Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daisy 5k

Today was a significant milestone for me. I completed my first road race since my ankle surgery, a small 5k in downtown Austin. It was pretty much what I expected: slow (9:15/mile pace). The weather was a nice crisp 46 F with a strong wind blowing out of the northwest. My left foot and ankle were sore for the first mile or so but then they calmed down and by the end I was running comfortably. It felt good to try to run hard and try to push my limits some although it wasn't until the last couple of hundred meters that it started feeling good instead of like work.

I've made good progress with a few setbacks over the last several weeks. Three weeks ago my ankle's swelling was less than it's been since the surgery and I was able to see my ankle bones. So the next week I tried to run every day, nice and easy. I also extended my long run out to 4.5 miles. This made my ankle start swelling again and I started feeling pain on the outside of my left foot and ankle and having a lot of swelling again. I had a 6 month followup with my doctor last Tuesday and while he was happy with my progress he wasn't happy with the swelling and pain in the foot and thought that it might be the result of overpronation and he referred me to an orthotic specialist.

I'm not so sure about the need for an orthotic because neutral cushioned shoes feel good and stability shoes hurt my feet. Before dumping $300-$400 on custom orthotics I went down to the running store and bought some Superfeet over the counter orthotics. In my Saucony's they raise my heel some and make my heels slip a little so I have to tighten the shoes more. But in my new Nike Zoom Victorys they felt completely natural and my foot and ankle feel good this evening so maybe they are helping. I'll see over the next few weeks.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Blessings of Tithing (Not), Part 2

On January 30 I walked into work with a huge smile on my face and I felt like I was entering a period of great prospects. This was incongruous because it was the last day of my contract and my company had no prospects for new contracts. I had friends and co-workers who had already been unemployed for over 4 months and had done thorough nationwide searches trying to drum up new contracts with absolutely no results. Over the last year the contracting job market had completely dried up.

I had resolved to live off my savings for as long as possible and I was looking forward to some time off after working a tremendous amount over the previous year and a half. I also had some ideas for starting my own business that I wanted time to think about and work on. I also had things to do around the house that had been neglected for too long.

One of the things I wanted to do was go on a cruise with my wife. Not knowing my job future made me delay until the last moment but I booked a cruise at the last moment over the internet. My wife and I hurriedly packed and drove down to Galveston on February 8. We got caught in a huge traffic logjam just south of Houston and barely made it to the dock in time to board. I dropped my wife and our luggage at the dock and parked the car. We then got into the line to check in and got out driver's licenses out. We got up to the TSA people and they asked for our birth certificates or passport. I had hurriedly read the travel documents web page the night before which said that passports weren't required so I panicked a bit. I thought you only needed a driver's license. No problem, we'd brought our passports along even though we thought they weren't needed so we ran back out to our luggage.

After 30 minutes later of going through every piece of luggage we couldn't find any sign of my passport. Feeling like the stupidest person on the planet I made one last attempt to beg my way onto the ship only to be denied. I went back to the car, searched it for my passport, and went and picked up my wife and luggage for the long drive back to Austin.

Before leaving I called Royal Caribbean and they graciously agreed to transfer my non-refundable payment to a future cruise. The only problem was that this was the only week that really worked for us that was also affordable. After a little discussion we decided the only week that would really work was the week of spring break. This also meant that all of the kids would be free. So I made a command decision to book a cruise not just for the wife and I, but also for all 4 kids. Royal Caribbean helped us get it all set up the next day and we are now looking forward to a dream vacation.

By the way, in our haste to leave, my small backpack that I was going to carry on got left at the house. Inside were my cameras, some computer cables, and ... (drum roll please) ... my passport.

That next week I enjoyed my time off and didn't do much. On Friday I got an update from Linked In and I decided on the spur of the moment to ping a couple people in my network to see if they knew of any jobs. Within the hour they had responsed and I'd sent out a couple of updated resumes. The following Monday I got a call from a hiring manager and on Tuesday I had a phone interview with him and on the next day did a phone interview with a senior fellow of the company. The next Tuesday I had an on campus interview and two days later had an offer which I accepted two days ago and I start a great new job on 3/9.

If I was still an active member of the church this string of events would make a great faith promoting story to tell during testimony meeting. What initially looks like a calamity (missing the cruise and losing a lot of non-refundable money) results in my getting a great job and being able to take a cruise with the whole family while on paid vacation instead of while hoping to find a job.

Are these the blessing of heaven despite my unworthiness or because of my wife's worthiness or is it just life? My personal opinion is that there wasn't any divine intervention. Everything that happened was a direct result of my own stupidity and my own initiative in doing what I could do. I'm happy that Royal Caribbean felt it was good business to allow me to rebook the cruise at a later date even though they had no contractual obligation to do so. But, their decision was rewarded with more business from me that they wouldn't have otherwise gotten. I'm glad that I was in Austin to send out those feelers instead of on a cruise ship. But in the end, I don't know if it would have made any difference if I'd sent those resumes out a few days or a week later. I have a very good resume with unique skills and the company really wanted to hire me and found a spot for me despite challenging ecomonic times.

I'm blessed and I'm happy. But I wouldn't feel any differently if those things hadn't happened. The flip side is I also don't feel cursed or tried when things aren't going well. I feel like my personal life philosopy allows me to ride the ups and downs of life with relative equanimity.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses

I've formed some opinions about the Book of Mormon witnesses, but I don't like reaching uninformed conclusions so I decided to read up on them. I just finished reading Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard L. Anderson based on the recommendation of no less that Daniel C. Petersen whose quote on Amazon is titled, "An Instant Classic" and states
This is one of the most important books ever published in the field of Book of Mormon studies. I recommend it without hesitation, and with the greatest enthusiasm. It deserves to be kept in print for the indefinite future.
Based on that I wanted to see how it would address my concerns about their testimonies.

Unfortunately, it didn't offer anything new. Here's my review that I posted on Amazon.

Based on Daniel Petersen's review I was expecting quite a bit more. This book is essentially a series of brief biographical sketches of each of the witnesses with an emphasis on their normality and integrity in their normal lives and how they repeatedly re-affirmed their testimony of the Book of Mormon. I'm convinced that they believed and weren't lying and that it was real to them.

What it fails to do, however, is provide any kind of detail about the nature of the experiences that they have. The author repeatedly emphasizes that it was real to them. However, these were people that believed in peep stones and magic too. I have no doubt that their visionary experiences were as real to them as alien abductions are to people that have experienced them. He readily dismisses, however, the possibility that the experiences were the product of the charismatic, visionary, ecstatic experiences that are typical of the religiously zealous. This is despite the fact that Martin Harris and David Whitmer both emphasize that their experience occurred by the power of God while in the Spirit. The fact that such experiences are real to them shouldn't be convincing to the rest of us.

I'm convinced that they had an experience and don't think they were lying. But if I accept their witness then do I have to believe equally sincere spiritual witnesses of countless others throughout the ages even though they are all contradictory?

I think the more interesting question, which isn't addressed by this book, is what is the actual basis of these types of experiences.

Unfortunately, the book only gives a couple of well-known descriptions of the experiences which bring up more questions than they answer. What is extremely troubling to me is the pro-forma nature of the testimonies. We lack critical details such as the date, the setting, the time of day, etc. We have evidence that the 8 witnesses' experience was spiritual as well. The author challenges this, but curiously can provide no refutation from the 8 witnesses themselves. I think it says a lot that they never described what happened and that the author doesn't bring this up.

He also minimizes or neglects to mention evidence that challenges his thesis. One example is that he gives the Mormon version of the Charles Anthon story but neglects to quote Anthon's version which calls into question the veracity of Harris with regard to the Book of Mormon. He fails to mention the issues that David Whitmer brought up about Oliver Cowdery editing Joseph Smith's revelations by adding and deleting parts as well as challenging problematic details. This alone should call Cowdery's trustworthiness with regard to church history into question. This is why this book is an apologetic as opposed to a real history. I think the topic is covered much better by other more objective historians who treat all of the evidence and not just the favorable evidence.