Monday, February 8, 2016


I need to revisit my lists of favorite cities. A couple of years have passed, and I’ve gotten to know some new cities that change things around a bit.

Lisbon is the most recent, and it definitely belongs amidst the best of its size.

It still feels European, but in different ways from the Central European stuff I am used to, even different from the Italian and Mediterranean cities that it more closely resembles. Like Rome and a lot of other places, it is built on a series of seven hills, but the way it interacts with those hills feels unique.

Where else do you have multiple elevators to get you around town? Our hotel was up on the castle walls on the side of downtown known as Alfama. The bus from the airport dropped us of downtown in Baixa, basically a valley in the heart of things. We walked the few hundred meters up what ended up being about 12 stories that first afternoon. Once we learned about the various elevators around town we used them the rest of the time. (That is how I know how many stories we were dealing with.

Alfama is amazing. It is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, decorated everywhere with freshly washed laundry hanging out to dry. Cobblestones are the norm everywhere in Lisbon, but in Alfama they are ankle-breaking. Perhaps most amazing is the old trolley cars that make their way around the maze.

Across the valley from Alfama was Barrio Alto. For those with a more modern wish (but only slightly more) this is where you find the shopping, eating, and night-life. It wasn’t our favorite, but we did stumble across the oldest bookstore in the world. Literally, truly, the oldest in the world.

Baixa itself is a pedestrian area where you will be accosted by restaurant after restaurant pressuring you to enjoy cheap, good food. But really you don’t need meals to meet you caloric goals every day. The local pastries, sort of a crème brulee torte in a flaky crust are enough to keep you energized and gaining weight.

Along the river mouth toward the Atlantic you get the amazing Belem with its museums and world heritage monastery. I always forget about the Portuguese impact on the world and history, but this trip reminded me of it, along with my childhood love of exploration. I still remember reading Magellan’s biography at the age of 10 or 11 more than most other biographies I have read since.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 7-12)

(1-6) -- (13-18)

It is early in the exercise, but somehow “Quantum Leap” is maintaining my kids’ interest longer than other shows I’ve tried to take them through. They tend to get excited about the more mindless, comedy-based, sitcom fare. After all, who wants TV to make them wrestle with complicated thoughts and conundrums? But, QL has the right ingredients to suck them into drama. Maybe it is the way that it tricks you into thinking you are watching a science fiction show. But it really is straight-up human drama every episode…

“The Color of Truth” 

This is the episode where Quantum Leap fully recognized its potential. It is an obvious choice, but needed to be done. When Sam experiences the Deep South on the cusp of the civil rights movement, the show goes into full-on preachy-mode, but it works. We will get a lot more of this sort of thing, and not always a slam-dunk, easily moralized issue as we see here.

“Camikazi Kid” 

The show is clever having Sam rescue a woman from an abusive husband by forcing Sam to do so as her underage brother. It is a clear cut situation, but complicated. How does he get her to see the truth without simply alienating her?

“Play It Again, Seymour” 

Things take a bit of a strange twist when Sam starts to live the plot of a novel he had read. Turns out, he is a private eye living the real life that inspired a pulp.

“Honeymoon Express” 

Here season two starts out with a threat to the Quantum Leap project. Sam may be left on his own if they can’t prove that they can change big, historical events. But then, how would the future where Al is know if something had been changed? But the show also makes explicit in this episode that Al and Sam think that God is the one controlling the leaps and having Sam set things right. If so, then it is God who saves the QL prject as well…

“Disco Inferno” 

The plot in this episode is a simple save-someone-else-from-dying one. But the real impact of the show is that Sam has to save his host’s younger brother. That reminds Sam that he had an older brother. I had forgotten—or simply hadn’t realized—that Sam’s memory is still spotty. It is quite touching for him to realize that his older brother has died.

“The Americanization of Machico” 

With a return to social commentary and racism, the show again is top notch. In an interesting side note, this episode takes place days before Sam’s birth. That is interesting because according to the show’s lore, Sam can only leap within his own lifetime. Instead of being a mistake, the show’s creators have stated that Sam’s life started at conception, not birth. Logical.

Another interesting aspect of these episodes is the high ethical standard that Sam holds himself to. His respect isn’t just for life and individuals, but also for marriage and relationships in general. He won’t sleep with a woman on her honeymoon, even as he inhabits the husband’s body. He doesn’t even want to make a vow in their place. That is a refreshingly stringent attitude. I can hardly see something like that happening today.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Between Beginning and Day One (Genesis 1:2)

1:2 “Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the waters.”

It is interesting to note (and an indication of just how precise and symbolic the language used in this prologue is) that this verse has exactly 14 words in the Hebrew. Verse 1 had seven. Lest that is seen as simply a coincidence, numbers are important throughout this prologue. Several words or phrases are repeated seven or multiples of seven times. (God, earth, heavens/firmament, “it was so”, “it was good”) This can’t be called poetry, but it is highly developed and precise prose.

“Formless and void” describes the state of the creation before God’s subsequent creative, ordering effort. The terms are rare and together always describe the world in this early, primordial state. Some try to read a “gap” into the text here. They claim God created everything perfect but an unwritten event occurs after verse one that throws everything into chaos. The text is too unified to give this view credence. More likely is the idea that God initially created the universal matter and then developed and further created things to the point where they were by day seven.

Darkness and the deep, outside of the creative action in verse one, are not explicitly said to be created by God. In the case of darkness, that makes sense because it is a non-thing rather than some-thing to be made. It is the absence of light. Later when the question of evil arises, this will be a helpful concept to understand. Otherwise, how can you have evil in a universe where everything is declared good? Evil like darkness is not so much an opposite as an absence. The deep has a symbolic quality in scripture and ancient thought. Here is is simply manner to be manipulated by God. A stark contrast to powers opposed to God as is seen in creation stories and myths of the time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster"

The latest episode of the return may be the highlight. I was very happy to see that Darin Morgan was coming back to pen an episode. His handful of stories from the original run were some of the best, funniest, yet most enlightening episodes. He managed to take scary situations and scenarios and find a new unexpected perspective on things. In the same way, his unexpected perspective on life tended to point out the ways we are doing things wrong. There is insight in all the humor.

This new episode is no different. We get to relish the self-commentary on the show itself that he injects as Mulder and Scully deal with the way the world has changed in the past two decades. However, he once again finds a simple, obvious, yet unexplored twist on the werewolf myth that allows him an extended commentary on a lot of silly things we humans do.

Another thing that hasn’t changed though, is his melancholy take on life. A danger in seeing all of the silly, self-destructive things people do without an alternative—a better suggestion for living—is depression or hopelessness. The end here, however, is a bit more hopeful than usual. It seems there is hope to be found in faith. Mulder gets a rare confirmation of his beliefs, and it comes just in time too.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Proof of Jesus’ Claims (John 5:30-47)

The fact that Jesus claimed to be God and the Savior of the World is nothing more than a claim on its own. Jesus here appeals to the additional corroborating evidence that support His claims.

Others, like John the Baptist, agree with the Gospel of Jesus and proclaim the truth of His message. For 2,000 years people have testified to that claim, and changed lives and personal experiences by the millions have to account for something. But, Jesus also does not point to this evidence as His ultimate proof.

God’s Word is another exhibit. Thousands of years of revelation became clear in the life of Jesus. Prophecies were fulfilled and complicated writings became clear once the crucifixion and resurrection occurred. But that too is not the ultimate proof. Jesus even points out how diligently the Jewish leaders studied scripture and still miss the point. Nothing is more dangerous than reading with the intent to confirm preconceptions.

Jesus’, ultimate confirmation comes from the Father. The works Jesus is able to do, combined with all the testimony of believers and Scripture are what confirm who Jesus claimed to be.
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