a letter to my grandpa for his birthday


Happy 84th Birthday, Grandpa!

When Christine and I received your letter to us before our wedding, I kept it with the important papers we have in a filing cabinet – social security card, birth certificate, passport. I have those papers folded up into an envelope with the number 7 on it – an envelope you gave me at Christmas 2012. I think of those things as being my identity.

The social security number, passport and driver’s license are my identity in the eyes of the law and of man. The cards you and Mom and loved ones have given me, with “God gave us two commands: to LOVE and to SERVE” – those are my identity in the eyes of god.

When I started working in 2008, I told you what the company I worked for was doing. I said we weren’t really providing a product, and I wasn’t sure if it was a service, either. We were trading our own money, to get more of it. You told me that wasn’t a good way of doing business. You said a business should provide a needed good or valuable service, and that money would come as a result of doing that well – but money itself shouldn’t be the aim, or the goal. That has stuck with me over the years, as I’ve continued looking for work that lived up to that standard.

One of my favorite bible passages is the part where people come to Jesus and ask if they should pay taxes. He shows them a coin, and asks “whose image is on this coin?”

“Caesar’s image”, they reply. He says:

“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, render unto God what is God’s.”


I like this passage because it addresses the balance between living your daily life, and being a good person – something I’ve really struggled with.

I also like it because it has extra meaning to me, as a computer programmer who has worked in games. Programmers use the word ‘render’ to describe the process of drawing an image. Most games use a technique called “double-buffered rendering” when they draw images, and the bible passage reminds me of that technique.

Most of computer programming is like managing an office. There are all kinds of papers all over the place. Most of them are stuffed in filing cabinets, and some of them are in the hands of people actively working with them. A programmer writes instructions telling people in the office which papers to move where, which person should read which paper when, what she should write on it when she is finished, and where it should go afterwards.

Imagine an office like this, with a display room that has a huge window to the outside world. This window is the computer screen. All of the people in this room are seated in rows, with access to a bunch of colored cards, and everyone in the room holds up one card at a time. When the computer starts, they are all holding black cards – and so the screen is black. As the computer runs, someone in the room may get a card that says “hold your purple card up in the air.” – now the screen is all black, except for one purple dot. Another person somewhere else gets an instruction that says “hold up a green card” – and now the screen is all black, with one purple dot and one green dot. Eventually, everyone in the room gets instructions telling them what card to hold, and the screen shows a picture:

When a computer draws a picture on the screen, the program needs to get a description of that picture from the filing cabinet, and then send someone into the display room to tell each of the people there which colored card to hold up.

If the guy goes into the room and tells people one by one, “hey, you hold the black card, you hold the yellow card, you hold this card” – the image on the screen will not change smoothly – it will change one pixel at a time, as each person gets their instructions. This can look confusing and unnatural. This jagged, weird look is called tearing.

The solution programmers have used – doubled buffered rendering – is to have the runner tell everyone “ok, we are going to draw a new frame.” The runner tells each person which card they will hold up next. They continue holding the card they have been holding, and prepare the new one. When everybody is ready, they all switch cards at once, to render the new image, and the display changes smoothly.

So how is all of this connected to the bible?

Jesus asks whose image is on the coin. If it’s Caesar’s image, he says “render this coin to Caesar.”

We made are in God’s image. I have seen this in you, Grandpa, very clearly, in your dedication to service and your commitment to teaching us how to love each other – through example primarily, and words secondarily.

Jesus command us to give ourselves to God, to love and to serve others, because that is the image we are made in.

This world here, this physical world – it’s like the image on the screen now. It’s inconsistent. It’s ugly at times, and beautiful at times. It’s not the end plan for what God wants, but a transition stage.

The runner that comes to tell people ‘ok, now hold this card ready for when we switch’ – that’s Jesus, telling us “render the image of God to the back buffer.” He was nailed to the cross for doing this – because that was the only way people could believe a loser like him mattered. Nobody listens to people who “don’t get it” talk about the future – I know this firsthand. Only people who ‘get it’ change the world – gods and kings clearly ‘get it’ – losers, not so much.

So Jesus had to show not only that the world could be better, but that he understood exactly how it was. He called himself the good shepherd. Shepherds are disgusting, uneducated people, and sheep are dumb animals that are easily frightened. The only way people would believe that it was time for a new image – one that didn’t have horrible suffering in it – is if the new image were announced by someone who saw the existing image perfectly. Someone who takes as much of that horrible suffering as anyone can – someone to show us “Hey, I feel this too, but there is something better waiting. Hold the image of love in your left hand, and get ready to switch cards on my command.”

We have to live in this world now, which means making money, paying taxes, and even using violence to defend ourselves from time to time. To me, Jesus was telling us that the outside world needs to see the image it’s been seeing – Caesar’s image – but in our souls, we have the image of god, and we need to prepare to show that to the world immediately around us.

For a long time, I had the two flipped. I tried to be loving and open and honest to all of the world around me on a daily basis, which meant I trusted people who were physically near me too easily – and thus hurt people who loved me and were far away. Christine coming into my life has been redeeming for me in the same way Christ’s presence in the world gave us an example of love and service.

Physical distance is just one measure of nearness – but I know you and Mom and Dad are always with me in my heart, and the rest of my body – as you guys have your signature all over my DNA. When I need strength to avoid a tempting purchase, I remember dad eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day for a decade, and I feel my body tingle, as if Dad were speaking to me through my DNA. I will always be far closer to you and Dad and Mom and those who’ve loved me for years, through the worst of my troubles – because you are structurally embedded in my body and mind, flawed reflections of the perfect image of God.

Thank you for showing me that image; I hope I can reflect it as well as you have.


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