Friday, December 30, 2011

Resolutions 2011

For the past several years during the last week of December, I have sat down and prepared a list of New Year's resolutions. The items that I list are not of the sort, "Gee, I hope I win the lottery!" Instead, they represent areas where there is some deficiency in my life that I recognize (which for me is the first step to taking action), and then I consciously work to give effort to make adjustments or improvements.

As I make my new list of resolutions for the year ahead, I also look back to see how well I succeeded with my goals from the year just past. As you might imagine every year, not everything goes as I had hoped or wished. This year was no different. But even though my resolutions are deeply personal to me, perhaps by sharing I can help encourage someone out there to realize that giving your best effort is equally as important as succeeding. When I can look back on something that has not gone well or ended badly, if I can say that I did everything that I could, I find that regret does not sink its jagged talons into my flesh.

So, here is my list with a brief commentary for each item.
  1. To ask a woman out on a date - I went out on one date this year, but only one. At least I tried and kept my eyes open.
  2. To exercise the whole year - Here I made an unqualified success. I was consistent from start to finish and did everything that I wanted.
  3. To make several new friends - I thought that I had a few folks that I was getting close to and was enjoying their company. It turns out that for several reasons none of these folks is any longer in my life. So this goal definitely was not met.
  4. To grow closer to God - I'm not sure that I made progress here. I have focused on my prayer life, go to church and give, and read my devotionals. For whatever reasons, God has felt so distant from me this year and it is having an effect on me.
  5. To grow closer to my daughter - I have never loved my daughter more, but this past year has been difficult for both of us as she is growing up and I am struggling to let go. However, I am doing everything that I think I am capable of doing to be a good father to her.
  6. To find some degree of happiness and peace - Another year has passed and I still struggle to hang on. Too often feelings of hopelessness break me and steal my smile. I continue to try though, but it has been tough.
Now I will prepare my list of resolutions for 2012 and plan to give my best effort to be successful on each one.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blog 2011 Recap II

As I mentioned yesterday in part 1 of this post (Blog 2011 Recap I), I wanted to share what, in my view, are my favorite posts from this past year. Most of these were borne out of some frustration that I was feeling or represented a lamentation. Sometimes just giving voice to a choking thought or a frustrating failure or a bit of melancholia can be freeing and uplifting. So, here is my own top 10 list from my posts this year (in no particular order).
  • Valleys series, Acute, Obtuse (Sep. 21,22) - A series I wrote about living with and through life's struggles.
  • Subtle series, 1, 2 (Sep. 16,17) - A series that I wrote as I struggled with a God who seems to be satisfied with being far too subtle for me.
  • Chess (Aug. 16) - A bit of inspiration that I had about finding love unexpectedly.
  • Along the Watchtower (Jun. 16) - About betrayal of trust and a broken heart.
  • Fortress (Jun. 1) - Written to someone that I badly hurt, someone who I cared for very much.
  • No Time (May 17) - About lamenting the passage of time and my daughter growing up.
  • Strange Currencies (Mar. 11) - Written about the strange things that people cling to, even when they know better.
  • airportman (Feb. 16) - Written to the wise man who needs some of his own wisdom.
  • Big Church series, I, II, III, IV (Feb. 7-10) - Written about my struggles and frustrations with my fast-growing church.
  • Perspective (Jan. 14) - Almost a bit of prose, but a piece about the beauty of perspective on the good things in life.
I hope some of these touched you as well. If you missed them, just follow the links back. See you in the 2012 recap!

(Part 2 of 2)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blog 2011 Recap I

Just about a year ago, I made the hard decision to decrease the number of my blog posts from 6 per week to 5. While several folks commented that they would miss my Saturday posts, looking back I know it was the right decision for me for several reasons. The first is that my site traffic on Saturdays is minimal. (If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it ...) Second, I think the extra posts had an impact on the overall quality of my writing. I much prefer to write when inspired rather than throw something out to meet some deadline. Sometimes I like to write a piece and let it sit for a while and then revisit my draft later to put the final touches in place. Finally, reducing my output has allowed me to feel less pressure. Writing is meant to be a labor of love, not a chore or a burden. Writing to fulfill some full-speed ahead pace can only lead to bitterness, frustration, and wasted time. Worse, it leads to uninspired words that have no value to anyone.

This year I have written more than 260 posts. Never once have I felt rushed or forced. Each piece, whether it was something silly or something deep, has come from my heart and represents a piece of me. I really enjoyed writing my blog this year. I look forward to continuing on into 2012, my fifth year of writing Return to Zero. Tomorrow I will share my top 10 list of my own blogs for 2011.

(Part 1 of 2)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best Books of 2011

I have done a lot of reading this year, finishing more than 70 books. I worked my way through most of the Ted Dekker catalog, poring through more than 20 of his novels. Man did I have some good adventures along the way. Plenty to keep my mind active and my imagination soaring. Lots to make me think and take stock. So, here is the list of my top 10 "books" for this year in no particular order. Note that I put books in quotes, because I count a series by a given author as just one entry.
  • The Circle series (Black, Red, White, Green), Ted Dekker
  • Soul Print, Mark Batterson
  • The King Raven trilogy (Hood, Scarlet, Tuck), Stephen Lawhead
  • The Dreamhouse Kings series (House of Dark Shadows, Watcher in the Woods,Gatekeepers, Timescape, Whirlwind, Frenzy), Robert Liparulo
  • Graceling and Fire, Kristin Cashore
  • Through Painted Deserts, Donald Miller
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller
  • The Lost Books series (Chosen, Infidel, Renegade, Chaos, Lunatic, Elyon), Ted Dekker
  • Patrick, Stephen Lawhead
  • On the Anvil, Max Lucado
I am already starting to plan out my reading list for the first part of 2012 (and I have a stack of books in the queue sitting in my office). However, if you have any suggestions, please pass them along. I keep my list of reads up to date on my Shelfari page.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011


Wow, another year has passed us by. It feels like the time just flew. Try as I might to grab it to slow its headlong rush, it slipped through my fingers unabated. However, as I celebrated yesterday with my daughter, I wanted to write just a brief note to all my online friends to thank you for visiting my site and leaving your comments. I pray that you had a merry Christmas and I wish you the best in the year ahead.

(P.S. The above painting was created during the Christmas Eve service at Waters Edge Church. A lovely and moving moment that reminded us that Christ makes all things beautiful, out of the dust.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

About Me

For more years than I would care to acknowledge, the Christmas season is a time that I would just as soon avoid altogether. I almost wish that I could just hibernate through it or step directly from the third week of December to January. Don't get me wrong, I love the time spent with my daughter and lavishing her with lots of goodies and fun things that will elicit squeals and laughter and great joy. However, this year will mark the seventh that I have lived through a different type of Christmas than what I used to know. Those wonderful seasons of two have faded into the darker reality of one. I'm not sure if or when I will ever really get past this. I sense that it will always be something that I struggle with.

This year I have kind of forced myself to focus in on what I should be dwelling on in this season. Christmas should be a day to fully revel in the birth of Jesus Christ. This aspect alone should be enough to sate my spirit, to fill me to overflowing with joy and warmth and satisfaction. Of course, the fact that I know this and it is still not enough to pull me out of the darkness, just seems to add to the pressure that I already feel. It's like I have to be fully on the defensive from moment to moment. The instant that the clouds appear on the horizon, "It's not about me." The second that I want all the celebrations to vaporize, "It's Not About Me." The tick where I begin feel sorry for myself and start to embrace regret, "IT'S NOT ABOUT ME!"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grandfather's Clock


It rang an alarm
In the dead of the night,
An alarm that for years had been dumb;
And we knew that his spirit
Was pluming for flight,
That his hour of departure had come.

My daughter's favorite CD when she was quite young included a song called "My Grandfather's Clock". For reasons that I do not understand, this song with its sombre and haunting tone and themes of aging and inescapable death, always affected me. If we were listening to this CD in the car and the song came on, I would quickly skip past it. Its pull was beyond my strength as it made my mind wander into thoughts that I wanted no business with.

The other night I was tidying up some things in my closet, and I came across this CD. It hadn't been touched in nearly ten years. It happened to be a night when I was a bit down and I was alone. As I ran my fingers over the edges of the jewel case, I started to cry. Shadows once short now extend across my face and remind me far too often that time marches on and carries me unwillingly along.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Burn

Burn by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy, is the story of Janeal Mikkado, the 17 year old daughter of the leader of a band of western gypsies. As the story begins, Janeal is disillusioned with her life within the kumpania, mainly because as a "half-breed" (her mother was not a gypsy), she has never gained acceptance and is treated with open disdain. Growing up she has become more and more inward focused, ever planning for the day when she can leave this life behind. Even her boyfriend Robert and her friend Katie are just a means to this end.

One night as Janeel is seeking some solitude out on the mesa, she is approached by Sanso Salazaar, a ruthless drug dealer and counterfeiter. Janeel's father has 1 million dollars of his bogus money that he is desperate to get back to keep the DEA from coming down on him. Janeel's father had some shady dealings with Salazaar and he is about to lead the DEA in to bring this kingpin down. Salazaar seeks to enlist Janeel's help in recovering his money, and if she does as she is told, the plan to kill her father will be called off and she will be rewarded financially. Janeel is drawn to Sanso because he represents power and adventure. Perhaps more importantly, Janeel sees his money as her means to finally escape her tribe and begin her life on the outside. However, things don't work out as Janeel tries to con the con man. It results in the torching of the gypsy settlement and most of their tribe being slaughtered. Janeel, however, makes her escape with the counterfeit money, but the cost is that her friend Katie dies in the fire. The tragedy is that Janeel waited too long debating whether she should help Katie or save herself.

Nearly 15 years later, Janeel has become quite successful as a New York magazine executive. She has done whatever she needed to do through the years to survive and thrive, and to protect herself without a thought to helping others. Robert, who survived the fire, has become a DEA agent who has dedicated his life to bring Salazaar to justice. Also, we meet Katie, who, it seems, has somehow survived after all. Dear, sweet Katie, who was blinded and deeply scarred by the events, but has dedicated her life to helping women in a half-way house. Yet there is more to both Janeel and Katie than meets the eye, as Robert finds out. Not a bad effort here, but Dekker leans too much on using his "unexpected twist" gimmick when there are other ways that could have led to tighter more relatable storyline.

There are two chambers in every heart, one for Judas and one for John.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Consistency

Suppose you find yourself taking a test. You have a freshly sharpened No.2 pencil in your hand, poised above your exam paper. You come to a multiple choice question and consider it. Among the answer options, you see that (b) is clearly the correct answer, yet you circle (d) instead. You recognize that you have not circled the correct answer, but you do not move to fix your mistake. Of course, when the test is graded and returned, your grade reflects that you provided the wrong answer to the question. This sounds really stupid, yet I make this kind of mistake nearly every day. The issue is consistency.
  • I need to carefully watch what I eat due to a number of health issues, yet I walk past the bag of candy and grab a handful. Worse yet, I fix my dinner plate with enough food for 2 and sometimes 3 servings.
  • I am a homeowner and understand that repairs are best dealt with promptly before they become a major problem later. Yet I put things off and put things off.
  • I have very few friends and I recognize how important they can be in my life. Yet I avoid cultivating these relationships.
  • I have come to know that spending a few moments in the morning with my devotional and in prayer improves my spirit and my outlook. Yet too often in the hustle and bustle I too easily forgot.
Why do I continue to circle the wrong answer on the test when I know the right one? Why am I so inconsistent in some things and miss the mark time and again? I guess it is equal parts fear, laziness, forgetfulness, and impatience. One thing that I have found that works (at least for some things, certainly not all by any means) is to write everything that I would like to complete on my daily "to-do list". That way I have a constant reminder before my eyes. Furthermore, as I am success driven, I cannot claim completion of my work until all items are checked off.

What are some of your secrets to consistency?

Monday, December 19, 2011

What is Friendship?


According to my dictionary, a friend is defined as a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard. Hmmm. So if you use this as a metric, how many friends would you say that you have? Dozens or a few? From my way of looking at this, I think most folks tend to refer to pretty much anyone they know as a friend. While I know many people at my workplace and church and have been in and around them for years, I don't really consider them my friends. I should think that acquaintance is a much more appropriate term, but I feel this goes beyond mere semantics. I even suspect that some folks would be somewhat wounded by my characterization. But I mean no disrespect.

People who you work with are around you because of your job. While you might be friendly toward them, how many would you hang out with if you were to change employers? I tend to view friendship as more than just the causal "how ya doin'?" relationship with a co-worker or somebody that I chat with about current events in the lobby at church. To me, a friend is:
  • someone that I interact with regularly on a very personal level.
  • someone who knows me and my crap and accepts me.
  • someone who enjoys my company.
  • someone that I spend time with socially.
So, what do you think? What is friendship?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bear Down

The other day my daughter blew me away and really just made me proud to be her father. She came home from school after a day of not feeling too well. However, she also arrived home with a list of homework that stretched out toward the horizon. A major science lab report to finish, preparations for a test and a quiz, work on her spanish project, two math worksheets, and both an english and a civics assignment. She went at it with all that she had from the moment she got home until her bed time. While she had a few bouts along the way where anxiety tried to bubble to the surface, she maintained her control, her spirit, her humor, and her concentration. The only break she took was a quick 20-minute pit stop to eat her supper.

The best part of the day for me after all of the hustle and bustle, was the last few minutes before her bed time. She asked me to play a game with her on the computer. In that brief time, even though she was exhausted and her mind was fried, she thanked me for the nice dinner and for my help throughout the evening. She then defeated me far too easily in the tank battle game that we were playing and went to bed with a smile on her face.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vision Statement

It seems in today's doggy-doggy world of high-level corporate intrigue and savage, hardline, competition, every company needs to stop everything that they are doing, hire dozens of ludicrously paid top-tier executives, and write a vision statement. A vision statement is some pithy paragraph that encapsulates and captures the raison d'etre (i.e. what are we here for again?) of the company. Today's CEO, COO, and CFO types somehow don't think that the peons toiling down in the mines can effectively get their jobs done without a very carefully prepared statement, orchestrated at the expense of millions of dollars and countless lives. Once prepared, this statement is added as an obscure link on the company's web page or stuck into a filing cabinet somewhere on the third floor.

I have been around several companies as they birthed such a statement. Unless you are a cretin, you should understand that every vision statement must contain the word "synergy". Also, for the statement preparation "team", the word "synergy" must be included at least 4.5 times in every Powerpoint presentation. ... What's that? ... You don't know what this word means? Well, to help you advance in the corporate word, to climb that ladder of success past the glass ceiling and into the attic, let me tell you. Synergy corresponds to a Utopian ideal espoused by various hippies and ne'er-do-wells. It involves a condition where everyone sits around in a big circle, munches granola, and sings cumbaya. Folks enjoined in this circle are required to sway back and forth in unison to the swelling background music.

So, even though it may seem that preparing such vision statements is a collossal waste of time and money, that it leads to a company top heavy with useless management types at the expense of overburdened workers who actually are responsible for making the companies highly profitable widgets but there is no money left to ease their burden or lower their quotas because more executives were just hired, it is not for you to question this rampant synergism. Just trust me when I tell you that it is critical for your company's long-term success metrics.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Words & Sentences

Several folks I know have told me that they find blogger Tyler Tarver hilarious. Until I started writing this post, I had never visited his site, but a quick peak told me that he has been posting regularly now for almost two years. His first published work, Words and Sentences, is a sort of compendium of his blog posts. Given that I like to laugh every once in a while, I thought I would give this book a chance and picked up a copy. Here are a few observations from my reading.
  • This author likely got a lot of laughs in high school from his classmates. This probably emboldened him to rise into the role of class clown. Now in his mid-20's, he has shown no signs of maturing in his sense of humor.
  • Mr. Tarver clearly has a rather high opinion of his own work. He loves to tell you every other paragraph just how clever he thinks he is.
  • The author's approach is to throw everything that he has at the wall and hope that something, anything sticks.
  • While I sincerely appreciate his enthusiasm, and likely his style helps him in his job as a high school teacher, this book is the very epitome of sophomoric dreck. It is cloying in its inanity from start to finish.
  • I have a shelf full of Dave Barry humor books and have thoroughly enjoyed each of them. Dave Barry's writing can sometimes be inane, but he pulls it off successfully because he knows when to ease off the reins and employ a subtle touch or let an anecdote tell itself without all the "wink wink, nudge nudge" overbearing ferocity of a young Howie Mandel on crack.
  • Looking at Mr. Tarver's blog site, he clearly has some funny concepts and has lots of funny photos and randoms bits of silliness. I think Mr. Tarver's work is likely much more easily swallowed, and perhaps even appreciated, in much, much smaller doses.
I gave this work every possible opportunity to show me something, anything. I read every word and every sentence, but there is just so little here that connects with my funny bone. Of course, and this may be the key, I am pretty much a fossil and know nothing about anything. So, don't take my opinion as anything more than my opinion.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What is Love?

Do you know what love is? I don't mean love of food or your favorite hobby or sports team. I'm talking more about love for another, although not for your friends or your family. I'm thinking about the condition or state of mind that can overwhelm us when we have met (or think that we have) that special someone. For reasons not always clear, we can feel an irresistible pull toward someone that is based on more than just physical beauty and we can lose ourselves to the chemical cascade that courses through our systems. In the moment when our minds are befogged in their own euphoric domain, typically far removed from reality or logic or sense, we can sometimes make some very passionate declarations. "I love you."

I wonder how many of us have declared our love for someone only to learn at some later point that our pronouncements were either wildly premature or not sustainable with time. Some might tell you that those squishy, tingly, bubbly feelings that flood your system when you first meet someone or in the early part of a relationship are not love. They are some sort of lesser entity held loosely by infatuation. True love they aver is not an emotion but a mindset. I don't agree. While emotion may not be the bricks that make up the relational wall, they are most certainly the mortar that binds it together. The emotion is what provides the spontaneity, the magic, the fun. It's the source that provides the twinkle to the eye and the playful glances and laughter in the day to day.

So, what do you think? What is love?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Funday MadLibs


Today is not Monday, despite what you calendar or PDA or SmartPhone might tell you. I declare it Funday, and seeing that this is my blog, it has now become an official decree. In what follows, I provide a post that I have partially written. I say partially, because, try as I might, I just could not think of some words that I needed. I mean, they were on the tip of my brain, but alas, would not come forth. So, on Funday, I leave it up to you to try and make some sense of my ramblings by putting you to work.

It was a                  morning, the kind that makes you want to                  your poodle across the community fairgrounds. Despite this, you have soldiered on and driven your                  car into your                  job. When you arrived, some                  left the coffee pot baking on the burner with no coffee inside, rendering it                 . You then took said coffee pot and                  him upside the head with a                  to                  some sense into him. It was not a                  scene. After dealing with the police and offering them a                 , you got back to work and spent the rest of the day                  with your many paperweights. Satisfied that you                  enough for all practical purposes, you                  and headed home, so that you can be ready to repeat this same                  tomorrow.

So, go ahead and fill in the blanks by using a permanent "Sharpie" type marker and writing directly on your computer screen. You'll have a hoot showing your boss how creative and witty you are!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Neverland

I found myself noodling a bit today about things that I have never done or have never happened to me. Really, I was just mindlessly drifting along, letting the neurons go down whatever channels suited their fancy. Here are a few things that bubbled to the surface.
  • I have never kissed a blond-haired woman.
  • I have never worn culottes.
  • I have never owned a pair of loafers.
  • I have never seen a superhero movie in the movie theater.
  • I have never gone on a traditional "dinner and a movie" date.
  • I have never used a $2 bill or a Susan B. Anthony dollar as legal tender for a good or service.
  • I have never flown in a dirigible or lighter-than-air craft of any kind.
  • I have never worn a tuxedo or shaken hands with anyone who was wearing one.
  • I have never worn eyeliner or any sort of skin bronzer.
  • I have never danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
  • I have never had scurvy or worn an eye patch.
  • I have never pined for the fjords.
  • I have never walked backwards for an entire city block.
  • I have never been in Iowa, Wyoming, or Oklahoma.
  • I have never used duct tape on actual duct work.
  • I have never written a blog post that has gotten double-digit comments.
What are a few of your nevers?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Skin

In Ted Dekker's thriller Skin, a group of apparent strangers is caught up together in a small town in Nevada called Summerville as a result of a freak storm. Five people brought together by seemingly natural circumstances, yet there is a hidden connection in their past. Colt is a small-town cop whose mother was a prostitute and abandoned him as a child. Wendy is newly on her own after escaping an oppressive cult. Pinkus is a computer gamer who has suffered from epilepsy. Finally, there is the brother and sister Carey and Nicole. Carey is somehow linked to the occult and his sister is a pure beauty but overly innocent. Once trapped in Summerville, a serial killer named Sterling Red reveals himself to the group. After demonstrating his power, he tells them that they must kill the ugliest among them or he will begin to systematically wipe out the inhabitants of the town.

As the story progresses, Dekker's point is to explore the notion of ugliness from the viewpoint of flawed humanity. True beauty runs deeper than the surface layer that we present to the outside. Through the developing narrative, Dekker reveals what links all of the characters together and pulls back the curtains to show how our initial impressions of others do not truly reflect who they are. It is much deeper than the skin.

As I was reading this book, especially the first half, its plot and circumstances were very similar to House by Dekker and Frank Peretti. The second half of the book then ran in a slightly different direction but left several questions unanswered even after the plot lines ran their course. It was then that I learned that this book was intended to serve as a kind of bridge between Dekker's "Circle" series and his "Paradise" series. Certainly, Skin was nothing special, a bit played out and recycled, stale production line writing, but it did keep me company for a few nights and pulled me in at each reading with enough desire to see it through.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Doctor Doctor

I recently went to the doctor because of a problem with one of my toes (see Foot Steps). Although even the most casual of observers would have commended me for my bravery and fortitude during my small surgery, I did have some "issues" with the doctor's office that simply begged for a blog. Of course, it goes without saying that every word of this is true. Let me share.
  • I made my way to the exam room where a nurse came in to get some information from me. In a most serious manner she informed me that the questions that she was about to ask were vital for their medical records and to ensure that I got the best care. Her first question, "Do you own or rent your home?".
  • I was sitting in the operating room chair with my extremely painful foot propped into position for the doctor to operate on when a nurse came in the room to check on me. As we killed a moment with some small talk, I made a joke. At this moment the nurse "playfully" swatted at me like a crazed Vietnamese badminton player aiming to slam a wayward shuttlecock. Of course she made direct contact with my toe. The pain radiated through me like a red-hot firebrand and I screamed out, "Jehosephat woman!"
  • I had a similar procedure on my other foot just over a year ago and it hurt like my foot was on fire and someone put it out with a bag of nickels. The nurse then assured me that this sort of "discomfort" would not happen on her watch as she began to spread some topical numbing jelly on a gauze pad before they were to inject me with needles of various sizes and colors. I picked up the jar of goo and noticed that the expiration date had passed more than 4 months ago.
With all of the shenanigans that I endured, it is a wonder that I am still here to tell the tale.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Grind My Gears 26

Did you hear that? That clandestine whooshing and skittering noise followed by a low cackle? ... There it is again ... and again. In fact in the space of just a few minutes, if you are not a complete lout, you will hear this same sound hundreds upon hundreds of times if you sit on my front porch steps. What is the cause you ask? It is those danged leaves falling out of the trees and landing on my lawn. I have watched them from the cover of my rose bushes. Just when they think nobody is watching, they cut loose from their branches and make a bee-line to the ground. I spend hours raking, bagging, and yelling myself hoarse until my yard is spotless. Then, in the ever so brief duration of time from when I walk to my shed to put away the tools until I return, the yard is once again completely re-covered in leaves. This whole process of nature seems like quite a poor design. It totally grinds my gears. I mean who invented disposable leaves? What is the point of even letting trees have the option of irresponsibly shedding? I don't have the time or energy to spend dealing with nature's insouciant littering. Maybe I should leave a pile of cord wood and an idling chainsaw in my front yard as a stern warning of my power.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nothing at All

Alison Krauss, a popular country singer, had a hit 15 years ago with the song, When You Say Nothing at All. The main chorus contains the line, "You say it best when you say nothing at all". This song represents a celebration of the sweet, simple, and beautiful non-verbal communication between lovers. However, over the years this tag line is applicable to me on a whole different plane. Perhaps you can relate to this story as well.

The other day someone came into my office to complain about something. While they had a fire lit under their backside, it was a point that I really didn't give a hoot about. What I should have done was to hear them out, nod my head supportively whilst they vented and carried on, and then let them go on their way. That would have been the end of it and the smoke would have quickly dissipated.

Instead, their attitude and attack formation set me off first in a defensive counter-attack, and then into a full-on frontal assault. I proceeded to tell them they were wrong, demonstrate their wrongness in as condescending a manner as possible, and then I wonked them over the head a couple of times with a verbal hammer until there was enough tension in the air to peel the paint off the walls. Yeah, I should have said nothing at all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Patrick

Having finished his sublime King Raven trilogy, I was eager to explore more works of author Stephen Lawhead. The book that I ended up choosing happened to be the only one of his left at my local library, a fictionalized account of the early years of Saint Patrick, called Patrick - Son of Ireland. This turned out to be a satisfying choice.

The story takes place in the early part of the fifth century. It begins following the exploits of Succat, a British nobleman's son, who at the age of 16, spends his lazy days hanging out with friends drinking and carrying on. One day his town is overrun by a band of Irish raiders who pillage the land. Every able-bodied soul that is captured is taken away as a slave. Such is what happens to Succat and he ends up serving a cruel master as an apprentice to a sheep herder, a position he labors at for seven years. During this time he tries to escape twice and is then beaten to within a breath of his life. He also falls in love and ultimately joins up with a troop of sympathetic Druids. In these years nearly all of Succat's decisions are based on easing his suffering and seeking his means of escape. Yet below the surface he begins to develop a deeper connection for the land and its people. As the years pass in captivity, his faith and compassion begin to be stirred.

Ultimately, Succat makes good his escape and returns home, only to find that nothing of his former existence remains. Without any other options, he travels to Gaul to make a life for himself, and there he joins up with a mercenary troop to fight under Roman command as they protect the territory from the local "barbarians". Succat fights honorably but is witness to the brutal deaths of thousands of soldiers. Although a low-level fighter, he manages to distinguish himself as he saves a high-level Roman official and transports him back to Rome. Here Succat takes the official's daughter as his wife and has a child, only to lose them both to the plague in short order. Lost and confused, Succat drifts alone for a season before he feels some inner prompting, pulling him back to Ireland. He steels his resolve and returns to the lands where he was once held captive. From this point, the true legend of Saint Patrick begins as he spreads the seeds of Christianity throughout Ireland and then into Europe.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Hammer Reveals

I am a Christian, which means that I believe in God and I accept his son Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior. Sometimes, though, being a Christian feels to me wholly unnatural and a whole wagon-load of work.

Unnatural in the sense that the ways in which I am called to live my life as contained in the Bible are, oftentimes, completely contrary to my nature. I am sick and tired of seeing that so much of how I think and act and live is riddled with sin. After a certain time, shouldn't it be less work to live according to what I think I believe? Too often, it feels like my Christian life is more of an outer garment that I loosely wear instead of an integral part of my being.

Work in the sense that living a Christian life means that I am supposed to live for others, that it's not all about me. It is not just doing what I have always done and living as I have always lived. It is helping to reflect God's brilliant light through how I go about my daily existence. Whether it is giving my all at work each day, or holding open a door for folks at the grocery store, or sharing my faith, everything about being a Christian seems to require constant and consistent effort.

But sometimes the hammer reveals. They say that if you are multi-lingual, your true native tongue will be revealed by what you say when you strike your thumb with a hammer. In that same vein, when in my life I am hit by a powerful force, whether it be curse or joy, my heart is revealed as I immediately fall to my knees in prayer. In those moments, it is the most natural, easiest thing in the world.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Aches and Pains

I exercise regularly in an effort to maintain my weight, to stay limber, to maintain a healthy heart, and to keep my immune system strong. I'm not a granola-munching kook about it, but I've kept at it dutifully and purposefully for more than 7 years. Because my aged knees move back and forth as if lined with butter laced with large shards of glass but minus the butter, I am kind of limited in the sorts of exercise that I can handle without causing severe internal bleeding or spontaneous combustion.

I have gotten comfortable going barefoot on my elliptical, but recently I messed up my foot a bit and I had to exercise for a week wearing sneakers. This slight change in my routine, curiously enough, left me so achy and sore you would have thought that I had just competed in a triathalon. This got me to thinking. Sometimes when we experience pain as a result of some new activity, it's a sign and warning that we are doing something that we shouldn't. Other times, these aches are an indication that we are stretching ourselves in a healthy manner that will lead to some positive benefit in the longer term. Of course, the pains are not necessarily limited to just physical afflictions in our bodies. They can also arise from dealing with awkward or uncomfortable feelings or situations. Ultimately, it all boils down to being wise enough to discern whether we embrace the pain and press forward, or whether we should turn and run from it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Clusters

I'm not good around people, even people that I know pretty well and would consider my friends. I am agoraphobic and deal on a daily basis with a spectrum of social anxiety issues. What comes naturally to many, is a constant struggle for me. One day I can go through a personal interaction and appear like I am doing fine. The very next day it can cause me to break out in a rash. What seems strange to some folks is that part of what I do for a living requires that I give public presentations at various conferences around the world on a regular basis. I've given talks in front of gathered crowds of many hundreds of folks and was perfectly comfortable. However, I can grow faint trying to make small talk with a co-worker around the coffee station.

Some think that this issue is no big deal. All I need to do is get more practice. Fake it until I learn a bit, and then it'll all be smooth sailing. I can assure you that my anxiety is not for lack of trying. There is something in my programming, how my brain is wired, that runs deep. It is more than questions like where I should put my hands, or where I should set my eyes, or how I should maintain my posture. The feelings of anxiety are not trifling or fleeting. The pain across my chest, the intense headaches, and the screams within my soul can be torturous. Sometimes I can be holding my own pretty well when something tips within me and I know that I have to get away immediately. I know that I have caused people pain with my actions and others to think that I am a real jerk with how I can treat them in some situations. The truth is, even though all of the issues are brought on by the presence of others, my actions and response have nothing to do with these people. I fall into survival mode and it's all about me.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tear 'em Down

Usage of some of the great names of human history has been twisted to the very antithesis of what made them famous. To the driver who gets hopelessly lost following an easy route, "Way to go Magellan!" To the one who makes a boneheaded mistake, "Deep thinking Einstein!" In this vein I have come up with another, "Tear 'em down Paul!" I guess that like "Cher" or "Madonna", our well-traveled explorer Magellan or our big-brained scientist Einstein, are quite well known. However, the name Paul is kind of a common one, so I should attempt to explain myself.

Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote a good fraction of the New Testament of the Bible. In his younger years he belonged to a group of ne'er-do-wells known as "The Pharisees". Paul's job was to harass the crap out of anyone who dared to call themself a Christian. In fact, his unquenchable passion was to root Christians out into the open and work to shame them, beat them down, and at times, to kill them. Then one day at the peak of his crusading, God confronted him and he changed teams. Boom, just like that.

A guy I work with garnered some major international attention several years back for his work. However, it was eventually found that his findings were wrong and his approach kind of naive. Where once he strutted around like a proud rooster taking every opportunity to seek credit and make his name known, he was forced to deal with his damaged reputation. Recently he has taken to beating down anyone who dares tread upon the smoldering embers on the ground that he had soiled. He unmercifully attacks those who make many of the same sorts of mistakes that he made. "Tear 'em down Paul!" Now you may think that I am sitting up on my lofty peak shaking my head at this poor soul. Quite the contrary, I recognize myself in his ways. It leads me to recognize that the measure that I use to pass judgment on others, will also be used on me.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday

Black Friday is the name given to the Friday following Thanksgiving that officially marks the start of the holiday season.

There are several things that strike me as problematic with this definition.
  • This whole gaudy production has been foisted upon us by the retail establishment to try to trick us into spending money with as much unplanned frenzy as possible. The name of their game is to launch their shock and awe gimmicky ad compaigns in the most shameless manner possible to increase their profit margins to the limits.
  • Christmas is listed on the calendar as Dec. 25. It is a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Soon every group and their mother invented their own day for celebrating time off from work. Christmas became a taboo word replaced by the generic "holiday".
  • The notion of "creep" pervades this definition. Creep refers to the subtle push by retailers to extend the buying season further and further forward. Before the Thanksgiving fixin's are even covered with Saran wrap and stuck in the fridge, these folks are trying to draw us into their establishments.
  • I will not be told by some outside force that I should get into a "holiday spirit" based on their need to make money. I will let the Spirit move me to prepare for the ensuing celebration.
Black Friday? Indeed.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 11

It seems that about this same time every year, the holiday known as Thanksgiving rolls around. This year is no different. I wanted to say that I hope you all have a blessed day with great food and pleasant company. Even if you find yourself alone with a bag of chips and a T.V. dinner, I hope that you can still find some measure of joy to mark your day. Finally, I also want to thank my loyal cadre of readers and visitors for supporting me on this site.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Foot Steps

Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale, "The Princess and the Pea", tells the story of how a minor annoyance greatly impacted the life of a young lady. When a tiny pea was placed beneath a stack of soft mattresses upon which she laid, she endured a most uncomfortable and restless night of sleep. Although it is easy to dismiss this premise as unlikely or far-fetched, you will not count me among that ilk. I know all too well how something so small can drastically alter one's quality of life. Let me tell you the tale ...

Just a week or so ago I noticed a bit of a dull pain in my left foot. I kind of dismissed it as I had stuff to do and did not want to waste energy on such a small thing. Several days later I noticed that I was favoring my right leg ever so slightly as I walked. Upon acknowledging this fact, I realized that there was now an acute throbbing in my left big toe. After a long day on my feet at work, I was happy to get home and sit on the couch. Taking my shoes and socks off, I found that the outside of my toe had taken on a deep purplish hue and made me wince even if I touched it lightly. The next day I made an appointment to see the podiatrist. They set me up with an appointment about ten days later. I figured that I could get through that well and good. I mean, I proclaimed that a single toe had no right to be so demanding, and that would be that.

Fast forward through a few days and the pain had spread up through my calves, my knees, my quads, and my hips as I altered my normal gait to compensate for my toe. Monday morning I found that I could no longer bear up, and with still a full week before my scheduled appointment, I called the doctor's office to see if they could fit me in earlier. They found a slot for me yesterday and I had to endure a small surgery involving several long needles, a very sharp knife, and a level of pain that would have dropped a mature musk ox. What a lot of drama for a such a small toe. Oh, and don't call me princess.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Immanuel's Veins

Vampires are one of the latest fads in books and movies, both as antagonists and protagonists. Creatures in one moment beautiful, worldly, and sophisticated, and in the next, blood-thristy, brutal, and deadly. If you are looking for a good vampire story, then perhaps you might consider Ted Dekker's Immanuel's Veins. This story takes place in 18th century Moldavia, just a stones throw over the Carpathian Mountains from Transylvania. The Russian empress Catherine the Great has sent Toma Nicolescu, one of her most trusted warriors, to protect a family of local nobility, Kesia Cantemir and her two beautiful daughters Natasha and Lucine. Catherine views the two unwed daughters as valuable political cards. If appropriate royal suitors can be found for this Russian-controlled land, then alliances can be forged and her empire strengthened.

Natasha has embraced her mother's passions for life, food, wine, and a different bed every night. Lucine is much more careful where she lays her affections. Yet, she and Toma develop an undeniable spark almost instantly. Toma's defense of the Cantemir's, and especially Lucine, from a strangely dark and aggressive group of Russians from a neighboring castle, seems to go beyond duty. Yet Natasha is intrigued by these people and is pulled under their spell and control. She becomes drunk with their passion, spirits, and ways. Lucine too becomes confused and ensnared in this web, and follows Natasha to the Russian castle and is seduced by the patriarch Vlad Van Valerik. She gets pulled in before she fully understands the great peril that she has placed herself in. The heart embraces what it should flee.

When Toma finds out the truth of who these Russians are from an otherworldly friar, he sets out to rescue his beloved Lucine and face-off against the half-breed Vlad and his coven. Yet while his skills as a warrior are well-honed in conventional combat, he faces this showdown armed with nothing more than a handful of wooden stakes, a book, a crucifix, and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. Dekker takes his time laying out each part of the narrative and painting the mood. His love scenes are powerfully written and really help you understand the vampire lure and the power in their blood. A very nice effort and a thoroughly enjoyable tale.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Background Noise

I once knew a man who stood out from the others that he worked with. The difference was marked not by positives, but rather by negatives. He was withdrawn, disconnected, soft spoken, and joyless. This manner was all that I knew of him. Yet in talking to some of the others, he was not always this way. In fact, he once was quite talkative, self-assured, outgoing, and quick with a joke or a good-natured barb. Something inside of him had broken and taken him miles and miles from what he used to be. If you observed him just for a moment as he went about his work, you likely would conclude that there was something off about him.

After working around him for several years, I finally came to learn a bit about the root cause of the darkness that had enshrouded his life. It all traced back to a single instant in time. At that point he was in his early 20s, newly married, and actively at the helm of his life, charting it in directions he had foreseen since he entered high school. He had been in the military a few years and had a long and successful career ahead of him. Already he had shown enough talent to be placed in a supervisory role in aviation mechanics, and he was about to receive another recommendation for promotion and transfer to the next level. Then in an uncharacteristically careless moment, he was sloppy with the maintenance records on one of the Cobras in for servicing. An entire training crew was lost that day. In a heartbeat the colors of his world flickered out into gray. He was discharged from the service, and as his career was ripped out of his possession, he fell headlong into apathy and depression. In short order he drove his bride away.

One day I came to work and learned that he had abruptly quit and taken a new job back with some old friends up north. I pray that he found some healing up there and a spark that could grow into flame. I've known all too well that place of apathy and depression that life can spit you into at times. One moment you are alive, and in the next, everything that you have banked on has been violently ripped out of your possesssion. Moments where notions of checking out are more than just background noise.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bookmark


Sometimes a gift is assembled or purchased in haste. A quick trip to the local big-box store or a last minute run into the nearby card shop on the way to some occasion. Phew, thank goodness that is over with. No thought. No emotion. No heart.

Sometimes a gift is dreamed up in grand jestures, racing thoughts, and bubbly emotion. In times like this giving can be so much more powerful and satisfying than receiving. Here the heart overflows its normal bounds.

Recently my daughter gave me a wonderful treasure that fully fit into this latter category. A bookmark that she made and decorated herself. The bookmark acknowledges my love of reading. The leaves and beads were chosen in green as it is my favorite color. The heart, because she loves me. This, my friends, is the good stuff.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Waiting on a Friend

I received a lunch invitation from a friend of mine some time ago. I quickly acknowledged his request and replied that it sounded like a good idea. Yet the weeks have gone by and the calendar page has turned a couple of times. Why? Could it be that loneliness is more secure than relationship?

A friend of mine who I was really enjoying getting to know, suddenly moved away. We both noted that this was goodbye and not farewell or see you soon. Why? Are friendships so disposable?

A relationship with a trusted mentor soured somehow due to a conflict I had with someone else in our circle. I had come to believe that our time together was valuable for both of us. Yet six months have gone by without contact. Is brotherhood such easily oxidized metal?

But I need someone I can cry to
I need someone to protect
Making love and breaking hearts
It is a game for youth
But I'm not waiting on a lady
I'm just waiting on a friend

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Adam

I have just finished reading Ted Dekker's 2008 Thriller Adam. The story is about an extremely cunning serial killer dubbed Eve who murders his victims by infecting them with a form of meningitis. His ritual is to kill a young woman every month on the new moon. Thus far he has taken 16 lives. The lead FBI profiler on the case, David Clark, much like a method actor, infuses every bit of himself into trying to develop the mind of the killer. This skill makes him very successful in his work, but led his wife Heather to divorce him. New to the case is FBI pathologist Lori Ames, who meshes very well with David both personally and professionally. Their bond is strengthened when David gets close to Eve and takes a bullet to the head. Though clinically dead for nearly an hour, Lori brings him back to life. However, David has lost all memories of his face-to-face encounter with Eve.

A notably weak aspect of this story concerns the notion of near death experiences (NDEs). Lori and David come up with the notion that if David can be killed clinically, his lost memories from his first death can be reawakened. So they go through this bit of hocum, not just once, but twice. Lori injects David with some stuff to kill him, gives him time to explore his mind in his NDE state, and then revives him in the nick of time. The chase and encounter with the serial killer was really kind of standard fare for Dekker, wherein he relied on vehicles that he has used before. This time there was a bit of a twist involving demonic possession and who the character of Lori really was. However, what elevated this work to a higher plain was the interspersing of a nine-part article from a (fictitious) magazine that provided the back story of the serial killer and his tragic life. It was written with such feeling and realism that it really helped you understand the mind of the antagonist (and I should add that I thought this was a real set of articles until I got further into the book). This amounted to a novel bit of inspiration that was my favorite aspect of this work.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Excuses Excuses

As I quickly peruse the news wire each morning, I sometimes stumble across zany, wacky stories, that are really just tangents to any measure of "real" news. However, they can pull me in and make me laugh or cry. Sometimes they can achieve both feats simultaneously. Such was the case with a story focussed on amusing ... ahem ... excuses that workers have given to their bosses about why they were not be able to make it into work.
  • My 12-year-old daughter stole my car and I have no other way to work.
  • I was in line at a coffee shop when a truck carrying flour backed up and dumped the flour into my convertible.
  • A deer bit me.
  • I got a cold from a puppy.
  • My child stuck a mint up my nose and I have to go to the ER to remove it.
  • I hurt my back chasing a beaver.
  • I have a headache after going to too many garage sales.
  • My brother-in-law was kidnapped by a drug cartel while in Mexico.
  • I drank anti-freeze by mistake and had to go to the hospital.
  • I was at a bowling alley and a bucket filled with water crashed through the ceiling and hit me on the head.
Some of these are authentic reasons to be sure. I would guess that if you hovered around anyone for any significant length of time, they would do something coo-coo that would cause them to have to miss work. Others are clearly a clever way of saying "Sorry, I am out of vacation days and have no sick days left, and I really just feel like playing hookey today."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Counterculture

There was a time where something that I was heavily involved in was suddenly taken away from me. It was many years ago and now I can't even distinctly remember what the activity was. I just know that it was something that people in my circle kind of knew me for. A buddy of mine sat with me as I licked my wounds and let the dust settle. He then remarked, "Well now, part of the counterculture that defined you is no more." I thought his observation amusing and the notion that something external helps to define me to others kind of sensitized me to this kind of thinking.

So, the grand question of the day is, what are you involved in that serves to define you to the outside world? It is worth pondering a bit. Is the activity honorable? Scandalous? Pointless? Inane? It is this latter category that I will touch on today. I go way back to my time spent as an undergraduate in college. I went to a university located in upstate New York. The summers there were reasonably mild and pleasant, but seemed to last for only about 2 weeks. The rest of the time, the land was covered with glaciers for as far as the eye could see. The average temperatures hovered about 50 degrees below absolute zero. Furthermore, it was always snowing and windy and miserable. Yet there was this guy that I saw regularly on campus who wore corduroy "short shorts" all throughout the year. One day I had a conversation with this guy (as he knew a friend of mine) and I asked him about his choice of apparel. He told me that the whole experience was actually pretty miserable, but he dressed like that because he had actually gained some level of notoriety and he liked the attention. (Let's pause now and let this sink in a bit.)

I think the message here is excruciatingly clear. Be careful what you let define you or what you chose to let define you. Make smart, reasoned, and intentional choices or you could end up like that wackadoodle in his short shorts.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tuck

The final volume in the King Raven trilogy by Stephen Lawhead, Tuck, ensues on the very next accelerated heartbeat from whence Scarlet ended. This story focuses more on the character and point of view of the loyal, humble, brave, and godly Friar Athelfrith (aka Tuck). In this portion of the tale, the rightful king to Elfael, Lord Bran ap Brychan (aka Robin Hood, Rhi Bran y Hud, King Raven, or Bran), is continuing to lead his small band of Welsh outlaws in missions designed to reclaim his kingdom from the Norman ne-er-do-wells who unrightfully have been awarded his land by King William of England. Time after time, Bran and his group use their cunning and their mastery with the deadly longbow to outwit and outflank their pursuers. After Bran exposed a plot to King William regarding a serious threat to his crown, the king had promised him justice. However, he went back on his word and installed the wicked Abbot Hugo as regent of Elfael to gain favor with the church.

Ultimately, Bran realizes that his band is too small to take back and maintain control of his lands without raising military support from the other Welsh kings in and around Elfael. Yet everything he tries seems to come to naught. His requests are turned down flatly. When Bran and his forces finally take back control of Elfael from Abbot Hugo and his relatively small number of troops, King William calls all his barons to bring their armies of knights, men-at-arms, and foot soldiers to put the uprising down. He raises an army of more than 1000 professional soldiers aimed to quick quash Bran and his band of a few dozen locals. Yet Bran's group have fully adapted to forest warfare, and easily slaughter several hundred of King William's warriors who are only trained in open-field warfare with the sword. However, after some initial set-backs, they adapt their strategies and start to make progress in putting down the uprising. Yet before the final attack trumpets sound, help from the other Welsh kings and one powerful Norman baron arrives and swear loyalty to Bran. Tuck takes advantage of a chance meeting with King William to convince him that the costs of battle far outweigh the costs of peace. This leads to a negotiation of peace and a full settlement of the conflict. Bran's kingdom is restored and the legend of Robin Hood grows. An absolutely top-shelf series to which I give my highest recommendation.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Roid Rage

It's a bit embarrassing to admit this, but I have been battling with hemorrhoids for several years. I think most folks, even if they have never suffered from this condition, at least have some understanding that this is an unfortunate buttockal issue. I suspect that you would be more comfortable if this topic remained sequestered in hushed conversations between a patient and their doctor. Yet here I am. Truth be told, there are some days where the associated pain becomes quite unspeakable. Imagine if a flaming Canadian weasel, oozing spicy picante sauce from its pores commenced to nipping at your backdoor, and you can start to understand my ... errr ... discomfort.

The other day I thought to do a bit of online research about effective treatments for my ailment. I came across the website from a well-respected treatment center that offered the following mirthful and inane advice. They said that an easing of symptomology can be affected by soaking one's nether regions in epsom salts for 15 minute-long sessions 4 or 5 times a day. They recommend that you sit in the treated water, in a comfortable position, and that you may even recline if you so wish. I don't know about you, but I have to go to a place called "work" every day. Where am I to find the space and privacy required to bathe my posterior lobe 4 or 5 times a day?

Oh, and in case you are interested, the doctors who put together this treatment scheme stated that the proper mixture is to add 1 cup of epsom salts for every six inches of water. This is as recommended by the Epsom Salt Council. This made me wonder if a seat on this council was an appointed or elected position? Heck, I've got plenty of time to consider such dalliances as I soak in my personal dippin' tub. Good thing they have Wifi in the break room here at work.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Speaking of Death

Today's post centers on a topic that I dread dwelling on. Hovering anear this shadow leads me to places that take a right toll on my psyche. It can turn a bright air into a gloomy cloud and steal away a smile in an instant. It is about death. A process and an instant that we will, each of us, inevitably face one day. I have always hastened away from any whisper or prodding that makes me think about or face my own mortality, but recently I overheard a conversation that I just couldn't dismiss or wave away.

A lady at work had been struggling for more than a year helping to care for her ailing mother. She gave all that she could to support her and tend to her. Yet the long hours each day spent at her mother's bedside and tending to her mother's affairs, created an anxiety and a continual disturbance within her own family. She was absent both in body and in her thoughts. As days became weeks, weeks became months, and months became a year, her reserves of strength and cheer had been fully depleted.

It was at this point that her mother made the decision to let go. It was a decision not made in defeat or in weakness, but in victory and strength. Significant time and energy were spent in thought and prayer and coming to terms with all that this would bring to bear before giving it voice. This decision was the kernel of the conversation that I perchance had happened upon that planted this unnerving seed within me. Then within just a few short days after her doctors had ceased the treatments, she passed on. The end was announced with a small obituary posted on the bulletin board. Although I was not there and do not know anything about the circumstances, somehow I sense that this death was met with peace, acceptance, relief, love, and understanding on all fronts. Yet I can't help lingering on the brave decision that set this end in motion.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Insights on Revelation

Over the past 8 months or so, I have been systematically working my way through Charles Swindoll's New Testament Insights series. In these volumes, Swindoll takes us book by book through the New Testament and provides his wisdom and practical interpretation of the word of God. Now I have just finished his most recent volume, Insights on Revelation. Revelation represents the final book of the New Testament, final in the sense that it appears sequentially as the last book of the Bible and final in the sense that it is believed to have been written last, circa AD 95, likely by the apostle John.

Quite a few years ago, I worked through Revelation from beginning to end. My lingering memory from that self-guided tour was that it read like the ramblings of a hippy on an acid trip. If you have ever been through it, you know just how utterly bizzare the language is. But now, in reading this detailed study with an experienced guide stepping me through verse by verse, I came away with much more understanding of God's plan for the end times during what is referred to as the Apocalypse.

The central purpose of Revelation is to provide a road map and fair warning of how God will bring the believers to His heaven and judge the unrepentant. The period of judgment and destruction of all opposing God, both human and spiritual beings, will be finite but severe beyond imagination. The last part of John's prophetic narrative describes the final battle between the armies of light and the forces of darkness. It describes God's ultimate victory and eternal kingdom.

The book of Revelations includes more than 300 references to 24 other books of the Bible as it connects pieces of prophesy mentioned or alluded to in other places. This writing makes heavy use of symbolism, visions, and all sorts of peculiar imagery. One thing that is clear is that the vision of the future that John witnessed most certainly overwhelmed him and the language that he used is a reflection of trying to wrap words around the essentially indescribable.

It is interesting that the prologue of Revelation directly states that those who read these words will be blessed. Yet while I think that the big picture of the end time is reasonably clear, the details and their interpretation are murky and mysterious. I would love to better understand why all the theatrics and pagentry are necessary. They must serve some important purpose. Why doesn't God just snap his fingers at the appropriate time and be done with it? So, while I have a much better and deeper understanding of the prophesies of the end times and the Apocalypse, I seem to have ended up with a much longer list of questions and uncertainties than I had when I began my study.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Grind My Gears 25

"Just as sunflowers turn their heads to catch every sunbeam, so too have we discovered a simple way to get more from our sun."


That's all we need, another Norman Rockwell type of feel-good wisdom nugget to try to convince us that daylight savings is something that we all need to accept and embrace. You know what I say? I say that anyone who supports the notion of daylight savings is a bed-wetter. Furthermore, they really grind my gears. I mean, who says that the agricultural community with their soybeans and free government cheese has any right to monkey with the very fabric of time? Furthermore, I tend to think that Benjamin Franklin, who first proposed this whole bale of nonsense in the first place, had more than a few screws loose when he frolicked about in his knickerbockers flying a metal kite in a lightning storm. All of this tomfoolery causes me to have to run around my house twice every year adjusting literally dozens of clocks and alarms and displays. In this moment I harken back (and yes that is a valid expression) on the time I used to live in a portion of Indiana that revolted and said no to using any form of time pieces. Although Hoosiers are known anarchists with all of their corn and basketballs and rubber industries, they had this one right.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Trouble with Blogging

Each day I sit down at this cursed keyboard and it mocks me with its sing-song refrain, "What are you going to come up with today?" Try as I might to channel a sliver of Maya Angelou, what spills out is more like:

... The grand stone edifice fell across the alabaster mountains as the inky blackness dissipated into the aether ...

Gack! Truly mindless hackneyed pap that rots the brain. So, I try to conjure the rapturous mastery of the bard, William Shakespeare, and what oozes up from the mire is:

... The callow shaver approached his forebearer petitioning him for acumen and some perspicacity of his antiquities ...

Really? Complete and total dreck!

Now, just when I am at the end of myself, trying to come up with something pithy to say, with a profound moral and a bit of wit, striving to pull a crumb out of my flacid and barren mind, along comes a request to write more, a guest post for someone else. You see, that's the trouble with blogging, it insists upon itself. But, as Abraham Lincoln, our nation's first president, said on this very subject, "That grinch even took their last can of Who hash!". Now I'm not sure what that has to do with anything, but truer words were never uttered regarding the tumbleweeds skittering through my mental cupboards. The point is, I still think, somehow, I have pulled an ace out of my ... err ... "sleeve" with this one, I have. A blog with no point, very little humor, and no taste. Should fit in quite well here I believe.

Note: This post was written as a guest post for my online friend Ricky Anderson. His site is a great place for a laugh or two and some perspective.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Scarlet

The second book in Stephen Lawhead's King Raven Trilogy is entitled Scarlet and picks up just after Hood ends off. This book was written from a different point of view than Hood, in that the narrative was mostly delivered by a captured member of the band of Rhi Bran y Hud (i.e. Robin Hood). A desperate and ill-fated attempt to kidnap the wicked sheriff of the forest, not borne out of cunning and planning, but out of rage and bravado, led to the capture and judgment of one Will Scarlet. Will sits condemned in a cramped cell, telling his story to a local monk. The monk is controlled by the evil and power hungry Abbot Hugo, who is seeking information that could lead to the demise of King Raven and his entire lot of outlaws.

Will represents one of the newest members of Hood's band of forest dwellers. At one time an important member of a small Welsh holding, he was suddenly forced out by the overthrow of his king due to the politics and greed prevalent within medieval Britain. Scarlet then searches out the growing legend of King Raven and his justice-seeking troop. His perspective is interesting and helps to develop the man out the legend that has become Hood. Along the way we are treated to a love story and to a desperate plot by Hood to expose the traiterous plotting of several powerful barons working to overthrow the king using the influence of the catholic church, all in his attempt to retake control of the kingdom taken from his family. A wonderful second entry in this saga. Now, onto the final book in the series, Tuck.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book Exchange

I have read a lot of books over the past five years or so. Certainly most of them have given me at least some modicum of pleasure in the form of insight gleaned, gained wisdom, a vicarious adventure, or the appreciation of a skilled artist demonstrating their craft. I have taken advantage of my local library, located just a few blocks from my house, and checked out a fair number of tomes. However, I have also purchased a goodly number of books in this same span. I have taken no small measure of pride when incorporating the finished books into my personal library and then, over time, watching the stacks grow and fill the shelves in my bookcases.

But you know what is curious? There are very few books that I own that I have read more than once. I wonder then what the allure is that these bindings hold over me. For it seems that if those spines are not stressed and those leafs aren't rifled through from time to time, I have taken a bit of gold and buried it. Surely those volumes are more than just a decoration in my personal repository.(?)

At work recently, someone had the idea to set up a book exchange. Basically it is a bookcase filled with used books. The supposition is that if you want to take a book, the only price is that you replace it with another book. Thus the collection takes a different shape from week to week. The other afternoon, I passed by the display and paused. I ran my finger along the rows and up and down the jackets. These stories, passed one by one from hand to hand, really can make a wonderful treasure for all who stumble across them. In fact, they gain their greatest worth when they are shared.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Winter Marches On

Dreams have frozen,
Crystal in the morning
Birthtime rose,
A thorn for coronation


The unwelcome visitor creeps up on me each year like a thief. Slipping in unnoticed with his frigid touch. What confounds my mind is that he always catches me unawares, as if it were the first time. One day I come home from work and have a nice period to read and unwind outside on the porch. I pause every once and again to look out over my yard and breath deep the sunlight, the colors, and the warm, gentle breeze. Then it seems the very next day I arrive home in twilight. The once soft and formless trees, starkly mock at me with sharp and angular features in muted gray tones. The notion that the cold season has pushed out the warm, coupled with the knowledge that it will be a stretch before Aestas comes round to hold court on her emerald throne, leaves me melancholy. The sweet, flowing sap of life suddenly ceases to course through my veins. My attitude turns sour in direct proportion to the available light. Windows that used to reveal a scenic vista late into the evening, now display only harsh and glossy black holes that no fabric can mask. An unstoppable force that can be survived only through holing up into a sort of hibernation ... and the winter marches on.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hood

I have just finished reading what I have rated as my first 5-star novel of the year. A tale so finely crafted, so vivid in each and every detail, that I was moved in mind and spirit to another place and time in a way that I have rarely experienced. Certainly this was a work on a different plane, penned by a seasoned craftsman well honed in his skills. But first, a related back story is needed for you to appreciate how I found this treasure.

Several weeks ago I posted a blog entitled "More Than Gruel?", where I pondered aloud whether I was getting the most out of the novels that I read. Was I spending my time with crude and middling fare when there was a much more delicious feast out there? As I response to this post, a reader that I do not personally know (who goes by the mysterious moniker Ricky Anderson), suggested that I look into works by english author Stephen Lawhead. This lead me to my local library and a slew of books from which to choose. After a few moments of thought, I selected three books that are part of his so-called "King Raven" trilogy. The first book is entitled Hood.

Hood represents a re-telling of the legend of Robin Hood, set in the English and Welsh countrysides circa 1100 A.D. The story has as its backdrop the infighting and self-preservation of the royals of medieval Britain. The compelling antagonist is the prince of a small holding whose land has been taken away by a backroom deal. The author has undertaken detailed research with regard to his choice of setting and the descriptions of the characters and how they lived. His choice of the setting itself was not capricious, but one based on his following the legends of this vagabond back through the ages. Certainly though this portrayal is a mixture of legend, fact, and fiction. It is told in a carefully crafted and layered style so that the narrative and actions of the characters are fully developed and contained within the context of each scene and each part of the tale. Now, onto the second novel in the series, Scarlet.