"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Four Days in LA

Here are a few images of our recent trip to Los Angeles. The reason for the trip was our participation in the wedding of Matt and Larissa Boyd (Joann did some of the photography, I was the best man).

These are all products of my creative and skilled wife. Check out her Facebook page for more. Shameless promotion completed.

The timing of the trip was interesting (14th-17th), with what felt like a distinct seasonal change occurring while we were gone. It was summer weather when we left and fall weather when we returned. Joann’s happy. I’m trying to be.

Here are some things I learned (or truths I had reinforced) from this brief vacation, about others and about myself...

  • I learned that Disneyland has not lost its “magic” for me. This was my sixth visit, first since my friend Dan and I won a free trip in a drawing at George Fox our sophomore year. The fact that the Blue Bayou restaurant and Pirates of the Caribbean were closed (among others) was not magical. But the “splashy” story of Brer Rabbit and Co, the simplicity of Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, the snarky tour guides of the Jungle Cruise, the sublimity of the Riverboat Cruise, the sightings of wandering Disney characters—all these and more contain that mixture of aesthetics, excitement and nostalgia that give Disneyland its mystique. Can’t wait to return.
  • I learned that animatronic people kind of scare me.
  • I learned that I’m not so sure Disneyland is the “happiest place on earth.” For me and Joann, yes, perhaps. For others, I'm not so sure. We saw (and heard) a lot of unhappy, whiny, complaining children. And, consequently, a lot of irritable parents of said children. The rush to escape the park after closing was comical. I watched one woman chew out the guy behind her for accidentally bumping her with the stroller he was pushing for the second time. He looked at his buddies, seemingly a bit shell-shocked but also angrily defensive. One’s true colors come out at the end of a long day of child management and appeasement at Disneyland.
  • I learned that I love the thrill and challenge of the unknown. Most of my travels through Europe, China, and South America involved some structure, but a loose enough structure that left room for flexibility and spontaneity. I also don’t always enjoy planning, often preferring to figure things out when there is a greater sense of urgency. It is this “bent” that led to us leaving Disneyland at 8pm and arriving in Glendale (Boyd’s home) around midnight, after a free bus ride (I gave a dollar to the guy in front of me who didn’t have exact change, a gesture which the bus driver witnessed and seemingly decided to reward with free tickets for Joann and I), followed by the befriending of a Korean mother and daughter with limited English, who were also heading to Glendale and so led us to a bus stop downtown where we waited for a long time for a bus that never came, followed by the arrival of the Korean mother’s neighbor, who picked us up in a white van and took us home to Glendale, for a fee cheaper than a taxi. It all worked out. It often does.
  • I learned that I can do fried chicken and waffles about once every ten twenty years. One of our stops during the bachelor party (sandwiched in between two pubs) was a visit to Roscoe’s. The meal consisted of fried chicken, waffles (w/maple syrup), and sides of Mac and Cheese and cornbread. My stomach did not feel great, and I tried to appease my angry body with a veggie omelet and fruit the next morning. I’m still so sorry, body.
  • I learned that I have a place in my heart for SoCal. I love the Pacific NW...Portland, Olympia and everything between, for many reasons. But there’s just something about the excitement and feel of LA, after spending some time in Anaheim, downtown, Hollywood, Ventura and Carpenteria (the wedding site). That "something" is certainly not the cost of living, whatever the "something" is.
  • I learned that Matt Boyd has the funniest friends. Or at least they laugh at my humor. Wait, does that make them funny or me narcissistic? No but really, they cracked me up, and the melting pot of our combined comedy made for a funny week.
  • I learned that when you choose to cut costs to stay in a Motel 6 with your wife instead of the more glamorous Marriott next door (where most of the wedding party was), you get what you pay for.
  • I re-learned what makes Matt Boyd an exceptional man and sure to enjoy a thriving marriage. As I said in my very sincere best man toast (which was seemingly amusing, though the drinking had started way before I began) and now say again here, directly to you, Matt: you’ve got a great sense of humor and ability to laugh at everything, which I’ve discovered in my 13.5 months of marriage makes a huge difference in dealing with personality clashes and various conflicts when they arise; you have an obvious sense of beauty, evident in the way you enjoy the arts, but which I think also will enable you to deeply enjoy your wife and life with her, as that beauty, when present to the mind, will likely often overshadow that which may not, at times, seem beautiful; and you possess great character and a willingness to continue developing that character, never becoming complacent but striving for the deepening of your already existing qualities of thoughtfulness, faithfulness, and kindness. You’re a good man. And despite my opening, tongue-in-cheek remark (“Marriage is awful”), I have no doubt your marriage will be the opposite. Okay…tribute finished. (Ron Cox, you’re cool too. But that’s all you get. You were just a groomsmen, after all, not the groom.)

Fun trip…thanks to Matt and Larissa Boyd for the excuse to come down. Quack! (You had to be there.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Execution or No Execution

Unrelated—I’m still recovering from the rush of four days in LA for Disneyland and a friend’s wedding…more on that soon!

I feel compelled to weigh in with a Christian perspective on the Troy Davis execution and drama. I don’t think it’s fair to say I speak for all Christians, but maybe some.

I’ll admit that I too was swept up in the drama surrounding the delayed execution. I probably heard fairly late about the ongoing news story and the push for yet another delay in his trial, due to belief that the evidence convicting him was inconclusive.

I was captivated by the reaction at the scene and on the internet. It’s remarkable how an event like this stirs up passions in everyone, many who hold differing viewpoints.

There was the crowd who insisted he be killed as soon as possible, for whatever reasonable points—trust in the legal system, financial burden on taxpayers, a need or respect for the principle of vengeance, or “justice.”

Then there were those who were freaked out, terrified that an innocent man might be put to death, convicted that if there is even a shred of doubt about this man’s culpability, such an irreversible action should not be taken.

What I didn’t hear much of, though I’m sure it was there, were those suggesting we permanently cancel his execution and push for the sustaining of this man’s life, until natural causes take him. His life and the lives of all violent criminals.

Whenever my English students get a bit passionate in our occasional class debates on controversial issues, I often tell them the same thing I tell those arguing over the viability of belief in God (or many religious arguments, for that matter).

And that is that brilliant people, all throughout human history, have made intelligent, coherent, articulate, persuasive arguments for both sides, whatever the issue.

Often, if you’re looking for the inherently “better” argument, you’re not going to find it. Sometimes you simply have to weigh the evidence and make a choice that might look something like a leap of faith. Maybe you’ll even choose to be open to change, to the other side—not a sign of weakness or doubt, in my opinion; just intellectual honesty.

That said…I know very little about this man who ultimately was executed last night. But I know I can’t support his execution. Pure and simple, the death penalty is inconsistent with my brand* of Christianity.

I can’t support it because I’m uncomfortable with humans taking life and death into our own hands. I question whether our agency in death reflects a high or low view of the value of life. While I’m aware of the occasional ethical dilemma that tests such a principle—especially when faced with a challenging decision between two evils—as a rule I don’t like placing such responsibility in our hands.

I can’t support it because I don’t think Jesus would support it. People who talk about grace often get accused by fellow Christians of ignoring the Old Testament version of God. This is a complex issue, one not easily resolved. Though there are some ways to ease the tension enough to find some clarity.

You might argue that “eye for an eye” mattered only in its context of keeping the Israelites in harmony, united in a covenant relationship with each other and their God and that Jesus significantly modified this old guideline. You also might argue that the violent picture of God you see in the Old Testament is—gulp—a projection of people’s expectations of God onto God.

You could argue that the OT is a glorious, horrifying, brilliant portrayal of how much God hates sin, evil, injustice…but not a portrayal of God’s quickness to end human life, nor a mandate for us to freely take life. Or you can just admit defeat and give up, left with no clues as to what's really happening with God in the OT. But I don't think that resignation is the only option.

“Starting points” are normal and important in theology and Bible study. That is, the assumptions that you bring to the text and use to make sense out of everything else. People usually have a verse that they prioritize over others, and so if the meaning of a second verse is unclear, people might interpret it in light of the "clear" or "sure" meaning of the other.

I start with Jesus being the ultimate picture of God, and thus, find a God who values forgiveness, second chances, peace, reconciliation, going the extra mile for our enemies. I understand the Old Testament picture of God in light of the radical love of Jesus, a Jesus who I believe chose not to retaliate against his persecutors not simply because it would interrupt his master plan of salvation, but because it was against his character, what he instinctively knew to be the right way to act.

I can’t support it because it seems the easy route, of which I'm often suspicious. I'm probably a bit ignorant about the economics and politics of the death penalty. Does not executing people mean a greater tax burden on me to keep someone alive who did something horrendous? (or is it just a matter of restructuring where our taxes go?) I don’t mind donating what little taxes I do pay to the government. After all, this is the land that provides me Starbucks whenever I want it. I guess I owe them something for that.

Rehabilitation, forgiveness, patience, endurance, restraint...these are demanding qualities and goals. But my intuition tells me they're worth pursuing.

I can’t support it because it contradicts my belief in justice. I find in the Old Testament a God who seeks justice, yes—but justice as a means of fixing and healing. God’s justice restores, not punishes. In the context of the death penalty, I see two stumbling blocks.

One, there is a permanent emptiness and sense of loss when you’ve lost a loved one. Killing the one responsible does not make things right, because your loved one is still dead. Worse, you may have now harmed another family by taking the life of the killer. It’s the ones left behind who suffer, right?

Two, I believe God loves to fix things, like a man (or woman) with his projects out in the garage, cleaning, finding the right parts, working until the old piece of junk works like new. I think this is a quality we’re called to emulate, a "God-like" way to do things that we can seek to make visible here on earth in how we deal with one another.

The death penalty does not seem like a commitment to fixing things to me; it seems like giving up, taking the easy route. Restorative justice versus retributive justice. Whatever deterrent to crime retributive justice may be (is it?), it too greatly contradicts with the way of God, as I see it.

Finally, I can’t support it because of what is probably my suspicion of personal responsibility and free will. This is a tension I try to hold. I believe I’m a free being and responsible to make choices, and believe my choices can have consequences for others. BUT…I think everything from genetics to neuroscience to sociology has taught us that who we are is largely formed by factors out of our control.

I'm not saying that Troy Davis—if indeed a killer—should not at all be held responsible for his action. But I am saying that I feel very fortunate (blessed? graced? lucky?) to be who I am today, and can imagine I might be an entirely different person had I been born to different parents, in a different country, in a different historical era, in a different socioeconomic situation, etc.

When faulting people for their actions, I get nervous about finding an individual deserving of death for such actions. I believe we are much more linked and united as a human race than such a high view of personal responsibility suggests to me. I see the human race (and the Church) as a unit, with many interwoven, interdependent parts. Something like that is probably how I would try to make sense of the Trinity to someone (or to myself).

We are in this human situation together. I'm not so sure Troy Davis deserves any worse than I do. But praise God—who loves the mess of humankind enough that God, as the apostle Paul believed, has in Christ reconciled all humankind to himself, not counting our sins against us. (Colossians 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:19)

Please hear sensitivity in my tone here, and forgive me for any lack of it.

*While I don’t solely understand how I arrived at my beliefs as something akin to a visit to the supermarket, I do find the market metaphor helpful here in stressing diversity of opinion with Christianity.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Too Many Answers

I had a fun, unplanned conversation with two students (both from Asian countries) at lunch yesterday in the cafeteria at Evergreen. In response to their inquiry about a book I had with me, we talked at length about our respective religious experiences—good and bad.

One of them was intrigued by my interest in theology, though made a comment that has stuck with me. It was something like (paraphrased): I like philosophy more than theology. Philosophy just asks questions; theology gives too many answers.

Whether or not one agrees with that assessment—perhaps you have a rather answer-less theology or have resolved most of your philosophical questions—I think I understand the sentiment behind it.

In listening to her talk a bit it seems that, not surprisingly, her ambivalent opinions about religion and theology are colored by past experience. Such as others' dogmatic rebukes of her own shortcomings, presented with a certainty that left little room for doubt and pressured her toward acquiescence instead of giving her the space to think, inquire, wonder, search, and wrestle.

Does theology seek to resolve too many mysteries of life? I don't really think so. I'd say that it’s not theology but the individual or community who is responsible for that.

Theology seems to provide the right language, the right framework, the right questions, and a whole host of examples throughout history of those who have individually and corporately tried to articulate life’s mysteries to the fullest extent they could, in a way that brought some clarity to questions of meaning and purpose but also gave direction for how to rightly live life, day-to-day.

In my experience, it is people who often give too many answers, to others and to themselves. Sometimes I think people can even be a little dishonest with each other, thinking they aren’t prepared to live with uncertainty and mystery—and faith?—so they convince themselves and others that things are a little more spelled out then they are.

“Heaven is exactly like this. Paul without a doubt meant this. The Bible ‘says’ you shouldn’t do that. Prayer always works this way, if you just do it right. That happened for a reason, don’t worry. God can’t be found in your religion. There’s only one way to be a Christian, it looks like this.” And so on. And I’m not sure those things are said as often as they are implied.

I think one of the more freeing (maybe anxiety-producing for some) elements of postmodernity is an awareness of our subjectivity, of our limitations as knowers, and the need for engagement with others to move closer toward grasping Truth. We can be at peace with not knowing everything. We can be honest about our doubts. We can more deeply discover the value of faith and trust. We can find meaning in leaning on others.

Of course some have responded to such an intellectual and cultural climate with an agnosticism that says it’s impossible to make truth claims about anything. Others have reacted and asserted their beliefs more strongly, feeling like it’s a sign of weak faith to do otherwise, or maybe afraid if they’re wrong about one thing, they’re wrong about everything. That’s an all-or-nothing approach I don’t find necessary.

I’m at least trying to be comfortable with the tension, living with something like a humble boldness in how I express my theology (trying). I told my student that I’m probably somewhere in the middle of her spectrum. I have a lot of questions that I don’t yet have answered, some that I maybe don't need answered, but enough things I’m fairly certain about that I’m willing to put my trust in them and count on their truthfulness.

I don’t really feel like I use “I’m sure” or “I’m certain” that often in my religious life. Phrases like “I hope” and “I have faith that...” or maybe even “I haven’t found a better explanation, so, why the hell not?” have more of a place in my spirituality.

And I find that sufficient. I can live with the things I feel strongly about: God is good; love is the key; evil is real; Jesus’ way can transform; the future is bright and hopeful; peace is God’s way; Paul wrote in a culture with very different views about women; the Jewish people have a long history of homelessness and wandering; Jesus’ disciples ate a lot of fish.

And I can live with mystery and unresolved questions. How present is God in your religious tradition, relative to my own? How do judgment and hell and heaven really work? Who will be saved? What’s the best way to apply Jesus’ way to the ethical quandaries of today, which often aren't easily solvable with quick references to Scripture? How will the suffering of so many innocents find any redemption or justice or meaning? And, what was Ruth really doing that night in the tent to Boaz?

To some of those questions I’m working at finding answers. For others, the answers seem to change. Some of them I realize don't demand answers, because the answers are not necessary for my living of a full, abundant life in harmony with others, with the earth, and with our Creator.

But some of the answers might be pretty important, because they might help us find ways of stopping so many people from hating and killing one another. Even if we can only answer them more fully—not completely—well, that’s a start…and a worthy pursuit.

As I departed, I wished my student friend well on her religious quest. I hope she finds some answers. But not too many answers. Then she’d be a know-it-all. Nobody likes a know-it-all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Love You But I Don't Really Like You

I don’t like pickles. It's not that I wish God had never inspired the creation of the pickle; I see their inherent beauty, their appeal. I respect that they are a staple of the hamburgers of many. I just don't care for them. I wonder if I can feel at peace about not caring much for a particular person.

The question was inspired by a recent short video featuring a prominent Evangelical. Though bashing him is not my goal here. I’m simply interested in the difference and interaction between “like” and “love.”

If a friend says something that makes me uncomfortable—perhaps he or she espouses a philosophy that I think is unhealthy or, by my interpretation, wrong—I do not dislike that person. But what if the person not only makes offensive statements, but seems to have a general way of being that I find abrasive, rude, and egotistical; and what if this person has a significant influence over a large number of people? Am I allowed to dislike that person?

If liking people is comparable to how we feel about a particular food, then it seems like yes—disliking someone is a natural thing that requires no repentance. If the flavor and texture of asparagus is displeasing to a person, one might say that he or she simply doesn’t have a taste for it, doesn’t prefer it. One is not required to like asparagus, nor do we question somebody’s character for not liking it (I like asparagus, in case anyone was beginning to question my character).

As a Christian who wants to replicate as best I can the character and spirit of Jesus, is it then inconsistent to dislike certain individuals? And can I “love” someone but not like them?

I was initially (but no longer) surprised to discover that many of the Asian students I’ve worked with in the last couple of years don’t really say “I love you” to family. They feel it is unnecessary, pointless. I often hear, “we show our love through doing things…we don’t need to say it. They know we love them through our actions.”

I don’t think this means Americans don’t give tangible demonstrations of our love to one another. But it does make the phrase “I love you” sound a bit odd to me at times. If love is a feeling, then “I love you” seems appropriate. Isn’t that what we often mean? I feel affection for you? Not, “hey look, I’m currently loving you through this particular action!” It seems either representative of something (like our commitment to those we love) or is something more akin to happiness, which is fleeting.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. I still want to hear my wife say “I love you”…it is affirming, comforting, reassuring to know she feels drawn to me, impressed by me, grateful for me. And I will continue to tell her I love her. But I do wonder if I’ve often depended too heavily on the words and not enough on the demonstration of that love.

The point is that it seems like one might say “you don’t have to like them, but you can love them.” I guess I’m not sure what that means. Or I have one idea of what it could mean, but I’m not sure what people mean when they say it.

Maybe they mean that, despite the rage or repulsion they feel toward an individual, they would show hospitality toward that person, would give them money if needed, maybe would even sacrifice their own safety or well-being or even life for the sake of the other. That seems something like love doesn’t it—being willing to submit one’s own good to the good of another?

Or maybe people don’t know what they mean when they talk about loving people with whom they are not intimate (family/friends). Maybe it’s just a slogan, a meaningless saying people throw out there, thinking they are full of love for everyone when they are really kidding themselves. They feel they’re supposed to love people, so they think they do.

I certainly don’t adore the person who inspired this question. But would I “wash his feet” and act in similar, subservient ways that demonstrate a humble, hospitable, compassionate kind of love toward him? I hope so. I think so.

But should I adore him? If we believe people are generally good, beautiful, holy creatures who are simply broken, hurting, misguided, offensive, or needy people whose actions at times negatively affect others…maybe if we try to see this goodness, we can forgive the ugly parts of them and come to “like” what we see. Is any creation of God really beyond liking?

Or is liking just a matter of taste, and, just as some will never like soccer, some will never like that annoying neighbor or that co-worker or that classmate or whoever.

And I wonder if it’s fair to say there were people Jesus didn’t like. People he just didn’t have a taste for. Perhaps those he watched oppress the poor and vulnerable, the arrogant, the greedy, the violent, who so contradicted in their words and actions everything Jesus was about. I certainly wouldn’t want to hear Jesus tell me he didn’t like me all that much.

Although, perhaps part of why we dislike people is that they feel like a threat to us in some way, to our way of thinking, our way of life, and it’s out of our own insecurity or defensiveness or angst that we feel dislike for others. Maybe disliking people is about our own weakness as people, and not a matter of taste. If so, I’m not sure Jesus ultimately disliked anyone.

Or maybe we dislike what feels unjust or wrong or offensive, like a visceral response to something we don’t enjoy (pickles for me).

So I guess I haven’t yet made up my mind. Perhaps I can dislike something and love it—love in the sense of sacrificial, self-giving love. Maybe I won’t feel love toward something I dislike, but maybe the feeling isn’t that important.

But I wouldn’t want my dislike of someone to be simply an unhealthy reaction, nor be a barrier to giving them a godly sort of love if actually tested in such a situation (e.g., the disliked comes to my house and wants a meal or some company or a listening, open mind).

So maybe some people are like pickles; we shouldn't feel obligated to like them. Or maybe my commitment to love others demands I also “like” people, regardless of the obstacles to such liking.

Maybe I just need to give pickles a chance. Try harder to like them. (Matt gets a sick feeling in his stomach.) Though I'm not so optimistic I ever will.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August in Review

What a busy summer! While Joann has been on vacation, I’ve been working (the international school grows significantly during the summer, though our student population is finally waning). And with so many friends to see and events to attend and places to visit and goals to accomplish, we’ve been on the road nearly every weekend.

But the result of being active has been a flurry of great moments and memories. I’ve blogged about some of them from earlier in the summer (e.g., skydiving and reunions). But here are a few glimpses of what made August memorable...

Blackberries! They have been ripening on many of my walking, running, and biking routes. Last night I finally went and picked some, making for a wonderful evening dessert. But lesson learned: shorts and flip-flops were a bad idea. Most of the good berries were a bit hard to reach, demanding I trample deeper into the bushes. My legs and feet currently bear the battle scars. But...so worth it.

Goodbyes. Every week there are students leaving EF because their program has come to an end. It's a bit sad, but I'm getting used to it. A Korean student whom I’ve taught for three months leaves this week. She remarked that once she finished the program, we could be friends. And that she would start stalking me.

The bad thing here is the sometimes unfortunate but perhaps necessary distance between students and teachers, where any sense of friendship needs to be balanced with a certain professionalism. It’s healthy, I recognize; but I often find myself wanting more connection with my students, who aren't really that much younger than me.

The good thing here is that it always feels affirming to be stalked…so that’s something to look forward to.

Mad Men. Since being married Joann and I have watched several TV shows on Netflix or DVD. Our most recent escape of choice has been Mad Men. We just finished the final existing episode last night. I won’t say when we began the four-season series because, well, you might judge us.

It’s a brilliant show. Never have I been so captured by and emotionally caught up in a show that at times seems to move at a snail’s pace. Nor have I been so captured by a man’s smile as that of Don Draper, toward whom I feel much ambivalence. He’s so fallen, though maybe arguably a product of the fallenness preceding and surrounding him. And yet glimpses of goodness keep one rooting for him. Glimpses of goodness and that smile.

What is the What? I started this semi-biographical novel while I was in China, and just now finished it. I got distracted by so many other good books and my perpetual need to feel like I’m “studying” and making progress toward some of my academic goals. But “all work and no play” or something, so I went back to fiction.

It’s a story set partly in the U.S. and partly in Africa, told as a recollection of the childhood of a man who was one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. Amidst the recalling of his adventures and often-horrific trials and tragedies, a constant thread is this question of trying to figure out what exactly the “what” is.

The question comes from a creation myth of the particular peoples discussed in the novel, which as far as I can tell has to do with the unknown, possibility, and hope. Though, like the main character, I'm not sure that I know what the "what" is. I think my "what" is probably not the same as your "what"...or something like that. Maybe.

Though I think that’s the point—the "what" is mystery, unpredictability, what is beyond control, what awaits us, and demands hope, faith, and risk...rather than what is in front of us, tangible, certain, risk-free, manageable. The story seems to leave what appears to be a tension about how to approach one's life and future unresolved.

Mariners, new hope. We attended another Mariners game and another blowout loss. I blogged in April about the opening day Mariners game and about the significance and necessity of hope. Well, I suppose this latest loss helped me see that there are two different kinds of hope.

There is unrelenting optimism. When disillusionment or the foiling of plans or unmet expectations or tragedy strikes, one may simply, after some readjusting, find new cause for hope about what is to come. I suppose this is true for a Mariners team that was generally awful this year but had some bright young stars emerge that will undoubtedly make the team better going forward.

Then there is hope based on what has been revealed to us or is (or at least seems) guaranteed, which also informs the present. I look forward in hope to the end of the work week, to dinner time, to future academic and professional goals, and the vision of these things gives me joy and meaning now while also helping me consider how I should act now in preparation for those goals (e.g, do quality work I can be proud of, don’t spoil my dinner with a snack, study a lot).

I think the latter might be something like how I understand Christian hope, hope for what I believe our Creator has revealed and promised—a hope that should bring some sense of excitement and peace but also give direction to the character of our lives now.

Summer smells. Most notably, the smell of evergreen trees on a warm day. I’ve been biking a lot lately, and recently discovered the Chehalis Western Trail, a 20+ mile paved trail mostly through forest and countryside. There’s just something so invigorating, so calming, so healing, so clarifying about exercising in such a setting. I feel like every inhale of the fresh, sweet-smelling air adds a day to my life. A day which I then lose that same evening after a pizza and beer dinner. And least I’m breaking even.

One-year anniversary! Joann and I celebrated with a trip to the Oregon coast—one night of camping in Pacific City, two nights at a hotel in Lincoln City. One particular day was spent nearly entirely, save mealtimes, lying on the beach. I can’t recall a beach visit with such perfect weather as this one. Good food, good rest, good beach time. Bad experience getting “cannonballed” by a kid while relaxing in the hot tub.

And an odd experience camping that felt like a “Lost” episode, including a mysterious park ranger, a country-western performance at a strange lodge in the middle of the woods, and the threat of a bear sighting. All shared with my beautiful bride, Joann...whom I love more than blackberries or the smell of dry pine or Don Draper's smile.

My wife’s delectable creations. During the school year, I do slightly more of the cooking. But this summer the balance has shifted a bit, and with Joann’s more frequent cooking have come some new “experiments.” Some August successes were Pad Thai, quiche, tortilla soup, and the return of an old standby, cranberry pumpkin bread.

Olympia. While we’ve been gone a lot, we’ve also savored summer in Olympia. Long walks into downtown, greeted by the smell of salt water (love it); reading on a blanket at Capitol Lake Park; taking the children of other family and friends to splash around in the fountain; frequent and bittersweet visits to Borders to check on falling book prices; seeking refuge in air-conditioned Batdorf and Bronson’s; and my own bicycle explorations of before-undiscovered (by me) parts of town. It’s been a gorgeous late summer here; I’m not quite prepared for the cold and rain.

Portland. What would a month be without getting our Portland fix? Made the rounds one weekend and saw three-fourths of my wedding party in a day in three separate dates (breakfast, afternoon coffee, dinner/movie), along with the usual visits to the waterfront, downtown, cafes, pubs and Powells.

Thanks August. You were good to us.