Monday, January 29, 2007

The God Delusion

I can't remember if I mentioned that I finished The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Believer or not, I think that this is a must read. Or if you prefer then you can do what I did and download if from Audible and listen to it. It took me less than a week to listen to the book while running and commuting. The experience is brilliant because instead of just listening to music I can listen to a very stimulating book and finish it in much less time than otherwise. I'm not a terribly fast reader and I have to fit my reading into my limited spare time which often causes me to stay up too late.

Back to the book. Do you think homosexuals are stigmatized? According to Dawkins a gay candidate for public office is much, much more electable than an atheist. I remember think that way. Atheists are branded as horrible, immoral people. Someone who doesn't believe in God in some way or another is fundamentally flawed. In our society faith is considered a high, noble, and necessary trait.

Dawkins effectively discusses the basis of morality. The truth seems to be that morality seems to be pretty univeral across all belief systems including atheism which would seem to rule out a religious basis. In fact, he gives some startling examples that illustrate that religion often makes people accept as moral things that would otherwise be abhorrent. One that I remember is the story of Joshua conquering Jericho and killing every living thing with a few exceptions. Most Israeli school children considered Joshua and the Israelites morally justified for various reasons and some of those that thought they were immoral was because they shouldn't have destroyed valuables that would have enriched them. When told the same story, but with the names changed to the Chinese and another place, something like 97% found the conquerors completely unjustified. It sorts of confirms the statement that it takes religion to make good people do bad things. Maybe, just maybe, atheists are more moral than their religious counterparts because they have to think about right and wrong based on rational thought instead of having right and wrong defined dogmatically.

A comment over on Simeon's Peep Stone made some comment to the effect that it's too bad people lose their belief. Why? Do we bemoan children's loss in belief in Santa Claus? I mean, it's sort of cute for a while, but at some point it becomes pathetic and causes you to question the intelligence and maturity of kids who haven't figured it out for themselves yet. I'm embarrassed that I held on to Mormonism for as long as I did since it has little more justification than a belief in Santa Claus. Okay, maybe it's more like believing in Pat Robertson and the 700 club types.

Religious apologists like to trot out their pet scientists. But Dawkins points out that they do it because they are so rare. He also gives examples that illustrate that many of the "believing" scientists don't believe in any way that would be recognizable to most religious people. Many believe in little more than a sense of wonder and not in a anthropomorphic, personal God that answers individual prayers and meddles in our affairs. This month's National Geographic includes an interview with the head of the Human Genome Project who claims that he finds no conflict between religion and science and yets articulates a belief in a God that performs miracles so rarely that he might as well be non-existent. In other words, he claims faith, but really puts his faith in science and reason and doesn't expect his God to interfere in human affairs. I think most Christians would find that a strange cread. I personally don't see much comfort in such a belief, although it probably isn't very harmful either.

Anyway, read or listen to the book. Whether you agree or not it will broaden your horizons and perhaps battle the popular misconceptions and prejudices against atheists.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Almost There

Today I successfully completed the sixth of the seven races in the Austin Distance Challenge. I had a good, uneventful, unspectacular race and finished the 3M Half Marathon in 1:58:39.4 at an average pace of 9:03 minutes per mile. I'd hoped to run maybe 10 or 15 seconds per mile faster, but my body just wouldn't respond.

I got back home from Santa Clara, California late Friday night and slept in on Saturday. After wasting time on the computer I picked up my race packet and had a nice large Freebirds burrito full of rice and beans for lunch. After wasting some more time in the afternoon I took the family to see Eragon and then stayed up too late watching the latest episode of my favorite show, Heroes.

The race started at 7:00 am so my day started at 5:15 am. The temperature was a crisp 33 degrees according to our patio thermometer, but it was clear and it was supposed to warm up quickly once the sun came up. I wore my typical clothes, spandex shorts and a long sleeve under armour shirt with a light skull cap and running gloves.

The turnout for the race was pretty large; the results listed a total of 3438 finishers. Along with the half marathon they were also simultaneously running a half marathon relay which probably added a few more participants. I stayed in the car as long as possible and I lined up at the back of the crowd. When the horn sounded it took almost 5 minutes before I was able to cross the starting line but they had all four lanes of the street open so it was pretty easy to work through the crowd of slower runners.

The first couple of miles are up hill, as you can see in the linked elevation profile, and I wasn't warmed up yet so the first mile took 9:22.7 (161 avg HR) and the second in 9:23.5 (158 avg HR). At that point I had a good sweat rolling even though it was in the 30s and the hat came off. Mile 3 had a steep downhill followed by a steep uphill but I was able to get on my target pace and finished in 8:58.2 (160 avg HR). The gloves came off and I stuffed them and the hat into my fanny pack as I slurped an energy gel. I finished the fourth mile in 8:53.2 (159 avg HR) but it was tough because the road had a slight incline.

At this point I was a little worried because my heart rate was under 160 and I wanted it to be around 163 or 165 for the first half of the race. I wondered if the low temperature was keeping my heart rate down in a similar way that high temperatures elevate it. Whatever the reason, I just couldn't sustain a faster pace.

Starting at mile 4 the course steadily dropped nearly 200 feet over the next two miles and I was able to complete miles 5 and 6 in 8:39.8 (157 avg HR) and 8:54.1 (162 avg HR). Miles 7 was slightly uphill and felt hard after the extended downhill, but it was a bit of a wakeup call when I passed the mile marker in 9:27.9 (158 avg HR). As the course flattened out a bit I picked up the pace and finished mile 8 in 9:03 (161 avg HR). This was a difficult part of the race. I was starting to feel stressed and was having a tough time maintaining a steady pace on the roller coaster course. My heart rate seemed to indicate that I was running too slow, but I was already getting fatigued and having a tough time with my cadence even though my heart wasn't racing.

The rest of the race was up and down with a net drop but there were no more flat spots. This part was interesting to me because it is basically the same as the last six miles of next month's Austin marathon. Even though it is a net descent the hills are going to be very tough with legs that have already run 20 miles. I only had 4 miles left and I tried to push a little harder. I finished mile 9 in 9:05.5 (161 avg HR). With only 5 km left I tried to push hard but mile 10 took 9:26.7 (159 avg HR). I kept pushing and finished mile 11 in 8:51.2 (162 avg HR), and mile 12 in 8:53.3 (160 avg HR). The final 1.1 miles took 9:48.0 (163 avg HR).

My average HR for the race was only 160, but as I walked through Waterloo park and drank water and listened to the live band that was playing I was periodically doubled over with hoarse coughing that didn't produce anything other than pain. I've continued to experience wheezing and coughing through the day so either I'm coming down with something or else some allergen in the air was affecting my lungs.

My previous fastest half marathon was 2:08:05.3 at last year's 3M. My time was even faster than the 1:59:00.0 that I ran the first half of Dallas last month. I should be happy, but I'm disappointed because I know I could have run faster. I'd have felt better if my time had been slower and my heart rate higher, but the low average heart rate means that I left something on the table.

So, I'm pleased but not thrilled. Another bright spot is that I didn't have any injuries. I finally peeled the dead skin off my pinky toe yesterday and the combination of new shoes and 3M bandages kept it from blistering again. My sore right foot is still sore, but it's not any worse. I'm a little sore and stiff, but I should be able to train well over the next 3 weeks as I taper and do final training for the Austin Marathon on February 18.

A big thanks to my lovely wife who took care of my sweats at the starting area and picked me up at the finish.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I Recant

I take it all back. It is with deep regret that I have come to the sudden realization that I've been led astray and confused by the enemies of Mormondom. Their arguments and evidence seemed to make sense, but I've recently been confronted with arguments that I can't refute. Therefore I'm sorry to have to tell you that I'll be starting the long path back into full fellowship in the church. Please expect a change in tone to this blog. I will from now on try to help you rebuild your faith and discover the truth as revealed by God directly to Joseph Smith.

I share now with you an article that my father recently sent me. It touched my soul, as I'm sure it will touch yours:

From The Ensign, June 2006:

Then we proceeded to prepare what I may call a “profile of a prophet.” … We agreed, between us, that the following characteristics should distinguish a man who claims to be a prophet.

A. He will boldly claim that God [has] spoken to him.

B. Any man so claiming would be a dignified man with a dignified message; no table-jumping, no whisperings from the dead, no clairvoyance, but an intelligent statement of truth.

C. Any man claiming to be a prophet of God would declare his message without any fear and without making any weak concessions to public opinion.

D. If he were speaking for God, he could not make concessions although what he taught would be new and contrary to the accepted teachings of the day. A prophet bears witness to what he has seen and heard and seldom tries to make a case by argument. His message and not himself is important.

E. Such a man would speak in the name of the Lord, saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” as did Moses, Joshua, and others.

F. Such a man would predict future events in the name of the Lord, and they would come to pass, as did Isaiah and Ezekiel.

G. He would have not only an important message for his time but often a message for all future time, such as Daniel, Jeremiah, and others had.

H. He would have courage and faith enough to endure persecution and to give his life, if need be, for the cause he espoused, such as Peter, Paul, and others did.

I. Such a man would denounce wickedness fearlessly. He would generally be rejected or persecuted by the people of his time, but later generations, the descendants of his persecutors, would build monuments in his honor.

J. He would be able to do superhuman things, things that no man could do without God’s help. The consequence or result of his message and work would be convincing evidence of his prophetic calling. “By their fruits ye shall know them” [Matt. 7:20].

K. His teachings would be in strict conformity with scripture, and his words and his writings would become scripture. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21).

Now, I have given but an outline which you can fill in and amplify and then measure and judge the Prophet Joseph Smith by the work and stature of other prophets.

As a student of the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith for more than 50 years, I say to you … , by these standards Joseph Smith qualifies as a prophet of God.

I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God because he talked like a prophet. He was the first man since the Apostles of Jesus Christ were slain to make the claim which prophets have always made, [namely,] that God had spoken to him. He lived and died like a prophet. I believe he was a prophet of God because he gave to this world some of the greatest of all revelations. I believe that he was a prophet of God because he predicted many things which have come to pass, things which only God could bring to pass.

John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, declared, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” [Rev. 19:10]. If Joseph Smith had the testimony of Jesus, he had the spirit of prophecy, and if he had the spirit of prophecy, he was a prophet. I submit to you, and I submitted to my friend, that as much as any man who ever lived he had a testimony of Jesus, for, like the Apostles of old, he saw Him and heard Him speak. He gave his life for that testimony. I challenge any man to name one who has given more evidence of the divine calling of Jesus Christ than did the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I believe the Prophet Joseph Smith was a prophet because he did many superhuman things. One was translating the Book of Mormon. Some people will not agree, but I submit to you that the Prophet Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon did a superhuman work. I ask you … to undertake to write a story on the ancient inhabitants of America. Write as he did without any source of material. Include in your story 54 chapters dealing with wars, 21 historical chapters, 55 chapters on visions and prophecies, and, remember, when you begin to write on visions and prophecies you must have your record agree meticulously with the Bible. You write 71 chapters on doctrine and exhortation, and, here too, you must check every statement with the scriptures or you will be proven to be a fraud. You must write 21 chapters on the ministry of Christ, and everything you claim He said and did and every testimony you write in your book about Him must agree absolutely with the New Testament.

I ask you, would you like to undertake such a task? I would suggest to you too that you must employ figures of speech, similes, metaphors, narrations, exposition, description, oratory, epic, lyric, logic, and parables. Undertake that, will you? I ask you to remember that the man that translated the Book of Mormon was a young man who hadn’t had the opportunity of schooling that you have had, and yet he dictated that book in just over two months and made very few, if any, corrections. For over 100 years, some of the best students and scholars of the world have been trying to prove from the Bible that the Book of Mormon is false, but not one of them has been able to prove that anything he wrote was not in strict harmony with the scriptures. …

Joseph Smith undertook and accomplished other superhuman tasks; among them I list the following: He organized the Church. (I call attention to the fact that no constitution effected by human agency has survived 100 years without modification or amendment, even the Constitution of the United States. The basic law or constitution of the Church has never been altered.) He undertook to carry the gospel message to all nations, which is a superhuman task still in progress. He undertook, by divine command, to gather thousands of people to Zion. He instituted vicarious work for the dead and built temples for that purpose. He promised that certain signs should follow the believers, and there are thousands of witnesses who certify that this promise has been fulfilled.

I said to my friend, “… I cannot understand your saying to me that my claims are fantastic. Nor can I understand why Christians who claim to believe in Christ would persecute and put to death a man whose whole purpose was to prove the truth of the things they themselves were declaring, namely, that Jesus was the Christ. I could understand them for persecuting Joseph if he had said, “I am Christ,” or if he had said, “There is no Christ,” or if he had said someone else is Christ. Then Christians believing in Christ would be justified in opposing him. But what he said was, “He whom ye claim to serve, declare I unto you. … I testify that I saw Him and talked with Him. He is the Son of God. Why persecute me for that?” …

Perhaps some of you are wondering how the judge reacted to our discussion. He sat and listened intently; he then asked some very pointed and searching questions, and at the end of the period he said: “Mr. Brown, I wonder if your people appreciate the import of your message. Do you?” He said, “If what you have told me is true, it is the greatest message that has come to this earth since the angels announced the birth of Christ.”

This was a judge speaking, a great statesman, an intelligent man. He threw out the challenge: “Do you appreciate the import of what you say?” He added: “I wish it were true. I hope it may be true. God knows it ought to be true. I would to God,” he said, and he wept as he said it, “that some man could appear on earth and authoritatively say, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ ”

As I intimated, we did not meet again. I have brought to you very briefly some of the reasons why I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. But undergirding and overarching all that, I say to you from the very center of my heart that by the revelations of the Holy Ghost I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. While these evidences and many others that could be cited may have the effect of giving one an intellectual conviction, only by the whisperings of the Holy Spirit can one come to know the things of God. By those whisperings I say I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. I thank God for that knowledge.

I'm sure that you can see, as I have, the impecable reason and logic. It's simply impossible to deny that the only possible explanation is that Joseph Smith is a prophet.

If you disagree, please let me know which points you find questionable. Or, perhaps it would be easier for you to point out which items you find most convincing.

God, I'm so embarrassed that I could have let reason and evidence cloud my thoughts and destroy my faith.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Glory of God is Intelligence

The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.

D&C 93:36
I'm proud of the fact that my Mormon upbringing included this and other doctrines that extolled the virtues of education, reading good books, accepting all good things no matter their source, and having the humility to discard beliefs that prove to be incorrect. On a certain level I was raised in an environment of intellectual enquiry and tolerance. After all, when you have the restored truth then you don't need to fear any learning because all evidence and reason will inexorably lead you to that truth and sustain and vindicate the pure knowledge revealed to humanity through God's prophets.

I didn't realize that I lived in a culturally and intellectually isolated environment that claimed openess and surety in its teachings and beliefs but that carefully filtered the information that the faithful were exposed to. I was distrustful of anti-Mormon attackers and was periodically fed examples of their dishonest tactics and ill-conceived attacks on my beloved beliefs. During my formative years I was given many reasons to distrust the motives and integrity of the enemies of the church and felt as much interest in listening to them or reading their tracts as I would be of studying Judaism in an Arabian mosque. My occasional perusal of anti-Mormon tracts and books further reinforced my distrust as I read their obvious misrepresentations of Mormon beliefs and history and their lack of anything better to offer.

And yet here I sit. A disbeliever not only in Mormonism, but also in the existence of a personal God.

If the Mormon church now betrays doctrines such as I quote above by denigrating, marginalizing, and even excommunicating its "so-called" intellectuals, not because they are wrong but because they challenge the status quo and authority of the church, then it is understandable. Look where it has gotten me and many others like me. If loss of belief and loss of faith are bad, then so is anything that inevitably leads to those things. And thought, reason, and evidence clearly don't lead one to believe in the church. One can only maintain belief as once receives further light and knowledge by subjugating reason to a blind credulity that exalts subjective feelings and experience and calls them the faint whisperings of the Spirit.

The best, and only real defense, offered by the church in the face of the increasing tide of evidence against its claims is that the whisperings of the Spirit are a superior source of light and knowledge than our frail minds. Reasoning can fail and knowledge can be incomplete or incorrect, but the Spirit will never lead you astray.

But what is the Spirit and how do we recognize it. Boyd K. Packer triumphantly declares that it is like the taste of salt. It is impossible to describe to someone who has never experienced the taste. Salt tastes salty. I guess that by analogy the Spirit feel "spirity." I think that the ultimate test is that any feeling that convinces you of the truth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is from the Spirit. On the other hand any similar feelings that do otherwise aren't from the Spirit. The differences are subtle, but with experience you can learn to tell the difference. Apparently we aren't supposed to notice the circular definition.

But my feelings convince me quite thoroughly that the church isn't true. In fact it is difficult for me to even consider that it might be true because I have so much information that tells me otherwise. David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, never renounced his testimony that it was revealed by God through Joseph Smith. He also categorically stated that he knew just as strongly that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet and that the church led by Brigham Young was in apostasy. The church is quite proud of how proud of his strength of conviction of the first item but isn't exactly eager to trumpet the second. I'm prone to think that Mr. Whitmer was prone to certainty on things about which he had no reasonable justification. I'm chagrined to remember that I spent nearly two years sharing my equally unfounded but equally certain convictions with anyone that would listen.

As I was listening to Richard Dawkins during my evening run I was struck by how theologians and believers in God delight in ignorance. They look for things for which science lacks explanation and then jubilantly claim, "See, you can't explain it. The only possible explanation is God, the Grand Creator!" Dawkins calls it, I think, looking for God in the gaps. In other words, God explains the gaps in knowledge that science can't currently fill. Unfortunately, those gaps are steadily being filled and science continues a steady advance that explains things that were once considered beyond mysterious and only explicable by appeal to a divine creator.

In fact, as he clearly explains, scientists relish ignorance; they readily admit their lack of knowledge. They are infused with a humility that prevents them from claiming certainty about things for which they lack evidence. Rather than doing as the theologians and proclaim, "The only explanation is God," they instead say, "Wow, that would make an awesome PhD thesis!" If the world were run by the intelligent design crowd then intellectual advance would slowly grind to a halt as everyone took the easy way out and simply explained any inexplicable observation as the will or mystery of God. Not unlike a child who says, "The devil made me do it," our universities would be publishing papers on the mysteries of the universe and how their infertile imaginations can only explain it by appealing to an all powerful super being whose existence is overwhelmingly confirmed by the multitude of things that we can't explain. Fortunately, universities such as BYU and its FARMS "scholars" are the exception rather than the rule in academia.

So, maybe Joseph Smith got it wrong. It appears that the glory of God is ignorance. Or at least that seems to be the best proof that he exists.

Sorry for rambling. Too much port.

Good night from chilly Santa Clara.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Technology Can Be Wonderful

I was at the gym last week and my 30GB MP3 player fell out of my locker and died. It has a hard drive and I'm guessing that it got damaged because after the fall it would freeze while booting up and I could hear the hard drive repeatedly thunking as it was trying to read data. Oh well...

So Saturday I headed off to Fry's to see if I could get an inexpensive Flash based player. Since Apple's IPod owns more than 70% of the market that was out of the question. Plus, the IPod locks me into one solution, ITunes, and I don't like it. I ended up walking out of the store with a pretty simple looking 2GB Creative Zen V Plus. I've since been pretty surprised at how capable such a small device can be.

It's small enough that I can hang it around my neck on a lanyard and forget that it is there. About half of the front is a nice color OLED display that can display photos and videos. It also has an FM radio built in that works really well. It has a miniature joy stick for navigating the menus and fast forwarding and skipping tracks. It has two buttons for pause/play and getting to the menus. The volume buttons are on the side. I haven't had to crack the owner's manual because it is all very intuitive and easy to figure out. Once I installed the software Napster immediately recognized it and I was able to download my music without problems.

Now for the best part. I decided to give Audible a try. Audible is a web site that sells recorded books. For $15 a month you get one book a month plus pretty steep discounts on additional books. I signed up for a 3 month half off trial period. The first title that caught my eye was Richard Dawkin's "The God Delusion" so I cashed in my credit and downloaded it. I was easily able to put it on my Zen and I listened to it on my three hour run yesterday.

I have to admit I'm hooked. Listening to a book sounded like a better way of passing the time than listening music. After a while I start hearing the same songs over and over again even with over 6000 in my library and they stop distracting me. But the time flew as I listened to Dawkins and some other woman read the book. The time passes quite quickly when you are enjoying a very engaging and thought provoking book.

Others have recommended Dawkin's book and now I know why. The book is just brilliantly written and it seems like hardly a paragraph goes by that doesn't have something that is very quotable. One of the nice features of the Zen is that is has book marks. The book is split into two large files, but when you're ready to stop you just save a bookmark and you can later resume listening right where you left off. So I'm looking forward to catching up on my reading while I train and commute back and forth to work.

Monday, January 15, 2007


I ran 14 miles on Sunday without agravating my blister. What was the key? For one, it was a training run and I wasn't running very fast. But I also bought some new shoes that I'm quickly falling in love with.

On Saturday I went to RunTex and tried on shoes looking for one that had a wider toebox, fit my foot, had good cushioning, and had minimal medial support. A situation like this simply requires a specialty running store. I dare you to go into your local Foot Locker with that list of requirements and get anything more than a dumb look followed by, "We have some really cool looking Nikes."

Instead the young salesman nodded knowingly, disappeared into the store room, and returned with about 5 different shoes. Running has made me pretty picky about my running shoes. If I run in the store with them and can feel anything then forget about it. If they slip on the heel at all or put even a little pressure somewhere in the store then they'll be torture devices on a long run. This ruled out most of the shoes. I eventually found a Mizuno Wave Rider that felt pretty good, but it was a 12.5 and was a little too long and they didn't have a 12. A couple of quick calls to other RunTex stores in town located the correct size and off I went. The Mizunos in size 12 didn't quite feel right so I asked for another shoe that I'd also liked. It was a little short in size 12 but they had a nice toe box so I asked for a 12.5. The salesman thought they'd be too big, but they turned out to be just right. So I headed off to the gym to try out my new Saucony Pro Grid Triump 4s. That's a mouthful.

The Triumphs are great. They have a wider, squarer toe box and have a very soft, responsive ride. Probably their best feature for me is the shape and design of the heel cup that fits my heel snugly without being too tight. On my Asics I have to lace to the last hole to pull the shoe tighter around my ankle and prevent slipping. No such problem on the Triumph. I'd heard of Saucony, but had never even tried one on by them. Since Asics has revised the venerable Nimbus in a way that doesn't work for me, the Triumph has now replaced it as my preferred neutral cushioned shoe.

It's a big risk breaking in a new pair of shoes this late in the season, but my blister problems required a change and I think this one is working out well.

I almost forgot one other thing I did for the blister. I bought some 3M NexCare waterproof bandanges and bandaged my pinky toe and the toe next to it. I discovered the 3M bandages a couple of years ago and swear by them. They are made of some wonder membrane that is very thin and stretchy, waterproof, and yet breathable. So, when you wear them they don't have any ridges and they don't make your skin prune up.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Hermit? Like a Crab?

OK, I don't know what to make of this result. I instinctively thought it was totally off base, but maybe not. I can be pretty outgoing and outspoken, but I'm not really one for socializing.

You are The Hermit

Prudence, Caution, Deliberation.

The Hermit points to all things hidden, such as knowledge and inspiration,hidden enemies. The illumination is from within, and retirement from participation in current events.

The Hermit is a card of introspection, analysis and, well, virginity. You do not desire to socialize; the card indicates, instead, a desire for peace and solitude. You prefer to take the time to think, organize, ruminate, take stock. There may be feelings of frustration and discontent but these feelings eventually lead to enlightenment, illumination, clarity.

The Hermit represents a wise, inspirational person, friend, teacher, therapist. This a person who can shine a light on things that were previously mysterious and confusing.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Switched To New Blogger

Since I work with computers for a living I'm very sensitive to the idea that new isn't always better. But the old Blogger has been pretty crappy the last couple of days so I bit the bullet and upgraded to the new one. One of the reasons I'd been hesitating is that the new version groups your blogs by Google account which uses an email address as your Google account id. Unfortunately, I don't want this blog grouped with my In Real Life blog so I needed a new email account. Anyway, Gmail doesn't seem to like me so I created a Hotmail email address which is now listed in my profile so you can comment or you can email me. No promises that I'll regularly monitor the hotmail address.

Let me know if anything is broken.

Now That's a Blister

The pictures speak for themselves. The swelling has gone down, but it puffs back up when I run.

Does Mormonism Encourage Honesty?

I secretly struggled with my doubts about Mormonism for many, many years. The only people I ever discussed them with were my parents and my bishop. My father seemed completely perplexed about my concerns. In his mind the church can pretty much do whatever it wants since God guides its prophet who will know if teachings and practices need to change over time to best meet the church's needs. So he didn't have a problem with the fact that the church decided to change temple ordinances that were supposedly revealed by God to his prophet who subsequently declared that they were a perfect restoration of lost ordinances. He felt that the changes were good and didn't see any problem.

I later expressed my lack of faith and doubts to my bishop. His response was a little disconcerting in a different way. He'd had doubts too in the past and told me that he didn't know whether it was really true or not, but that he believed it was true and that it made him feel good to believe. This was quite a contrast to the solid testimony that I'd heard him declare from the pulpit where he unambiguously declared that he "knew" that the church was true. He never gave a hint of uncertainty or doubt. He publicly professed a confidence that he didn't really have inside. I guess it depends on what your definition of "know" is.

Other than that I kept my doubts to myself. I had been taught at BYU in a religion class that Satan can't read your thoughts so if you don't vocalize something then he won't know. Part of me was afraid that vocalizing my doubts would put me in Satan's power who would then work on me even harder. But the bigger reason was that I was afraid of damaging other people's testimonies. What if I discussed my doubts with another member and I caused them to lose their belief? What if I subsequently overcame my doubts? How would I feel if I led one of the Lord's sheep astray? While I still had a shred of belief or even a hope of belief I just couldn't risk it. I definitely couldn't talk to a non-member for the same reasons. If it turned out to be true then I couldn't risk destroying the possibility of that person converting in the future. It was even more perilous for my family. I didn't dare damage their testimony while I held hope that it might be true.

It was all very strange. I was outwardly active in the church although I couldn't bring myself to attend the temple or pay my tithing. I taught classes. I was able to say all of the right things. I knew what the church taught and could regurgitate it and could even do so with conviction. My mind was split and I could go in and out of a believing mindset.

It led to some strange episodes. I remember being confronted by my elder's quorum president in the hallway of church between meetings. It seems he had discovered that I didn't hold a temple recommend. Actually, I'm sure that the clerk generated a list of members without current temple recommends (yes, they keep that information on the computer) for the bishop and my quorum president was instructed to get people to come in for temple recommend interviews. He challenged me to get one and start attending the temple. I told him no thanks and that I wasn't interested. He was irate. All this in a crowded church hallway mind you. The little guy has absolutely no idea how close he came to being the first and only person I've ever punched in the face.

What I feel worst about is that I never discussed any of this with my wife. She is rightfully hurt about this. But I believed that I was doing the right thing. I was doing what the church had taught me to do. There is a scripture somewhere (in the New Testament, I think) that says that it would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown in the sea than to lead someone astray. It was partly a matter of pride. I'd had what I thought was a bullet proof testimony. If the issues I had could cause ME to doubt, then what would they do someone with a weaker testimony? If I was barely able to hold on it seemed likely that it would easily destroy a weaker testimony.

It wasn't until I finally got up the nerve to look my doubts in the face and confront my issues with the church that I finally reached a solid conclusion and then I wanted to share with her, But at that point I was afraid. All of my reading told me that these situations end in divorce more often than not. I was ecstatic to have reached my realization and desparately wanted to share it but didn't know how to and was terrified of the potential consequences. Then I was desparately crushed to realize that my wife didn't seem to be at all interested and didn't seem to even care about the truth and refused to discuss it with me. It turns out that she is far more valiant in holding onto her testimony of the Mormon church than I was.

In so so many ways I think that the church destroys our integrity and our ability to honestly face facts. It starts by telling people that have doubts to declare that the "know" the truth. It pressures youth to bear a testimony that they don't have with the promise that it doing so they will feel the Spirit and gain one. It puts extreme pressure on young men to dedicate two years of their life to proclaiming a gospel which they may have doubts about or which they may not believe. It makes temple attendance an important public performance from the age of 12, but conditions it on worthiness interviews. Not going to the temple becomes a very public sign of unworthiness which puts pressure on people to lie about their "worthiness" to enter the Lord's house. The social aspects of church encourages people to pretend to be people who they really aren't. The punitive actions of the church against intellectuals supresses honest expression of thoughts and beliefs among active members including challenging distortions and lies about church history and doctrine in church meetings and literature. It all conspires to cause a member to subtlely betray their integrity in order to be a worthy, active member.

Somehow that doesn't seem right.

Monday, January 08, 2007


What a weekend. I completely rearranged my bedroom and ran a 20 mile race. It's difficult to decide which was harder.

One thing you have to understand about me and my wife is that we are not neat people. We have lots of hobbies and love to read. So we have lots of stuff. Our children were raised by us and learned our love of stuff and also learned our disregard for order. As a result our house is characterized by stack and piles on top of every horizontal surface. Once all raised surfaces such as desks, counters, rails, dressers, shelves, couches, chairs, and night stands are covered the piles overflow onto the floors. Occassionally I get tired of it, usually when I can't find something I need, and blow a gasket and start cleaning. So, I knew that rearranging the bedroom would be a task because of the piles.

Several weeks ago I used measured our room and all of the furniture and made a CAD drawing that allowed me to move everything around virtually on the screen. I didn't like our current arrangement because it blocked our access to the windows and felt a little cramped. After several hours of learning the CAD program I had a workable solution that the wife and I agreed on.

But before I could even contemplate the rearranging, I had to run some new satellite and telephone cables to the wall where the entertainment center would be located. We have DirecTV with Tivo so I have to have two satellite cables so that the Tivo can record two shows at the same time. It also needs a telephone line to confirm subscriptions and purchases and whatever.

So Saturday I headed over to Home Depot to get supplies. I purchased a drywall saw to cut a hole for the outlet box. Then I purchased an outlet box, a modular outlet cover with 4 openings, 2 cable outlets, 2 telephone outlets, 50 feet of satellite cable, and 50 feet of telephone cable. Then I started looking around for something to help me fish the cables down into the wall from the attic. When the DirecTV installers originally put in the Tivo box they used some fiberglass poles to fish the wires so I was looking for something like that but had no idea where to look. I headed over to landscaping think maybe they'd have something that'd work. A salesperson saw my puzzled, lost look and asked if she could help. I described what I needed and she said, "Oh, you want a fish tape." A fish tape. Of course. Everybody knows what a fish tape is. Back to electrical and it turns out they had a whole rack of various implements for fishing wires through walls or under carpets or wherever they needed to go. A fish tape, by the way, is sort of like a tape measure on steroids where the tape is about 1/4" wide and maybe 1.5 mm thick. So it is stout enough that it can be pushed, but it is still flexible.

So, I go up in the attic and find where I need to put the wires in. I push the cable tape down into the wall and go back down stairs. Simple hitting the wall with my fist make the cable tape rattle in the wall so I knew where to cut. I used a stud finder to locate the studs and cut a hole in the dry wall next to an electrical outlet that I knew was next to a stud. Wonder of wonders, I pull out the drywall and am staring at an AC duct of the flexible variety that the outlet box would pinch. So I cut another hole a foot over that misses pinching the duct. Then I safety wired all of my cables to the cable tape and went back up into the attic to pull them up. They pull up 8 feet and stop. After diving headfirst through a couple of feet of blown insulation and fishing my arm into the wall I discover that my fish tape had gone between a 2x4 and the drywall. So we pulled the cables back out and I rethreaded the cable tape on the other side of the 2x4 and along the AC duct that I could now see buried by insulation. After a few more contortions I threaded the cables back down into the master bedroom closet where all of the cables in the house go into a structured wiring box.

By now it was early evening and I really needed to eat because I had a 20 miler early the next morning. My wife also informed me that there was a party that we wanted to go to. So it was off to Quizno's for supper and Home Depot to get a wall patch before running to the party. I'd only planned on staying for an hour or so I could get a good night's sleep, but we were having so much fun that we didn't wind up getting home until nearly midnight. I had to get my racing gear together and it was after 1:00 before I got to sleep.

Sunday started at 4:30 am because the race was 1.5 hours away in San Marcos and started at 8:00 am. The weather was a crisp 43 degrees which warmed up to 60 by noon. I got there a little more than an hour early and read a book and listened to music while I waited for the start. The course was a beautiful country run through rolling hills, some of which turned out to be pretty steep and long. Around mile 7 I started getting a blister on my right little toe just like in the previous two races. I loosened my shoe and kept going and the pain didn't get any worse and it actually got kind of numb toward the end. More on that later.

My intent was to go out slow and then run marathon pace for about ten miles before slowing down and just finishing. I don't know if it was the 3 hours of sleep or that my legs haven't completely recovered from the Dallas Marathon or whether my conditioning has dropped since then or if the hills killed me, but running at the same pace I did at Dallas turned out to be really hard. My heart rate was pretty high at 9:30 pace and climbed to over 170 when I pushed to a 9:00 pace. By mile 11 I was ready to slow down. I could have kept going, but this was just a training run and I didn't want to punish my legs to the point where I'd need a lot of recovery. So I jogged and walked at a very slow pace. It was majorly sucky because I just wanted the race to be over and I was pretty tired from the hard initial pace. I wound up walking the last two miles, grateful to have put the run behind me.

When I got back to the car and took off my shoes and socks I was sickened by my little toe. Saying that I have a blister doesn't really do justice to the damage. It's more accurate to say that my little toe is a blister. The entire toe top and bottom is one big blister that is full of fluid and blood. Yuck. But it doesn't hurt. I don't think that is good. Time for a trip to the running store to look for a different pair of shoes before the next race.

Not that it matters much, but I finished in 3:45:25 with an average pace of 11:16. That's actually slower than last year's time of 3:43:11, but last year's course was pretty flat compared to this year's hilly course and I ran it differently and walked a lot more. I finished the first 10k in 1:01:34 (9:55 pace), 15k in 1:31:09 (9:57 pace) , 20k in 2:04:57 (10:11 pace), 25k in 2:42:45 (10:35 pace), and mostly walked from there. Not too stellar and pretty disappointing but a good reality check.

Anyway, I spent the rest of the day moving piles and pushing furniture around the carpet. All of the furniture is moved but our bathroom floor is still covered with piles of books and magazines. It turned out nice and I slept like a dead man.

Yesterday's race was very hard and afterwards I really, really didn't want to run the Austin Marathon. Today I feel pretty good and am a little more up beat. But I've significantly scaled back my target pace from 9:12 to 9:45. That would still give me a PR and won't risk overreaching my current fitness level. My hips are a little sore, but my legs are fine so I'll be able to resume running tomorrow and I'll be ready to finish the season strong.

My next race is the 3M Half Marathon in three weeks and I AM looking forward to that.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Happy New Year

The New Year started with a bang which I won't go into right now, but let's just say it's been a rough week.

I have two main focuses right now. First I need to work as many hours as possible to try to pay some bills. Christmas was no surprise, although it always puts a pinch in the wallet. But we had to spend nearly $2000 in unexpected car repairs ($900 to replace a fuel take?! Give me a fucking break GM. You wonder why you're losing money?) and the wife broke a tooth that's going to cost almost $1000. Then we had the lovely annual property tax payment which I'd saved for, but still.

The second focus is staying healthy and finishing the Austin Endurance Challenge. If you've been playing along at home I've finished 4 races: a 10k (6.2 miles), 10 miler, half marathon (13.1 miles), and 20k (12.4 miles). That along with an extra marathon thrown in adds up to 67.9 miles of racing. The remaining races are the ARA 20 Miler tomorrow in San Marcos, the 3M Half Marathon three weeks later, and the AT&T Austin Marathon on February 18.

Since the Dallas Marathon on December 10 I took a week off and then had an easy week of about 10 miles and then I jumped back in with a 41 mile week that included a 20 miler on Christmas Eve. After that my legs had a number of aches and pain and I had a worrisome sore spot in my right foot so I didn't run last Sunday and only did a 10k time trial on Monday and a light run this morning. At this point I've reconciled myself to the fact that I'm not going to improve my conditioning any more this season and that it's just a matter of maintaining my fitness level and avoiding injury. So I'm probably going to focus more on lots of shorter runs and avoid anything over 16 miles after the race tomorrow.

Tomorrow is actually a key race. I don't plan to run it all out, but I need to run it pretty hard to try to dial in my marathon race pace. My plan is to start out at a 10 min/mile pace and then speed up 10 seconds/mile until I get down to a 9 min/mile pace on mile 7. At that point I'm going to try to finish the race at a 9:00 min/mile pace which is what I want to run in the marathon. I'll run at least 10 miles at that pace and if I need to let up the last few miles it will be okay. This is more of a training run than a race. If I can do that then I'll be in good shape for the last two races of the season.

Since the beginning of the season my real target race is the 3M half marathon. I'll be shooting for about an 8:45 min/mile pace which would give me about a 1:55 finishing time. The course is a point to point course that is mostly downhill so I think that I should be able to comfortably meet or beat that goal.

At Austin I'd like to break 4 hours, but the course is a tough loop course with lots of hills so if I can just improve over my Dallas time of 4:17 I'll be happy.

Got to go and do chores now.