Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Essence of Mirth I

I know for a fact that there is not enough laughter in my life. This should not be a surprise to anyone given the long, dour expression that I consistently wear a good deal of the time. I wish this statement did not apply so directly to me as, you see, laughter is such a wonderfully healing device. According to scripture, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine", Proverbs 15:13. There have been a number of clinical studies that have demonstrated that laughter:
  • Reduces physical pain and discomfort by producing pain-reducing hormones called endorphins;
  • Strengthens our immune system by stimulating production of proteins called globulins, along with T-cells and interferon;
  • Decreases stress sensations by reducing cortisol levels.
These studies were not focussing on inane cocktail-party chit-chat laughter. They were based on the type of laughter that comes from somewhere deep inside of us that causes our sides to ache and our tears ducts to bring forth a torrent. The kind of laughter that causes us to lose control.

Personally I know that unexpected laughter of this sort can turn a whole day around. Kind of like putting the rock-solid ice cube of frustration, anxiety, disappointment, turmoil, and stress on a sidewalk during high noon in August. All of the negativity quickly melts away, leaving no trace of its previous existence. Ahh, the healing power of laughter.

(Part 1 of 2)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Disposable Friends

Folks, I stand before you a much more humble, honorable, and genuine person than the conceited prig that I was in my youth. I would say, based on my own crude observation, that if my youthful attitude of arrogant, self-sufficient elitism was a disease, that today I am not so much cured, rather the bug has gone into remission. I say this because I recognize the symptoms as they reappear from time to time.

Let me relay to you two instances of this disease from long ago. I don't bring these up to stir your sympathy toward me or to give you further ammunition against me, heavens no, but to bare my afflictions so that I might continue to distance myself from that horrible monster that lurks within me.
  • A friend of mine who I studied with from time to time started to seek me out for extra assistance when he began to fall behind in his class work after a period where he suffered from a serious bought with influenza. One day he appeared at my office with a huge ball of snot protruding from his nose. I was so grossed out that I never studied with him or hung out with him again.
  • I had a study partner and friend in an advanced undergraduate class. As the material was very difficult, it took a huge amount of effort to keep up and work through the punishing homework assignments. One day before an assignment was due, we were to meet up to review our work. He never showed up. It turns out his wife had gone into labor and he was with her at the hospital for the birth of his son. However, I felt so let down that I quickly distanced myself from him.
Both situations played out very much from the same point. I could not bear when friends turned out to be human. When I perceived them as selfish or unreliable for my purposes, I quickly discarded them into the rubbish heap. Disposable friends. Now I continually struggle with loneliness and the wounds of broken relationships. I no longer have to ask the question why, this is all too clear. I only hope that I can find a way to keep that beast at bay as I nuture the relationships that remain in my life or are coming down the road.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tough Questions - Jump!

About a year and a half ago I wrote a post entitled Voodoo Religion II. One of the points that I touched on was the personal dangers that I face when I am pressed to explain or justify my Christian faith. I have always found it difficult to defend faith as it is, by its very nature, not something that can be quantified or subjected to the standard scientific method. I have found that tough questions can sometimes lead me to question my faith because I just cannot provide answers that make full sense or are fully satisfying. I often feel that it is best to stick my head in the sand and just ignore the difficult questions that lead to such consternation.

Of course, this is the defense of a feeble army. One of the central points that Rob Bell made in his book Velvet Elvis is that we are not being responsible as Christians if we are not always testing our faith. As we have a lot at stake with our system of beliefs, it would be more than foolish if we just bought the whole Bible lock, stock, and barrel without reading it, experiencing it, and considering it very carefully. A Christian should not just be identified by a pin-on label. No, being a Christian means that we are living (or should be living) very different, transformed lives compared to who we were and how we lived before we were saved. As such, becoming and being a Christian is no small undertaking. Therefore, if Christianity is a trampoline, Rob Bell would encourage us to jump.

The other night at my church Community Group, we did just that. Our group spent the evening jumping. We were discussing the message of our sermon the previous Sunday that focussed on the central notion of Christianity that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. Therefore, according to the word of the Bible (e.g. John 14:6, "No one comes to the Father if not through me"), those who do not know Jesus Christ and accept him as their personal Lord and Savior are doomed to spend eternity in hell. This point did not sit well with several members of the group. What about God's chosen people? The Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. What about people who are Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists? Most people who are religious follow the religion of their parents or their people. The fact is that these people have never been exposed to Chrisitianity and will never have any way to know Jesus. According to the New Testament, how good of a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist they are is irrelevant, they are all going to hell. What about primitive, isolated tribes in the South American jungle? There is no way for them even to know about the Bible or experience it. It just somehow seemed inappropriate or unfair or "wasteful" for God to have created so many beautiful people, not given them an opportunity to "follow the rules", and then damn them to eternal hell. Of course the notion of picking and choosing what one believes from the Bible, Old Testament or New Testament, is a dangerous game. If one part is shown to be incorrect or false, then the whole ball of string can quickly unravel.

We talked about a lot of things that night. I am quite certain that nobody's mind was changed by the discussion, but it was certainly not a hostile atmosphere. It was open and honest and supportive. It was safe to jump.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dawn of the Dead

To begin today's post, I must channel Larry the Cable Guy by apologizing to them starving pygmies down there in New Guinea. My mind is certifiably unclean and I know that I will eventually have to pay a very dear price. Let me share the following recent story from my life. Again, I must say up front that I am deeply and humbly contrite.

The laboratory where I work regularly hosts outside groups in the spirit of community service. We allow the area police and fire departments to hold their annual graduation services in our auditorium. From time to time you will spot signs announcing the presence of some local civic group. This week we are hosting a group referred to as "The Lifelong Learning Society". If you are a clever chap (or chapette), you will instantly recognize this thinly veiled euphemism for old folks. Now I have nothing against old folks, heck, I hope to be one some day, but you must admit they can be an amusing lot.

The other afternoon I decided to head outside to my car at lunch time to read a few pages of my book. The weather was nice and I decided to roll the windows down on my car (actually I did not really roll them down, I pushed the button on the door). Usually at lunch time I also take the opportunity to people watch as folks hustle and bustle about. However, as I was sitting in my car looking around, I heard a distant rumble coming from around the corner of the building. It sounded like a mix between shuffling or dragging feet and the mechanized advance of the German army's Panzar division. Slowly a large mass of "lifelong learners" emerged from around the corner. They were moving in unison, but very slowly. Limping and dragging themselves along, some advancing with the help of wheelchairs and walkers. This unusual, unexpected, and slightly frightening sight took me aback and caused me to catch my breath. I let out a slight yipping noise and then exclaimed, "Man, it's like the dawn of the living dead out here". Again, I apologize.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wait, You're Here

All of my life I have been a very emotional person when it comes to goodbyes, even if they are only temporary. With just a whisper of a thought or the flash of a mental picture of separation in my mind, I can very easily be brought to tears. These feelings and emotions don't always make logical sense. In the moment I cognitively understand this, but it doesn't matter. The pain is very real. In the times where I have tried to express to others what I am going through, I have been met with curious stares and awkward nods.

One issue that I have experienced frequently in my life is missing someone who is still in my presence! Let me explain by citing a specific example. I am sitting with my daughter on the night before I am about to go away on a week-long business trip or she is about to go off for a few days to visit some friends. We can be having a grand time with fun and laughter, when the notion of our impending separation drifts across my mind. Typically this can lead me to feel the strong anxiety of missing her even before we are apart. The emotions that swell within me take all of the energy I possess to force myself back into the current moment and not to let precious time slip away. I find that it is very easy for me to wallow in sadness and miss life's wonderful opportunities and experiences, both grand and gentle. Perhaps it is best to focus my mindset to live in the moment and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering. Then I will always have you with me even when we are apart.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Turn Signal Test

Over the years that I have been driving on America's highways and byways, I have become convinced that a sure sign of spiritual maturity in others is that they regularly, consistently, and properly use the turn signals in their vehicles. Furthermore, I am quite certain that we would witness this statement in action if cars and trucks existed back in the early first century and Jesus was a licensed driver. I bet you could discretely follow him from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee and back and he would always follow the rules of the road. Let me just let these statements percolate in your minds for a bit ...

It has long been one of my pet peeves to follow behind drivers and have them make turn after turn and never once signal their intention. Not only is it dangerous to be reckless in the presence of other people sharing the roadways, but it is also amazingly selfish. It seems to me that people who do not use their turn signals do not give a rip about anyone else on the road with them. Perhaps they think that turn signals are optional. Not true. Perhaps they think that they are so important that they don't need to bother. Certainly not true. Perhaps they think that signaling their intent to turn or suddenly cut me off in traffic has nothing to do with roadway safety. Again, no.

The other day I was stuck behind a line of a half dozen vehicles that all came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road. One by one, each of them turned into a local church parking lot. I was incredulous. Aren't church-going folk supposed to believe in the importance of their fellow man? You would think that folks such as these would be especially mindful of the needs of others. They would be among the first to be considerate and courteous in their direct and indirect interactions with others. Although this entry is a bit tongue in cheek, doesn't lack of proper use of a turn signal indicate some systematic selfishness of folks?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


In astronomy there is a cool word that has stuck in my consciousness over the years. This word is syzygy. How many words do you know of that include a "y" for every other letter and includes three of these buggers? Syzygy refers to a state where multiple planetary bodies (in a given gravitational system) are in direct alignment, like the sun, moon, and earth. It can also refer to the coming together of a number of separate threads into an unexpected windfall. I can assure you that when I experience this state of a distant hope or dream coming to fruition, that it makes me quite giddy, quite giddy indeed. Let me share my most recent experience.

I have come to find out over the years that kids love to spend their parent's hard-earned money. To be clear, when considering their preference between two different items, they always seem to much prefer the more expensive item. Then they set their hearts on said more expensive choice and look at their parental units with the saddest puppy-dog eyes known to mankind. In such a situation, it has been clinically proven that parents cannot deny their offspring's request. They may dearly want to say no, but are rendered physically incapable. This is the situation 99.999% of the time.

However, I experienced syzygy the other day in the local sporting goods store. My daughter and I were shopping for a field hockey stick for her. Her choice came down to two sticks that seemed to me to be quantifiably identical in every conceivable way down to the molecular level. However, one stick was $30.00 and the other was $90.00. If you have been paying attention to where this blog entry is leading, you will probably already have guessed that she chose the $30.00 stick as her favorite without any proddings from me. She looked at me as one might look at a demented dancing baboon when I did my dance of monetary joy in the middle of the aisle. Syzygy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Bucket List

The Bucket List was a 2007 movie about two men who, by chance, share the same hospital room after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. They form a bond and make a list of things they want to do before they kick the bucket, hence the term bucket list. They then proceed to tackle the list items one by one. The list includes such things as:
  • See Rome;
  • Drive a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China;
  • Spend a week at the Louvre;
  • Go on a safari;
  • Visit the Taj Mahal.
Of course, it just so happens that one of the two men is stinking rich and can fund every one of their wild excursions. However, even with all of contrived pathos and swelling music as only Hollywood can dream up, the men eventually realize all of the items on their list.

For some reason the movie drifted into my consciousness the other day and I spent a few moments pondering my own personal bucket list. Now, I did not view this consideration in a negative or depressing manner, but rather to focus on taking the biggest, juiciest bite out of the apple of life. I kind of even think that without dreams in our life, something to focus on and look forward to, we atrophy and die away. So, without further delay I present a few items from my bucket list:
  • Give my daughter away at her wedding;
  • Find lasting, deep love;
  • Make a few close friends;
  • Have a couple's conversation over coffee wearing a cardigan sweater;
  • Bark less, wag more in this "doggy-doggy" world.
O.K., so I don't have a list of 20 items like the big budget Hollywood movie, but I have a few. Perhaps I will add to it from time to time. What are a few items from your bucket list?

Monday, June 21, 2010

God's Will

Recently my friend Rob was delivering a sermon at Waters Edge Church on discerning God's will. What was notable, and perhaps remarkable, is that Rob stated that he doesn't have a "fat clue" as to what God's will is. You would think that a man of God, preacher, teacher, servant, professional, would tend to have an inside path to God's will. He felt that God is too big for him to claim to have anything figured out about God. He further stated that in his 30+ years, he has only felt the presence of the Holy Spirit of God (that whisper or feeling or prodding that Christians sense) only a half dozen times in his life. I like Rob, can claim that I have sensed the presence of the Spirit just a few times as well.

Recently I had a good friend that I was getting quite close with. I felt God's hand on the relationship and felt his blessing. However, we crossed over a threshold that I believe firmly should not have been crossed over. All at once my sense of God's blessing on the relationship disappeared. I prayed and sought God but heard nothing. I asked him to make clear his will to me in a way that I could understand. I believe that he told me I was not to be with this person again. I heard and I obeyed. Now I don't know for certain what God's will was in that situation. Perhaps my own conscience was running amok. However, I would rather obey what I think God's will is even if I am not 100% certain I have understood him perfectly. This seems to be the mark of obedience.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Brand Loyalty

Are you one of those people who switches from brand to brand, grabbing whatever is the cheapest? Maybe you are like me and stick to the same item with a lapdog-type loyalty. What about your commitment to where you shop for various goods and services? If you have a consistently good experience or witness consistently high-quality customer service, are you willing to focus less on prices? Over the years, I believe that I have decided that I am willing to pay a bit more to ensure that I will get a product or service that minimizes the grumbling and negativity in my life. I feel looking out for what has served me well in the past will tend to increase my chances for future satisfaction.

I have noted that from time to time my mind will start to think about the potential savings of going to the usual "big box" stores. Each time all it takes to cure me is a single trip to Walmart to convince me why I am willing to pay more. Many will already know exactly what I am talking about without even getting into details. However, for me, I am very uncomfortable around large groups of people, and Walmart is not a place to go if you want some quiet and solitude (if you catch my drift).

Today's post was really borne not so much out of my opinions and experiences while grocery shopping, but more from the standpoint of service providers. Those of you who own your own homes, know how much anxiety arises when some problem with your refrigerator, freezer, furnace, air conditioning, foundation, roof, etc., makes itself known. Even with our cars, things seem to come up fairly regularly. All of these problems are typically associated with unexpected costs that are not necessarily part of our household budgets. In times like these I find it a great blessing when I can work with service companies that are honest, have integrity, are knowledgeable, dependable, and are ultimately accountable for their work. They can give us peace of mind in an experience that might otherwise result in a nightmare where we spend huge amounts of money unnecessarily, and walk away feeling cheated, taken advantage of, and bitter.

Finding a company like this that consistently displays these attributes makes me much more comfortable giving them my business for the smaller jobs that may cost a little bit more than other places. This seems a small price to pay when the big things come up, and they always do, and having confidence that you have a company that will treat you right.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pieces of Us

There is an old saying that goes "last but not least" or "saving the best for last". Part of this sentiment implies that we have saved some fuel in our tanks, some power in our dynamo to finish better than we started, to give as much or more at the end than we did at the beginning. Today I want to view these old lines in terms of a few of my thoughts on relationships and what we bring of ourselves to them. Obviously my words have been sifted through the filter of my own experiences, both my successes and my failures.

Think about what we bring home to our families at the end of a typical day at "the office". If our day is viewed as a race, do we sprint along through our work day only to run out of steam by the time we are ready to go home? Do we have anything left to give to our spouse or our young ones? Do we save the best for last? Do we even view the time with our family as the best part of our day?

I can say for many years that I thought I was super-human. I thought I could sprint all the way from the starting gun to the checkered flag. Maybe for a little while I managed reasonably well, or so I thought. This feeling spurred me to continue to try to keep all of the diverse balls in my life up in the air simultaneously. However, the shark in the water is the deadlines that we are constantly given at work. No such deadlines typically exist at home. This makes it extremely easy to overtly or subconsciously tip the balance of our scales to put more effort into our career. This plays great at work, but over time takes its toll at home. Of course there is an insidious feedback loop inherent with success that comes our way. The more we accomplish at work, the more we are given to do. Bigger and more important projects with harder and more crucial deadlines. This requires more effort and more time and more of us. By the time we get home, all that is left for our families is pieces of us. Ultimately last becomes least.

The problem that many of us face is that we don't realize what has become of our relationships until it is too late, until the damage is done. I can hear my own words from long ago still ringing in my ears, "Oh that will never happen to me". If you see yourself in the above paragraphs, I pray that you carefully reflect on who or what really deserves your full effort and energy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lunatic Fringe II

Lunatic Fringe, now a mainstay of classic rock stations, was a catchy song from the Canadian group Red Rider that was released in 1981. One line from this song declared "We won't let you kill the laughter". This line has resonated with me, especially as I am part of the lunatic fringe (by my own youthful definition) given that I have been through several periods of extensive counseling in my life.

With counseling, at times I kind of felt like the boy who had to tie a pork chop to his leg to get the dog to play with him. In other words, I felt like I had to pay for somebody to listen to me because I had no support system in my life. However, through counseling, I came to learn some important things about myself, some of which have simply educated me, some of which have helped me to cope, some of which have helped me to develop some self worth, and some of which have taught me how to let more light shine into my world.

In my most recent period of counseling, I got to a point where I felt like I had taken my psychologist's advice and input as far as I could, and it was time to try to work on my life on my own for a while. That was several years ago now. I notice from time to time that some of the old patterns of thought creep in and take me over. I am not sure if the trenches are as deep as they were or the blues as azure in color, but I worry that my defenses are slowing eroding away. I wonder if at some point I will realize that my counseling didn't fully take.

The scene reminds me of a locker room interchange between Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza. After showering and getting dressed, Jerry notices that George is still all sweaty. George then replies that he doesn't think the shower took. After all the counseling that I have been through, I'm not fully certain that it took. However, I believe that with counselors, it is not like they are removing a tumor or fixing a broken bone. Their art is more subtle, more delicate, more uncertain. So I don't think that one is ever fully "cured", but, perhaps, in a better place. Who knows? I'm sure that there are lots of opinions on this, but I guess that I only see what happened (or is happening) in my own personal situation.

However, whether or not I am a nut or a lunatic by my own definition, I realize that the trials of this world, my own demons, will pull me down, but I will not let them pull me under. I will not let them kill the laughter.

(Part 2 of 2)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lunatic Fringe I

Lunatic Fringe
I know you're out there
You're in hiding
And you hold your meetings
We can hear you coming
We know what you're after
We're wise to you this time
We won't let you kill the laughter

Lunatic Fringe, now a mainstay of classic rock stations, was a catchy song from the Canadian group Red Rider that was released in 1981. Even today when I stumble across it on the radio, I instinctively reach over and turn the knob a couple of clicks to the right. The last line of this verse, "We won't let you kill the laughter" has resonated with me and was the impetus for this post. Let me share with you why.

When I was a younger person, before the ways of this world had hung their weights on my shoulders and pulled me down, I firmly believed that anyone who needed to visit a psychiatrist or a counselor was a certifiable nut job. I have in my mind a picture from the old 1970s Bob Newhart show with his cadre of flakes, nuts, and weirdos. While these cariacatures of troubled folks were intended to bring laughter, they solidified, perhaps subconsciouly, my nascent views on definitions of crazy and the field of psychology.

Through the years, there were rumors that surfaced from time to time of people in my world that went through counseling. I don't remember now any of the details or the faces, but I distinctly remember the snickers and the whispers in clipped and hushed tones. Obviously this was news that was not meant to be broadcast or brought into the light. To my mind, this clearly implied that there was something not right about these people. They must have had some sort of defect. Something was wrong with them. I can even remember some long distant echos of gossip that I spread adding to their shame and the stigma associated with their plight.

If you quickly skim through the movie of my life for the past several decades, you will find some periods of joy and some of sadness, some periods of living and some of enduring, and some periods of reaching out and some of pulling back. However, if there were some running scale that measured the quality of my life or my own satisfaction with living, you would see that it gradually started to move to the negative side of the scale, slowly but incessantly. For a few seasons of my life I fell into such a deep depression that I was forced to turn to counseling to help me cope and figure things out. I was now part of the lunatic fringe.

(Part 1 of 2)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Playing Favorites

Way too many times in my life I have run across individuals that are known in the popular vernacular as "bandwagon jumpers". What team just won the big championship game? Oh, they have been their favorites since before they were born. Who just won the Nobel prize in economics? They have read all of their journal articles on game theory. Which company had the highest earnings to capital ratio in the third world? They have owned stock in them before they even went public. There is no use arguing that they have never so much as mentioned any of these teams or papers or companies before. I find it to be a major annoyance even being in the same room with these "individuals". They somehow think that by latching onto the latest winner, they too will somehow be lifted up. Pathetic, just pathetic.

Just to be sure that nobody can accuse me of being a bandwagon jumper, I list some of my favorites below.
  • Favorite baseball team: Boston Red Sox / Atlanta Braves (tie)
  • Favorite comedian: Brian Regan
  • Favorite Olympic curler: Nicole Joraanstad
  • Favorite boy band: Backstreet Boys
  • Favorite band that used to be cool but really no longer is: R.E.M.
  • Favorite basketball team: Boston Celtics
  • Favorite soda: Mountain Dew (the classic taste o' Viking pee!)
  • Favorite daughter: Maddie
  • Favorite cured meat: bacon
  • Favorite field of science: physics
So, there you have it. In the future, when you hear me talking up one of my favorite things and doubt creeps across your mind, please excuse yourself from the conversation, go and consult this list, and then doubt me no more.

Oh, and for the record, my favorite economist is Hubert Q. Peniwhip III.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bad Connections

Young lovers completely focus their lives on each other. They seek their partner out for time alone almost at the exclusion of all else. When they are not physically together, they exchange texts and email and telephone calls. Having been in this relational stage before, I remember how much I ached during those times when I could not be in the presence of my beloved. These early times seem to be all about just enjoying being in each other's presence. The conversations can be deep and meaningful or shallow and inane, but regardless, the specifics will be forgotten soon enough. It is all about just being together ...

When a relationship evolves to a more mature level, there is greater emphasis put on developing and continuing and fostering communication. Developing and maintaining these pathways to talk is crucial for a relationship to grow, for a relationship to thrive, for a relationship to survive ...

I remember the day we bought our first cell phones. There was a certain excitement about possessing the new gadgets. We made the decision to get them under the aegis that this technology would allow us to strengthen our lines of communication. To be able to talk and share and touch base with each other during those times when we were forced to be apart. It was a way to help quell the loneliness and longing when we could not be together. Instead, a purpose quite different was realized. Our phones morphed into instruments that served only to enable us to keep our distance from each other and avoid face-to-face discussions, face-to-face conversations, and face-to-face communication ...

Now, years later, I still have my phone in a small leather holster on my belt, waiting for the day you call just to talk ...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dive into Life

We suffered through the cold and gray. The bundle-up, cover-up, and hide-inside days. Now all is green and alive and ready, ready for us to yell and scream and dive into life. How we have looked forward to this time. I can't wait to share my summer with you.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Four Loves

Every serious writer has a style that is all their own. It may be an amalgam of several other authors at its core, but eventually the sum becomes distinct and unique compared to the individual ingredients. Much like a loaf of bread is so much more than a pile of flour, some yeast, and a bit of shortening. Such is the case with C.S. Lewis. I have read a fair number of his books and found a passion and a care and a logic that can fill my senses, much like walking along a deserted beach just after sunrise. I have the sense that Mr. Lewis never took the easy path to framing an argument. He did not just sit down at his typewriter with an empty mind and start prattling away at the keys. My impression of his research and his exquisite attention to every last detail was only strengthened by reading his 1960 publication, The Four Loves.

C.S. Lewis began this book by introducing the four Greek words for love:
  • storge - affection between near relations;
  • philia - friendship, a bond that exists between those who share a mutual interest;
  • eros - the love between the sexes (distinct from "Venus", the sexual element);
  • agape - love in the Christian sense, namely God's love for man and man's love for the bretheren.
In his careful style, Mr. Lewis steps through each type of love in turn to flesh out its definition, its content, and its relation to the other loves. The version of the book that I own is only 141 pages long, but it certainly was not a quicky read. It took me just over 3 weeks to work my way through it. This book was not a self-help book. It was an academic thesis. However, I sensed that throughout, the writing of the book was primarily for the enlightenment of its author and his own quest or thirst for knowledge rather than a work primarily for me. I have chased this rabbit before as I suspect that most others have as well. Just when you think you have a grasp on some topic, you find out that there is much more to it than you first thought. The more you probe and think and listen, the more you find out that your initial ideas or holdings were rubbish. That's when things get good. That's when going along for the ride makes for an exciting journey. That is the path of The Four Loves.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Huh? What?

In the classic Seinfeld Season 5 episode called "The Puffy Shirt", Jerry gets into a bit of hot water when a lady asks him to wear her designer pirate shirt on national T.V.. Because the woman speaks with a volume so low that no sound waves are actually created when she moves her lips, hijinx ensue when Jerry finds out what he unwittingly agreed to do.

There are several folks who I know who seem to be directly related to the puffy shirt lady. Even when everyone who they try to engage in "conversation" repeatedly tells them to freakin' speak up, their volume level remains unchanged. I have long since given up on even caring what they were trying to communicate. I figure that if they can't find a way to make themselves heard, maybe by carrying around a portable "karioke"-type microphone machine, then I will not waste my time trying to make sense of what they are going on about. Heck, I would even settle for them using an alternate form of communication, like the classic Monty Python skit of The Semaphore version of Wuthering Heights, although I am sure that they would use flags of microscopic size.

I did not use to think this way. For years I tried my best to foster communication and to repeatedly ask them to speak up and try again. However, one day I went on a tour of a noise-filled utility pump room to gather some important information for an upcoming inspection at work. If I didn't have the slightest chance of hearing a single utterance in a quiet meeting room, it was almost comical (in a this-is-a-total-waste-of-time way) in that small space that was roughly akin to standing about a foot away from the intake manifold of a Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor. From that moment I vowed that I would put up with this nonsense no longer. I publically declared that I would not wear the puffy shirt, it looks ridiculous.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dust in the Wind

Disclaimer: As I am wandering through my mid-life crisis, I tend to have a lot of negative, depressing, and maudlin thoughts. This is one of them that makes me feel kind of sick inside. I pray that it fades from my mind and doesn't come back.

Walls covered in a child's love expressed through colorful artwork now slightly faded with time, snow-flake cut-outs and banners taped to the cabinets, expressive cards and hand-made crafts cover the shelves. They were made just for me. They express a child's love and creative output just for her daddy. Each item unique, each contains a bundle of memories, each one very special and important and meaningful to me. However, they only contain their value through my eyes. What happens to this childhood of love when I am gone? The answer is obvious, someone will come through and brashly reclaim the spaces that I once used to occupy. I can hear the grumbling remarks about "look at all this junk". It will all follow me into the ground. I knew my time was finite, but I also held onto the words on the bottom of one of the drawings she gave me, Daddy, I love you forever!!! It seems like dust in the wind.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Filter Incident

Sometimes you go into a situation with the mindful intention of not making things worse. However, after the dust settles (or the mushroom cloud dissipates), you realize that you actually could not have screwed things up any worse if you had actually tried. ... Queue the story about the filter incident ... As I was letting dinner cook on the stove one evening, I figured that I would multi-task and prepare the coffee pot for the next morning. This is a ritual that I undertake every evening, and one that I have come to step through in a somewhat mindless manner. Certainly a task that a dullard could very easily handle without trouble or notice. I, as usual, opened the top of the machine and grabbed the basket that held that morning's old coffee grounds. I then only had to carry the basket a distance of about 3 feet, over level flooring, from the machine to the sink. However, somewhere along the way, the filter slipped from my finger tips. If it had simply fallen straight to the floor, it would not have been a blog-worthy anecdote. However, in my haste to try to quickly grab the falling filter basket, it bounced off my fingers and started to spin and rotate sending wet coffee grounds a-flyin'. The more I tried to grab the basket, the more I continued to volley-ball it around the kitchen. What had started off as a nice, neat, and tidy kitchen area, was now covered floor to ceiling with the grounds. It looked like I had thrown a bucket of fresh beetle carcasses into a high-speed, oscillating floor fan. It was so bad, I just couldn't get mad. It actually was kind of funny in a oh-crap-now-I've-got-to-clean-this-mess-up sort of way. Witnessing the carnage, I got to work cleaning and scrubbing and trying to restore order. After 20 minutes, I was reasonably satisfied with my efforts. Oh crap! I forgot about my dinner on the stove. It was now burned beyond recognition. As I sat there gnawing on the now unrecognizable, charcoal-esque meat substance, I realized that this situation played out a lot like some pretty disappointing episodes in my life. The take-home lesson is just to let the filter hit the floor and then deal with the smallest size problem possible. Either that or just don't drink coffee.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Sower

"A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn't put down roots, so when the sun came up, it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams", Mark 4:3-8.

Such is one account of the Parable of the Sower contained in the New Testament. This story, told by Jesus, represents a vivid word picture of his teaching and how it is grasped or individualized by those that hear it. It's a story that can find application in our interactions with others, especially when those interactions place us firmly in the role of teacher or leader. Foremost in my mind is my role as a father to my young daughter, but it was equally relevant in my previous position as a University professor.

I spread the word to my charges. Some of what I tried to get across quickly met with head nodding and words of understanding, but was very quickly forgotten. Some of my lessons and advice were viewed as useful and relevant, and were then taken to heart, but only for a time before they became too onerous or too much at odds with existing habits or required too much effort for a lazing approach. Others things that I shared became a part of who they were and may stay with them for a lifetime.

What can be particularly rewarding is when we recognize a lesson that we have shared or taught bearing fruit in a person's life long after our initial interaction. However, all too often, I am left wondering what has become of the seeds that I have scattered. Have they taken deep root or have they withered away? Sometimes it seems that the only way to truly know is to wait and see. This is a particularly frustrating approach for the impatient soul, like myself. For only if I realize that I am not doing something in the most optimal manner can I know to try a different approach. Sometimes the best we can do is our best, and then trust that our lessons will be heard, understood, and sit on fertile soil.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


I've come to notice more and more that people generally tend to be oblivious to the presence of others around them. On the one hand that might be considered a favorable development. I think it is certainly beneficial to individuals when they can carry out necessary tasks or get on with living their lives in the presence of others in the world at large. However, what bothers me is when folks are involved in negative, distasteful, rude, or hurtful actions in public and are either unaware of their offenses or simply don't care.

The other day I was walking into the local mall with my little one when a young lady walked by us talking loudly on her cell phone. As she passed, she was cussing up a blue streak that would have made Richard Pryor blush. I can only guess that because she was engaged in a private phone call, she became so absorbed that her attention and her filter for acceptable public behavior were affected. However, my dear, you were very much in public and your actions were unacceptable. It is not like I was entering into your private space. You were out in the community, among other individuals. Next time, save your guttermouth for places where neither I nor my child has to be impacted by your low class, rude, and boorish behavior.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Finally Manitoba

I work at a facility that regularly hosts visitors from around the globe. I'm used to seeing and interacting with people who look, act, eat, dress, and smell differently than I do. It's just the way it is and my life is enriched for this opportunity. Of course, part of this diverse population includes folks from a great number of our United States and our friends to the far North. I tend to get a kick out of spotting license plates from various places, so I have sort of become conditioned to look for them as I walk from building to building throughout my day.

The other afternoon I spotted a plate that, heretofore, I had never encountered before. Its color palette and scene intrigued me and I lingered just a bit to take it in. I saw a plate framed by majestic pines with a beautiful crystal lake in the middle. I made a mental note of a plate from Manitoba, Canada, and I took a few steps onwards, continuing my journey. My mind then registered a curiousity that caused me to look back. Across the top of the plate I saw the odd statement "Finally Manitoba".

As I went on my way, this statement began to take over my consciousness. It got to the point where I could think of nothing else. "Finally Manitoba"? Is that what folks utter after they have trekked across the rest of that wretched wasteland to our north? Upon arriving in Manitoba, they all exhale deeply and say "Finally, Manitoba!!". First Moosejaw, then Medicine Hat, then Black Tickle, then Spread Eagle, then Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!. Finally, Manitoba!

When I got to my destination, some quarter-mile away, I had to go back and take another look. What I read made no sense. No sense at all. Ahh, the plate actually read "Friendly Manitoba". Oh, that is much better.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

This Land is MY Land

What's yours is yours, but more importantly, what's mine is mine. Quite the antithesis of the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. However, the former credo seems to be so much more central on our minds and our tongues. It features regularly in our local and national headlines.

Years ago, I knew a Christian man that was humble, decent, honest, hardworking, and honorable. He and I started a conversation one evening after we had just watched a news story about immigrants in the United States. People who had found their way into "our" country, whether legally or illegally. When I tried to explain that everyone in our country is an immigrant in one form or another, including the "Native" Americans, he became incensed with what I can only term righteousness, or better yet self-righteousness. He started spewing and spitting about rounding all of the dirty, stinky, criminals up and literally push them out to sea. When I tried to reason with him, he became all the more unreasonable. In a reference that he would have totally missed, I could hear him channeling the rednecks on South Park, "They took our jobs!! Dey turk er jerbs!!" How could a loving, God-fearing man be reduced to uttering such pablum?

Today we face similar points of view on a much larger scale with the immigration law that has been put into effect in Arizona. However, this polarizing story has two very thorny sides.

(A) The derth of individuals entering into the United States illegally from across the Mexican border is overwhelming the capacity and the resources of many Arizona communities. They take jobs, don't pay taxes, can't afford to live here, and are much more likely to engage in criminal activities than those who are citizens.

(B) We are a caring society that does its best to welcome all who come to our country. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores ...

The issue of giving law enforcement the authority to hassle and inconvenience individuals based upon how they look is a very slippery slope. Given even recent world history (c. 1940), we have an idea of where this type of mentality can lead us. However, the breaking of our laws is not free of consequences on several levels.

Now, I don't have any answers or suggestions on how to proceed or even informed opinions on what should be a better way to move forward. I just know that the ideology of both the (A)s and the (B)s is flawed. There has to be a better way. There just has to be.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Time, Distance, and Circumstances

I hate not being there with you and for you. Time, distance, and circumstances ...

I hate when lack of time steals our moments ...
   to talk about things
    to work on projects important to you
     to teach you lessons you need to understand
      to laugh about the silly things
       to cry about the sad things

I hate when distance gets in the way of our moments ...
   to watch you in your big event
    to cheer for you at your important game
     to tuck you in at night and read you a story
      to hug you when you need it
       to go for a long walk together

I hate when circumstances don't allow me ...
   to be with you at the doctor's office
    to talk to you when you are scared
     to talk to you about your day
      to go out for ice cream for a special treat
       to tell you about things important to me

Time, distance, and circumstances ... but know this,
you always have my heart.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reasons to Worry

I am a worrier, of that there is no doubt. My mind loves to rev its engine until the needle hits the redline and then its races off into the distance at breakneck speeds. The road signs read "Crazy Scenario", "Disconnected Logic", and "Unclear Thinking". I recognize their dull prose but am helpless to drive the anxiety and panic and what-ifs out of my head.

My daughter needs braces. I worry about her changed appearance, the teasing from classmates, her discomfort and mental stress.

Even when she tells me she is not bothered by getting them and understands why they are needed, I still worry and drive myself crazy with a dozen different scenarios on playback in my mind.

My daughter needs glasses. I worry about her self-esteem and how much of a bother they might be for an active youngster.

Even when she tells me that she is fine with glasses and has picked out a pair with pretty dragonflies on the side, I still worry and fret. I imagine how she will feel if she breaks them or loses them.

I struggle to make friends and meet people to do life with. I worry that I have nothing to give, that I am being punished for past mistakes in my life, that I have nothing to offer.

Even when I am hanging out with folks I know from my church group, I still worry and listen to those voices and believe those images that run through my thoughts. I worry that the feelings of loneliness and my constant struggles around others will never disappear.

Now I am not totally naive. I have been around a long while. You would think that I would not be taken in so easily be a few pithy, fortune-cookie-esque sayings, but after reading a few items from the list below, I actually felt some relief ... for a time.
  • If I had my life to live over again, I would perhaps have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones.
  • Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.
  • Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those that will never happen.
  • If things go wrong, don't go with them.
  • Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.
  • People gather bundles of sticks to build bridges they never cross.
  • You can't wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.
  • Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.
  • Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.
  • Worry bankrupts the spirit.
  • Worry, doubt, fear, and despair are the enemies that slowly bring us down to the ground and turn us to dust before we die.