Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I was captured by your reds, your oranges, your yellows. Selfishly I wanted to reach out and touch them, to drink them in, to claim them, to capture some of your glory for myself. Festooned in your festive seasonal cloak, you always brighten me, always cause me to take a second look. Your majesty, your beauty, your richness. All I have to do is open my eyes. Sometimes when I am turned inward, I can be so focussed on my own darkness, that I miss your light. Sometimes when I forget to realize how much I like to look at you, and how much your presence awakens me, the harsh winds come and blow you away before I know.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Label Me

"I've seen the way you talk to everyone. You don't remember anybody's name and you don't even look anyone in the eye. You really think you're better than everyone else."

The above words were never spoken aloud to me. However, I have a strong suspicion that more than a few people have walked away from talking to me with these thoughts in their head. I have been labeled an elitist. Folks think that because I have a wall of diplomas and degrees that I feel that I am more important than they are, that I look down my nose at them and feel that they are beneath me. Patrician vs. plebian. The old caste system in effect. While I walk the golden path, you belong back in the gutter that you crawled out of.

If you knew me and had the slightest inkling of the psychological issues that I deal with, if you could have just a taste of my past, you would not be so quick to judge me, to shun me, to label me. I have difficulty with normal social relations. I struggle and battle just trying to survive and interact in and around others. I used to think I was just really shy, but I know differently know. I wear enough labels of my own without adding yours to my list.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction

It has been a while since I came across a song that grabbed my attention, pulled me in, and inspired me to listen to it again and again. From the 1992 album Here Comes Trouble by the band Bad Company is the song Stranger Than Fiction.

Could never be what they want him to be, he's stranger than fiction
And he's got no past, he's a mystery, but he's got ambition
And there's always been a mountain to climb, and this one's just higher
But he shows no fear, it's just a matter of time
You know, he's always been a fighter, yeah
There's no need to ask him why, yeah, you can see it in his eyes
Yeah, he's shooting for the sky, yeah

If we're right, no one shall fight it, no
That good boy won't be slain, oh no
And the young will fight all the powers above
Till the world knows his name, till they know his name
No one knows what he's feeling inside, he's burning with passion
There's only one way out, he's gotta get that right
He wants to go straight to the action, yeah
Sometimes it seems so long, yeah, but his passion is so strong
And something makes him carry on, oh yeah

He'll do what he has to do, to be part of the game
Yeah, he knows what he'll have to go through, till the world knows his name

Yeah, there's no need to ask him why, you can see it in his eyes
Yeah, he's shooting for the sky, yeah
Chorus repeats 2x...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mindset 4

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit the fine art of bubble blowing. I don't know what it is about bubbles, but I have never come across a kid who did not absolutely love them. The accompanying photo shows all of the associated equipment that any self-respecting bubble blower simply must have. One of the games that my daughter and I used to play was that she would load up a bubble wand and fill the sky with her glorious bubbles. My job would then be to run around like a rabid, caffeinated squirrel, and pop all of the bubbles before they popped on their own or flew away.

With the premium bubble mixtures available today, you can blow some amazingly gigantic bubbles. It kept us occupied for hours on end blowing bubbles and watching them float, and undulate, and work their magic on our imaginations.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's hoping that your Thanksgiving day is the Norman Rockwell-iest ever. Peace and blessings to all of my online friends. May you find what you are searching for and realize it when you find it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The sixth book in Charles Swindoll's Great Lives series is entitled Paul, A Man of Grit and Grace. Paul was an apostle of Jesus who was responsible for spreading the new religion of Christianity during the first century A.D. across much of Greece, Asia Minor, and Rome. He was also believed to be responsible for writing thirteen books of the New Testament in the Bible. From what is written in the Bible, it is clear that Paul was a dynamo for Christ. He gave everything he had for years on end, letting nothing stop him or discourage him or weigh him down, to fulfill the mission that Christ personally gave to him. He was the main player in the early church to carry out the Great Commission.

While this background history is interesting, there is much more to the story of how Paul came to be Paul. To appreciate this man and what drove him to complete his mission, we need to understand that for the first half of his life he was a member of the powerful Jewish council known as the Pharisees. It is believed that with Paul's scholastic aptitude, connections, and pedigree, he was on course to become the chief priest of the Jews in Jerusalem. In his position with the Pharisees, his mission was to rid the land of the stain that was Christianity. This new movement of followers of Jesus, was seen as nothing other than heresy. It had to be removed from the land by any means necessary. When harassment and intimidation did not bring about the desired results, the Pharisees resorted to murder, all in the name of God. Paul was one of the leaders charged with rooting out the Christian menace.

However, God had a different plan for Paul. He was to be used mightily as an apostle of Christ. He was to be a major force in the early church. During Paul's dramatic conversion, Jesus made it abundantly clear to Paul that his sinful ways were to stop and what he was to do in his name. What many may not appreciate in this story is that Paul was not yet prepared to carry out his charge. He needed to come to truly know Christ and what God's grace was all about. For nearly 10 years after his conversion, Paul lived in obscurity. No preaching, no teaching, no mission. He needed to be transformed from a man unto himself into a man who served God. Yet it was not wasted time. God was molding this man and building him up for the mission ahead. But when he was finally ready to carry out his mission, he gave everything he had for the last 20 years of his life, until he was beheaded in Rome around A.D. 67. Now on to the next volume in this series, Job, A Man of Heroic Endurance.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Every now and then, when I am under great pressure or stress, I careen wildly off course and cannot seem to control myself. In these moments I throw harsh words at people like hand grenades, dripping with ignorance and venom. I wound others with my anger and frustration and helplessness. What I say and how I behave are completely against the truths that I know and claim. That person is not me. It almost seems that under certain conditions, the filters and controls that normally process my words and regulate the thoughts between my brain and my mouth are bypassed. I have come to understand over the years that I'm not the only one who has these episodes. In fact, my guess is that we all do to varying degrees.

If you have ever been around someone when they are spewing hate and anger and negativity, when they are raging out of control, or throwing an adult temper tantrum, it is so easy to judge them harshly. Words like racist, sexist, savage, and animal can be thrown back at them with such ease. Sometimes those labels can stick with a person for a very long period of time.

A wise friend of mine told me to guard my thoughts when witnessing such meltdowns in folks. He said that none of us should be fully judged by our worst moments. Sometimes when we reach our boiling point, we can easily act in ways completely uncharacteristic of who we are and say things that are against our true values. In a sense, during these brief periods, we are not ourselves. It reminds me of seeing a child throwing a fit. This can happen because they are not properly equipped to express themselves. I think that same type of wild behavior can be manifested in adults when they are faced with such high levels of stress that they do not have the tools to cope properly with the situation. Be mindful that just as you don't want others to judge you or label you by your worst moments, this is just as true of others.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mars - Venus

I've just completed reading Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray. This is a relationship book based on trite one-dimensional male/female gender profile descriptions. It seeks to help us relate to the opposite sex more successfully by teaching us that they are a wholly alien species. Our ways are not their ways and their ways are not our ways. Curiously, in this age of political correctness that refuses to let shadows sleep even in the dead of night, this book has been termed a "classic" by many due to its commercial success. As it was recommended by a friend whose judgement I trust, I took the time to read it, even though I am not in a relationship.

Let me embark by saying that there is a sliver of useful information wound through this book, but it is quite a chore to pull it out. This book was so repetitive in stating and restating its few points, that I groused aloud at several points. Apparently, according to the vast research of Mr. "Dr." Gray (who is not really a Dr. and was a long-time member of the cult lead by Maharishi Mahest Yogi), women are incessant needy whiners, whose illogical ramblings and hormonal exuberance can be appeased only by their mates nodding and saying "hmmm" or "that is interesting" at regular intervals during their diatribes. On the other hand, men are solitary prehistoric, genetically de-evolved semi-humans, who scratch and grunt and only come out of their man caves for ego stroking and sex. Ouch, my words are quite harsh. However, it might be that some of my negative feelings toward the subject matter arose because of my past relational failures and the fact that I did see a reflection of my life from time to time in the pages of this book that stirred up some negativity within me.

Actually, even though the book seems to be packed with an over-the-top amount of saccharinity and dialog that no two humans would ever utter regarding their feelings, regardless of whether or not they were playing a role in a soap opera, Gray's central tenet rings true. Men and women typically communicate differently and that needs to be appreciated for a relationship to survive and thrive.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mindset 3

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit normal games that people play, only they have been mutated and modified and altered to reflect the personalities involved. More to the point, kids are famous for entertaining themselves for hours with the games that they make up. Some of these games develop a set of rules that seem to change from moment to moment, depending on whether the child is winning or losing. I can almost hear the parents out there giving a knowing chuckle. One of our regular games for a few years was almost recognizable as poker. For chips we used a set of acorn tops that we had collected on our walking adventures. Our deck of cards featured the cast of the Scooby Doo gang. Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby Doo. My daughter had a number a specific, non-negotiable additions to the usual rules of poker. First, she always got to keep the "special" acorn that had the spiky top. Second, she got to keep the four queens that featured Daphne, her favorite of the gang. She used these queens like a card shark keeps aces up his sleeve, yet she kept her Daphne cards out in plain sight and had no qualms about using them as she saw fit.

Now, if you are out there saying "What's the point then?", then you probably don't have children. The whole point is to spend time with your little 'uns. Playing games like this is a time for laughter and silliness and togetherness. The sparks of the game naturally give rise to the fires of deeper conversation and deeper connection. Many a rainy day we would lay on the living room floor and play our version of poker for hours at a time. Good thing we weren't playing for money, cause those Daphne cards would have cleaned me out!

Friday, November 19, 2010


I used to be your biggest hero.
Your knight in shining armor.
Always there when you needed me most.
Swinging in on a vine.
Running through the burning building.
Strong and confident.
Unafraid and sure.

Today though, I am just another person.
The years have brought me down to size.
No more larger than life.
No more the safe secure blanket to wrap up in.
Weak and undermined.
Scared and hesitant.
The hero is gone but I am still here.
Now you see the real me.
Still here when you need me the most.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

New Group

Back in August I wrote a post entitled Flavio Gustaffo about my experience hosting a church small group in my humble abode. Although I tried to couch my fears regarding this experience in humor, it was a pretty big deal for me. As I look back, I am pleased with the fact that I volunteered and pleased with my attitude and spirit in taking on that assignment. I worked hard at something that wasn't natural for me. That group came to an end in October and before I knew it, I was signed up to meet with another entirely new group. Yikes, here we go again ...

Those of you who are regular visitors to this website, have probably realized that I am not very good at meeting people and hanging out in social situations. It is my kryptonite. This type of experience can cause me to run whimpering into the street with my tail tucked between my legs and tears streaming down my face. Not a pretty sight. Yet even knowing how I am around groups of people, especially groups of people that I have never met before, I signed up to join another group. Yikes, here we go again ...

So far, things have been about as I had imagined. I have survived the first couple of meetings like a scared child on their first rollercoaster ride. Eyes closed, gripping the bar so tightly that fingers go numb, screaming on the inside in utter terror. Why do I put myself through this experience if I make it out to be so dreadful? Well, for one thing, it is biblical. Structured relationships that involve meeting regularly with other Christians are an important part of growth and development on our journey. Also I know most kids who survive that first rollercoaster ride, immediately want to go right back on it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bunny Huggers

When I was a young boy, I received a BB gun for a present. Oh how I loved setting up soda cans for target practice on the low stone wall in my backyard, and then taking aim and shooting them off one by one. There was something energizing about the shrill metallic sound that rang out when my BB made contact with the cans. One day, when I was alone in the backyard improving my markmanship, a robin landed in the grass nearby. For some reason, I thought it would be fun to take a shot at it. I fired the gun, the robin took two hops forward and then fell over dead. Now I know a lot of boys would have beamed with pride at their accomplishment. They would have felt that they had earned some badge of honor. Yet, my actions sickened me. I felt so horrible. I never used my gun again after that.

Over the years, I have read many articles and heard many stories about fathers who teach their sons to hunt. It is something of a rite of manhood when they come of age. That first kill, whether it is a duck, a rabbit, or a deer, is something to be celebrated. Hunters claim they hunt for the satisfaction of outwitting the animals on their own turf. Yet, I find it morbid when I see photographs of hunters grinning ear to ear as they pose with some dead creature, that only moments earlier, was part of nature. It brings back those horrible feelings that I had when I killed that small bird in my backyard. I have even heard the argument that all humans have a predatory urge, and that hunting is a way to positively channel it so that they don't instead turn abusive or kill other humans. If that doesn't seem like caveman, backwoods logic, I don't know what is.

Ted Nugent has a defiant quote for all "bunny huggers", "you can't grill it until you kill it." Of course he is right, but it is one thing to kill an animal humanely and respectfully and honorably in order to provide food. It is another thing to kill for "sport". This killing of animals for the thrill or the fun of it, just doesn't sit right with me. My attitude was strengthened the other day when I saw a bumper sticker on a truck that read "If it flies, it dies." I have seen outdoors programs on T.V. where the hunter beams over his kill, declaring how beautiful and magnificent his prize is. In my mind, beauty and magnificence are not words for the dead, but for the living.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mindset 2

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit Winnie the Pooh and his friends Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, and Eeyore in the Hundred Acre Wood. In talking to other dads that I know, they tend to endure or to suffer silently when watching movies with their children. Clearly not their cup of tea. However, I have always watched movies with my daughter because I get as much enjoyment out of them as she does. For several years she was very keen on Winnie the Pooh. I have always loved these characters and have found their antics consistently marked by charm, innocence, integrity, humor, and heart-warming emotion.

We have a set of four very well worn VHS cassette tapes that we watched nearly every weekend together for several years. It really was a special together time for us. When VHS gave way to the DVD, each new title that came out was met with quite some fanfare. We would share what we called "movie nights" (a tradition that has survived to this day). Of course, as new movies came to the theater, you could expect us there on opening weekend. The Tigger Movie in 2000, Piglet's Big Movie in 2003, and the last movie that came out in 2005 was called The Heffalump Movie. I had the distinct feeling as we went to see that last film, that the Pooh wave had already crested. Yet we still went to see it anyway. I knew that the level of excitement and anticipation was not as high as for the earlier movies. With this, I relished in the adventures of my cartoon friends, knowing that our time together was running out and good-byes were at hand. Well, I now hope that good-byes were a bit premature. I hope to get to visit with my old friends again in a few more years when I am a grandfather.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lessons Learned

I don't know about you, but when I bang myself with a hammer, the pain and bruising in my fingers makes a long-lasting impression in my mind. So, when I swing a hammer, I make darned certain that my hands are clear. Some lessons are learned very quickly indeed. However, on the other hand, some lessons, that may have even more lasting consequences than a few bruised fingers, never seem to be absorbed, or at least, take a very long time to be fully learned. As I was thinking about this post, two specific examples turned over and over in my mind.

1). A huge amount of my life's work as a scientist, representing past projects, current analyses, and future planning is contained on several computers. Over the years, I have had more than a few of my computers unexpectedly crash and burn to their untimely death. This has cost me some significant losses, along with my fair share of anxiety and anguish. Yet today I do not regularly make back-up copies of my most important files, even when I understand first hand what is at stake. I have been struck by that hammer several times, yet I still leave my fingers directly in the danger zone.

2). Several days a week I am responsible for picking up my daughter from school. A few years ago, I fell into the habit of trying to stay at work until the last possible second, and then heading out to pick her up. One day there was a traffic problem and I arrived at her school about 10 minutes late. When I finally reached my daughter, I could see that she had been crying. I saw worry and fear all over her face. Ever since I was struck with that hammer, I have been sure to arrive at our meeting place about 15 minutes early. That hammer will never strike my fingers again.

Why is it that some lessons are easy to absorb and others are so hard? Do our minds perform some complex cost-benefit analysis where it weighs the possible outcomes and risks associated with our actions and behaviors? Maybe. But this sounds like it is giving me too much credit. I suspect that the lessons most easily learned are the ones that are most personal, that bruise not just our fingers, but our hearts.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


There is an old expression when someone is in a peck of trouble that seems to have limited their options. We say that they are "between a rock and a hard place". Boy howdy can I relate. Many times our positioning smack dab betwixt said geological formation and indurated locale is firmly of our own fault. We are there because of our own decisions. Sometimes we make choices based on faulty input parameters that lead us to that bad place. Sometimes we end up where we find ourselves having made decisions that we knew good and well were foolish. We are stuck, hemmed in, and paying a price that we have encumbered from sheer stupidity. My friends, I am living proof. I pray that you will learn from my sorry example.

Rock: In my office at work I have a desk where I put my laptop computer. Usually because I have papers and files spread out at the front of the desk, I have to lean across the desk to reach my computer positioned on the back side. The other day I needed to use my laptop for an extended period of time. Instead of moving the papers and files to allow myself access, I stretched across my desk and let its edge press into my ribcage all day. When I got home, I found that I had bruised the heck out of the muscles on my right side.

Hard Place: My ears have always given me fits of itchiness. Sometimes in my desparation, I will grab whatever implement I can find to stick in there to alleviate the symptoms. For years, I used the tip of my mechanical pencil. After getting several massive ear infections, I stopped using my pencil. However, the other day, I was in such dire straits that I used the end of my eyeglasses to itch my left ear. I ended up with massive swelling and my ear was very tender to the touch.

My poor decisions led to several nights without sleep. My natural position in bed is to lay on one side of my body or the other. However, every time I rolled to my left side, my ear made contact with the pillow causing me to yelp out in pain. Everytime I rolled over to my right side, the pain in my ribs caused me to wince. Rock. Hard place. Have we learned anything from this self-inflicted lesson? Have we?

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Hiding Place

The Family Circus is a comic from the newspaper funny pages that has been running since before even I was born. I haven't read one for many years, but one from my youth has stuck with me, perhaps because I relate so well to it. It showed toddler Jeffy, who had just broken a flower vase, hiding in an open closet with his hands over his eyes. He knew he was going to be in trouble. His mother was standing in front of the closet staring down at him and his sister Dolly was there as well. She was saying to the mom that Jeffy thought that if he couldn't see them, then he felt sure that they couldn't see him.

Sometimes I relate very well to that young boy Jeffy. When life gets too much for me, my first instinct is to run and hide. It is a form of protection and self-preservation. Now I don't hide out in the closet or under the bed or in a locked room. In fact I tend to hide out in the open, usually at my workplace, where I dutifully go about my business. I believe that I do this because when I am at work, I am most comfortable, most myself, most in control of my world. Work has been my hiding place for as long as I can remember. Yet, like that young boy in the comic strip, everybody is looking down on me, knowing all the while that something is not right, that something has been broken in my house.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mindset 1

Over the past several weeks, I have written a couple of posts focusing on my daughter and how fast she seems to be growing up (see Left Behind, Treasure Box). Although I tend to tear up thinking about our adventures together and looking at photographs of her from days gone by, I never want to lose these memories or let them slip away. They are a part of my daughter's life. They are a part of my life. The frustrating thing is that I have come to realize that occasions and instances that were once so precious to me have gently faded away over the years. I thought my blog forum would be a great place to reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. While you might think that this series could evolve into a rather somber affair, I hope to try to explore and remember from a joyful point of view. In fact, I have already made a list of about a dozen things that I wanted to write about and share with you.

This new series of posts that I have decided to call "Mindset", will be presented over the next weeks and months. I thought the Mindset title would be fitting because I want to recapture and reset these memories in my mind so that I might hold onto them a little bit longer. I also wanted to do it with the right attitude so that I don't mire myself down in the sticky, depressing tar of sadness and regret. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sticky Goo

One thing that I know about myself is that I do not like personal conflict. You might respond, "Well who does?" But my level of dislike lies on a very profound and impactful level. Personal conflicts, when they arise in my life, can utterly destroy my entire foundation. They can sap me completely of my strength and peace of mind, and it can take me days to come back to equilibrium. I have found a measureable affect on my health, my ability to sleep, and my overall attitude. My reaction to conflict is no different when I am at fault or blameless in the interaction.

I once witnessed a friend of mine get into a very contentious row with another colleague. Heated words were exchanged that bordered on personal affronts. I could tell that all of us who were in the room during the to-do were more than a bit uncomfortable. Just a few moments after the rousing, we all left to go our separate ways. In talking to my friend on the way out, he had already sloughed the whole episode off and was clearly completely unfazed. If I had been a part of that kind of fracas, I would have dissolved into a sticky pool of goo for at least the rest of the day. Yet some folks obviously have a way to distance themselves from any lingering emotions after a quarrel. It just rolls off of them and they are done with it.

Recently I was involved with a bit of an assault from someone I know. It was a personal attack delivered through email with quite some ugliness and vehemence behind it. This person believed that they were righteously calling me to task for something that did not involve them directly. Yet their harsh and hurtful words came from a place of total ignorance. The affects of this verbal ambush lingered with me for quite a few days afterwards, although cognitively I knew that the attack was not fair and not justified. Although I should have been able to delete this email and wash my hands of its effects, I still melted into sticky goo.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Pink Bag

"So, how was your day today?"

"Did you learn anything new or exciting?

"Did you do anything fun this past week?
"No, not really."

I have found, much to my chagrin, that catching up with my daughter after we have been apart for a few days takes no time at all ... really. I so badly ache when she is not with me. It is a hurt that many parents can identify with. Not only am I not there to be a part of her life every single day, but the days that we are apart are always just lost to me. She rarely tells me anything of substance although I know that there must have been many things that aroused her curosity, or that she found funny, or that she got to experience. I know this because she experiences all of these things in the times that we are together. The days that she is away from me might just as well never have existed for all I know. Yet, of course, I do know. She bears the marks of so many experiences in her life. You can see it in her face. You can hear it when she talks. You can sense it in how she carries herself. I have always hated packing up that pink bag because I never will know much about her life when she unpacks it.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I have just completed reading the book House co-authored by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. Even though the book is categorized as "Christian Fiction", it is plainly in the horror genre. Actually, now that I have read several books in the Christian fiction category, I'm still not entirely sure what this means. There is still plenty of sin, immorality, darkness, hatred, and sin (yes I know I listed it twice). I guess it usually means that there is at least some mention of God or that there is some "supernatural" tie-in in the story. But I digress.

The story starts with a married couple, Jack and Stephanie (aka the good couple), who have recently lost their daughter, taking a shortcut through a sparsely populated section of Alabama on their way to a marriage counseling appointment. Along the way we are introduced to a strange policemen who forces them to detour down an isolated backwoods road. On this road, their tires are shredded on a spike strip near a quaint and charming, if oddly placed, inn. Upon arriving, they run into another couple, Randy and Leslie (aka the bad couple), whose car met a similar fate. Soon thereafter, they meet the inbred, circus folks who run the inn. At this point we understand why this novel is called "House". An insane, demonic killer possesses this inn, which is almost like a living creature. He also controls the circus family. He has set up a game where nobody can leave the inn until a dead body is offered up from among the four guests. If by dawn no body has been offered, then they all must die. The two couples fall into survival mode, but as their deadline gets close, they start to turn on each other. As the story unfolds, we meet another captive in the inn, a young girl named Stephanie. We do not know until the end if she is really another prisoner, or whether she is part of the wicked game.

Let me say that I found the book to be a very enjoyable read. However, the basic plot elements offered nothing new or outside the box, but they did provide a solid base for a story. The book, which was less than 400 pages in length, could have been improved with a bit more time developing the characters to allow us to get to know them, understand them, and develop a reason to care about them. Jack seems to quickly ally himself with Leslie, with almost a physical attraction. Randy seems like a complete jerk. Stephanie seems like an unloveable air-head. The strange policeman who shows up at the beginning and the end of the story is not well developed, and it is not clear what he is supposed to represent. Finally, the story, which is an allegory about Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, without spot or blemish, had a somewhat abrupt, forced, and not fully satisfying ending. It makes me wonder how two successful authors with different styles and approaches really collaborate together. Is the output of the sum better than that of the individual parts?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Beaver Cleaver

I read recently that Barbara Billingsley ("yes I speak jive") died. You may remember that she played the loving and proper mom of the Cleaver family in the 1950s show Leave it to Beaver. This old program followed the adventures of the young Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver and taught us a few lessons about growing up along the way ("put your foot on the lady's thumb"). Although sappy and dry by today's standards, this show represents a time capsule slice of life from a different, simpler and more innocent, bygone age. I remember watching the show in the afternoon when I got home from school. This was back in the days before cable T.V. and I had only 4 or 5 channels to choose from. Although not my favorite show, likely because black and white never could hold a candle to color in my mind, it, nevertheless, did leave an impression on me that has lasted through the years.

The same evening I read of Mrs. Billingsley's passing, I was doing a bit of channel surfing, when I stumbled upon another old show that I have probably not seen since I was in high school. I Dream of Jeannie, which stands in stark contrast to the Cleaver clan. was a 1960s show about an astronaut (Major Nelson) who finds a genie and takes possession of her. She ran around showing her scandalous belly button and called the man who found her "master". This show was cut from the same mold as Bewitched. (Note: for several years as a kid I had a crush on Elizabeth Montgomery.) It's interesting how much America grew up in moving from the Cleavers to Major Nelson in just a few years.

Now flipping through the channels, we find popular shows like Jersey Shore, which is nothing more than offensive, badly scripted soft porn, and show after show that is all about shocking us and pushing the moral envelope. We have come so far so fast, but I'm not necessarily sure that we are any better off. So reading of "Mrs. Cleaver" dying left me feeling a bit sad.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I have seen the nostaglic looks on people's faces when some star from their past has blinked out. That look associated with fond memories pulled out from some dusty corner of their mind. Sometimes there are tears of joy formed from recalling moments of fellowship, or youth, or innocence that have gone by. Maybe feelings were stirred up when they saw the out-of-business sign on the restaurant where they used to hang out. Perhaps it was when they drove by the shuttered theater where they used to take their special sweetheart. For some, it might be when they learned that some product connected with their past isn't made any more.

I had that same far-away look in my eyes when I read recently that Sony will not be making any more Walkmans, those portable radio/cassette units that allowed us to take our music with us wherever we went. I can remember very well back in high school when I finally purchased mine. They had been the craze, the must-have item, for several years before I could afford one. Back then I remember lingering in the electronics section of my local department store, filled with longing. Today if I want something, I can just go out and buy it. But back them, oh boy, did I have to practice patience. Usually I could not afford the latest thing until it was already old news. Nevertheless, by the time I had saved up to buy whatever it was I had my heart set on, my level of excitement and anticipation had climbed off the charts.

Back in high school, music was such a regular and important part of my day-to-day existence. I used to listen to the radio for hours on end. With my Walkman strapped over my shoulder, I was able to go out on long walks to find my peace, to think things through, to sing out loud to the world. Those moments alone were an important part of my growing up and figuring myself out. Seeing that news piece about the end of the Walkman kind of stirred up some of those old memories now nearly 30 years in my rear view mirror.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A+ America 3

I keep up with the national and international news like most folks. My guess is that we have all heard countless stories of how poorly the American education system ranks in comparison to that in other countries like Japan, Germany, and Sweden. When I read these news pieces I am left with the impression that our elementary, middle, and high schools are doing little than providing cheap day care for our children. Those schools that try to make an effort only teach to the dullest student in the room. The main goal is to make everyone feel good about themselves. Everywhere it seems that our students graduate high school unable to read or write, unable to think for themselves, and unable to compete in the dog-eat-dog "real" world. These news reports on our education system portray the teachers as a bunch of louts who couldn't give a rip about our children. I can certainly admit that my view of our system and the people in it has been strongly colored by the news reports that I have come across over the years.

Recently my daughter's middle school hosted what was termed an "open school" night for parents. I got a chance to meet each of her teachers in each of the different class rooms. The teachers then told us about their curriculum, their standards, and their expectations for each of their students. What I found during my visit were teachers who loved what they were teaching, who cherished the opportunity to teach and interact with young people, and who took great pride in the job they were doing. They each demonstrated passion, energy, and commitment. I can only say that I was very much impressed. Definitely this rates an A+ America in my book.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Left Behind

I have written many blogs about my daughter and her impact on my life. To be sure, she is very special to me and I take my responsibilities as her father very seriously. A big part of my role is to raise her to be a strong and confident person, who will have the skills and tools necessary to leave the nest when she is ready. I have loved watching her grow up and figure things out, and to see her blossoming into a fine young lady who I am very proud of. However, recently, I have noticed a distinct shift in her personality. Something, much more mature, is emerging in her as she moves towards being a teenager in just a few more months. I think for the first time, I have started to realize how much I miss the relationship that I had with her when she was younger.

As my daughter grows up, in some sense, she leaves versions of herself behind. Not literally of course, but my mind has a tendency to "freeze" periods in my daughter's life in a capsule. If I compare those encapsulated versions of her to who she is now, they are very different. Sometimes when I realize that my daughter has left one of her old selves behind, I find that I am not ready to have that person leave my life. I miss interacting with them and loving them in the way that I did.

I realize that every parent goes through this as their children grow up. For a season, we are the center of their lives. Everything they do revolves around us. Then, one day, we find that things have changed. They have a life outside of us. They have relationships outside of us. If we are not careful, we can feel left behind. We need to make adjustments in our behavior and approach to make the most of who are children are and how they are growing up. We need to make adjustments to have the healthiest possible relationship with our children. While I understand that, I still miss holding my daughter's hand as we walk along, or holding her in my arms, or singing her to sleep with my own repertoire of silly songs. I miss so many things, perhaps because they made me feel more needed, perhaps because they made me feel young and alive. I need to find a way not to be left behind so that I can move forward with everything that I have.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Oath

The people in the town of Hyde River are hiding something from the outside world. They may smile and wave to a passing stranger, but that apparent back-woods charm is merely a thin veneer. Everyone rigidly keeps to themselves. They live in fear and won't even talk about it among themselves. There is a shadow that lingers over this town and has since the original foundation charter was signed over a hundred years ago. What everyone is afraid of initially is not entirely clear. It could be the dark history associated with their small, company-owned mining town. It might be the iron-fisted patriarch of the Hyde Mining Company, whose power derives from his bloodline. It could be all of the people who have disappeared over the years without a trace and without question. It could be the myth of the dark creature that lives up in the surrounding hills. Perhaps though, the true reason derives from what lives deep inside each of us.

In The Oath by Frank Peretti, the story begins with the gruesome killing of Cliff Benson, a visitor to Hyde River. Steve Benson, the brother of the dead man comes to town to check on the welfare of his brother's wife Evelyn. She tells a bizarre story of Cliff's death that seems to make little sense. The local folks have labeled the death as a bear attack, case closed. However, after a bit of poking around, Steve finds that the bear attack story doesn't hold together. Regardless, the locals want to quickly wrap this case up and get Steve and Evelyn out of town. Steve senses that something is not right and is then quickly pulled into the dark history, past and present, associated with Hyde River and its people.

The dark history of the town is directly connected to a creature that survives off the people. Initially it is small and controllable, and does the bidding of the town's founder and his family. However, over the years it has grown beyond control and shows that no man is its master. The beast in this tale represents sin and the complex, layered story shows us how sin controls us and eventually destroys us. We come to understand that left unchecked, sin can take over our lives. When sin first arises, we feel the pangs of guilt and shame, but eventually we become enured to its influence and stop caring altogether. When sin has us fully under its control, we are led like lambs to the slaughter, a tasty meal for the insatiable monster. However, even though each of us is stained with sin, oozing with its black mark, there is a path to forgiveness and peace through Christ. We just need to care.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Kind Face

Have you ever passed by a complete stranger, perhaps at the grocery store or the mall, maybe it was on the sidewalk or in an airport, and were inexplicably warmed by their presence? I'm not talking about a sexual attraction or something lustful. You somehow wish that you could get to know that person. Something about their makeup just communicates to you that they are warm and gentle and kind. This feeling can wash over you even though no words or looks or gestures are exchanged. Usually when this happens to me, I remark to myself that they sure had a "kind face".

I spent some time pondering what characteristics make up a kind face. It doesn't mean that the person is handsome or pretty, thin and in shape, or clean and well dressed. It is more imperceptible. Something like a twinkle in their eyes, a calm spirit, an inner light. It's a quiet confidence, a humble demeanor, a positive vibration. This aura is not something consciously worn and put on like a cloak. It is comprised of several intangible qualities that kind of all serve to make you take notice and pull you in.

I have been told many times over the years that I don't have this quality, that many folks who don't know me all that well are put off by me. I come across as unkind and unapproachable, even when I don't say a word. I have also noticed the few times I have held a friend's baby in my arms for the first time that they seem frightened when they look into my face. They sense something unkind about me. It's a look that they don't give everyone who picks them up for the first time. Makes me wonder if a kind face is something genetic or something learned.