsky says through the mouth of Ivan Karamazov, I've sinned. I'm an adult. I've had 32 years now to pile sin upon sin, and when those sins come home to roost with all their corruption, I have no right to complain. Nor do I have a right to complain about the suffering that comes from doing the right thing -- that's a choice I made, and in experiencing the pain and heartache that comes with following Christ, I'm able to share in his sufferings and he in mine.

But tell me this: What choice did Samantha make? What decision has Isaac made that Child Protection Services -- fully acknowledging that his parents have not improved in the least and still are going to neglect him in the same manner that has left him woefully behind developmentally -- is going to be thrown back to the wolves in less than three months? What great and ineffable purpose of God is served by the suffering of a single child for the sins his parents have committed?

I can't think of any. What is going on to kids like Isaac is evil, plain and simple. His parents are too self-absorbed to care for their children in anything beyond giving them food and baths, the state acknowledges that, and yet the kids are headed back. The destruction of a child is EVIL. When that destruction occurs at the hands of the people who are charged with the child's care and well-being, it is so foul I don't know the words to describe it.

The entire situation is perverted, from the way his mother sacrifices her children for her own fantasy life and pride, to the way their father knows what a good parent is but refuses to act like one, to the way the state is going to stand blithely by and let it happen again. For God's sake, they took the kids away last year because they were being neglected, and now they're going to toss them back into that same exact situation.

This is wrong, plain and simple, and if I'm sinful and can see that and would do something to stop it if I could, then why the hell can't God see it and do something about it? How does Isaac and his sister's abandonment to a home where they are valued only because of what their existence says about their mother rather than because of their instrinsic worth, glorify him?

Maybe, as Ivan Karamazov says, on the Last Day, it'll all be made clear and we'll see there was some purpose to it. As far as I'm concerned right now, I agree with his other contention, that that's bullshit. I can't rise up and cry "Just and true are your ways" when Isaac has to suffer so much right now with no remedy. Justice delayed until we all have ice cream on gold plates is no justice at all.

If God needs to build his glory on the suffering of children in this manner, then I honestly don't think I know him anywhere near as well as I thought I did. And if you don't see a problem with this situation, then I don't know you either.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

flea control redux

Salt seems worthwhile for destroying fleas indoors; I am guessing what it does is drain the water from the eggs via osmosis and kill them. And the garlic solution matches what somebody else told me too.

I sprayed nematodes over the back yard as I had said, and have found them to be very effective. Not only do the fleas seem to have disappeared, but the lawn-eating grubs that were in my compost also all died in a couple days.

The infestation in the basement took a few days longer, but the diatomaceous earth I used -- ground up sea diatoms -- appears to have done the trick. And the vacuuming also has removed them upstairs. Don't know why that should be the case, but it appears to be. No one's had any flea bites for a while now.

My younger brother, who has worked at a vet's office for several years, recommended something I can't recall the name of. Top SPot, maybe. Applied to the dog's skin by the neck and along the spine, it is carried down her body by skin oils and kills all the fleas. It also makes her hair lethal to fleas so it kills them in the carpet as well.

In any event, they're gone.

seizure folo

Isaac has completely recovered from the virus, but he's been having a lot of other problems lately. The state recently increased the amount of visits he can have with his birth parents, with the result that his little world is being upended *again*. It's a little much for old Lumper, and he could still use a lot of prayers, especially if things keep heading the way they appear to be.

We expect he'll be here another two months and as many weeks, but he'll be out of here and with his birth parents for increasingly long periods during that time.

I've been wrong before, but every thing I've seen shows me they've made close to zero progress.
As to how we handle it, well, if you figure it out, let me know. I'm angry about the situation in more ways than I can count. I just saw the second-season M*A*S*H episode where Trapper is hoping to adopt a Korean orphan, and I saw a lot of what I'm dealing with echoed in the episode.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

'kingdom come'

"Kingdom Come," in my honest opinion, is one of the finest comic book works of the 1990s. I'd put it on par with Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" and Alan Moore's "Watchmen." If you've read "Kingdom Come," did you notice the subtle and not-so-subtle references to the other two series hidden in it?

There were a number of sly references to other comic book series, including "Golden Age," "Watchmen" and "Marvels." There's also a waitress who looks like Carrie Kelly (from "The Dark Knight Returns") who introduces herself to Bruce Wayne: "Hi. I'm Robin." The portrayal of Batman and Superman's relationship also had some similarities to "Dark Knight," in terms of mistrust.

(In the sequel "Kingdom," there is an issue set at Planet Krypton. The running gag of the issue is that no one ever sees the Batman waiter. One diner even remarks, "I'm not even sure he exists.")

"Kingdom Come" is a good comic. The aging superhero, when done well, can be absolutely extraordinary because of the way it explores the character and new and interesting ways. Unfortunately most of the aging superhero stories are on the level of "The Last Avengers Story" and not even half as good as "The Dark Knight Returns."

leaving the fold

The worship at my AoG church was phenomenal at the time I joined and remained pretty good by the time I left, although the pastor since has taken it in the direction of traditional ho-hymn that does nothing for me.

I decided to leave the AoG because of what I felt were unscriptural teachings about the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and about tithing, and because of various other flaws I explained back on the old forum: namely, an ungodly attitude toward the world; emphasis on experience at the expense of Scriptural understanding; misappropriation of the Torah for contemporary living and worship; and an out-and-out discouragement of creative, original and critical thinking. I can go into more detail; I just don't feel like writing it all out right now as I wind down from a late night at work. (It's almost 2 a.m.)

jedis are not allowed to love

George Lucas is full of it.

In "The Phantom Menace," Yoda made a point of arguing that Annakin had been left with his mother too long, that he was too attached to her to be trained as Jedi. And the trailers for "Attack of the Clones" continue this "emotion is bad" thing. I wonder whether Lucas really wants to send the message to children that loving your parents and having close emotional bonds with other people is a bad thing.

A strong attachment to your parents is a good thing, and it's essentially a tremendous form of abuse to take children from their parents, whether they're toddlers or older.

Isaac already has had to deal with some abandonment issues because the state took him from his mother, as bad as she was. He's probably going to go through even more in the next few months as the state starts trying to put him back there, away from a family that really cares about him and that he cares about as well.

Emotion is no better or worse a justification for behavior than logic or reason. What's important is balance. Even hatred can be godly and right -- but it's next to impossible for us to feel that particular emotion properly because we usually are unable to separate the person from an action.

It's hard to say, of course, without greater context, but I think you very easily could make a credible argument that Lucas views emotions as problematic and dangerous since they're irrational and uncontrollable. He wouldn't be the first person to feel that way.

Look at it this way: The heroes of the series all strive for being unswayed by emotion. Anakin is urged not to love or grow attached to Amidala. Luke is warned not to be moved by feelings of compassion for his friends. Yoda warns against fear, against anger and against hatred. All of these are valid emotions and all of them can serve a good purpose, but there's no distinction made, and when someone gives into their emotions, it's cast as a bad decision with negative consequences.

comic book temporal mechanics

I've noticed that time passes very slowly -- and unusually -- in the Marvel Universe.

Kitty Pryde jumped from 16 to 18 without a single birthday when they launched "Excalibur" back in the late 1980s. It's possible she's reverted to 16 since then; Franklin Richards and Illyana Rasputin have aged backward as well.

(Magneto too. I didn't read that story arc, but wasn't his age reversal caused by an alien or something? If memory serves, Erich was alive at the time of WWII in Marvel continuity and by the time X-men started in the 1960s, he was using mechanical apparatus to boost his fading powers. Being aged backward to youth and then working through young adulthood led to something of a rehabilitation that led to his becoming headmaster of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngers for a while, back around the time of Secret Wars II in the mid-1980s. )

And isn't it odd that Frankling remains 4 or 5 years old even after 40 years, while Harry Osborne's son has grown from infancy to 6 or 7 years old in just the past 20 years?

I'm figuring it's only a matter of time until Reed Richards or one of the other supergeniuses of the Marvel Universe realizes the time disparities and deduces that they are fictional characters.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

grace alliance church

This church -- affiliated with Timothy Christian School is on Ethel Road in Piscataway. We took the kids there this morning. John and Melissa Ickowski have been going there since they left Crosspointe, and so we thought it might be worth visiting.


The church is very friendly. A number of people came up and talked with us after ther service, and one or two even grabbed us before the service to welcome us and see how we were doing. They didn't even seem to mind too much that we know the Ickowskis, though I noticed the pastor did develop a twitch whenever I mentioned John by name.

Another plus was that they have the same after-service freneticism we all know and love from CGC. Evangeline and Isaac spent 20 or 30 minutes after the service running around the sanctuary and jumping up and down on the stage.

Worship was good, but a little too traditional for my tastes. A few hymns, which was nice -- I like hymns for their deeper theology, often lacking in praise chorsues -- but it was a little slow and less lively than I prefer. Same could be said of the church's overall appearance, if that matters to you. While there were a number of people dressed casually, it seems to be a fairly conservative church in appearance.

The sermon also didn't work for me or Natasha, though I realize that could be a matter of taste. The essential thrust as I saw it was a) the world sucks; and b) by submitting to Christ and the Holy Spirit we can be different. No practical application or suggestions of where Christ might want us to submit. It seemed to be more of an attitude shift the pastor was recommending, rather than actual change in lifestyle. The second should follow the first, but I was disappointed he didn't advocate it in his sermon. (Melissa Ickowski told me I should just start my own church since I'll never find one that I actually like. She might have a point.)

We talked afterward, though not about the sermon. Friendly guy, and he seemed genuinely interested in me as a person (not just as a visitor).

Seemed like a good church. Couldn't find a web site, though, so no link. 

'i am legion'

The most recent Bible study went well. We started off with worship for about 10 minutes, and then we hit the book. We ended up reading Mark 4:35-5:20, the account of the disciples' crossing the Sea of Galilee and the encounter with Legion.

We talked a bit about why Jesus wanted to go to the other side of the lake. Possibilities included a calculated decision to take the gospel to Gentiles and even to Legion specifically (the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the Gerasens, was a Gentile-occupied area). We also considered the possibility that Jesus just wanted to get away from the crowd and figured the other side of the lake would do the job. And of course, he was just plain tired -- Mark makes a point of it that Jesus was so tired he was sleeping through a storm the disciples thought they were going to drown in.

And of course, this is the famous scene where Jesus commands the sea to be quiet. We talked about that as well, namely why Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith and why the disciples would lack faith. They had seen a few healings so far, and they had witnessed Jesus' authority over demons repeatedly.

What struck me as we discussed it was that the disciples probably lacked faith because they kept seeing Jesus' humanity. Usually when we read the gospels we read miracle after miracle and encounter mind-blowing teachings and cleverness. The disciples, while they witnessed these things, also witnessed other things that we normally wouldn't associate with divinity: things like Jesus not watching where he was going and tripping as a result, cooking dinner poorly, going to the bathroom, and all sorts of other all-too-human things like falling asleep from exhaustion.

Evidently Jesus felt they should understand his fully human, fully divine nature better, or he wouldn't have rebuked them. It's interesting that we often fall into the opposite error and forget his humanity.

We also stopped to talk a bit about what it must have done to the disciples' faith to see Jesus calm the storm with just a word -- and hit upon the application of the times we feel a little overwhelmed with a situation and wonder if Jesus is asleep at the wheel, not caring if we get swept away.

The talk about Legion perhaps got into demonology more than I had wanted it to. One of the study regulars proposed the notion that demons possess people as a sort of parasitic need; i.e., they draw energy off a person. I countered that that's a little too anthropomorphistic for my tastes. Instead, I mentioned that -- as I've heard -- the Greek word or phrase we translate for possession in different contexts is translated as an anointing. Rather than a demon speaking through a person or controlling them, the demon is warping or corrupting the person. Why? I posited that it's mainly to revel in the destruction of a living being and its pain. Thus, the legion of demons tormenting the tatterdemalion at the start of Mark 5 are doing it just to torture him. It would be interesting to know this fellow's back story; evidently he recognizes Jesus, probably as a result of the demonic influences on his life (every other demon encountered so far in the book of Mark has identified Jesus' authority and divinity as well).

Another interesting note is that while the NIV notes that Legion runs forward and falls at Jesus' feet, the RSV translates this as "worship." Ironically, it seems to be the same thing happening -- not an ecstatic act of worship, but a recognition of Jesus' authority and a request for clemency.
And another aside: This is about as unclean an area as you can get. They're in a land of an unclean people (Gentiles), with a man possessed by unclean spirits and who lives in tombs, near another man who herds unclean animals (pigs). In a very literal sense, Jesus has entered hostile territory. Hard to imagine a more hostile territory in some ways.

Discussion also dealt with the pigs. Why did the demons ask to be sent into the pigs? Why did Jesus allow them to go there? My contention as to the second point -- aside from the acknowledgment that this was a tremendous loss to the swineherd -- was what happened next. The swineherd ran into town, and everyone came out, only to find a bunch of dead pigs floating in the water and the demoniac completely in his right mind.

Interesting that, like the disciples, the crowd is terrified of Jesus and asks him to leave.

Final comments were on the demoniac's desire to go with Jesus and that Jesus actually tells him to stay, facilitating greater knowledge of him throughout the Gentiles of the Decapolis.

bible study

After the disastrous outcome of trying to conduct a study in an apartment while four children ran about screaming and playing and distracting us from the study at hand, we are once again planning to have it at our house. Next meeting is 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28.

We ended up reading Mark 4:35-5:20, the account of the disciples' crossing the Sea of Galilee and the encounter with Legion.

We talked a bit about why Jesus wanted to go to the other side of the lake. Possibilities included a calculated decision to take the gospel to Gentiles and even to Legion specifically (the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the Gerasens, was a Gentile-occupied area). We also considered the possibility that Jesus just wanted to get away from the crowd and figured the other side of the lake would do the job. And of course, he was just plain tired -- Mark makes a point of it that Jesus was so tired he was sleeping through a storm the disciples thought they were going to drown in.

And of course, this is the famous scene where Jesus commands the sea to be quiet. We talked about that as well, namely why Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith and why the disciples would lack faith. They had seen a few healings so far, and they had witnessed Jesus' authority over demons repeatedly.

What struck me as we discussed it was that the disciples probably lacked faith because they kept seeing Jesus' humanity. Usually when we read the gospels we read miracle after miracle and encounter mind-blowing teachings and cleverness. The disciples, while they witnessed these things, also witnessed other things that we normally wouldn't associate with divinity: things like Jesus not watching where he was going and tripping as a result, cooking dinner poorly, going to the bathroom, and all sorts of other all-too-human things like falling asleep from exhaustion.

Evidently Jesus felt they should understand his fully human, fully divine nature better, or he wouldn't have rebuked them. It's interesting that we often fall into the opposite error and forget his humanity.

We also stopped to talk a bit about what it must have done to the disciples' faith to see Jesus calm the storm with just a word -- and hit upon the application of the times we feel a little overwhelmed with a situation and wonder if Jesus is asleep at the wheel, not caring if we get swept away.

The talk about Legion perhaps got into demonology more than I had wanted it to. John proposed the notion that demons possess people as a sort of parasitic need; i.e., they draw energy off a person. I countered that that's a little too anthropomorphistic for my tastes. Instead, I mentioned that -- as I've heard -- the Greek word or phrase we translate for possession in different contexts is translated as an anointing. Rather than a demon speaking through a person or controlling them, the demon is warping or corrupting the person. Why? I posited that it's mainly to revel in the destruction of a living being and its pain. Thus, the legion of demons tormenting the tatterdemalion at the start of Mark 5 are doing it just to torture him. It would be interesting to know this fellow's back story; evidently he recognizes Jesus, probably as a result of the demonic influences on his life (every other demon encountered so far in the book of Mark has identified Jesus' authority and divinity as well).

Another interesting note is that while the NIV notes that Legion runs forward and falls at Jesus' feet, the RSV translates this as "worship." Ironically, it seems to be the same thing happening -- not an ecstatic act of worship, but a recognition of Jesus' authority and a request for clemency.

And another aside: This is about as unclean an area as you can get. They're in a land of an unclean people (Gentiles), with a man possessed by unclean spirits and who lives in tombs, near another man who herds unclean animals (pigs). In a very literal sense, Jesus has entered hostile territory. Hard to imagine a more hostile territory in some ways.

Discussion also dealt with the pigs. Why did the demons ask to be sent into the pigs? Why did Jesus allow them to go there? My contention as to the second point -- aside from the acknowledgment that this was a tremendous loss to the swineherd -- was what happened next. The swineherd ran into town, and everyone came out, only to find a bunch of dead pigs floating in the water and the demoniac completely in his right mind.

Interesting that, like the disciples, the crowd is terrified of Jesus and asks him to leave.

Final comments were on the demoniac's desire to go with Jesus and that Jesus actually tells him to stay, facilitating greater knowledge of him throughout the Gentiles of the Decapolis.

jerky social workers

This is not meant to dis the honest, hard-working and dedicated people who serve as social workers. I recognize there are a lot of you out there, and I certainly don't mean to paint you all with the same brush just because of the 70 percent who are gibbering idiots.

Still, I have to share:

1) While our foster son was between caseworkers, the Division of Youth and Family Services was sending a driver to pick him up for visits. For (I presume) accountability purposes, a second person went with him in the car. When they arrived at our house to pick Isaac up, did one of them come to the door and knock? Of course not! Instead, they both sat in the car while the driver kept honking the horn and got progressively annoyed when we didn't realize that they were half an hour early.

t aggravates the bejesus out of me. I don't understand why I've kept records and reported problems to them if they don't even read the reports. Yesterday I spent about an hour on the phone trying to convince both my foster son's attorney and his caseworker that the biological parents should not be coming to our house to pick their son up for unsupervised visits. It would be nice if someone were to consult us before making such arrangements, you know? (I'm sure the birth parents said we would have no problem with it, but in journalism we have a rule that if Joe says his mother loves him, you need to check that with Joe's mother.)

Bleah. And the amazing thing is, they wonder why foster care has such a bad reputation.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

'sorcerer's stone' video

We watched the movie on video recently, and I've got to say it worked better with the different level of expectations.

I still think parts were rushed, but the characterization came off better than I had realized, particularly with Snape. Our video contains two cut scenes I wish they had kept -- one if the full-length scene in Snape's potions class where he sets out to humiliate Harry, and the second is set in the dining hall, where they look at the back of the Dumbledore trading card and learn about Nicolas Flamel.

That worked much better than Hermione just pulling out the book out of nowhere like they did in the movie.

Friday, August 16, 2002

star trek movies

It has been noted by many people that the "Star Trek" movies historically have done poorly if they have an odd number, but well if the have an even number.

Personally, I think the highlight of the Star Trek movie franchise was II, III and IV. STIV:TVH proved to be the downfall of the franchise since its humor gave it a wide appeal in the mainstream. Ever since then, the studio wanted the humor played up, usually to the detriment of the movie, because they were hoping to have the same level of breakthrough.

The TNG movies, in my opinion, have been largely disappointing in that they have yet to be real movies. So far they've been done in the same manner as long episodes. Bor-ing. The Classic Trek movies explored and developed the characters, and showed things happening in their lives. So far, the Next Generation movies have just been more of the same as the series.

I did think "First Contact" nearly succeeded as a suspense film -- actually, it half succeeded. The Borg half of the movie was, as you indicated, phenomenal. Its treatment of the Borg built excellently on what we had seen of them in "Q Who" and "The Best of Both Worlds," and Patrick Stewart did a great job capturing the emotion Picard would have to feel after what the Borg did to him.

But the Zephram Cochrane storyline flopped. It had some amusing moments, true, but it didn't work well with the rest of the movie, I thought. Really, it duplicated the errors of "Star Trek6: The Undiscovered Country" -- it showed they were trying to do a serious movie but they wanted to have the humor in there too. It was as though they couldn't decide what sort of treatment to give the movie.

What I would have liked to have seen is something along the lines of what we saw in ST:TMP and even in ST2:TWoK. Scatter the characters about. Riker's been in line to get a command of his own for years. Picard could be promoted to the rank of admiral. Geordi and Data could have promising technical careers inside Star Fleet; Worf has ties to his clan within the Klingon Empire, as well as his years-long assignment to Deep Space 9. It makes no sense for them all to still be in one place, particularly since the ship was destroyed at the end of STG. Maybe there's a compelling reason to bring them back together, like we saw at the start of ST:TMP, but give us a sense that their lives have gone on.

Paramount got greedy and milked the cash cow to death, that's all. When ST:TMP came out, there hadn't been any new Trek on TV for eight or nine years. Star Trek Generations came out three months after the series went off the air, while DS9 was still broadcasting new episodes. Since then we've had "Star Trek Voyager" and "Enterprise," and we've seen the movie franchise deteriorate further and further. Star Trek has been on the air continuously since 1989 -- why should any Trekkie but the ones so rabid they insist on being called "Trekkers" pay to see "Nemesis" at the theater?

No thanks, I'll wait until it reaches Bluckbuster.

the suffering of children

FromFyodor Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov":
I meant to speak of the suffering of mankind generally, but we had better
confine ourselves to the sufferings of the children. ... In the first place,
children can be loved even at close quarters, even when they are dirty, even
when they are ugly (I fancy, though, children never are ugly). The second reason
why I won't speak of grown-up people is that, besides being disgusting and
unworthy of love, they have a compensation- they've eaten the apple and know
good and evil, and they have become 'like gods.' They go on eating it still. But
the children haven't eaten anything, and are so far innocent. Are you fond of
children, Alyosha? I know you are, and you will understand why I prefer to speak
of them. If they, too, suffer horribly on earth, they must suffer for their
fathers' sins, they must be punished for their fathers, who have eaten the
apple; but that reasoning is of the other world and is incomprehensible for the
heart of man here on earth. The innocent must not suffer for another's sins, and
especially such innocents! ...

"But then there are the children, and
what am I to do about them? That's a question I can't answer. For the hundredth
time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I've only taken the children,
because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! If all must
suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell
me, please? It's beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they
should pay for the harmony. Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the
soil for the harmony of the future?

"I understand solidarity in sin
among men. I understand solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such
solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share
responsibility for all their fathers' crimes, such a truth is not of this world
and is beyond my comprehension. Some jester will say, perhaps, that the child
would have grown up and have sinned, but you see he didn't grow up, he was torn
to pieces by the dogs, at eight years old.

"Oh, Alyosha, I am not
blaspheming! I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will
be when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and
everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: 'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy
ways are revealed.' When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to
the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, 'Thou art just, O Lord!' then, of
course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear.

"But what pulls me up here is that I can't accept that harmony. And
while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. You see, Alyosha,
perhaps it really may happen that if I live to that moment, or rise again to see
it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother
embracing the child's torturer, 'Thou art just, O Lord!' but I don't want to cry
aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I
renounce the higher harmony altogether. It's not worth the tears of that one
tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in
its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to 'dear, kind God'! It's not
worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or
there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it
possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do
I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children
have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I
want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don't want more suffering. And if the
sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to
pay for Truth, then I protest that the Truth is not worth such a price.

"I don't want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to
the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she
will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her
mother's heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to
forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive
him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony? Is
there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could
forgive? I don't want harmony. From love for humanity I don't want it. I would
rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my
unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides,
too high a price is asked for harmony; it's beyond our means to pay so much to
enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an
honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing.
It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him
the ticket."

"That's rebellion," murmered Alyosha, looking down.

"Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that," said Ivan earnestly. "One can
hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge your
answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object
of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it
was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature
-- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance
-- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to
be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

Thursday, August 15, 2002

The judge on Thursday ruled that the Joneses will be getting overnight visits once every two weeks until their next court date, which has been set for some time in November. It's pretty obvious what direction this is going in. I have rather strong feelings on the subject, which I will not share here due to the personal nature of the situation and the public nature of the forum.


I will ask that you join us in praying for these children, the Joneses and all four of us as foster parents. The situation is stressful, and it has taken a toll on all of us. Isaac has regressed in a number of areas -- behavioral, cognitive and linguistic -- and the next few months are likely to be even more stressful as the children remained trapped between worlds and unsure of what rules they're supposed to live by.

I can't say for certainty what Dominique's needs are, beyond the stability and love she and Isaac sorely need. I will say that Isaac needs a tremendous breakthrough in language skills, and it has to come some time before the next court hearing. He's made tremendous progress in this area, but until the concepts finally click for him and he starts speaking more readily, he's unlikely to progress substantially in *any* area since language is so central to who we are as people.

Thanks for your prayers. This has been a hard time for us emotionally and spiritually, and your support has been appreciated. 

broken hearts

Somebody once asked me what advice I would give them about foster parenting, and I gave them a piece that they didn't expect, but I still stand by: Don't do it. It'll only break your heart. Of course, if you still feel this way in a week, talk to me some more.

There are two ways to be a parent to somebody else's child. The first, which is what a state worker actually told me to do, is to maintain your emotional distance. Take care of the child's physical needs and accept responsibility for their basic welfare, but don't get attached to them.

The second -- and in my opinion the only way to do it properly -- is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to the child. You rejoice in every triumph, kiss every boo-boo, and give your heart to them completely.

At this point it should be obvious why I say it's going to break your heart.

When you take a foster child into your home, you're taking care of somebody else's child for an indeterminate period, but that period is assumed to have an endpoint somewhere in the indeterminate future. Once foster kids return to their birth parents, they usually never see their foster parents again, at least not for a long time.

My wife and I are taking care of a 2-year-old with severe developmental delays and emotional needs resulting from the neglect he suffered. I've taught this child how to walk. I've taught him every word he knows, how to pull his shirt on, how to eat with a fork and a spoon, and I've taught him how to play. I've also watched each of these skills come apart to one extent or another after the state gave its OK to unsupervised visits between my son and his parents.

Because we're in Iowa's kinship care program, we have some (limited) contact with our son's biological parents. I've seen how little progress they've made at becoming better parents. I've seen how little the state cares about that, as long as his parents attend all the classes and therapy sessions. And I've also seen how jealous they are of the bond their son has formed with me.

When he goes back to his birth parents -- and I expect that will happen soon -- I doubt I'll ever see him again. Even if I do, it's going to be awkward and difficult for all of us because of the confused relationship roles Isaac will sense.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Spooked by a febrile seizure

The evening started fairly normally. A little after 6:30,1 noticed Isaac wasn't his usual run-around-the-house-screaming self. Listless and torpid, he was stretched out on the floor, with no interest in anything, not even in eating.

The thermometer revealed he had a fever of 102.9 degrees, familiar territory to anyone who's been a parent for more than two years. As my wife and daughter started dinner with some friends, I gave Isaac some Tylenol for the fever and whisked him to the bathtub to cool him.

The bath started as most baths do. Isaac hates baths he doesn't take with his foster sister, so when he started to cry after a few minutes, I told him it was all right and kept scooping water onto his back and chest.

And then a seizure fell over him. His eyes rolled back into his head. His head started to jerk about on his neck. His arms, suddenly rigid and locked, started to thrash about.

This was unfamiliar territory. Gone was the contented feeling of a father taking care of his child. Gone was the confidence that Isaac's fever, while a little high, was nothing to be worried about. All that was left was terror. Sheer, blinding terror.

"9-1-1!" I shouted as I lifted Isaac from the tub. "Call 9-1-1!"

In the kitchen, one of our dinner guests stifled a scream and my wife leapt across the floor to grab the phone.

I lay Isaac out on the blue cotton bath mat, and a thousand possibilities raced through my mind. Was he epileptic? Would he choke on his tongue? Was he going to die? I didn't know.

Isaac has lived with us for six months. He's active, energetic and easily distracted. He's clumsy and falls down a lot, but he seldom hurts himself seriously. He's a big kid, and solid. He's a survivor.

But as he lay convulsing on the bathroom floor, "strong" is not a word I would have picked to describe him. Instead, he was fragile, weak and very, very vulnerable.

His muscles, usually loose and limber, were stretched as taut as a bow. His back was arched and stiff as a board, and his elbows and knees were all locked tight.

His head continued to snap back and forth, while his arms and legs twitched about like grotesque clockwork.

I barely noticed my wife ask me what had happened so she could explain it to the 9-1-1 operator.

I watched my foster son closely. Isaac was pale, and he looked a little blue. Was he breathing? As my mind raced back to 1986 in search of memories for how to perform infant CPR, he gasped an instant, and relief flooded my soul, only to be choked again by a fresh wave of terror.

And on it went. Isaac would gasp, his tiny chest contorted with effort as he sucked in a lungful of air, and then he would be still again.

The EMTs arrived just as the convulsions stopped. When his eyes opened, they were cloudy and unfocused. I called his name and got no response. He had no idea where he was.

A moment later, he let out his first real cry since the seizure had started. It was high and anguished, the same noise he makes whenever he's upset. It was one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard.

And then we were headed out the door, riding to the emergency room in the back of an ambulance and trying to stay as calm and detached from the situation as the EMT with me.

At the hospital, Isaac was subdued but alert and when I started to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "The Alphabet Song," he joined in.

In the end, doctors determined the convulsions had been caused by the fever. Terrifying as it was, this sort of seizure happens to one child in 20 in their early years. With the fever kept in check by pediatric medicines, and with Isaac acting more like his old self, we checked out of the hospital by 9 p.m.

Children are resilient. Isaac is back on his feet and busily running back and forth from the living room to the kitchen as fast as his toes can carry him. As I write this, Isaac has just awakened from his nap and is busy pestering my wife — "eemah," he calls her — for a snack, just as he does every day.

I wish I were that lucky. The sight of Isaac twitching in the tub is forever burned into my mind alongside the happier memories we have of playing together.

Incidents like this remind you how much you love someone. That's something I'm going to make sure Isaac knows tonight when I read him a book, brush his teeth and tuck him into bed.

And if he wants to hold onto me when it's time for me to leave, I'm not going to say no.


Copyright © 2002 by David Learn. Used with permission.




This is a rewrite of an earlier entry.

ordering pizza in tongues

I don't speak in tongues myself, but I can do a decent job pretending to when I need to.

Once in a children's church puppet skit, I was responsible for the puppet, who Robby was supposed to get "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" and start speaking in tongues, as per the Assemblies of God doctrine. (Children's church was separate since children are not likely to get much from an adult service, though, to be honest, neither was I -- the pastor was and remains one of the worst preachers I've ever heard.)

So, while 30 children watched, Robby said, "Bonswa. Se Robby Callenberg; mwen rete sou 12 Rue Pelerin. Mwen ta renmen komande un laj pitsa avek pepewoni e fwomaj anpil." ("Good evening, this is Robby Callenberg of 12 Pelerin Road. I would like to order a large pepperoni pizza with extra cheese.")

The assistant pastor, behind the puppet stage with me, said, "Large pepperoni pizza?" and smacked me on the shoulder as he tried to contain his laughter. I had been speaking Haitian Kreyol, which I learned as a missionary, but "pepperoni pizza" is going to come out pretty much the same in any language, I think.

I never did get the nerve to do that during a worship service. Maybe sometime if I don't mind blaspheming the Holy Spirit and going straight to hell ...

Monday, August 05, 2002

cucumbers are in season

I planted two hills of cucumbers earlier this year, even though I've never especially liked cucumbers from the store, because I could and I wanted to see if I could get them to grow well. (This is my garden's second year in its current spot, and I'm curious to see how things will grow with the compost I've been adding.)

The cucumbers have done fantastic. ALthough they spread out much farther than I expected, they've produced so many fruits that there's no way we're going to be able to eat them all. I just got a recipe for pickling that I want to try with some of the bigger ones. Others I'm going to take to the office tomorrow.

Have you ever heard organic gardeners claim their produce tastes better than what's at the supermarket? It's true. Like I said, I've never really liked store-bought cucumbers. We had one of my organically grown cucumbers tonight in a salad, and it was absolutely delicious. That's the first time I can remember saying that about a cucumber.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

spider-man girlfriends

In an ongoing poll on CHRefugee on the subject of Spider-man's best girlfriend, Gwen Stacy has been losing by a wide margin to Mary Jane Watson.

I'm surprised. Her death was one of those moments that defines Spider-man, as much as his Uncle Ben's death. It was so poignant they even paid homage to it in the "Spider-man" movie, when the Green Goblin threatened to throw Mary Jane off the Brooklyn Bridge.

In terms of literary value and defining the character of Spider-man, Gwen Stacy is far superior to Mary Jane, even though Parker married MJ. Think about it: The depths of Gwen's personality and character were never fully explored, and neither was her relationship with Peter, because the Green Goblin killed her. (There was an unusually well-written "What If?" in which they explored what would have happened if Gwen had survived the fall, but that's beside the point.)

In death, Gwen became every bit as defining to Spider-man as Uncle Ben. In the case of Uncle Ben, the lesson Peter Parker learned was the cliched great-power-great-responsibility-yada-yada-yada lesson. Uncle Ben's death carried an important lesson: If you fail to do the right thing, the consequences can be severe. Good people even can die.

Gwen Stacy's death carried a far more brutal lesson. The Green Goblin took her captive precisely because Peter had been doing the right thing. All through high school, and into college, he had been stopping petty criminals and he had been fighting supervillains. The Goblin took her to get at Peter, and although he did everything he could to save her, she died. The goblin killed her for no other reason than because she happened to be Spider-man's girlfriend, and she didn't even know it. The lesson here? You can do the right thing, and people will still die.

In the 20-odd continuity years since her death, she's continued to haunt Parker in a way his Uncle Ben never could, as the innocents he exposes to danger just by being close to people. That's a theme they picked up on in the movie. Even though he saves Mary Jane from the Gwen Stacy fate in a more or less identical situation, he still withdraws from her at the end of the movie because he doesn't want to endanger her. It was a brilliant decision on the part of the filmmakers, even as audience members see Mary Jane realize why Peter is backing away from her.

In my mind, Gwen Stacy towers over Mary Jane precisely because her death was so defining for Spider-man and because her character potential can never be fully realized, while in many ways they've long since exhausted Mary Jane's, at least as long as they insist on keeping her and Peter as childless 20-somethings who have been married an indeterminate but relatively short period.

flea control

My wife and I are being driven crazy by an invasion of fleas into our home. The best route we've been able to figure is that the feral cats next door left fleas in our yard, where our dog Sandy picked them up despite her flea collar. Sandy brought them inside, where they have multiplied and spread. Somehow they got into the basement, where they climb up onto us every time we use the washing machine and dryer.

I sprayed for the fleas down cellar yesterday, and although this has not eliminated them, it has reduced their numbers. (I got only six fleas on my legs this morning instead of dozens.)

we haven't completely ruled out resorting to chemical warfare against the bugs if we need to, but we're hoping we won't need to. Last summer Sandy was bringing in some fleas, and we found that vacuuming every day for over a week -- close to two actually -- managed to clear up the problem, in conjunction with her flea collar.

One of the concerns with using chemical means of control is that it's indiscriminate. Chemicals kill the fleas, but they also kill the beneficial insects we've been working so hard at bringing back to our yard, they harm the earthworms and generally mess up the soil -- and, ultimately, the groundwater as well. On top of that, there's the observed effects prolonged exposure to pesticides has had on children's behavior and cognitive abilities.

I came across one solution I want to try that involves adding nematodes to the yard. These particular nematodes prey upon pest insects -- like fleas -- but are harmless to the worms, my garden, and -- most importantly -- my kids. (As a nice plus, beneficial nematodes also kill termites, which would address that other problem I've had, with no need for firing bowling balls from an orbital launcher.) There's a garden store where I edit the local newspaper. I'm going to stop by the store tomorrow when I'm in town and see if I can pick up some nematodes there.

As to the fleas in the basement, I'm probably going to spray there again with some Raid or something. On the About.com gardening forum, one person suggested an interesting technique: You set up a bowl of soapy water about a foot under a lit light bulb. The fleas jump at the light, fall into the water, can't get a grip because of the soap, and drown.

They also suggested a few dietary changes for Sandy to make her less appetizing to the fleas without harming her. (Adding a little garlic powder to her food and a little vinegar to her water.)
I don't know how well those tricks will work, but I figure it's worth a try too.

The sad thing is, I realize the problem has been aggravated by own procrastination. We had to cut down a tree earlier this summer because there was a risk of its falling on the house (or children). I've taken too long to cut it up and remove it, with the result that its become a great place for the fleas to live.

Guilt. Just what I need.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

moments to make your heart stop

A little after 7 p.m. Wednesday evening, Isaac had a seizure that lasted approximately two minutes. The doctors at the hospital said the seizure appears to have been caused by a fever he has from a virus infection. I was giving Isaac a bath to bring down his temperature -- it was 102.9 degrees when I checked it -- when the seizure happened.

It is a sight I will never forget to the day I die. For a few minutes I thought he was going to. His eyes rolled back into his head a few times, and then his head began to twitch, followed by his arms and then his legs. The convulsions stopped just as the ambulance squad arrived, at which point he regained consciousness but not more in the way of awareness. His breathing was ragged and irregular at this point, and he was unresponsive to what was being said.

We got him to the hospital, and he seemed to be mostly recovered. He sang a few songs with me, and interacted in a subdued manner with the doctors. Mostly, he tried to get off the bed.

Isaac's parents were told and came to the hospital with a friend of ours, who had come expecting a Bible study on the gospel of Mark. Natasha and I also contacted the state to let them know what was going on.

At the moment, Isaac is sound asleep upstairs. The doctors have told us to keep the fever down with pediatric Advil and Tylenol, which we are doing. If he still has a fever Friday, they said to take him to his pediatrician, and of course to get him to the hospital again if he has any more seizures.