Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kooky Finger Snaps

Whenever anybody asks me about what music I like to listen to, I tend to respond with somewhat of a sheepish grin and a coy, affected demeanor. Clearly I have something to hide. It's not that I don't like music, no, I'm not some kind of granola-munching radical. The problem, if anything, is that I like music too much. I have an extensive music collection with hundreds of CDs that cover artists going back over sixty years, all the way back to skinny Elvis (thank you very much, now get me some peanut butter 'n banana sandwiches). Why can't I just own up with pride and answer the question about what I love to listen to? Am I afraid of the reactions that I will get, ashamed of the many possible repercussions if I own up to the artists that I fancy (which is not the manliest phrase I could have chosen)? Will I be subject to some sort of college-level hazing? Ostracized, taunted, folks whispering behind my back in clipped and hushed tones? Will I be "outed" even though I was never "in"?

I can hold this in no longer. I need to come clean to all of you, to unburden my heart and my soul. I will be strong and live with whatever backlash comes my way. Here goes. I have the musical tastes of a 14 year old girl. There, I said it. O.K.? I scream whenever I hear the Backstreet Boys (and yes I have all of their releases). I turn up the radio whenever *NSYNC comes on. I go weak in the knees when I hear Madonna, or pre-white Michael Jackson, or old New Kids. I know, you did not expect to hear this coming from me. You probably thought I liked the manly stylings of the Chainsaw Brigade, or of Locker Room Grunts, or the Sweat Stains. Alas, I wanted to like them, but without the drum machine, the kooky finger snaps, and the dripping ooo-oohs, my mind could not embrace what I was hearing. Now I sit hear, post confession, uncertain of how you will view me. I want to run away, but guilty feet have got no rhythm.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Extreme Environment

Sometimes I feel like I have spent my whole life living in the wrong place. New England, upstate New York, the upper midwest, and Virginia. I have never enjoyed cold, wintery weather, and, in fact, I do not think that it is particularly conducive to human habitation. I believe that we were meant to live in warm, sunny places. I am especially sensitive to arguments like these when I wake up and see temperatures outside below 0oC. The ground is covered with snow or ice, there is a thick layer of frost on my car windows, the world is less friendly and open as everyone is bundled in layers of synthetic Gortex. Every breath that we take burns our nose and lungs, our joints hurt, our nose runs, our fingers swell. I come across the occasional nut-job that tells me they actually enjoy the cold weather, they could not imagine living in a place without clear, distinct seasons. Even on the most frigid, demoralizing days, I have known folks who will wear nothing but light-weight jackets. I knew a guy from California when I went to school in New York who wore short pants all year round. I felt then that there was something horribly wrong with that one. I believe that we should be able to live in a climate where we can lick metal poles any time that we like, any day of the year without negative ramifications. We should be able to pee out-of-doors without leaving behind sullied, yellow precipitation (that spells out D-A-N). This is America, we're supposed to be the greatest nation on earth. We should be able to come up with at least some solution.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mr. Puddin' Belly

When I was a young kid, it seemed like everyone made fun of me for being skinny. At the time, it was a horrible insult that set my blood a-boilin'. I can't remember why that bothered me, but somehow it gnawed at me and got under my skin. As I got a bit older, I filled out. All the way through graduate school and my postdoctoral appointment, I was very active and burned a lot of calories that kept my horizontal growth reasonably in check. Over the intervening years I gained a bit of weight, but I remained within 10 or 15 lbs of my weight when I was in my 20s. For the past couple of years I have had some major issues with my knees that simply did not allow me to exercise. Here the mind was willing but my body would have none of that kind of shenanigans. If I did more than eat cheesy poofs on the couch, my body would complain for days. I lived like this for the past couple of years. You can guess what followed. The slow, steady, and incessant increase in girth.

I had no idea what to do. The doctors advised me to wear knee braces to help control the movements of my knees and to stabilize me, but my knees continued to get worse. By the middle of summer last year, I got so sick of those clunky things, that I stopped wearing them. At this point the incessant swelling and pain in my knees subsided. I started to exercise a bit on my elliptical machine. At first, just once a week for 5 minutes. Then, I increased the frequency of my workouts and then the duration. I noticed after the first couple of weeks that my knees did not hurt more when I exercised. At the start of July 2008 my weight was about 210 lbs. My goal was to work to get below 200 lbs. However, over the next several months, I found a disturbing correlation. The more I exercised, the more weight that I gained. My calorie intake had not increased, in fact, I was reducing everywhere I could. I was not building muscle mass, I was doing aerobic exercise.

The good thing is that I was determined not to give up. My friend Heidi recommended the South Beach diet to me (my doctor did to, but somehow I only thought seriously about it when Heidi mentioned it). This was at Thanksgiving. Coincidentally (or not) this is when my weight loss curve finally started moving in my favor. The problem is that I was up to 219 lbs. Now almost two months later, I finally have stood on the scale and read less than 200 lbs (198.0 lbs baby!). I still have five more pounds to go, but it's now no longer a question of "if", it is a question of "when". So, those of you out there struggling along with weight issues, know this, it can be done. You cannot give up and quit if things don't go your way. You will have to work at it, and probably have to work hard. There will be sacrifice and adjustments in your life style will have to be made. Another important reminder, you did not gain the weight overnight, don't expect to lose it overnight! Good luck.

The plot on the left shows my weight vs. day and the right plot shows the calories burned in my workouts vs. day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Problem of Pain

About a month ago, I considered pain in the Christian life in a two-part series of posts called "Pain is Essential" (I, II). I just finished reading the book The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. I was looking forward to hearing his take on this issue as a means of learning a bit more, of seeing if my own notions could be nudged a bit and inspected from a different point of view. "The problem of pain" is, in Lewis' words, the existence of suffering in a world created by a good and almighty God. As usual, he tackles the idea in his typical logical approach of defining the problem and then looking at it from multiple vantage points. At the end you are left with a sense of "how could I ever have seen the argument any other way?". I have a sense that Lewis would have agreed with some of my opinions, and others he would have seen as faint images of a deeper truth or more complex issue. However, the main point that I think is in accord with Lewis' opinion is that pain is an essential part of the Christian experience.

In what follows, I give some passages from the book that resonated with me as relevant:

- Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion. Once pain has roused him, he knows that he is in some way or other 'up against' the real universe; he either rebels (with the possibility of a clearer issue and deeper repentance at some later stage) or else makes some attempt at an adjustment, which, if pursued, will lead him to religion.

- No doubt pain as God's megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.

- The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full - there's nowhere for Him to put it.

- What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

For the Lost

I woke up this morning and listened,
I listened for our early morning home life buzz,
Listened for the sound of your voice,
Your voice gently whispering and humming,
Humming words of love to me.

I woke up this morning,
But heard nothing,
Nothing familiar, nothing I know,
Nothing I know now but true pain,
True pain flowing through my body and soul.

For I will not hear you and I will not see you,
You who gave me warmth,
Who shared food and laughter,
You who showed me the meaning of life,
Life forever has changed,
Changed into loneliness,
Loneliness and fear.

Fear without you,
You who were everything to me, I miss you,
I miss you every moment of the day,
Day in and day out,
Out of tears I sit awake and carefully listen,
Listen for you ... in case, just in case,
How I miss you.

Nadia Tarzi, August 2003

Monday, January 26, 2009

Emil and Piggy Beast

I was driving past the public library the other day and a couple of thoughts ran across my mind. The first is that I rarely go to public libraries. If I want a book for myself or my daughter, I go and purchase it from the bookstore. I think this is mainly because my local library has not purchased a new book for its collection since before the big war. The second thing that ran across my mind is the title of the first book that I can remember checking out of the library with my own library card. I think it was the title that pulled me in. It was called "Emil and Piggy Beast" by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren (who was more famous for her books on Pippi Longstocking). This cute story was published in 1970 and tells the story about a young boy Emil who is always getting into mischief and then having to pay the consequences when he is caught by his parents. However, his punishments become the springboard for new hijinks when he has Piggy Beast to share them with. It's funny the things that stick in our minds over the years. I can tell you the plot lines from every Gilligan's Island or Three's Company episode, but I can't remember for the life of me things that happened last week.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The End is Here

Just a few short days ago, I posted a blog entitled "House Hunting". I officially began my search on December 12, 2008 (listed in my day planner as the day of the virgin of Guadalupe). The month of December did not see much progress as I was trepidacious and moved with all the speed of cold molasses. The last two weeks of the year and the start of this year were "distractions" due to the Christmas and New Year seasons, which were then followed by the season of my unrelenting laziness (due to the shock and awe of high prices, even higher personal tastes, and the latent understanding of my limited funds). Somehow in all of this lack of progress, I managed to fall in love with a particular house, which I went and toured on Saturday, January 17 (the first place that I had actually seen in person). Although we saw a couple of other places that first day, the property that I had fallen for was head and shoulders above the others. I made an initial offer that was rejected very quickly. I took this to mean that the current owners wanted more money, would not settle for less (as I had low-balled them given my limited budget - see above note), and wanted to kick me (hard) in the knees. I walked away without blinking an eye, using my best poker face. Onward and upward and all that rot. A few days later the home owners grew restless and perturbed. Why isn't he dickering? Doesn't this man know how to play this game? He is not allowed to just walk away without playing. It turns out that my ignorance of the rules of the negotiation were a blessing. The owners were so blown away by my unflinching demeanor that they accepted my initial offer. The papers are signed, the die is cast, and I am, once again, a land owner. Thanks to God's abounding grace, I was able to purchase my dream home. Thanks to my prayers and those of my friends, the work of finding a place is done and I have a good measure of peace and excitement about the future.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lost in the Dark

I had completed the flight from Pittsburgh to Long Island's Islip/MacArthur airport, touching down well after dark. Upon my arrival, I found my way to the baggage area where I was supposed to meet the young graduate student who was to drive me to nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory. I had made this trip to participate in an experiment that my group was involved with. I had not been to Brookhaven before, but the ride from the airport to the nearby small town of Upton was uneventful. Once we drove off the highway and into the lab site, it was clear that we were leaving civilization behind. The facility is what arose out of the old Fort Upton army base. Many of the visiting scientists stay in the original, centrally located army barracks. However, as none were available on my first night, I was scheduled to stay in an old login cabin. I did not know what to expect, but my hopes diminished as my driver began to wind his way deep into the woods along old, ruddy, unmarked, and completely unlit, dirt trails. He pulled up outside my cabin and dropped me off, telling me he would return at 7:00 a.m. the next morning to pick me up. At this point, it was just past midnight and I was totally exhausted from a very long day of work and travel. The only lights that I could see as I surveyed my surroundings were the tail lamps of the car that I had just arrived in moving off into the night, and the flicker of a small, tired light bulb hanging outside the door of my cabin. I had been told beforehand that several other folks from our collaboration were staying at the place and just to find an empty bed and claim it. When I opened the front door, all I could see was inky blackness. I paused for a moment to let my eyes adjust, but I remained submerged in a darkness of a sort that is the stuff of nightmares. I had no idea of the layout of the place and began to grope about with my hands for a light switch or a lamp. After searching up and down all of the nearby walls multiple times, I found nothing. My hands only encountered the smooth texture of wood paneling. I didn't know if there were rooms in the cabin or if the other occupants were sleeping in the very room I was in. I was so exhausted I couldn't think. The more I stumbled around the entranceway, the more things I bumped into. I was beginning to lose control of my mind and I feared I would never find my way. I wanted to call out for help, but I had no more strength. I had become resigned to my fate. In my mind, out of the complete and total silence, I started to hear strange, other-worldly noises. I was in a Steven King novel, just standing there like a coward awaiting some horrible fate that I was certain I could not stop. My end was inevitable. About 15 minutes had passed since I entered that cursed portal, when one of the folks staying there came out of his room to see what was causing the commotion. He was a very nice man who fully understood my clumsy entrance in the middle of the night and showed me to my room. This experience happened to me about 15 years ago, but it still gives me shivers of fright and discomfort. I was so lost in darkness, so disoriented and tired. I'm not sure that I've ever been the same since.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


There are times in life when we are alone, all by ourselves. There are instances when this silence or break is most welcome. A time to collect our thoughts, to relax and let off steam, or just to find a little peace. Times like these, especially when they are planned or come along when we are in need, can be so refreshing, so enjoyable. They can rejuvenate our spirits and ease burdens that are beginning to escalate or that we have been carrying too long. Once we are recharged and refocussed, we are ready to take on the world again with a smile and a clear mind. However, there are other times when we find ourselves alone and the silence is deafening. We want to be with someone and they are not there. Such a dreadful, empty feeling. We have something to share - news, good or bad, an experience or joke, maybe just a desperate need for a long hug and a loving word after a long and tiring day. We call out and there is silence. We dial the phone and there is no answer. We're stuck in traffic or miles from home and there is nothing that we can do about it. We can quickly become edgy, depressed, or withdrawn. Time seemingly comes to a standstill. The anxiety can build up inside us until we feel that we're about to burst. When we finally find that person, they never seem to fully appreciate why we are so happy to see them, why we have tears streaming down our faces, or how deeply their absence has impacted us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Turning Point

When was the last time that you approached a junction that you knew could irreversibly alter the course of your life from that moment forward? Perhaps it was a potential job offer, or a marriage proposal, or an acceptance by a University. We all have faced several such moments in life. The date and time of your moment with destiny is typically known well beforehand. You are reduced to counting down the weeks, days, hours, and minutes in your mind. You live only to mark time as you march toward your fate. You run through the possible outcomes over and over again until your mind is overwhelmed and your body is saturated with feelings of anxiety and restlessness. You suffer from upset stomach, loss of appetite, insufferability, and maybe listlessness or panic. I'm not sure if the pattern of the cycle that we go through depends on what we are faced with. I'm not sure if it even matters how much certainty there is in the outcome. There is always a chance something different, something unexpected might happen. However, when the outcome is completely unpredictable and out of our control, the pressure can be far too much to handle alone.

Today I am marking time until Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 1:00 p.m.. At that moment my oncologist will examine me and determine if my cancer has come back. If I am still clear of the disease, I rejoice briefly, knowing that I bought a little more time, but another moment of destiny is just around the corner. At least I can go back to making the most of my life and to a sense of normalcy as I experience it. If the beast has returned, I can expect immediate surgery and probably the return to the horrors of weekly chemotherapy. There is no advanced warning of what will happen. My cancer is not of a sort that announces its return with shouts or flashing lights. It is insidious and secretive. It comes back every so often in a part of my body very near the gateway to the lymphatic system. If it ever gets there, my journey is, for all intents and purposes, over.

The important thing for us all to understand in the times leading up to and away from these fateful moments, is that we are not alone. "In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phillipians 4:6).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Road to Damascus

I was not struck blind. I did not see the angel of heaven. I never heard a voice. It's strange how a lifetime of living a certain way can take its toll on you. Sometimes you feel so weighed down with everything that you just can't get back to the surface and breath in that cool, sweet air. Sometimes you live on a line so long you lose your sensitivity to the third dimension. I think that this is where I was. I am not sure if my affliction, my deep-seated torment, was obvious to most folks, but I know some on the inside of my world could tell. I was heading for a fall, or perhaps I had already fallen. In such a condition it is hard to judge for yourself what is up and what is down. To me it was all inky darkness and no direction seemed worth following or looking twice at. Doubled over in pain, crying, uncertain, and lost, I made a silent appeal. Immediately a wave of peace that surpassed all understanding washed over me from my head to my feet and I was alive. All I had to do was ask, the gift was there all along.

Monday, January 19, 2009

House Hunting

Have you ever had something that you felt you had to do but were so overwhelmed with the process, so overcome by fear, that you felt paralyzed to take action? This is where I am now as I begin the process of try to find a home to purchase. This is only the second time that I have gone down this road, but it is the first time I am doing it alone. I am not pursuing this course of action by force or coercion, I could extend my apartment lease where I am currently living, but I want something better, more permanent, more ours, for my daughter and for myself. However, I cannot seem to find the time to do what I need to do to push this process forward. Actually the phrase "find the time" is not accurate. I should have said "make the time". I see lots of properties with dollar signs bouncing around at levels approaching the absurd. I see issues with finding the "right" neighborhood, of packing up, moving, and unpacking all my stuff, of putting my brittle body through stress that it cannot take. I knew going into this process that I did not like change, even if it is potentially for the better. I was starting to become arrested with a gripping fear that I just didn't have the strength to go through this process alone. Then it finally dawned on me that I didn't have to. It was at this moment that the burden started to lessen. At closing prayer at Community Group the other night, my friend Kevin (who also is house shopping at the present moment) prayed that we would find strength, peace, and success as we look for new homes. Only then did it dawn on me that I didn't have to shoulder the burden alone, only then did I realize that I had a partner all along throughout this mission.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Phobias are amazingly personal things. Not so much that we are reluctant to tell people about ours, I mean that they vary so wildly from person to person, even within a given family. I stumbled across a phobia web site that listed hundreds upon hundreds of defined phobias. In fact, pretty much anything that you could possibly think of, if you add the suffix -phobia to the end, can now become a medically recognized ailment (and potential government-funded study). For example, how about "garroteophobia", the fear of being hit over the head by a garrote, or "burgoophobia", the fear of being made to eat thick, spicy soups or stews? Of course I made both of these examples up, but why should my personal phobias not make the list? Some of those that were listed were just plain wacky.

However, I decided to work my way through the list to see what possible afflictions I might suffer from (hard as that may be for my loyal readers to believe). Without further ado, here is my top 10 list of personal phobias:
  1. Dystychiphobia - fear of accidents;
  2. Rhabdophobia - fear of being beaten by a rod or instrument of punishment, or of being severely criticized;
  3. Carcinophobia - fear of cancer;
  4. Herpetophobia - fear of creepy, crawly things;
  5. Agoraphobia - fear of crowded public places;
  6. Athazagoraphobia - fear of being forgotten;
  7. Gerascophobia - fear of growing old;
  8. Eremophobia - fear of being alone;
  9. Atychiphobia - fear of failure;
  10. Apiphobia - fear of bees.
O.K., so there you have it. What fears do you suffer from? How about (fear of missing one of my pithy blog entries)? What about bluescreenofdeathophobia (fear of your Windows machine dying leading to I'll stop now before I develop sickofmyownschtickophobia.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Timid Sheep

All of us are used to the shenanigans of our local law enforcement gang - the heat, the fuzz, the police - call them what you will. As we drive down the road we see them hiding out in bushes or donut shops in a operation called a speed trap. Something about the speed trap has never sat right with me. I think it has something to do with my natural Orwellian aversion response (a veiled reference to George Orwell's seminal work 1984). I feel like Big Brother is trying to spy on me from the shadows. (I won't even get into the whole notion of who polices the police? Have you ever seen the way these yahoos drive and seemingly (at times) ignore all of the rules of the road and common sense?) Somehow the idea of "the man" trying to pick off the common dude or dudette to meet the quotas they are given seems too fall into a Hazzardian paradigm (a not-so veiled reference to T.V.s Dukes of Hazzard with Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane running a crooked town).

Actually what I really wanted to note today (before I got so side tracked) was a behavioral tendency I have noticed amongst folks who drive past the more obvious speed traps. This tendency has led to the title of today's post, namely "Timid Sheep". Even if folks are already driving 35 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone, they will still brake as they approach the P.V.U. (i.e. the police vehicular unit). These are the same folks who will not pass the same P.V.U. driving along at 35 m.p.h. in the 55 m.p.h. zone (dang Mabel, this must be a trick). Come on people, don't let the man scare you. Step up and act in confidence! If you are not careful, their hidden cameras will betray your nervousness and this will then alert the stormtroopers to pay even closer attention to your every move.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unexpected Nudity

It's funny how we react around folks without their clothes on. Now I'm now talking about our reactions in the boudoir, that is the topic for another post (probably on someone else's blog). I'm not even talking about how we behave around the guys in the locker room, which is itself a very interesting culture. I am talking about our reactions when we happen upon someone who is sans fig leaf in an unexpected place or situation. I am sure that we have all either innocently walked into an occupied bathroom or changing room or had the same thing done to us (like the time when I was in the Charles DeGalle airport in Paris - yikes). Think back to how you reacted or how the other person reacted. Sometimes, just the simple act of seeing someone naked can alter a relationship permanently. What is the big deal? Why does exposure lead to such outcomes? Is it that the walls or images that we have been trying so hard to build up are instantly brought down?

The other day at work, I went into one of the bathrooms where there is a small shower stall. However, I have never seen anybody use this facility. When I walked into this undersized bathroom, there was this man standing there, totally in the buff, doing some kooky drying aerobics thing with his towel between his legs. My initial uncontrolled reaction was to audibly yelp, stare at his twig and berries in shock, and then try to cover this less than manly action with a quick "how ya doin'" in my deepest voice. I was so uncomfortable - I hastened through my business and got the heck out of there. I have no idea how shower guy felt about all this. Maybe he didn't give it another thought. Maybe he is now in therapy. Maybe he thinks that I need therapy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hare Seppuku

I set out to buy my young daughter a calendar for the new year. Driving to the store I thought about the monthly themes that she might prefer. Hmmm, maybe frolicking kitties, cute and huggable puppies, or pictures of rainbows and unicorns. Just thinking about the photos or drawings and her reactions to them each month kind of warmed me up inside. I ended up going to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore, which has a pretty decent selection. After making a first visual pass over the offerings, some twisted, warped part of me strayed away from kitties, puppies, and unicorns to bunnies. I can hear you say "but bunnies are cute and fluffy too". The problem is the calendar that I picked out was called "The 2009 Calendar of Bunny Suicides" by Andy Riley. (That should put to rest the rumors of my insanity.) But seriously, who would not crumble a little inside considering the plight of these poor, disheartened creatures? As one reviewer put it, maybe they are tired of their media image being limited to (a) wisecrackers like Bugs Bunny, (b) gibbering fools like Roger Rabbit, (c) soft-hearted sidekicks like Thumper, or (d) samurai warriors like Usagi Yojimbo.

Looking over the depictions, we see images of a lost bunny feeding himself to a venus flytrap, another trying to cleave himself with a knife attached to a remote-control truck, one about to be pressed wafer thin by an approaching bobsled. Where will the madness end? Perhaps we should enlist old Jerry Lewis (who I understand is much loved by the French people) to help emcee a dedicated telethon? Isn't there something that could be done for these poor souls? While I ponder on this subject a bit longer, I will have to be content to study my daughter's calendar in more detail and try to force myself not to smile.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Legalism Visited

Legalism. We read so much in the Bible about those grace-killing legalists - the Pharisees and the Sadducees. One can perhaps understand how the shackles of the full measure of the law crept into their lives. Somehow this notion fully took them over like an inescapable addiction. Not only did it infect their own existence, they projected this misguided principle onto everyone. Suddenly the metric by which they judged themselves became the yardstick by which everyone was judged.

Of course, there are many modern forms of legalism and grace killing, sometimes very subtle and cleverly disguised. It is up to us to make the decision to give in to the pressures or understand what is at stake and make our own decision. I was inspired to ponder on this topic when a friend began an impassioned discussion with me about what movies he allowed himself to watch. Movies that included any sinful behaviors, sex, drug use, cheating, swearing, lewd behavior, were off limits. He also indicated to me that this filtering was starting to creep into other areas of his life such as the music he listened to or the people he associated with. I sensed that this ideal was growing within him and taking hold in his life. My side of the discussion was that enjoying a movie or listening to music or hanging around with tax-collectors is not necessarily sinful behavior. It depends on what we do with what our senses collect. While my friend acknowledged that my point of view was valid, I sensed that he could easily start to take his philosophy outside of himself and his family and start using it to measure others.

There are several approaches that are sensible as we decide how to apply rules and regulations to our lives. The first is to talk with Christians that you know to be wise and get some honest feedback. Discourse with an open mind. Next, one should try to understand what Scripture says and doesn't say about a given behavior or lifestyle. Finally, if you feel that following a certain paradigm is appropriate for you to protect you from sin, great, this demonstrates real discipline and inner resolve. However, always keep in mind that others may not walk the same path, and that this can be perfectly fine as well. There are many paths to the promised land for the fellowship of believers.

Monday, January 12, 2009


hob·by (hŏb'ē) – noun, plural -bies - An activity or interest pursued outside one's regular occupation primarily for pleasure.

You know that I have never had a hobby before, at least not as far back as I can remember. I played with games as a kid, and I played some ball way back in college, but I can't think of anything that one might classify as a hobby that has been part of my life for the past 20-some years. Strange, but there were always other things that seemed more important that needed my immediate attention. Things like graduate school, thesis work, find a postdoctoral fellowship, getting a permanent job, dreaming up new experiments, marriage, raising a family, earning a living to pay for every danged thing under the sun. Hobby, whoa there, not for me thank you. I've got a full load already that is fixin' to pull me under as it is.

This past year the notion of a hobby took on a different perspective in my life. It kind of snuck up on me when I wasn't looking and grabbed a hold of me. It all started with some questions that I raised in Community Group. A couple of books were recommended to me. As I pored through the volumes that were given to me, this naturally led me to other books and other authors and on it went. Now I have read more than 30 books in the past year, am in the middle of another few, and have a mounting to-read list. Bang, there you have it, an unplanned hobby that was cleverly foisted on me by my very own Community Group. Now the wall that separated me from Hobbytown had developed a breach.

Of course my Community Group could not leave well enough alone. I was minding my own business when I heard them huddled in the corner whispering in clipped and hushed tones about "blogging". This sounds like something young, sk8er-boi types with asymmetrical hair cuts partake in as they sketch a diamondz pumping mongo. Before you know it, was born and I have written over 70 entries. Another hobby and more debris falls from the Hobbytown wall. Thanks folks for helping me find a creative and safe outlet to explore some issues and write about some experiences that have made me laugh, made me think, made me retch.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Amazing Grace

I just finished reading a book by Charles Swindoll called The Grace Awakening. I chose this book, not so much because I have been pondering on the subject of grace or worried about issues involved with receiving grace, or even so much about saying grace, I just happen to view spending time with Chuck (that's what I call him) like curling up with a nice warm mug of hot chocolate. It's soothing, inviting, and relaxing. I simply enjoy his perspective and his style. His advice is very often practical, too often needed, and typically resonates within me.

The book starts off with a description of grace from Donald Barnhouse that I really liked. "Love that goes upward is worship, love that goes outward is affection, love that stoops is grace." Thus to show grace is to extend favor or kindness to one who doesn't deserve it and can never earn it. This is the gift offered to us by God.

The cool thing is that by accepting this free gift, we also get some additional free perks, practical expectations that we can anticipate as we get a firm grasp on grace.
  1. You can expect to gain a greater appreciation for God's gifts to you and others.
  2. You can expect to spend less time and energy critical of and concerned about others' choice.
  3. You can expect to become more tolerant and less judgmental.
  4. You can expect to take a giant step toward maturity.
Sounds like a pretty good deal. It's O.K. if you are not ready to pick up your free gift today or even next week. The offer is yours whenever you are ready. It never expires, never runs out. There is no fine print or limited warranty. What could be better?

Friday, January 9, 2009


Picture the scene. A group of physicists is driving along in their 1978 AMC Gremlin to a scientific conference. According to popular belief, they all have glasses that are broken and repaired with tape, each has a pocket protector filled with assorted writing implements, and each is decked out in high-water pants pulled up to their flabby, white, pasty man boobs and old-man-type Florsheims. Here they are, your classic nerds. Each smells a bit and sports oily hair as they don't like to bathe. They love to talk in a strange, geeky syntax that only they understand. Now back to our intrepid crew, driving along, with plucky determination toward their destination. Would you be surprised if a gaggle of screaming devotees drove up alongside our heroes? They bear the unmistakeable scent of groupies. Faces painted, posters of scientific formulas, screams of "We ♥ you" (in hexadecimal, of course). Ahh, in such a world I could be king, ..., (73 69 67 68 21).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Eye Speck

Sometimes I have trouble forgiving people for transgressions against me. This is an issue that comes up all too often in my life. I try to pray and then to "give the problem to God". But, it seems, there are times that I don't really know what this means. I think also that my jealous nature takes control of my behavior. People have hurt me deeply at times, they have stolen from me, that have said unfair and untrue words against me, they have betrayed my trust, and they seem to get away with it. They act as if they have done nothing wrong. They are living perfectly at peace and I am torn up inside with a lingering pain and hurt that just won't subside. But God, what about them? When are they going to get their punishment? Why does this always seem to happen to me? What about the evils they have committed? It's nice, in times of inner termoil like these, to really appreciate what scripture has to say.

" Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)

"Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil." (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

The rewards or punishments that God deals out are rarely sudden or closely linked in time to the specific action. They are handed down on the day of judgement. So we have no need to waste a single, precious moment of our lives fretting over any issue of judgement or worrying about how unfair the world seems. We simply need to live our lives the best that we can and worry about our own actions. In short, you will get yours in full measure and they will get theirs in full measure. Count on it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Brain Lapse

Every now and then I lose control. I try to maintain strict discipline, a cold, hard, and unchangeable set of rules, but sometimes things get out of hand, out of whack. You see, as Dan Quayle so ingeniously put it, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful" (a confused and misguided attempt to use the United Negro College Fund motto). How can I fault the man when he was so right, so dead on? I want control of my mind and my faculties at all times, there can be no exceptions. However, every now and then, there is utter rebellion (which, in the words of Dave Barry, would be an awesome name for a rock band). I lose control and become like Ronald Reagan during his entire second term in the White House (for you younger folks, he was a president, a U.S. president, a long time ago). I drool, I eat oatmeal with my hands, I sing off key (a wretched cariacture of mental illness if ever there was one, so I apologize). I have made notes of the following occurrences of loss-of-control-itis in the past few weeks:
  • I wrote the dollar amount on a check on the "Pay to the order of" line.
  • I forgot the shortcut keys on my word processor.
  • I forget how to spelling the word "blepharoconjunctivitis".
What's next? What other common, everyday things will be lost in some wacky short circuit of my mind? Will I forget the quadratic formula? Will I forget the Schroedinger equation? Will I forget which end of my toothbrush to use? Curse you hippocampus and your insubordination.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Comparing Balloons

Just over a month ago, I made a blog entry about "Life Balloons". This was an exercise that I learned from my last Community Group as a way to take stock each year of the different areas of our lives. A way to recognize how things have evolved or developed over the past year. This self-assessment tool can be used as you chart your course for the next year. What areas of my life need attention or work (where are my life balloons flying low or drooping) and where am I doing O.K. (sufficient inflation of the good kind)? In the earlier blog I even provided a template for folks to start from if they were interested in using this approach. An interesting study can be made if we compare the results of our self-assessments from year to year, kind of a quantitative measure of progress or lack thereof. I have just completed this exercise for myself for 2008 and I wanted to show how things have gone over the past several years, from 2006 to 2007 to 2008. You will notice that there are 10 areas of assessment in my Life Balloons exercise, and each balloon is rated at a level from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). In my results, I have used a green balloon for 2006, a brown ballon for 2007, and a red balloon for 2008. The good news in my life is clearly evident in the last column on the right. Here I have plotted the average life balloon height across all 10 areas. Things have improved greatly for me since last year, and while I still have a long way to go, God is clearly with me and his grace abounds.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Forward 2009

No matter how tough life gets, how much pain or sorrow is woven into the fabric of our existence, it seems that the start of a new calendar year gives us a chance, an opportunity, to look ahead with renewed hope for a better tomorrow. It's funny to me that the darkness can be lifted or eased simply by turning the page of a calendar. Some subtle trick of the mind perhaps, but one should not look a gift horse in the mouth, even when one understands what's going on. It's simply the psychological shenanigans that occur in our mind comparing the price tags of a $9.99 item with a $10.00 item, the former is clearly a much better deal. Anyway, it is the turning point of a new year, we begin another trip around our sun, and we take the opportunity to look ahead. I am now forming my New Year's resolutions for 2009. It will be interesting when I look back a year from now and take stock of how things have gone. I pray that my family finds happiness, satisfaction, and peace. I pray that we find exciting challenges, both physically and mentally, and that we grow in wisdom and in love. I pray the same for all my friends and look forward with you to the year ahead.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fiber and Old Age

Have you ever noticed that there is a strong positive correlation between our age and how many questions we ask about fiber? I don't remember when it started for me, maybe in my mid-to-late thirties, but somewhere, from deep within my being, like some nascent trait that laid dormant, it arose. According to my scientific research, it begins with noticing the labeling on certain foods, it then moves into purposefully reading the nutritional information on the side of packages, and then straight to full-fledged cravings for delicious Colon Blow cereal (now with real wood chips). This is all backed up by the following scientific-looking data.
People in this "fiber-at-all-costs" existence (called fiber-maniacs by the Centers for Disease Control) have been known to gather the whole family around the ol' porcelain ediface and give a detailed Powerpoint presentation. I don't think that I am quite this far gone, but I am starting to make myself nervous. I have noticed my darting eyes, my search for the RDA specifications on chicory in my Funyuns brand snack food, my fascination with saying the word bran until my fingers sweat. Please help me, I fear for my sanity.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Temptations Away!

I finally got to cleaning up the carnage from the Christmas present unwrapping. After all the scraps of pretty paper and decorative bows were cleared away, I gathered up all of the food-type goodies and confections that were received and set them on the kitchen counter. What to my wondering eyes should appear was a vision of pure snacking heaven, the high calorie, zero-nutritional-value pot of junk food at the end of the "I-can't-believe-I-ate-the-whole-thing" rainbow. There were chips and candies and chocolates, there were Combos and cookies and tasty nibbles of every variety under the sun. I can just picture myself sitting in front of the T.V., with four or five bags of goodies all opened simultaneously - munching and snacking for hours on end. Trouble is, I am on a rather strict diet, where none of this is allowed. What is clear is that to the man on a diet, everything with an ounce of taste is completely off-limits. No sugar, no fat, no melt in your mouth goodness. Oh well, pass me another serving of kale. You know I can't get enough of garnish-type foods. Snack-tastic!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy Maddie Day!

Today I celebrate the start of another new year, with all its potential promise and hope. However, more importantly, today I celebrate the birthday of my little girl. Today she turns 11 years old. In latin, the expression is tempus fugit, we simply say "time flies". I have these palpable memories of holding her in my arms, loving her and protecting her. I was her whole world. Today she is starting to spread her wings, reminding me that our time together is finite. That's O.K. you know. This is what being a parent is all about. We do our best to teach them, to give them a good example, to love them, and to take care of them, all so that they will be ready to go out on their own some day and be able to cope and survive and set a good example for their children. But that time is still a ways off, so today I will celebrate with her, presents, cake, laughter, games, and fun. I don't need to say it, she already knows, but I love you Maddie. I can't imagine my life without you. You're my best little buddy. Happy birthday angel face.