Monday, September 29, 2008

Interesting decor

All done with a Sharpie.





Rocky & Bullwinkle!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pity, party of one

It's taken me a couple of months to come to grips with this, but I don't think there's any denying it any more -- my headaches are pretty bad.

I'd hoped that going off the Topamax would, as a best-case scenario, relieve the day-to-day pain I was feeling or, worst case, leave me no worse off pain-wise than I'd been while on it. And some of this has proven true -- I think the severity of the daily pain is less. And I'm way less medicated generally speaking.

But it seems I've traded a slightly higher level of chronic pain for more frequent migraine-level headaches. And, as was the case before I went on Topamax, sometimes they either recur in short order (like, a few hours) or just last longer overall.

There are corollaries, too -- I'm going to church less, doing less after work, seeing friends less frequently. I don't reach out, either via email or phone. Because of the pain, the vagaries of when it will strike next and coping with it when it does, I'm less involved, less participatory. Less present. My friendships suffer, my writing becomes nonexistent and my humor eludes me.

I don't like this much. I have every confidence that God is using this for good somehow, in my life or someone else's, perhaps in ways I will never understand. He is Lord of all my life, after all, not just the parts that feel good or immediately benefit me or are easily explained. But I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed this or didn't pray for the pain to ease, at times fervently and without concern for whatever larger purpose might be in play. And I'm tired, of the fight and the discomfort.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Shu weighs in again, this time on the bailout

Shu's politics are far more conservative than mine, but his background in economics informs a recent blog post he's written on the "bailout" that I find really interesting.

We come at it from different angles, but I completely agree that to the extent any bailout amounts to fat-cat socialism, it's a bad bad idea. I take issue with his challenge to the Democratic-controlled Congress to kill the thing -- from a practical standpoint, their majority is too slim to even manage a cloture vote in the Senate, never mind killing much or achieving any real reform. Their best hope is to shape a negotiated settlement. Also, I'm not sure the Republicans who are holding this thing hostage are doing so out of love of the Constitution -- but it may just work out that way. And I'd submit that there are many facets of American political life that have contributed to our country's prosperity -- from both sides of the aisle.

Here's his text (edited for profanity):

“This is about our way of life, our society, our economy. … This isn’t about Wall Street.”
- Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana

The Troubled Asset Relief Program would take taxpayer money (yes, this time it is taxpayer money) to buy bad mortgages and securities from financial institutions. This would provide much needed cash liquidity to the holders. The idea, then, is to turn this money around and sell it to other holders. Again, many knee-jerk reactionaries think that this is just pumping $700 billion in cash straight into the economy. It’s not. The government would be receiving money from the mortgages and once the financial system has stabilized, the government will resell the loans back to private institutions, some say at a profit.

It’s a ridiculously awful plan. I’ve already written my Congressman and Senators about this, urging them not to vote for any sort of bailout.

First and foremost, nobody actually has any idea how much is needed, and how much it’s going to cost. $500 billion in loans are already owned by Freddie/Fannie Mac, so $700 billion may be too much. Then, Pimco (a big Wall Street financial company) founder Bill Gross says that it may actually be $1.2 trillion. If the economy continues to get worse, the mortgage payments will continue to slow, and the taxpayers will definitely have to pay up, then. Also, it’s pure speculation whether the government will be able to resell the loans in the future. Sure, there can be a profit. There can also be a loss. If the only buyers are foreigners, we’re *really* screwed, then.

And Good Lord, there are so many Constitutionality issues with this plan, it’s ridiculous. The plan would also give all sorts of vague regulatory control to the Secretary of the Treasury. There’s no checks from the Legislative or Judicial branches at all. Moreover, it also eliminates many state regulations in favor of these new powers given to the Treasury Secretary.

Finally, the Market has a wonderful way of correcting itself if you just give it a tiny bit of time. Already, Bank of America has bought out Merrill Lynch, Barclays has bought out Lehman, and today, Chase has bought out Washington Mutual. The problem is fixing itself already, but nobody has any patience for anything anymore.

Ok. Enough with the practical and realism. Time to put on my idealogue hat.

This plan is definitely socialism. Socialism for the rich, to be precise. If you and I start a business, we run the risk of failing. I seriously doubt Congress would give us a cash infusion. It’s not the government’s job to rescue businesses.

In his national address, Bush warned of dire consequences if the bailout is not passed. I’ll gladly take those consequences in order to follow a political philosophy that has served this country well for the past 232 years. Wall Street’s mantra has been laissez-faire capitalism. You suddenly turn around and demand a government life preserver or else? Excuse me, but f&^% you.

Right now, Conservative Republican members of Congress are holding this plan hostage. I’m proud that Conservative Republicans have suddenly remembered that they’re Conservatives — that their fundamental political philosophy is based on things like personal responsibility, controlling spending, and Federalism. Malkin and Gingrich agree. Wall Street Republicans are none too happy with this. Good. What a bunch of hypocrites. If you only believe in limited government when it suits you, get out. The soul of Republicanism is not about maximizing profits. The soul is a political philosophy that has given birth to an economic approach that has made this country prosperous, not the other way around. I’m tired of watching hypocritical leaders perverse our core values. Forget Big Tentism. This party needs a serious philosophical purge and cleansing.

Grow a spine, Democratic Congress, and kill the bailout. The way Bush has already pushed you around on Iraq is hilarious. Now he’s doing it again.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Morning chill

I love this time of year. Our days are still warm, but fall breezes keep things comfortable, and our mornings are just cool enough to still leave the windows open if you throw on a snuggly robe and slippers.

Daisy isn't so sure. As the weather has cooled, her morning cuddles have gotten closer and closer to me, her heat source, and the tightness of the ball she curls herself into gets ever tighter.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Amused

This picture makes me laugh.


The looks on all their faces, including Sen. Obama's, are priceless.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Song of the day

My head is crowded today with all sorts of things. Sleep escapes me, which probably isn't helping the situation, and even going through my familiar household routines, usually so comforting, isn't working. My mind remains a jumble.

So. Music. Soothing and somehow ordering. What I turned to this morning is a favorite from Bob Dylan, "Boots of Spanish Leather."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Guess who's coming to dinner?

I just love having company.



It's a wonderful excuse to cook more than usual,







set a table with intention (when you live alone, that seems a bit excessive on a regular basis),



and generally spiff up the place.





I'm so grateful that such lovely people drove so far to grace my home and share a meal. What a blessing.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Testing out a Firefox feature

I just discovered a Firefox add-on called ScribeFire, which allows blog posting without logging in to Blogger (and other blog hosting services).

So I am trying it out.

Nothing to see here. Feel free to move on.. :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Memoranda

To: The lady in the Mercedes next to me in traffic
Re: Inquiring minds want to know

It took me a minute to notice your idiosyncrasy, given the light change and heavy traffic that I was managing. I did see your perfectly waxed car, immaculate coif and fancy oversized sunglasses.

It wasn't until our cars were side by side and you wanted to merge into my lane that I spied them -- your fingernails. They were -- something. At least three inches long, polished shiny red and curling around the steering wheel.

I'm left asking myself: how do you make beds? Change diapers? Get dressed? Or (dare I say it) potty?


To: Sorority girl jogging in Capitol Park
Re: Cuteness on parade

How adorable are you, in the first place, with your perfect Abercrombie workout wear and perky ponytail and complete lack of visible sweat or exertion as you smilingly prance through your daily runs? Pretty adorable. I don't look that good when I'm not exercising.

The fact that you bring your chihuahua with you, using a leash that looks like dental floss due to his tininess, and that his little sweater always matches whatever you're wearing is just the icing on the cake. And you both look so happy out there, bouncing along. You make my mornings when I'm lucky enough to catch a glimpse.


To: Able-bodied drivers who hog handicapped parking spaces
Re: It's not all about you

Your need to run into Safeway or Blockbuster for a few minutes justifies taking up a handicapped parking space? Or, somehow, if you leave your car running with someone sitting in the passenger seat while parked there, it's not as bad in your mind? Seriously?

I rarely think to myself "Where's a cop when you need one?" but your parking pigginess makes me want to effect a citizen's arrest. You are behaving abominably. And criminally. And yes, I know there are other, actual crimes out there to get worked up about, but your selfishness is really irritating.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

'Bailing out' AIG

My friend Shu weighs in on the Federal Reserve and AIG, why this isn't a "government" bailout and where the money being used actually comes from.

He's studying economics at Rutgers (which, as a state-school grad, I feel the need to point out is also a state school) and generally has interesting perspectives on things.

New household gizmo: Keurig one-cup coffeemaker

I drink coffee every morning. Just a cup or two, but I really enjoy those cups and the little jolt they provide in getting me up and out the door. I'm not a snob about coffee, generally -- I don't grind my own super fancy organic beans or anything -- but I do like it hot, predictably tasty and reliably delivered.

It's a humble quest, but a quest nonetheless. I go through about a coffee maker every 18 months, either through malfunction or dissatisfaction. The ones with thermal carafes generally don't keep the coffee hot long enough. The ones with little hot plates leave the coffee tasting burnt after a while. In either case, I only drink a couple of cups a day, and it's hard to make just a couple of cups in a standard coffee maker, so I wind up wasting coffee grounds and pouring extra coffee down the drain.

So when my last coffee maker began producing lukewarm coffee on a regular basis and needed to be replaced, I decided to make a change. Instead of buying just another drip coffee maker, I went with a completely different option -- the Keurig B66 single serve coffee and tea brewer.

This isn't like those old pod coffee makers except in that it makes a cup at a time. Even just looking at it, you can see the differences: metal components instead of plastic, a large water tank so making multiple cups is easier, a timer so the machine can be heated up and ready to go in the morning, and (perhaps best of all) the ability to make three different sizes of beverage ranging from teensy proper cups of tea to large commuter mugs of joe.

Today was my Keurig's maiden voyage. First, you open the front to access the chamber where the wee little coffee holder goes in:


This morning's choice was Green Mountain something or the other. I got 96 coffee and drink pods free with the machine, so I'm trying things out:


They're pretty small.


You don't just have to use prepackaged cups, though. The machine comes with a little thingy that can you can fill yourself with coffee or whatever you want to brew. I'll do this once I'm out of the free pods -- less waste and cheaper.


I decided to have a medium sized cup of coffee this morning, so I pressed the middle button to start the brewing process.


The machine pokes holes in the bottom and top of the pod and forces super-heated water through it to brew. Seconds after pressing the button, here comes coffee:


Less than 30 seconds later, it's ready.


And -- after adding cream and sugar, coffee! Hurrah! The perfect temperature and great taste.


I'm pretty happy so far, though this has been an admittedly small sample size. It'll be interesting to try the various teas and cocoa that came along with the machine.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Of course it was against the Astros

Nice. First Cubs no-hitter since 1972. I wish it hadn't been against my team, but you've got to respect the no-hitter in any case.

From the Associated Press:

MILWAUKEE - Carlos Zambrano pitched the first no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs in 36 years, returning from a sore rotator cuff to shut down the Houston Astros 5-0 Sunday night in a game relocated because of Hurricane Ike.

"I guess I'm back!" Zambrano hollered.

Pitching for the first time since Sept. 2, Zambrano stopped a Houston team that had not played since Thursday. The storm forced baseball to move two games from Texas to Miller Park and the Astros flew hours before they took the field.

Zambrano, known for his emotional displays on the mound, kept himself in control until striking out Darin Erstad to finish off the gem. It was baseball's first neutral-site no-hitter in modern history, the Elias Sports Bureau said.

The big right-hander dropped to his knees and pointed to the sky with both hands after getting Erstad to swing and miss. Zambrano (14-5) was immediately mobbed on the mound by his teammates.

"I'm a little confused right now," Zambrano said. "I still can't believe it. It's a great feeling, a feeling that you can't describe."

The crowd of 23,441 — mostly Cubs fans — erupted in a wild ovation after chanting "Let's go Z!" throughout the final inning.

Zambrano struck out a season-high 10 and walked one in the Cubs' first no-hitter since Milt Pappas pitched one against San Diego in 1972. This was the 13th no-hitter in team history, including five in the late 1800s.

This was the second no-hitter in the majors this season — Boston's Jon Lester did it against Kansas City at Fenway Park on May 19.

The Astros only once came close to a hit. David Newhan lined a drive that first baseman Derrek Lee jumped to catch to end the fifth inning.

Zambrano helped himself, too, by charging off the mound and across the first-base line to catch Hunter Pence's foul pop for the second out in the eighth.

Zambrano began the ninth by getting Humberto Quintero to ground out on one pitch — it was his 100th of the game. After pinch-hitter Jose Castillo also grounded out, Erstad chased a full-count pitch low-and-away for Zambrano's first shutout since 2004.

With his jersey untucked, Zambrano paraded triumphantly through a series of interviews in front of the Cubs dugout, then waved to the still-cheering crowd as he walked down the steps.

Coming into the game, Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he wanted to limit the 27-year-old Venezuelan ace to 100 pitches in his return to the rotation. Having recently an anti-inflammatory shot, Zambrano managed to come close — he threw 110 pitches, 73 for strikes.

"What can I do?" Piniella said. "I was even hesitant to warm someone up."

"Pretty exciting stuff!" he added. "He kept his composure, concentration. I don't think anyone in the park was happier than he was."

Because the Brewers were away, MLB decided Saturday night to switch these games to Milwaukee. The upper deck was closed, and the crowd was filled with fans who made the short drive from Chicago.

Zambrano also gave local fans a chance to see something they really wanted two weeks ago — a no-hitter.

Brewers newcomer CC Sabathia pitched a one-hitter on Aug. 31 at Pittsburgh, and team officials asked a scoring review committee to take a further look at the little trickler that was ruled a hit. The call stood.

The win could be yet another sign of good things to come for the NL Central-leading Cubs, whose fans have gotten used to doing more crying than cheering in September during 100 years' worth of World Series frustration.

The Cubs took a 7 1/2-game lead in the NL Central over the fading Brewers, who were swept in a day-night doubleheader by the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Astros fell two games back of the Brewers and Phillies, who are tied in the wild-card race. Houston had won six in a row and 14 of 15.

Zambrano didn't allow a baserunner until he walked Michael Bourn in the fourth inning.

He allowed only one more baserunner the rest of the night, hitting Pence in the back with two outs in the fifth.

Zambrano also made an offensive contribution in the Cubs' four-run third inning, singling and then chugging home from first on Lee's double. The Cubs chased Randy Wolf (10-12) in the third, his shortest outing of the season.

It was the first complete game for Zambrano since June 16, 2007, at home against the Padres. He hadn't thrown a shutout since April 7, 2004, a two-hitter at home against the Rockies.

Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a home run, his 28th of the year. With Zambrano in control, the game took just 2 hours, 17 minutes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Song of the day

The late Warren Zevon's "Keep Me in Your Heart":

Saturday, September 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace, dead at 46

I am crying as I type this. My favorite nonscriptural writer, David Foster Wallace, killed himself last night.

From the Associated Press:

CLAREMONT, Calif. — David Foster Wallace, the author best known for his 1996 novel "Infinite Jest," was found dead in his home, according to police. He was 46.

Wallace's wife found her husband had hanged himself when she returned home about 9:30 p.m. Friday, said Jackie Morales, a records clerk with the Claremont Police Department.

Wallace taught creative writing and English at nearby Pomona College.

Wallace's first novel, "The Broom of the System," gained national attention in 1987 for its ambition and offbeat humor. The New York Times said the 24-year-old author "attempts to give us a portrait, through a combination of Joycean word games, literary parody and zany picaresque adventure, of a contemporary America run amok."

Published in 1996, "Infinite Jest" cemented Wallace's reputation as a major American literary figure. The 1,000-plus-page tome, praised for its complexity and dark wit, topped many best-of lists. Time Magazine named "Infinite Jest" in its issue of the "100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005."

Wallace received a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1997. His short fiction was published in Esquire, GQ, Harper's, The New Yorker and the Paris Review. He wrote nonfiction for a number of publications, including an essay on the U.S. Open for Tennis magazine and a profile of the director David Lynch for Premiere.

Born in Ithaca, N.Y., Wallace attended Amherst College and the University of Illinois.

His writing was amazing, his humor was wicked and his insights about the human condition and our idiosyncrasies were fantastic. I'm not exaggerating when I say that reading Infinite Jest was a turning point in my life.

I was also lucky enough to have a brief correspondence with him -- I sent him a letter in care of his publisher after finishing Infinite Jest to say how grateful I was that he'd written it and how much I enjoyed it. He wrote back (!), thanking me for thanking him, and we exchanged a few subsequent notes. What a sweet and kind thing to do for a fan.

I'm heartbroken.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Praying for Houston


I'm home tonight, watching CNN's coverage of Hurricane Ike's slow, certain path toward the Texas Gulf Coast. Toward Houston. It makes my stomach hurt.

Significant parts of the coast generally and Houston specifically have been evacuated, but many people who either weren't under a mandatory order to evacuate or didn't have the means to leave are riding out the storm. As soon as I heard about the mandatory evacuation, I emailed my friend Joe, who lives there and is among those sticking it out. He emailed me back tonight (finally!) to let me know he was fine, so far, watching the news coverage and having a glass of wine.

He's doing better than I am.

I still remember Alicia, the deadly hurricane that tore Houston apart in August of 1983 and killed 21 people in the process. I'd just graduated from high school and, the night Alicia hit, I was supposed to go see Stevie Ray Vaughan playing with David Bowie in concert. That didn't happen. Instead, the city was plunged into days without electricity, potable running water and, perhaps worst of all in the late summer heat and humidity, no air conditioning. My mother's house had more than a foot of standing water in it after the storm, and we battled mold, bugs, the temperature and each other as the days without modern conveniences turned into weeks. It was horrible.

I have admittedly mixed feelings about Houston -- on the one hand, it's definitely a good place to be from, if you know what I mean. And I don't miss much about it except a few people. And baseball season. But it will be always be home to me in some elemental way, and knowing what's coming to that funny, strange city I grew up in -- having lived through something similar 25 years ago -- all I can do is pray for them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Video of the day: an oldie but a goodie

I'm loving Fatboy Slim these days.

The music and videos both are so innovative, bending genre lines, and the sound is just really fresh and unlike much else on my iPod.

I was searching YouTube for something new from Fatboy Slim to download, and came across this video, which Skinny Spice originally showed me a while ago.

It's about as good as it gets, with Christopher Walken, always a crowd pleaser, showing off his considerable dancing chops. I could just watch this over and over.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Burger Club takes on J's

The Burger Club hasn't gotten together since the end of May given legislative calendars and job changes. Last time we went to Mason's for very fancy Kobe beef burgers, fries in paper cones and sodas in skinny bar glasses. For last week's trip, J, M, D, G and I went a more classic direction with a quick lunch over at J's Cafe.

Located at 10th and J, J's is a regular stop for many Capitol folks. Close to The Building, its fast service, affordable prices and noisy diner atmosphere make for the perfect lunch stop on a tight schedule and/or budget.

All four of us ordered burgers, fries and sodas, with each total coming in under $10. Not bad for so much food that you feel a bit like you can't walk well for the rest of the day. There were the regular permutations -- cheese or grilled onions here, avocado or avocado there. Served on a plastic tray and wrapped in paper, the burgers were huge and the fries were hot:



We dug in. And didn't talk a lot as we demolished the food. Which was pretty good, all in all. The fries especially were a big hit, but the burgers were big and decent. I mean, not Kobe-beef-decent, but no one expected that.

The average grade of J's Cafe burgers by Burger Club members was a B. And I think G summed up everyone's sentiments best: "The beef could have been fresher. The avocado was great. Without a doubt, the best fries in town."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Giant mechanical spider roams Liverpool

Under the heading of "Um -- what?" we have this story (and video!) of a 37,000-kilogram mechanical spider (that's about 81,570 US pounds) set loose on Great Britain. Of course.

From the BBC:
Crowds packed the streets to follow the mechanical beast on its walkabout from the Cunard building through the city.

And although the rain eased for part of the day, onlookers were still soaked by huge jets of water from her abdomen.

The £1.5m Capital of Culture event, operated by French company La Machine, was continuing on Sunday.

La Machine's 37-tonne beast has generated headlines around the world, and culture bosses say they have been delighted with her impact.

Mike Doran, of the Liverpool Culture Company, said: "I've never seen the city centre look so busy. It is reminiscent of when Liverpool brought the European Cup back."

There was some disappointment earlier on Saturday when crowds turned up outside the Cunard building expecting a show which never materialised.

Spider to reawaken

Nicky Webb, a director of Artichoke - the company producing the show - blamed the mix-up on cultural differences and said the French artists never intended to stick to a schedule.

She said: "For them the story is a piece of magic. They want the spontaneity of things not running according to our British clockwork... it doesn't work like that with a show like this."

Nevertheless, show organisers said La Princesse would once again reawaken on Sunday afternoon.

La Princesse was unveiled to the public on Wednesday morning, hanging from a redundant office block next to Lime Street railway station.

She was woken in a hail of fireworks and smoke at 1130 BST on Friday, before striding up and down in front of the arena in front of a cheering crowd.

Later on Friday night she took a dip in the Mersey in front of an estimated 20,000 people.

The spider is made out of steel and poplar wood and is operated by up to 12 people strapped to her frame.

In May 2006, the company's Sultan's Elephant drew an estimated one million people to the streets of London.

And, here's a short video showing the spider on the loose!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Random

I am down with a really persistent headache today, so here are a few observations from my little suburb.

Someone is moving out of The Crying Swearing Neighbor Lady's house. There's a moving truck parked in the street and her Barky Dog is in the back yard, quite upset by the whole thing if his yowling is any measure. Her boyfriend's car (because she has a boyfriend) is parked in front of my house, full of stuff. Daisy is pacing around, too, concerned both about the moving van (which she keeps looking at through the window) as well as the barking. There's a lot happening here.

The folks who live on the other side, The Smoking Neighbors, have had a young woman living with them since late spring/early summer. She, too, smokes, so I see her a lot on their front porch with a young guy who seems to always wear a hat that looks like this, except navy blue. It makes me wonder if he's not overly warm given our temperatures lately:

The only thing I knew about her was that she was a recovering heroin addict. She'd revealed this to the guy who painted my house recently after he teased her about being out on the porch smoking all the time. She said, given the heroin situation, smoking was the least of her problems.

Last night as I was bringing in my garbage cans (oh, the glamour of my Friday nights), I had a chance to talk with her myself for the first time. She's apparently not from around this area, because she asked about the heat and why it was still so hot at 8 p.m. I explained that's how Sacramento summers went -- you could basically project the next day's temperatures by how warm the evening before had been. After we talked, it occurred to me how friendly she was, how neighborly. I can't remember a similar interaction or conversation with the Smoking Neighbors in the whole time I've lived here.

In other news, the last two Thursdays when I've come home from work, there's been a tree branch lying across my driveway. Two weeks in a row on the same day. And these are substantial branches, heavy with green leaves and little berry things. I have to drag them out of the way. There are a few weird things about this -- first, I don't think they've fallen off either of the trees in my front yard, which is adjacent to the driveway. So where are they coming from? How'd they get here? Second, they aren't dead branches, so I'm not sure why they're just dropping off of whatever tree they came from, especially since we haven't exactly been having wind or rain storms lately. I await next Thursday with great interest.

Last, apropos of nothing, here is a LOLCats that's a. not a cat and b. pretty cute:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mrs. Clampitt

Chilling on the couch.



Immediately prior to this picture being taken, she was snarling at my hands as I was typing. Of course.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Too true

From somewhere on the Interwebs. Click on image to enlarge:


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sounds of summer

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. I'm lucky enough to live in Northern California where the weather will stay balmy and temperate until about Halloween, but still, there's something about Labor Day that signals the changes to come -- even if it's more of a state of mind for the time being.

Dashboard Confessional just sounds like summer to me, and this song, So Long, So Long, is particularly evocative of the time of year when summer gives way to fall. Chris Carrabba is joined here by Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

God on mute?

Over the summer my church has been reading through a book by John Piper, When I Don't Desire God. At the risk of being stoned or excommunicated, I must now make a confession: I don't love most of his books. His preaching is amazing and I read his seminal work, Desiring God, when I first became a Christian and enjoyed it very much.

But I've found the handful of his subsequent books that I've tried to read to be sort of more of the same, variations on a theme. So I've been reading other things to stir myself to a deeper fellowship with the Lord. My current selection is God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer by Pete Grieg.

In case you haven't heard of him before, Pete Grieg is the founder of the 24-7 Prayer movement, a network of prayer rooms around the world focused on continual intercessory prayer. The 24-7 site says:
Participating groups pledge to pray 24 hours a day for a week or more in a dedicated prayer-room. They then 'carry the baton of prayer' for that period. The prayer passes from location to location in a never ending flow linked up by the Worldwide Web. We are a virtual community praying in real locations. Right now someone, somewhere is praying 24-7.
The movement began in 1999 to turn youth culture back to Christ and mobilize prayer. Sixty groups in 15 countries are now praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and seeing the Holy Spirit fill a place as well as a person (Acts 2:2).

ANYWAY, so I am reading God on Mute. And it's wonderful. Pete's wife, Samie, was diagnosed with an orange-sized brain tumor not too long after the 24-7 movement got underway. Pete's book doesn't pull punches as he outlines his own struggle with praying for Samie as she faced brain surgery and later, as seizures wracked her body. He honestly describes bargaining with God, arguing with Him, as he pleaded for Samie's healing. And in the process helps others either in desperate situations or who feel like they pray but there's no answer.

He focuses extensively on Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36), a prayer after which there was no descending dove, no booming voice of God from heaven to reassure Him. Pointing out that Gethsemane means "the oil press," Grieg explains the pivotal role of olive oil in culture at the time of Christ. It was not only used for cooking, as it is today, but for fuel for lamps, as a tool in Israeli worship and to anoint kings. And how this fits with the imagery (and reality) of being crushed and broken:

Grieg writes:
This unparalleled resource ... could only be acquired by crushing the fruit of the olive tree to a pulp. Without intense pressure and the destruction of something good, there could be nothing better.

It's easy to see the potency of these images for Jesus, who endured such pressure that night in Gethsemane to become the everlasting Light of the World, the Healer of Nations and the anointed King of kings. Precious oil can flow in our lives too from the crushing experiences we endure. ...

We may not see any such beauty in our own lives, and perhaps this is good. But we know there is an anointing -- an authority -- that can only come to us through the darker trust of unanswered prayer. It is an illumination both in us and through us that can only come through suffering: a healing that we can only minister when we have ourselves been wounded. Ultimately we know that there is a sevenfold worship more precious to God than any other: the offering of a broken heart and a crushed spirit that prays, "Abba, Father, everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will." (pp. 101-102)