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Posts Tagged ‘Random thoughts’

It was time for Monday morning parking lot duty again (for more see “Marvelous Mondays“). “We shouldn’t even be here, it’s snowing.” I had my full rain suit on with a little less than comfortable amount of clothing underneath. That slight discomfort added a bit to the melancholy of the streetlights and angled snowfall that resulted in light splatter sounds on my hood. Water droplets flashed like Advent lights on tree branches and pavement as their moving form refracted the artificial light source. I always station myself at the center of the parking lot under six trees planted there a mere eleven years ago. They have produced their own microcosm. The birds love to come early and sing from their branches and feed on insects under the shrubs below them. I am constantly amazed at how lively the little space is. I have long observed the disparity of growth among these six trees, but the stark and beautiful scene of this morning caused me to contemplate their survival and interaction in a rather curious way.

 

A small island in the parking lot
A heavily mulched and shrubbed plot
Reprieve from the barren blacktop
Place of rest and food where birds stop

Six Pin Oak trees were planted there
Shade and shelter where birds repair
One grew fast, rules over the rest
Two compete, the larger one test
Two struggle, healthy but not strong
One not thriving, everything wrong
Disease, breakage, the bark looks old
Misshapen, stunted, soon may fold

All are needed, the plot complete
The strong, the weak, those that compete
The weak need so much extra care
How will we help them to repair?

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Pastor preached on Proverbs 27:17 this morning: “Iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.” He spoke about the need, purpose, and process of believers helping each other grow spiritually. I enjoy extending metaphors, which requires care not to come up with analogies not there or elsewhere delineated in Scripture or life. The usefulness of such an enterprise may be to help those who hear to further understand the importance of the concept portrayed by the metaphor.

Why does the Scripture say iron sharpens iron? That has long bothered me, because anyone who has sharpened a knife or tool knows that you use a whetstone, grinding stone, or ceramic sharpening tool which are harder than the tool.  And such tools existed. I Samuel 13:20 records the desperation for Israel when “all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe.” These events were more than 300 years before Solomon wrote the proverb. For that matter, why shouldn’t I use modern technology, the diamond sharpening stone?

The proverb is a metaphor for fellowship and discipleship within the congregation of believers. God doesn’t give us any other choice. We must sharpen each other. And we are not back at the castle. We are in the battle, so the grinding wheel is not an option. We go to our brother, cross swords in a mutually beneficial way and come away sharpened for more battle. Fellowship is the non-optional, God-ordained means for being honed to battle readiness.

Those who want to exclude themselves because of “hypocrites in the church” or “I can worship in nature” just fine or “all I need is Jesus” are dull or more likely twisted and unbalanced weapons. The problem is everybody wants to be sharp but nobody wants to be sharpened. When you are sharpening a blade, one swipe of the finger near the edge will reveal why so few want to be sharpened. Your finger will come up with a dark gray dust from the sharpening process. Sharpening removes material. Bad material and excess material must be removed from your life. It can be painful and humbling.

For some it’s rust from lack of use or exposure to corroding influences that needs to be removed and is hindering the cutting edge. For others, it is good material, all be it not according to faith or God’s direction, that needs to be removed to reduce the fat edge of dullness.

When two materials of equal hardness are used to do the sharpening, material is removed from both edges. Discipling and being discipled means involvement in another person’s life with all of the mutual messiness and need for honing away spiritual dullness.

And some of us are more of a mess than others. I own a double bladed axe. The way that I came into ownership of this axe goes back to the beginning of my wood heating days. I borrowed this axe (first mistake) to split some of the first wood I cut. While attempting to split some very twisted forks, I got several wedges stuck in a piece. I used the axe to attempt to get the wedges out (second mistake). I bought the axe, that is, I replaced the friend’s axe and kept the broken one. The strike took out a half-moon divot in the blade about the size of your thumbnail. In years since I have used the good blade to split and the broken blade when risking to remove wedges or cut roots near metal or concrete. No other sizable divots have been removed but the the edge has been bludgeoned a few times. I have tried for years to sharpen that divot out of the blade. For the longest time my efforts were to no avail, but now, years later, that blade is reasonably sharp while still having somewhat of a dent in the edge. It took years and that blade is possibly an inch shorter than the other one. That blade is me. The difference is that I have multiple divots. God has had to work for years to grind away the dullness of my spirit due to sinful habits and difficulties of life. I still show the scars and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but neither am I who I was. And much of that has been because God has used brothers and sisters in my life to remove rust here and dullness there. I doubt seriously that I will be admired as a shining blade of perfection, but I do pursue a cutting edge pursuit of God in the battle of life. And for that I give Him all of the praise.

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When my pastor was leading the Lord’s Supper yesterday, he spoke of the Savior’s perfections, making mention of His impeccable life. For those who have read my blog for some time, you know that words and thoughts can set me off. Words beginning in “im” and “in” began to pour into my mind concerning all the ways that Jesus is perfect. The only one that didn’t come to me was inimitable, but I was looking for an “i” word that means perfect to use in the title. I came home in the afternoon and wrote the following poem. I have provided definitions below to help you.

His impeccable life
On display to see
His impervious character
The reason it could be
His invincible power
Makes His enemies flee
His indescribable wisdom
Totally beyond me
His indefatigable grace
Has set believers free
His incomparable mercy
I praise on bended knee
His interposed blood
Rescued His church, we
His inconceivable love
In salvation the key
His infinite existence
The great I AM is He

Inimitable-so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique
Impeccable-in accordance with the highest standards of propriety; faultless
Impervious-unable to be affected by
Invincible-too powerful to be defeated or overcome
Indescribable-too unusual, extreme, or indefinite to be adequately described
Indefatigable-persisting tirelessly
Incomparable-without an equal in quality or extent; matchless
Interposed-place or insert between one thing and another
Inconceivable-not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable
Infinite-limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure

 

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I know people that don’t know how to play and others who don’t how to work. I like the addition to the old saying by Maria Edge recorded in Wikipedia, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; all play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.” Keep me far from both kinds of people, because for the one you will constantly have to pull their weight and the other will perpetually be a weight to your spirit. Upon reflection, however, I think that knowing how to work and knowing how to play are both learned. So perhaps I should feel sadness for someone who doesn’t know how to do either or both. And for my part, I have erred on too much of one or the other in times past. Not that I have the perfect balance now, but I find that when work is over done either by compulsion or by obsession, play is frequently the tonic. When the indulgence is too much play it loses its savor, because change of pace and relief from work are largely the reasons and pleasure in play.

Yesterday and today were examples of when I went after each one in its appointed time.

Yesterday I went bouldering. I had not been climbing in a month and wanted to go ever so much, but life gets in the way sometimes. I didn’t climb particularly well, which is to be expected when I don’t do it often. My climbing partner had not been for a longer time, but we both tried and celebrated our little successes. During a break we were sitting in the sunshine listening to water trickling over pebbles beneath the nearby boulder and admiring the large trees around us. It was probably below 40 degrees, but we were heavily clothed and the thin overcast did little to obscure the warmth of the sun. There was no breeze and we sat mostly in silence much of the time. Later I observed that I think that I needed the excuse of going climbing today to be allowed to sit in the woods and be quiet. I did enjoy climbing and succeeded at several problems; I enjoyed the conversation; most of all I enjoyed the winter woods in hibernation and the rest it gave to my soul.

Today I set aside for attacking the huge job of cleaning the leaves off of my three quarter acre lot, knowing full well that it was only a start that I was going to make and not a completion. Usually there is little reason to start this chore before the New Year because willow oaks are reluctant to shed their leaves. This year they came down several weeks earlier because a heavy, wet snow pulled them down as it sloughed off in the wind and warmth. I had previously blown some leaves away from the back of the house, so today I began by hauling 10 loads on my painter’s drop cloth. Next I climbed up on the roof and blew the gutters out with the leaf blower and did the same on my neighbor’s roof. Our growing season is long and grass frequently grows even through parts of winter. Leaves in high grass are very hard to get up. I mowed back and forth pushing the leaves in one direction. Periodically I stopped the mower and raked up leaves onto the drop cloth. I trimmed branches and cut down dead flowers and hauled downed branches. I surprised myself and finished the whole front yard and 30 feet away from the back of the house.

Why am I recording all of this work and play? Who cares and why would I care to remember? Well, my blog is more about me reflecting on life than having a following, though I hope that you may benefit from my musings and ramblings. I am reminding myself that I value working hard and playing hard and sleeping well, because I think these are right and good and I am thankful to have the strength to be able to. And when I pause to think about it, I hear the encouragement or admonition, depending on my frame of mind: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) I hope that I have and hope that you and I will in the New Year.

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Bright day, Boulder, and a Buckeye tree

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Reaching for the topout hold

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Wet?

I most dislike annoying little problems when I have previously tried to solve them to no avail. Or even worse when my ‘solution’ works for a while and then doesn’t. I bought a non-stick, copper infused, ceramic skillet (“Red Copper’ brand) about 6 months ago so that my wife and I could cook our breakfast without it sticking. For about 4 months it worked wonderfully. Undercook, overcook, oil, no oil, it didn’t seem to matter, it didn’t stick.

My wife makes homemade sausage and almond meal pancakes. So my daily procedure is to put a little oil in the pan, add crumbled sausage, break two eggs over it, scramble the yokes, and move away to put a pancake in the toaster and pack my lunch. Just before the egg is totally solid I turn the eye off and flip the egg-sausage fritter over, reaching over to push down the toaster button.

Why did it begin sticking when I try to flip it over? It didn’t for several months and now it has for several months. I set out to try to figure out this mystery. I must be doing something differently. That the change resided in me and not in the pan was clear to me from two additional pieces of information. My wife cooks her breakfast after I have left for work. She commented one day, “Why are you having trouble with the food sticking in the pan? Aren’t you using oil? Mine doesn’t stick.”

Secondly, I re-oiled the pan like I had when I first got it. You fill the bottom with oil, place it in the oven for 15 minutes at low heat, and pull it out to cool. I could see why this works, because it reminds me of oilite bushings. Wikipedia says, “Oilite is a porous bronze or iron alloy commonly impregnated with an oil lubricant and used in bearings.” When the bearing warms up during use, it will release a little oil that lubricates the bearing surface preventing overheating. It works wonderfully well and the bearing can be re-oiled by submerging it in hot oil. But that didn’t prevent the egg from sticking.

I tried more oil. The liquid egg only pushed it aside and stuck to the bottom.

I tried different kinds of oil: butter, olive oil, coconut oil. The smells were great but the sticking persisted.

I tried different temperatures which either left me twiddling my thumbs or the egg slightly burnt on one side.

Finally, I pretty much gave up, but the egg pushing the oil aside confused me a bit. Why didn’t the egg just roll over the top of the oil as it cooked? I realized that the real question that I was asking was, “Why does the oil not wet the surface of the pan but the egg does?”

For many of you the word “wet” seems totally out of place in this scenario. Afterall, waters wets, right? But what does it mean to wet a surface? I will give a formal definition in a moment, but the best one is illustrative. Water wets an unwaxed car but beads up on a well waxed car. Water is sticky. It adheres to things different than itself, that is wets surfaces, and it coheres to other water molecules, that is beads up. So how does it decide which one to do? If the adhering forces are stronger, then it wets the surface; if the cohering forces are stronger, then it beads up. Once again Wikipedia (Hey, I’m not into this, you can’t trust Wikipedia thing. Be a bit skeptical of it on religion or politics and realize it will probably be incomplete on many subjects, but as an overview it is a good, quick reference.): “Wetting is the ability of a liquid to maintain contact with a solid surface, resulting from intermolecular interactions when the two are brought together. The degree of wetting (wettability) is determined by a force balance between adhesive and cohesive forces.” All liquids can wet surfaces: water, oil, egg, lava, alcohol, gasoline, and so forth.

The various oils (butter, olive and coconut oils) were beading up on the pan. So, this very morning I tried a new strategy. I let the coconut oil heat until it began to bubble, then I threw in the sausage and egg. It didn’t stick, what a pleasant, small blessing! Perhaps I had become too efficient at making my breakfast in the morning, being so fast at putting in the oil, sausage, and egg, until I had reached the ‘sticking’ point of the procedure. One little, almost imperceptible change I made was putting in those three things instead of punctuating the oil heating with putting in the pancake and opening the almond butter jar.

It will be interesting to see if I have found the real solution. As researchers like to say, “further research is needed.” But I think that upon reflection this must be the solution. My wife always puts in some combination of peppers, onions, and mushrooms to momentarily saute before adding her beaten egg, and her breakfast never sticks. 

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I have the privilege (really!) to patrol Monday morning parking lot duty from 7:15 until 7:50. On most Monday mornings there are no more than 2 or 3 cars in the parking lot when I arrive. That makes for some quiet moments to consider the day, pray about concerns, and look around. Quiet allows you to observe better. One morning I saw various seeds under the trees: Bald Cypress cones, acorns, and Sweet Gum balls. Another morning I saw oak leaves of various sizes and broadness on the ground. Looking up into the tree I could see that smaller ones generally came from the top of the tree and larger ones from the bottom. These larger ones are called shade leaves. They are competing for the sparse sunlight in the shade cast by the rest of the tree. Yet a third morning I spied leaves popping up a few at a time in the direction from one bush to another. I kept watching and every 5 to 10 seconds the leaves would pop up an inch or so. After every few minutes the movement of the leaves would retrace the path back toward the first bush. I concluded that I was seeing a mouse or other vermin forging a tunnel just under the leaves and mulch on this frosty morning.

Speaking of frost, the very next week the morning was even colder, around 27 degrees (-2.8 degrees Celsius). As I approached my usual vantage point for watching cars, students, and nature, I saw that the golden brown Bald Cypress needles had fallen to the ground in the last week and this morning were fringed in frost. I went to investigate and caught a hold of an early arriving former student, requesting that he snap a picture and e-mail it to me (gonna have to get one of them new fangled smart phones one of these days).

Bald Cypress needles

The most Exquisite Lace

I retreated back to my self-appointed post. Still there were but few cars in the lot and none nor no one stirring. I glanced over toward the frosted needles once or twice. Then between two bushes I spied a curious sight about which I was at first incredulous. In fact, a few minutes later a student came to pass my way and I requested the use of her young eyes to see if she would see what I think I was yet seeing. She confirmed that there were indeed the appearance of heat waves between the bushes. Imagine, heat waves on a frosty morning! She went on and I was left standing to contemplate how this could be. Moments later a small breeze kicked up and the waves were gone. That only served to confirm my belief that they had been heat waves.

Heat waves are caused by varying densities of fluid (air in this case) refracting light passing through them. Usually the warmer fluid is rising, forming a convective cell. As it randomly snakes upward the background images are gently contorted by the light passing through the foreground fluid.

But what was forming the heat waves? As my eyes scanned the parking lot and Cypress needles, it seemed to me that the frost was heavier during the short period I had been standing there. That may have only been to my sight because of the increasing light as the sun rose, but it brought a possibility to mind. When frost forms, water vapor in the air turns directly into solid ice crystals on the grass or windshield. This process is called deposition, which is the opposite of sublimation, and skips the liquid state going either way. The heat given off by changing from gas to liquid and liquid to solid is about 8 times more than the heat given off by the same amount of liquid water cooling from 100 to 0 degrees Celsius. Needless to say, a significant amount of energy is given off by the deposition of frost. Frosty heat waves, that is shimmering amazing.*

*If my conclusion is correct

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As I said in a recent post, I have taught whole science lessons by using the illustration of the woodstove. See if you can name the concept being taught by the following story before I name it at the end.

Heating with wood can be interesting and exciting (chimney fire!) but also mundane. When something interesting happens it gets your attention. One bright morning in early Spring in the Horseshoe I got up and ate breakfast. I had not started a fire the night before because it wasn’t that cool and we like to sleep cool. My wife said, “Don’t you think it’s cool enough for a fire?” Of course, there is only one right answer, so I gathered wood and kindling and sat down to build a small fire to “knock the chill off.” I had only just lit the paper and cardboard when the smoke started billowing out of the top of the open door into the living room. My immediate response was to slam the stove door followed by jumping up to check to see if the stove pipe damper was open. The smoke started oozing out around the door dampers, so I hastened to screw those shut, only to continue more slowly coming out around several small gaps around the doors. All there was left to do was to open the front door and start fanning. After a few minutes the smoke was cleared and the living room really needed a fire in the stove. I got my flashlight, cautiously opened the stove door and peered into the exiting stove pipe at the back of the stove. There seemed to be no obstruction. I even used a mirror but couldn’t see around the curve for the smoke. There must surely be an obstruction in the chimney, be it birds or squirrels or bats or nest thereof. I was determined to get to the bottom of the problem. I put on a coat and hat and went outside to get the ladder and lean it up against the house. As soon as I got out from under the back door porch, I realized that the morning was warming up quickly in the bright sunshine. It was warmer outside than inside. Maybe I should just open the doors and wait. But instead I continued on the mission of solving the mystery stoppage in my chimney. I climbed up onto the red metal porch roof with the flashlight and then scampered up the steeper main roof and grabbed ahold of the chimney. Straddled across the peak of the roof, I removed the chimney cap and pulled the flashlight out of my back pocket. When I shown it down into the opening, I had to wait for my eyes to adjust and move my face closer. I could see clearly down most of the length of the chimney. There was very little creosote build-up. But toward what I judged to be the bottom where I should have seen the pipe coming into the chimney from the stove, the view went fuzzy. I could not tell what I was looking at. I tried to adjust the flashlight and my head to see better, but to no avail. Frustrated, I thought, “I’ll fix that,” shut off the light, slid down the roof to the porch, bounded down the ladder, and stepped over to the old smokehouse, now a storage shed. I strung up my 100′ extension cord with a plug-in socket and light bulb on the end and retraced my course back up to chimney side. Next, I lowered the lit bulb down into the chimney, which was very well lit now. When I lowered the bulb down to the vague area, I could see that there was smoke hovering low in the chimney. I lowered the light into the smoke and it totally disappeared after several inches more of lowering. It would appear and disappear as I raised and lowered it out of this dense smoke layer. I turned my head aside for a moment to consider, since fresh creosote is not the most pleasant smell. Just as I turned back to look again I got a face full of smoke that just kept coming. I choked on the lung full I received and must have called out in alarm because my wife yelled up to ask if I was OK. I hastily pulled the light out and made my way down to the porch with the smoke settling down the roof behind me. What in the world was happening? The smoke cleared quickly, because there really wasn’t all that much. I climbed back up on the peak of the roof and again lowered the light. The chimney was clear.

It took me awhile to figure out what had happened. Have you figured it out, yet? There are several hints in the story having to do with temperature. Before you read below you may want to go back and reread with the hint.

The temperature was warmer outside than inside. Cold air is denser than warm air. Since there was not a fire the night before, the air in the chimney was cooler than the quickly warming exterior air. When I started the fire, smoke was not able to move through the pipe because the air there was heavier than that higher in the chimney where the sun beamed down. There was a thermal inversion in the chimney restricting the air from rising. When I left the light bulb in the smoke layer for a few moments of slow reflection, it warmed the smokey layer so that it was lighter than the air above it and began to rise. I got a face full of lesson about thermal inversion. This situation happened again years later in the home we presently live in. I didn’t even hesitate. I climbed up on the roof and lowered a light bulb down into the chimney. The smoke rose. I climbed down and started a fire and had a warm feeling inside knowing that knowledge and experience go a long way toward clearing away smoke that obscures your path.

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