Monday, December 31, 2012

Resolutions 2012

Each year at the end of December I prepare a brief list of resolutions for the new year. This list represents areas in my life where there is something that I recognize needs my time and attention. Of course, as I make up this set of resolutions for the upcoming 12 months, I also look back over the finished year's list to see how well I succeeded with my goals. I wish that I could say that I was completely successful at what I set out to do, but there are definitely some areas where I swung and I missed. Perhaps the lesson is that I should make my list easier? Maybe though, I can accept the fact that personal growth is difficult and that things that really matter will take significant and consistent effort.

Now I am no exhibitionist, but though my resolutions are deeply personal to me, perhaps by sharing I can help to encourage someone out there to realize that we all struggle to improve ourselves and success is spotty at best. So, here is my list of 2012 resolutions with a brief commentary for each item.
  1. To start a relationship with the woman of my dreams - I had no dates this year and did not speak to a single woman this year socially. I have zero prospects at any level and am more than discouraged by my progress in this area.
  2. To exercise the whole year - I was very successful and consistent with my exercising this year and my health was quite good.
  3. To make several new friends - I met a couple at my church and we had dinner together a couple of times late this year. I think that this amounts to some small degree of progress.
  4. To grow closer to God - I wanted to be more intentional with my night-time devotional period. For a time I was giving a quick prayer at the T.V. commercial break. I was either half asleep or easily distracted. Now I have settled into a time of quiet and humble approach before bedtime that has been quite satisfying.
  5. To grow closer to my daughter - I have given to my daughter all that she allows me to give. I do the best that I am capable of given who I am and given who she is.
  6. To embrace adventure and living to a higher degree - I can only give myself the lowest possible marks in this area. I have never had skill coming up with my own adventures and no adventures from other sources have come my way. This is both frustrating and demoralizing to me.
  7. To find some degree of happiness and peace - For me happiness and peace have never been conditions that I could work to attain. It seems that they are a by-product of my circumstances and of fate. This past year was a very painful and difficult one for me in so many areas. Happiness and peace were infrequent visitors this year.
Now I will prepare my list of resolutions for 2013 and plan to give my best effort to be successful on each one. Hopefully when I look back at the end of 2013, my success will be mind blowing. The key is to keep trying.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Eon

In the kingdom, the emperor rules with absolute power. However, managing the prosperity of the land and its people is under the jurisdiction of the Dragoneyes. Twelve men to match each of the compass points of their corresponding celestial energy dragons. Each Dragoneye mentors an apprentice for 12 years before they take over for their master. Each year a new Dragoneye apprentice is chosen from a group a young boys who have undergone years of extensive training in the arts of magic and sword work. In this land, the privilege and power of the Dragoneye Lords is an honor allowed only to men, much like the leadership of the empire and the armies. Such is the backdrop for the fantasy world created by author Alison Goodman in her very enjoyable novel Eon. Another so-called "young adult" novel that my daughter first read that I latched onto.

The story begins as a group of trainees completes their preparations for the opportunity to be chosen as Dragoneye apprentice for the Rat Dragon. One candidate, however, holds a deep secret. Eona, a girl of 16, especially gifted in dragon magic, is posing as Eon, a 12 year old boy. During the ceremony, new Dragoneye for the Rat Dragon, Lord Ido, moves to consolidate his power and senses Eon as a threat. However, Eon is not selected by the Rat Dragon. It is then that twelfth and most powerful dragon, the Mirror Dragon, which had been missing for over 500 years, returns in a vibrant show of power and selects Eon. Given that there had been no Dragoneye for the Mirror Dragon during its long absence, Eon is immediately elevated to this position. The story then follows the struggles between the powerful and dark Lord Ido and the fledgling and naive Lord Eon.

The other story arc that serves as the backdrop to this conflict involves the royals and courtiers of the palace. The emperor has been in failing health for years and his son, the loyal and noble prince, is preparing to take over. Yet the emperor's brother, who is the commander of the army, sweeps in and lays waste to all in the palace with the help of Lord Ido. Lord Eon and those closest to him barely escape a final dangerous encounter with Ido. There are rumors that the prince has been killed, but there has been no confirmation. If the prince is dead, the kingdom has fallen. Can Eon learn to control his dragon powers? What will happen if folks learn his secret identity? Can the prince be found and the kingdom restored? Just good, old-fashioned story telling. Now onto the second part of the tale in Eona.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blog 2012 Recap

This year I have written about 260 posts for this site spanning the gamut from crap to jewel, inane to relevant, amusing to deadly serious. Each represents a part of me, who I am, how I think, and how I see the world around me. I find it interesting that folks that I have never met except through this blog, have shown some real insight into who I am. I continue to enjoy my writing for this site and interacting with my small cadre of regular visitors. I look forward to continuing on into my sixth year of writing Return to Zero as we move into 2013. Today I thought that I would share my top 10 list of my own blogs (in no particular order) for 2012.
  • Unfinished Symphony (Oct. 8) - A tale of works left incomplete.
  • Lovers (Sep. 11) - Ahhh, the magic of love and the glorious memories of passionate moments.
  • Spells (Jul. 26) - About an amazing power that we all have.
  • Superman (Jun. 26) - My loss of superhero status.
  • Combination (Jun. 7) - A grim tale of the slow march from passion to silence.
  • Rabbit Hole (Apr. 20) - A place to hide in the storm.
  • Sound of Silence (Apr. 11) - We hear in the silence a conflict or a peace sensed by no others.
  • Fragile (Mar. 7) - About the weakness we all feel at times.
  • Projected Life (Feb. 7) - Seeking the source of strength for each day, no matter what you face.
  • Midst of a Miracle (Jan. 23) - About living in season and out with faith because we don't see the full picture.
I hope some of these touched you as well. Of course, if you missed them the first time around, these "leftovers" remain as tasty as ever! See you in the 2013 recap.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best Books of 2012

At the end of each year I like to look back over the books that I have read. For 2012, I have read about 65 books, entirely dominated by pouring through the catalog of Stephen Lawhead. There were some really good ones that I spent time with. Not only do they keep my mind active, they help me to relax and find some peace. The best books are ones that pull me into another existence entirely and introduce me to new places and people. Intrigue, adventure, fantasy, wisdom, truth. What a great ride! In this post, I share my list of the top 10 "books" for this year in no particular order (actually I could not help myself and listed 11). Note that I use quotations here because I count a series by a given author as just one entry.
  • The Song of Albion series (The Paradise War, The Silver Hand, The Endless Knot), Stephen Lawhead
  • The Martyr's Song series (Heaven's Wager, When Heaven Weeps, Thunder of Heaven), Ted Dekker
  • The Pendragon Cycle series (Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, Grail), Stephen Lawhead
  • The Celtic Crusades (The Iron Lance, The Black Rood, The Mystic Rose), Stephen Lawhead
  • The Dragon King series (In the Hall of the Dragon King, The Warlords of Nin, The Sword and the Flame), Stephen Lawhead
  • Where is God When it Hurts?, Philip Yancey
  • Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
  • Byzantium, Stephen Lawhead
  • The Chiveis series (The Sword, The Gift, The Kingdom), Bryan Litfin
  • The Books of Mortals (Forbidden, Mortal), Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee
  • The Dragoneye series (Eon, Eona), Alison Goodman
I have already started to pick out some books for the first part of 2013. If you have any suggestions, send them along and I will check them out. I keep my list of reads current on my Shelfari page.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas 2012

There is far too much negative in this world. Day by day it seems to fully eclipse anything positive. War, terrorism, drugs, politics, posturing, hate speech. The list goes on and on and on to its sickening end. Hopefully today that truth can be set aside, if only for a short time. Hopefully today the celebrations and laughter and wonder and holiness will dwarf all of the darkness. I wish you the merriest of Christmas and pray that you will use what you have to bless others, even those beyond your immediate families. I also take today to give thanks to my online friends and look forward to growing our relationship in the year ahead.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

Ahhh Christmas Eve. That spirit of expectation hangs like a wonderfully refreshing mist in the air. You can see it in the eyes of every little boy and girl. Hope. Excitement. The very essence of childhood as it should be. Memories that will fill their hearts and yours for the rest of time. I know that I will see it in my daughter's eyes tomorrow. I pray that all of you can catch a glimpse of your own magic moments as well. I will always cherish the blessing that I have been given to dance this dance with my girl. Peace and blessings to all of you.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Sanctuary

Last year I read the book The Priest's Graveyard by Ted Dekker. It was the story of a priest named Danny Hansen, whose upbringing in war-torn Bosnia led him to take the law into his own hands and to bring justice to those who had escaped the judgment that they truly deserved. Along the way, this troubled man met an equally troubled lady named Renee Gilmore. A woman whose life was controlled by drugs and powerful men. These two found each other at the lowest point of their lives and created something beautiful. At the end of the story, Danny took the fall for two murders that Renee committed and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Danny would do anything to protect his Renee.

Dekker's latest novel, The Sanctuary, is a continuation to this story. Danny has served three years in a typical California high security prison when he learns that he is being transferred. This new jail is supposed to be a state-of-the-art correctional facility, constructed to be more than just a place for society's deviants to mark time. It is a new type of institution designed to rehabilitate and restore.

When Danny arrives he is determined to continue following his non-violence pact. He has sworn off his days of brutality and conflict. Yet the prison warden continues to test Danny, placing him in situations where he is expected to fight to save himself. The more he works to avoid these traps, the more he is subjected to brutal treatment by the prisoners and the prison staff. As this is going on, Renee is being lured to the prison by someone who knows about her past and has threatened to kill her and Danny. To protect Danny, she is lead to an ex-policeman who was responsible for arresting the ring-leader of the prisoners. This man agrees to help Renee mainly to protect himself, but he also seems to truly care about Renee as well. Yet upon arriving at the prison, all of Renee's plans quickly unravel and both she and Danny must deal with two madmen and a corrupted prison system. Some men are who they appear to be, and others are not. A tale that I really enjoyed, even more than the first part of the story.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Grind My Gears 31

People who use the trite expression, "my bad", really grind my gears. They think that they can accidentally kill a village of orphaned children and a simple utterance of "my bad" then instantly absolves them of all guilt, dirty looks, or punishment. Even for the most aggregious of acts, like cutting me off in traffic or taking the parking space that I clearly saw first or stealing the last buttery-rich scone from the breakfast bar, offering up a "my bad" does nothing to make you any less of a bed-wetting jerk in my mind. I think that in the case of any cretin who utters a "my bad", their punishment should rise to the level of their offense. I haven't fully fleshed out a complete plan in my mind, but at a minimum, a beat down with a stale loaf of pumpernickel bread should automatically be administered by local law enforcement, followed by something like assignment to extended jury duty.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Observations 12

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • Whenever I push the trunk release button in my car, the dashboard illuminates the message "Trunk is Ajar". Like a dolt, I always chuckle to myself and say, "No it's not."
  • Every restaurant that I go into these days seems to have flagrant signage with bold and fancy fonts that declare that their foods are gluten free. Does this mean anything to anyone? Is gluten the new MSG?
  • Watching a McDonald's commerical focussing on new Happy Meals that include milk and apple slices, my daughter remarked, "It's kind of sad when you have to leave your home and go out to a fast food place to buy healthy food." Hmmm.
  • Show me a man who claims that he hates leftovers for dinner and I will show you a man who doesn't have to cook for himself.
  • Some yearly traditions really warm the old ticker, like donating a toy for a little boy and a little girl each year to the Toys for Tots drive at work.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

1200

Compared to the number 1,450,656,000 (roughly the number of seconds that I have been alive ex utero), the number 1200 seems quite small. Yet today I celebrate the number 1200 as something truly big. From my point of view, I would claim with a straight face that 1200 > 1,450,656,000. With today's post, this humble site now consists of a sizable library of 1200 posts. At one point several years ago, I remember an exchange with one of my online blogging cohorts where we were both thinking that it would be pretty cool to someday get to 1000 posts, a goal that seemed more than lofty. Now, 1000 posts is long since in my rearview mirror. However, I still feel fresh as a daisy. In fact, over the past year I have enjoyed writing and posting as much as I ever have. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of this effort has been the interactions that I have had with visitors to this site. Thanks to all of my online friends for being part of this effort. See you on the march to 1300.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Short Term Memory

In the news, stories of death and destruction come and they go. It seems that just as soon as one horrible tragedy catches our attention, something more important or pertinent quickly washes the event out of our mind. Things like an unexpected warm spell in today's weather, our plans to go to the movies tonight, watching the big game on T.V.. Such short term memory. The problems of others are just fodder to grab headlines. Something to talk about around the water cooler. Here today, gone tomorrow. Well not for everyone.

Gloucester, VA

Two people killed in a tornado (2011).

Yeah, that's a real shame. What's for dinner?

Newtown, CT

27 people gunned down by a deranged individual, 20 elementary school children (2012).

Oh, that breaks my heart. Do you want to do some shopping after work?

Haiti

316,000 people killed by an earthquake, 300,000 injured, 1,000,000 homeless (2010).

Wow, that's rough. You know there are no building codes in that part of the world?

Indonesia

280,000 people killed by a Tsunami (2004).

Did you see those idiots playing in the ocean as the water went out? I would have been heading for higher ground.

Paraphrasing Joseph Stalin, the death of one is a tragedy, the death of many is a statistic.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Man Called Blessed

The second part of Ted Dekker's Blessed Series is entitled A Man Called Blessed. It picks up 15 years after the end of the first part, Blessed Child. In that story, the young prophet named Caleb had been used of God to show His love and His power to millions of people around the world. Yet as has been demonstrated again and again throughout human history, folks quickly forget the truths that they have seen and they go back to their old ways after only a short time. Now 15 years later, Caleb lives back in his native Ethopia with his adoptive parents Jason and Leiah in the monastery where he was raised. As we find him, the fervor surrounding his childhood has quelled and he lives a quiet, humble existence. During this time, he has slowly lost his reliance on God, and with that, the zeal that drove him into complete dependence on his heavenly Father.

As this story begins, a powerful faction in the Israeli government has diligently been searching for the Ark of the Covenant. They have been given information that the Ark may be hidden in the very monastery in which Caleb lives. With the covert checks and balances amongst the different groups in the Middle East, a group of Arabs follows the Israelis into Ethiopia. While the different commando squads work to get the better of each other, Caleb begins a journey to regain his faith and his relationship with God.

When the Ark of the Covenant is found and transported back to Jerusalem, the Jewish leadership is planning to rebuild Solomon's temple on the Muslim-controlled Temple Mount. They believe this is necessary to fulfill scripture to usher in the second coming of Jesus. Yet these plans have lead to the different armies from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine to be placed into high alert with the ultimate Middle East war on the verge of commencing. At this moment a restored Caleb appears in Jerusalem to show not only the Jewish leadership but also the world, where God's presence on Earth truly lies. This was a wonderful story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gone Wrong

Catherine, the British Duchess of Cambridge, was staying at a London hospital recently due to some complications associated with her pregnancy. An Australian radio station called the ward during one of its wacky prank segments. The call was from two of the on-air personalities who were pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. The nurse who answered the call somehow believed that they were who they said they were and gave out some confidential personal information before she patched the callers through to the room. This breach of hospital and nursing protocol put the young nurse in the worldwide spotlight that drenched her with criticism. A spotlight ultimately proved too bright and in her shame and embarrassment, she committed suicide.

The British royal couple, William and Catherine, now have this death shadowing what was supposed to be a wonderfully joyous moment in their lives. The two radio DJs are completely soiled by rebuke following the outcome of their sophomoric prank. The young lady's family and friends have lost someone precious to them. How could such a silly goof, of the type that is so common today, that was seeking only to get a few guffaws, turn so ugly and impact so many folks so negatively? This is the very definition of a nightmare. So, I was curious if anyone out there had ever done something in jest that just completely backfired and blew up into something horrible?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Questions

Some questions on Christianity ...
  • The Bible indicates that once we get to heaven, we are there for eternity. In the book of Revelation it seems that all the angels do 100% of the time is sit around God's throne and sing his praises. Don't you think that this will all get a bit stale after the first hour or so?

  • I don't have too many folks that I am all that close with on Earth. Will everyone else in Heaven be laughing and chatting it up while I am sitting alone at a table in the corner?

  • I have read many theology books that indicate that we should actively be looking forward to the day Jesus returns. We should approach the possibility that this could happen at any moment with a passion and zeal above anything else that we think about. I don't know about you, but I have lots of other things that require my complete attention (e.g. my job, daughter, chores, sleep, ...) that make this type of expectation wholly unrealistic.

  • In a certain light, I am the sum of all of my faults and weaknesses. If these are stripped away when I get to heaven, who will I be? Who could possibly recognize me at that point? If we are reborn as entirely new creations, will we recognize anyone in heaven?

  • If God/Jesus/Holy Spirit suddenly disappeared completely and forever, do you think Christians would ever come to the conclusion that He was gone? Would they just keep going, doing what they always do and never noticing? How do you know that His disappearance did not happen at some point in the past?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Investments

Many folks seem to spend a lot of time actively preparing for their retirement. IRAs, stocks, bonds, investments. Regular meetings with personal account and money managers. Endless hours on the internet tracking and charting, researching and deciding. Blood pressure rising and falling along with the Dow Jones or NASDAQ averages. You can see it on the faces of many the day after the stock market mis-steps or takes a dive, for they wear a certain level of pallid shock like a mask.

Yet to me retirement somehow feels like something that only other people have to deal with. This is an issue that I am pretty disconnected with for the most part and cannot find within me to take all that seriously. Some folks that I have talked to that are struggling to pay their bills or purposefully cutting back on their leisure or travel budgets still work to put as much of their paycheck as possible into their retirement accounts. While, intellectually, I do appreciate the idea of proper planning for tomorrow, doesn't it seem that folks are so busy focusing on their tomorrows that they are missing out on their todays?

I remember being at special celebration times with my daughter when she was young. Often I would be handed the video camera to record the event. I always hated this responsibility. You cannot be present in the moment and enjoy it to its fullest if you have one eye closed and the other is staring intently into a viewer. The investment made in embracing today with both eyes open can often have a much bigger payoff than that of some distant tomorrow that is anything but guaranteed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A+ America 7

Each year for the last decade or so I have participated in the Toys for Tots program through my workplace. The point of this program, operated by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, is to collect Christmas toy donations and then to distribute them to less fortunate children. In my mind this is one of those charities that most folks can completely relate to. Who hasn't beamed at the spark ignited in their own children's eyes as they open their Christmas presents? Oh those precious smiles and that giddy excitement! I don't think that it takes all that much empathy or heart to then imagine the children of less fortunate families who cannot share in this magic. Too many children will see the holidays pass without any fanfare, celebration, or acknowledgement because of poverty or unemployent or hard times in their family. The idea of providing the seed for even a little bit of laughter and joy is just so appealing to me.

At the end of November the Toys for Tots donation bins are placed in every building on my work site. This serves as my call to action. I also am so pleased that my daughter always asks about the status of the bins and if we can go to the store and get our donations. We like to head to the toy store and get a nice gift for one little boy and for one little girl. We then will stop by work and put our things into the bin together. I love to watch the different bins fill up over the three weeks that the campaign runs. It fills my heart to see the generosity of other folks and to see that they are contributing some really cool looking toys that I know will bring joy to some child. For all of those who contribute and for those who run this program, I say A+ America.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Blessed Child

I have read nearly all of the books that author Ted Dekker has written. However, I have avoided reading his Blessed series for reasons that I didn't understand, until recently. For some reason, the book covers creep me out. However, I had the opportunity recently to read the first book in this two-part series called Blessed Child. It turns out that the book is very much in the style of other Dekker works.

The story begins in Ethopia where American relief worker Jason Marker is getting ready to clear out of the country due to instabities caused by warring military factions. Before he leaves, a friend asks him to go to a local monastary and collect a small boy and take him away from the area of hostility. Jason arrives at the monastary as a contingent of troops begins to move in. He barely escapes with the young boy, Caleb, and a Red Cross nurse named Leiah, before the monastary is completed leveled. Jason, Leiah, and Caleb then flee for their lives as they are pursued deep into the heart of the country. On this harrowing trip, Jason and Leiah begin to bond and also begin to see the first signs that there is something very different, very special about Caleb.

The trio leaves Ethopia and arrives in the United States. Following the instructions given to Jason by Caleb's caretaker, the boy is given over to an orphanage run by a Greek Orthodox priest. When this Father Matthews sees that the boy possesses unique powers of healing, the unscrupulous father begins to exploit Caleb for every nickel and dime that he can. Caleb's name begins to become well known as he performs group healings of larger and larger audiences. Yet Caleb, while only 10 years old and completely innocent, does what he does not because of threats from his cruel master, but because of his walk with God and his only purpose to make His name known. The other story arc running throughout this book involves a very popular presidential candidate who has a long history of dirty dealings in Ethopia and has reasons to want to make the boy permanently disappear. An enjoyable read. Now onto the second book in the series, A Man Called Blessed.

Who says that a straightened hand is more powerful than a healed heart?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ill at Ease

How often do you find yourself with a whole day to do with as you please? No work, no chores, no to-do lists, no errands, no commitments. Many folks look forward to days like these to watch a few movies on the T.V. or to enjoy some quiet time to read or catch a nap. They are often circled in red on the calendar to help mark the days in between. Ahhh, lazy days.

Yet I know that in my own life that days such as these may start off with notions of taking it easy and resting my mind and body, but then random thoughts start to burgeon inside my mind:
  • If you pop into work for a few hours, you can get a great head start on that new project.
  • I really should do a load of laundry.
  • I am running out of postage stamps. I should run over to the post office.
  • I should take this opportunity to get a bit of my yard work done.
  • I need to fill up the gas tank in the car.
Then it seems that before I know it the day is mostly past, my body is tired, and I haven't spent even a moment to find some peace and quiet time for myself. Maybe this is because I am a classic type-A personality. Maybe it is because I really am ill at ease.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Multiply

Back in the middle of the summer I caught my first rumor that pastor Francis Chan was set to release a new book called Multiply in November. I marked it on my calendar as something to look forward to. I have read each of Chan's theology books, Crazy Love, Forgotten God, and Erasing Hell, and found enjoyment in each of them, especially Crazy Love. This new book Multiply was written about the important task given to Christians by Jesus called the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), namely that we are called to make disciples of all people. I think that providing instruction to Christians in this area is a wonderful kernel with which to write a book about. It is a topic that I know many folks struggle with when it comes to formulating a practical plan.

I can't tell you how much I wanted to like this book as I have deep respect for Chan's approach, his theology, and his passion. However, I can say that it was not worth my time. The book contains less than 100 pages that briefly touch on aspects of the importance of discipling in the church. He then devotes 200 pages of pure filler that provides a lite run-through of the Old Testament and New Testament. Where is the discussion on how to attract disciples, how to develop a plan of discipling, and how folks with different spiritual gifts should approach discipling?

I am frustrated that Chan made no attempt to discuss how to attract disciples to teach, as if everyone can just pull them in like the rabbis of old with the command, follow me. I can also assure you that leading a group of folks to train them as disciples is definitely not for everyone. In fact, I think that only a small percentage of folks have the skill set to be successful at this type of leadership work. It takes a degree of wisdom, good communication and listening ability, and a certain amount of charisma. Other folks can make an impact in the process of disciple making through their unique set of skills but more as tertiary players in the process. Said another way, not everyone makes a good teacher.

Chan also put together a series of videos on the Multiply website to go along with each subsection. He was joined in these presentations by fellow pastor David Platt who wrote the book Radical. These videos started off reasonably well, but quickly became repetitive and bland. Very little of practical value was actually said. Books like this one make me feel that an important voice for the church has been commercialized to the point that he is just another of the dozens of homogenized pastors cranking out books, not because they have a carefully crafted message from God but because their editors have given them a deadline. In this case, a great amount of effort on style, but the substance is sorely lacking.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Personal Jesus

Reach out and touch faith
Your own Personal Jesus


Lord, please help me have an enjoyable day at work today.

Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares


I pray that the repair bill for my furnace would not be too high.

Things on your chest
You need to confess


Please let the lines at the supermarket be short so that I can get home to relax.

Lift up the receiver
I'll make you a believer


Lord, please watch over and protect my daughter today.

I will deliver
You know I'm a forgiver


The prayers that I pray are seemingly mostly about me or my daughter. Try as I might to be ever mindful of the needs of others, those supplications are few and far between. Am I praying to the creator of the Universe who has already told me how to pray through the scriptures, or am I praying instead to some genie or magic sky spirit or imaginary friend? Keep your fingers crossed and ask for whatever you want or think you need. Who knows, your numbers might come up.

Reach out and touch faith

Monday, December 3, 2012

Debugging Tools

Computer software developers typically require the use of so-called debugging tools. These high-level software tools are used by programmers to reproduce failures, explore the status of programs, and to search for defects within newly developed software code. They can also be used to provide diagnostics to study program flow to increase speed and efficiency. Such tools are essential to ultimately provide the end user with robust software that operates according to design with optimized reliability, predictability, and efficiency.

I recently sat through a software meeting at work and got to see some of the tricks of the trade. I was amazed at what they have available and how quickly it can help them to pinpoint exactly what line of code is leading to the problem and exactly under what condition the code is failing. Once the offending line or section of code is isolated, they can effect repairs and rewrites. This got me to thinking about the human program. Imagine if there were diagnostics that we could employ to help us not only to identify what coding in our brains is causing us trouble, but also would allow for someone to repair or reoptimize our underlying programming. I don't know about you but I get so tired of struggling with the same issues in my life time and time again, not fully understanding why I am having the troubles that I am and why I can't seem to get past them.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Mortal

The second novel in the series The Books of Mortals by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee is entitled Mortals and picks up about nine years after the end of the first part of the story in Forbidden. There we learned that the post-war remnant of humanity is infected with a virus that removes all emotions save fear. Fear was used to keep the populace in check under the established leadership. Our hero Rom Sebastian received a vial of blood and he and several of his friends drank a portion. This blood brought them back to their full humanity by eliminating the effect of the virus. A prophesy told of a boy who would be born directly into his full humanity and that this boy would become the sovereign of the world and be the true source of the blood that would restore everyone.

This boy, Jonathan, was found at the end of Forbidden and safely hidden away until he could become sovereign at his eighteenth birthday. Rom had found a small tribe of nomads who had managed to maintain themselves away from the rest of the world. They believed in the prophesy and supported Jonathan's claim as sovereign so that they might find peace from persecution from those in power. Against this backdrop, the brother of the previous sovereign has used the dark forces of alchemy to create the biggest army assembled in the world in centuries. His goal is to crush the nomads protecting Jonathan and to destroy this boy, thus ending any possible threat to his world domination plans.

In this story, Jonathan, the man who prophesy has foretold would become the most powerful man in the world, has embraced his destiny. Yet the servant-hearted kingdom of life and restoration and atonement that he is working toward is completely different than what everyone else has assumed. He will not lead as a lion, he will lead as a lamb. A very rich story in biblical allegory that I loved. The last part of the trilogy, Sovereign is slated for release next summer.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Observations 11

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers recently fired their head coach. The drama began when the team leaders released a press statement saying that his job was secure, that they agreed with his philosophy, and that everyone was behind him. He was fired the next day by a unanimous vote of the ownership and management team. Love me some job security!
  • Overly perky people should not be allowed near regular people first thing on a Monday morning. They tend to make most folks noticeably ill in their tummies.
  • I was watching a T.V. cooking show the other evening. The host had made a pizza that he formed by hand and cooked on the outdoor grill. When it came off the heat, it was kind of an odd shape. He said that his creation evoked for him the beauty of a rustic, farm-style pizza. He then looked into the camera and stated, "I have no idea what that even means." This made me chuckle.
  • I find myself all a-grumble when I visit web pages that suddenly load an ad that shifts the entire page just as I go to click on something. Invariably this causes me to click on something undesirable instead.
  • It is good for kids to see their parents hanging out with friends. I think it provides a healthy model for more mature relationships for them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Goodbye iCarly

Back on February 28, 1983, I laid on the floor of my living room watching the final episode of the TV series M*A*S*H about the life and relationships of a group in a mobile army hospital during the Korean war. I remember crying uncontrollably as I watched everyone going their separate ways and saying their goodbyes. After watching the show regularly every week for years on end, all of the characters had become quite real to me. I no longer saw a group of actors standing on a set saying their scripted lines. What I saw was a group of people whose lives I had come to know intimately. I felt their emotions and their pain. I also was sad because it was the end of a regular and comforting routine that I used to share every week with my family.

Recently, I experienced a very similar set of goodbyes that hit me equally as hard. For five years my daughter and I have regularly watched the Nickelodean series iCarly. A show about a group of teenagers that host their own web show. The characters worked well together and they became part of me and my life over the last few years. As they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways, it tore at my heart. It also hit me that my daughter and I will no longer have new episodes to look forward to and we will not have this regular and comforting routine to share together. Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

iTunes Latest - 8

Back in December of 2011, I finally discovered iTunes on my Mac. This service has really helped me to reconnect with my love of music. One of the things that I really like about music is that so often a given song has a strong association with a time or with a moment in my life. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my history with each song.
  • Wheels - Heart (2010) - The mid-70's version of Heart was special. The hard-rocking Wilson sisters then morphed into an even more popular arena pop band. After the lights went out on this style of music, Heart has put out a few records in the last 10 years more in line with their original leanings. This song would have been very much at home back in the 70's with their other material. I love the simmering energy that builds up in this one before the accelerator is pushed hard to the floor.
  • Red Velvet Car - Heart (2010) - The title song from their 2010 album. This one is a bit of a slower tempo piece that pleads for the return and restoration of one missing. Lovely piece.
  • Lay it on the Line - Triumph (1979) - I recently saw a youtube video of the band playing this song live in Halifax in 1980. Even though this song is locked in my head from my old AM radio days, the video re-energized me to this song. The lead singer/guitarist for this group (Rik Emmett) had it all.
  • Fight the Good Fight - Triumph (1981) - Another great one from the Triumph catalog from 30 some-odd years ago. It is one to melt your face off.
  • Livin' on a Prayer - Bon Jovi (2003) - I am not a big fan of Bon Jovi, especially the work the band has been doing for the past decade. However, I did like the original version of this song. It was a rowdy anthem that was energizing and uplifting. The version of the song that I downloaded about good ole Tommy and Gina was the alternate form from This Left Feels Right. A version that slows the tempo, dials back on the guitars, is soulful instead of defiant, and has a whole different vibe that just speaks to me.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Active Spirituality

I am in the middle of reading the book Multiply by Francis Chan. While my review of this book won't be posted for a few weeks yet, I stumbled across something that provided me with kind of an "oh, wow" moment. I was so moved by this idea that I wanted to share it with you.

Verses 9-14 in 1 Cor. 2 suggests that none of us can properly understand the Bible (God's word) without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Verse 11 states, "So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God." Thus studying, interpreting, and understanding the Bible is not necessarily correlated with being intelligent or learned or "spiritual". The cool thing is that this tells us what we get out of reading the Bible is not just a passive message. It tells us that the Bible is alive and active. It means that the Bible is totally personal for each of us.

So that I don't lead folks astray, it is critical to make clear that the Biblical text has only one meaning, lest any of us attempt to twist the content to fit our own point of view or preferences. But with the Holy Spirit's leading, the truths in terms of application that each of us individually receive from reading the Bible may be different. In fact, the truth that we receive may be different each time that we humbly and prayerfully approach a given piece of scripture. It's like the Holy Spirit may lead us down a different path each time. That is, in my mind, the epitomy of active spirituality. It is how God can come alive to us as we approach His Word. It should serve as motivation for diving into the Word regularly.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Forbidden

Over the last couple of years, I pretty much read through the full Ted Dekker catalog. I then turned my attention to a couple of different authors. Recently, however, I picked up the first two books in Dekker's latest series, The Books of Mortals, co-authored with Tosca Lee. The first work in the series is entitled Forbidden. I will start off by saying that this is a quality work of fiction. A futuristic tale of adventure, suspense, love, intrigue, and compelling, well-developed characters. The quality of writing is top-notch and I could not put this one down.

The story takes place several hundred years into Earth's future after nuclear war has decimated and reshaped the planet. Life in this time has too been reshaped. Gone is the hatred, the violence, the warring, the anxiety, and the ambition. The world is united under an all-encompassing peace. The peace, it turns out, is due to a genetically engineered virus that has stripped humanity of every emotion save fear. The center of government and power of this new world order lies in Byzantium. There we meet Rom Sebastian, a man in his mid-20s, whose life is centered on living by the precepts of the Order. One day he is found by a wild old man who relates to him a brief and confusing narrative about the murder of his father and about life, blood, and the truth that all of humanity is actually dead. He slips Rom a small box and tells him to guard it with his life. Inside is the only key that can restore humanity, a key that has been guarded by a secret group for ages. Moments later the secret police come upon them. While Rom flees, the old man is murdered in cold blood. A short while later, Rom watches as these same secret police invade his home and murder his mother.

Rom barely escapes with his life and his world is undone. Inside the box the old man gave to him, he finds an ancient vial of blood and a scrap of vellum with some cryptic prose and a coded message. The prose speaks of new life emerging after drinking the blood. It speaks too of the prophesy of a boy who will restore humanity. With great trepidation, Rom drinks a portion of the blood and is transformed, feeling and sensing life for the first time. The story then takes us on a great adventure following Rom as he learns about what has happened to humanity and who the young boy alluded to on the vellum is and what his role is to be. Yet nothing comes without great cost as there are others who also know of the ancient prophesies and the great power that is there for the taking. It seems that violence, hatred, and ambition are not as extinct as some would have believed. Neither is the remnant of love.

Now, onto the next part of the story, Mortal.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Hope everyone finds themselves with folks they enjoy being around and a plate full of tasty victuals. Remember to give thanks for the blessings in your life. I will start. I give thanks to all of the folks who regularly visit this site. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Observations 10

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Thus we see everything from a different perspective and with different purpose than normal folks.

Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • I was trying to come up with a name for a cross between a frog and a bunny. I suggested "funny", but rhetorically noted that it would never do. Too much bunny, not enough frog.
  • The award for the most overused and now completely trite saying goes to, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims."
  • I love it when somebody gets me. My daughter gave me a math problem to solve on my recent birthday card. 14 + 2i < 4 + 6u + 10. Solve for i. A nerd-based card message.
  • Sometimes tears can be absolutely wonderful in their spirit-cleansing properties.
  • I sat through a meeting the other day where more acronyms were used than actual words.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Black Label

When I have to rely on others, I have a very nasty habit of making strong declarative statements when things don't go the way I expect that they should. I throw around black labels like idiot, incompetent, and moron. What is worse, I fire out these terms even when I don't fully know why things have not gone as I had expected. Some self-righteous trigger threshold is reached and I spew these ignorant and hateful epithets to whoever is around. Oftentimes the first several salvos have been unleashed before I even realize what has happened. Of course at that point I cannot take them back or recall them and pretend that nothing happened.

I seems that most times, folks just let this kind of thing go, either because they agree with my assessment or they believe me to be a hothead or they are just allowing me to vent my anger and frustration. Not that this makes my actions right, it's just that most of the time the munitions flame out in the air and never reach a target. However, the other day, my words found their mark and I really upset someone who was just trying to do their job. I really felt sick about what I had done and no apology can unring the bell that I sounded. Hopefully this freshly (re-)learned lesson will stay with me awhile.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gethsemane

After the last supper in the upper room, Jesus led his disciples to the garden at Gethsemane for a last time together before the authorities came to take Jesus away to his death. Matt. 26:36-38 states:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."

Just a short time later, Jesus in his greatest despair and turmoil, came back to where he left his three closest friends and disciples and found them asleep. Matt. 26:40-41 tell us:

The he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Couldn't you men keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

I lived a small part of this narrative recently. A friend of mine who is a teacher told me through his blog that one of the students that he was very close with was killed in a car accident. Given his love for children and his long history of selfless mentoring, I knew how much this was affecting him. Before I left for work, I told him that I would pray for him throughout the day. Yet once I arrived at work, I quickly got absorbed into what I was doing. It was only when I got home late that night that I remember what I had promised, yet failed to do. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Forgotten Road

A few weeks ago I completed my reading of a trilogy of books by author Randall Arthur. This set of novels, Wisdom Hunter, Jordan's Crossing, and Brotherhood of Betrayal, each focussed on a man and his relationship with the church. Actually, they were really about broken men and their ultimate restoration with God. The one constant from book to book was the presence of pastor Jason Faircloth. He was the central character in the first book and had a cameo role in each of the other two. Now, after more than a 10 year absence from publishing novels, Arthur returns with another tale in this series, Forgotten Road. It took me quite some time to locate a copy of this book, but the one that I ultimately did find was autographed by Mr. Arthur himself.

The story surrounds a musician, Cole Michaels, who was living his dream. His first album had unexpectedly hit it big, providing visions of a long, successful, and lucrative future for Cole, his wife, and their young son. While Cole fought to make his way in the recording business, he had neglected his wife for a time. In this period she had come to Christ and ultimately brought Cole along as well. The young couple was initiated into a type of "American Dream" theology, where God's blessings are promised if you give him your life. Cole did so willingly. Yet shortly after, his son was killed in a gruesome tractor accident and his wife committed suicide in the aftermath. Cole turned to alcohol to dull his pain and then killed a young mother and her daughter while driving under the influence. Cole was sentenced to 11 years in jail and was locked away while everything that he had known and believed in was ripped from his grasp.

In prison we find a truly broken man, one who has reached rock bottom. Something about Cole attracts the attention of the prison chaplain, Duke Parker. Duke is loving and tenacious and filled with grace. Under the chaplain's mentoring, Cole re-awakens and finally begins to understand the true nature of God and what a relationship with him means. When Cole is released from prison, he enters back into the music world very quickly. Yet just when he is set to reach the pinnacle of the music world again, with all the trappings of wealth and fame and women, he realizes that this life is not what he wants and is not who he now has become. What he wants is to give back, to make a difference, and to help others. And the beautiful thing is, this is just what he ends up doing.

Although this book was a bit uneven in its writing, especially with some weak and clipped dialog and prose in the second half, it was still a very enjoyable read. It was also nice to meet up with Jason Faircloth again and to find how his life and ministry have progressed over the years.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Windows

Two windows side by side,
Ubiquitous, utilitarian,
Divided glass, jamb, sash, grilles
Somehow speak to the depths of my heart
Two distinct portraits of myself
One old - One new
Past and present

One a representation of the past
Dressed in warm shades of chocolate brown
Refined, finished, complete, and comforting

One a reflection of the present
Stark, naked, exposed
Construction grade, lacking

Two windows
Side by side
Only one complete

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Crime Scene

Most of the time I go about my day-to-day life feeling perfectly safe and secure. Rarely, if ever, do I get spooked or feel that I am in any sort of danger. The other night I came home from work rather late. After having my dinner, I finished cleaning my kitchen and before I went to bed, I decided to take the trash out to the bin that I keep by the side of my house. Early the next morning when I was leaving for work, I got into my car and started to back out of my driveway. It was then that something on the side of the house caught my eye. I stopped the car and went over to investigate. I found a bicycle laying on its side that obviously was not there when I took the trash out the night before. This was clearly not something left behind by children at play. It was an expensive bike that clearly had been stolen and then stashed on the side of my house. It kind of gave me the chills because the area where it was left is just outside my bedroom window. I never heard a peep during the night even though some criminal element was just a few yards away from where I laid sleeping.

When I got into work that morning, I called the police and gave them a report. They came out and checked over my property and took the bicycle away after talking to the neighbors up and down my street. For the next several nights, I remained a bit on edge. Vigilant and attentive. Every time I heard even the slightest noise, real or imagined, I darted about the house furtively peeking out the windows. My heart rate increased noticeably as I strained to see any movement or activity in and among the shadows that cover my property. It is amazing how fragile my sense of security really is. What is interesting to me is that if they had never left the stolen bicycle behind, I would never have been aware of the trespass. Is it better to live in ignorance sometimes?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

You Never Know

Most of the time you just don't know ...

  • ... how your smile can affect those you interact with each day.
  • ... how your pausing to listen to someone can impact their approach.
  • ... how calling someone just to say hello can change someone's mind.
  • ... how letting someone merge in traffic can ease their spirit.
  • ... how sending that email can erase a burden.
If we only acted upon a kind or positive impulse when we could be sure that we would directly witness its consequences, far too much beauty, grace, and life would cease. In my mind an image of an iceberg comes into focus. Only the small tip of the iceberg that projects above the water's surface is the part where the outcome of our actions is directly seen. I know that I have benefitted on countless occasions when someone's act has had a positive impact and influence on my life and they never even knew what a blessing they were for me. In fact it is likely that most often I do not even appreciate the effect that other's actions have on my bearing. How often has a kind word from a friend or stranger soothed me and pulled me back a bit from the edge?

The seed for this post was sowed late last summer during a short phone call with a friend and colleague of mine. I had kind of lost my passion at work and was in many ways just going through the motions. Somewhere in our conversation he sparked something within me that slowly began to take root. A year later and I have just successfully completed a major research project that would not have even gotten off the ground without that input. Doing this project has re-energized my heart and mind toward my work. So, when giving of yourself, you never know.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Socialism

Living in a country built upon a foundation of democracy, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, talk of the benefits of socialism is taboo. This philosophy goes against the very tenets of capitalism and individuality and making your own way. Yet the other night, I willingly waved the flag of socialism and, despite what you may think of me, I would do it again. Comrades, let me explain.

The past few weeks I have been struggling a bit with life and where I fit into it. Too many things seemed like they were working against me. I was fighting against the flow. Constantly swimming upstream is a labor that can quickly drain a person's spirit and zeal. Sometimes thoughts creep in that it would even be better to just sink to the bottom and be done with the struggle. This was the dark place that I found myself in.

Yet even knowing a bit of my state, a young couple from my church came alongside me and invited me into their home for dinner and some socializing. Even though my social skills are more than a bit rusty and I am quite sure that I talked way too much about me, the evening was a healing balm for my soul. Who knew that I, a red-blooded American, would so embrace socialism?

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Spirit Well

The Spirit Well is the third entry in author Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empire series and takes up where the second book, The Bone House, left off. Once more, we ping pong back and forth, thither and yon, amongst the different principal characters as they jump from time period to time period and place to place amongst different realities. As we have been schooled thus far in this adventure, traveling from chord to chord in the multiverse is different than time travel. So-called ley travel does not connect one to different points and places along the same time line, but to alternate realities. As these jumps are not something that can be calibrated or strongly controlled, it makes for a very interesting set of possibilities and narrative lines so one must always pay careful attention to keep up.

The overall story arc follows the descendents and travellers connected to Arthur Flinders-Petrie as they each take up the quest to protect the secrets of ley travel from those of less than pure intent. They are also seeking to acquire the ultimate treasure of the universe, although they have no idea what it could be based on the meager yet tantalizing hints that they possess. The antagonist in this chase is the evil, conniving Lord Burleigh and his lot of agents. He seems to always be one step ahead of Kit and Mina who are slowly learning his tricks and devising a few of their own.

In this story Kit and Mina become separated as Kit errantly travels back to the Stone Age where he is adopted into a most interesting tribe. It is here that he comes to find his place and comfort. Mina has sought out a fellow traveler located in a Spanish monastery in order to better understand ley travel so that she can find Kit. Meanwhile, Kit has made an unbelievable discovery, locating the Spirit Well. Yet the significance of this place and what powers are held there is anyone's guess. New to the scene is a young archaeologist named Cass, who has been charged with helping to find the missing Cosimo and Kit. Her role in the ongoing tale is still unclear. I will just have to hang on until the next installment, The Shadow Lamp, is published next year. A fun romp that stirs the imagination.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

iTunes Latest - 7

Back in December of 2011, I finally discovered iTunes on my Mac. This service has really helped me to reconnect with my love of music. One of the things that I really like about music is that so often a given song has a strong association with a time or with a moment in my life. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my history with each song.
  • Get the Party Started - Pink (2001) - This song caught my ear when I first heard it. It is the only song by Pink that I even know of, but it is catchy, energetic, and infectious.
  • Strangelove - Depeche Mode (1987) - This "techno-band" song was not produced from the same cookie-cutter mold that most pop songs seem to come from. I have always liked this quirky tune and it holds up strong for me today.
  • 10,000 Reasons - Matt Redman (2011) - I first heard this one at my church not too long ago. The lyrics are simple, beautiful, and reached deep within me.
  • Have a Nice Day - Bon Jovi (2005) - Since their hey-day in the 1990s, Bon Jovi has produced an album every 2 to 3 years and each has contained one decent song. This is the one decent song on the album of the same name. If you don't like what I'm doing, then screw you. Oh, and have a nice day.
  • Countdown to Zero - Asia (1985) - I purchased the album Astra back when I was in college and this is another keyboard heavy song from that work. Apart from the cheesy spoken part at the end, I enjoy the flavor and tone of this one.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

When it Hurts

Early on in his book Where is God When it Hurts?, author Philip Yancey cites a quote by C.S. Lewis, "You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you." This statement is of the utmost relevance for anyone who calls themselves a Christian when they are forced to deal with pain. Of course many Christians have looked to Lewis for insight and wisdom on this topic in his landmark book The Problem with Pain. Actually after witnessing the depth and craft exhibited in this work by Yancey, I would put this work on the same shelf with Lewis' Pain.

Although this book focuses mostly on issues dealing with physical pain, it is entirely relevant for folks dealing with a spectrum of emotional pains such as depression, regret, loneliness, and loss of interest in life. In fact, many symptoms of emotional pains are manifest in much the same way as physical pain. This book begins with a detailed thesis on the value of pain to the human body. It explores how our nervous system points to a supernatural origin in its sheer ingenuity. It then tells us how to prepare for and help one another through suffering. Finally, it explores in depth the question when it comes to dealing with hurt and pain, "What difference does the Christian faith make?"

Yancey makes the statement that pain and suffering are part of the human condition. It is a part of the human experience that nobody can escape or weasel out of. Given that we must all face pain and suffering, how are we to respond? That is the whole point of this work, namely to help us gain perspective, to help us prepare for the inevitable, to help us learn appropriate ways to respond given the alternatives, and to teach us how to bless and show grace to others who are afflicted. This book is not your typical Christian-lite cotton candy. This is a work that will expand and shape your thinking and your theology. Top notch work.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:26

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 4-5

Thanks to Bill at Cycleguy's Spin for bringing this book to my attention.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Observations 9

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Thus we see everything from a different perspective and with different purpose than normal folks.

Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • I came across the following quote from Henri Nouwen that just spoke to my heart, "No man can stay alive when nobody is waiting for him."
  • Folks pray and pray that an approaching hurricane does not come ashore in their area. Yet it ultimately must come ashore somewhere, in someone's area. Hmmm.
  • There is not a clear etiquette when two folks, who are no more than casual colleagues, are walking outside in a rain shower and only one has an umbrella.
  • If you are asked the definition of feckless, the answer according to the online Webster's dictionary reads, "completely without feck". Well, there you have it (maybe).
  • Just when you are ready to give up, folks can surprise you out of nowhere, even if they are serving dust bunnies and floor wax.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Scream

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player - and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Shakespeare)

Sometimes when life becomes troubling, our mettle is put to the test and the true measure of our character emerges. Do you like what you see?

Do you accept your fate as a trembling, meek lamb?
Do you show any grace to others and to yourself?
Do you fight dirty?
Do you self medicate to shut out the world for a while?
Do you turn to God with salvos of prayers for deliverance?
Do you turn into someone else, forgetting who you are and what you believe?
Do you take your anger, hurt, and frustration out on others?
Do you withdraw from the world?
Do you cry without control?
Do you talk to yourself in ugly, hateful terms?
Do you give up?
Do you stop dreaming?
Do you turn negative?
Do you shut down?
Do you let sin take hold over your life?
Do you scream until you're hoarse?


Does anything help to restore us with even a small measure of peace besides time? Can there be healing and growth without help from others?

So many questions.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Bone House

The second book in Stephen Lawhead's "Bright Empire" series is called The Bone House and takes up just where the first book, The Skin Map, left off. Again, the story bounces back and forth between several different narrative threads. We follow Mina as she builds a successful bakery and coffee house in Prague with her good-natured partner Etzel. We travel along with Kit Livingstone as he struggles for survival taking up the cause of his great grandfather Cosimo. We learn a bit more about the man who is map, Douglas Flinders-Petrie, and his pursuit of wisdom and secrets untold, and the paths followed by his son Benedict and his lineage. The common factor criss-crossing each of the protagonist's lives is the ne'er-do'well Lord Burleigh. A man who uses his breeding and rank to ensnare the rich and powerful with his charms and kills those in cold blood who get in his way.

The story develops an interesting turn when Lord Burleigh leaves Kit to die in an old Egyptian tomb. Just when it seems there is no hope for escape, Kit is rescued by Mina. In the long time that they have been separated, Mina has undergone a complete rebirth and Kit is completely unprepared for the strong, clever, and confident woman who rescues him. Yet more than this, it is clear that Mina has been very busy learning how to navigate among different points in the multiverse. When Lord Burleigh closes in, Kit makes a narrow escape by traveling to a prehistoric world where he is taken in by a nomadic tribe. Ultimately he is led to a hut-like dwelling made entirely of animal bones that holds mysteries beyond understanding. Another secret coordinate on the skin map.

Good story-telling that will take you on an interesting and fast-paced adventure. Now onto the third part of the story, The Spirit Well.

"The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end." Blaise Pascal

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What It's Not

I have had parts of this post running through my mind for some time now. I have not put it out before today because I wasn't quite sure what purpose it was supposed to serve. I was also a bit afraid that some might be offended or recognize themselves in my words. Ultimately, I decided that I would just gather together the threads that I had managed to grasp and share them come what may.

The notion that I have been wrestling with is friendship. More specifically, what a friend is not. To me a friend is someone that you spend time with and do things with. A person whose companionship and company you enjoy. It is not someone you only see once in a while at work or out on the street and say a few passing words to. That, in my vernacular, epitomizes an acquaintance. The difference between a friend and acquaintance is how close to your life and your heart someone is allowed to approach. A friend registers significantly higher on the intimacy scale than a mere acquaintance. Friends are there with you not only when you celebrate, but also when you cry.

A few things, from my perspective, of what characterizes someone who is not a friend.
  • Someone who often says to you, "hey, we should get together", yet you never do.
  • Someone who only wants a relationship to get something from you.
  • Someone whose only presence in your life involves the occasional quickie, lite comments on your blog or Facebook page.
  • Someone who consistently lets you know by their words and actions that you are not a priority.
  • Someone who avoids you when you are hurting or down.
Of course friendship is a two-way street. You have to give what you expect to receive. By any measure, I must not expect to receive back much.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ephemeral

My blog has been an important device in my life to give me a place to think. Granted, some of my thoughts are clearly inane, some are just noise, but others are critical to my personal growth. I am certain that without my blog as an outlet, I would not as intentionally dive into important issues that have affected my past or could shape my future. Thoughts would bubble up into my head and just as quickly wink out, supplanted by whatever the next shiny object is that captures my attention. In this way I would never take the time to wrestle with deeper or more complex notions that could serve to give me perspective or options. I also think that I would miss out on a host of moments that I now linger over and appreciate more fully.

I have learned over the last 5 years that I have been blogging that if I don't jot down an idea as soon as it occurs to me, it quickly slips away from me and is gone. Sometimes the ideas that get away can be silly or trivial. Other times it seemed that they were important. A kernal of a notion or a concept that was promising or necessary that I held in my grasp for all too brief a moment and I let escape. Ephemeral, fleeting, fragile. Perhaps a missed opportunity that I would regret if I only remembered.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Storms

I did not deal with you I know
Tho the love has always been
So I search to find an answer there
So I can truly win

Every hour of fear I spend
My body tries to cry
Living through each empty night
A deadly calm inside

So I try to say
Goodbye my friend
I'd like to leave you with something warm
But never have I been a blue calm sea
I have always been a storm

(Storms, Fleetwood Mac)

A little bit of melancholia brought on over the last few days through the rain and wind and gray that shrouded my life during hurricane Sandy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Founding Fathers

In case you might have missed the subtle inferences on the evening news, we are in the midst of "election season", which is kind of like autumn, only more gubernatorial. In this period, you are quite apt to hear mention of our founding fathers (FFs) and what they would most certainly order on their pizzas. The FFs were the exclusive group of upper class white males who wore comical hair pieces and came up with the constitution. Of course, a common dude or dudette cruising along the colonial boulevards on their way to the candle shoppe, saw what these guys were selling, were a might displeased, and quickly tacked on a bunch of additions. Of this list of "amendments", some stand out more than others, such as:
  • First amendment - protects the freedom of speech, religion, and the right to urinate in public after a night out shooting one's musket.
  • Second amendment - protects a southerners right to bare arms.
  • Fourth amendment - prohibits unreasonable seizures, unless one is quite ill.
  • Seventh amendment - provides the right to trial by fire.
  • Sixteenth amendment - allows the federal government to take whatever it sees fit from your paycheck whether you voted for Mayor McCheese or not.
The most recent amendment written into the constitution (using a "Sharpie"-type marker directly on the original parchment) was added in 1992. Because of the great trust of the citizenry toward those in political office, this 27th amendment allowed members of Congress to decide their own salary.

Now that I have lived through another season of Major League Baseball, I think it is high time we unilaterally add another amendment. This one, I think you will agree, should have been in place from the very beginning. My new amendment would prohibit any person who is not on the active roster of a major league team from saying "we" when referring to how a team played. This amendment, of course, would apply for all professional sports leagues.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Skin Map

The first book in author Stephen Lawhead's "Bright Empire" series,
The Skin Map, is a fantasy novel with a concept ripe for a long and interesting series of adventures. Kit Livingstone is a Londoner, 27 years old, who works a low-level management job. He is bored with his go-nowhere life and is marking time with his girlfriend Mina until someone better comes along. One morning he is working his way through the Metro to meet up with her, when the subway breaks down and he is forced to walk. As he passes a shadow-filled alley, he hears someone call his name. Inexplicably the man addressing him claims to be his great grandfather Cosimo and speaks of parallel universes and alternate realities. This leads to a mind-blowing journey for Kit to another place and time.

When Kit is brought back to his world he ultimately meets up with Mina, arriving many hours late. The upset Mina begins to chew him out, forcing him to defend himself with some of the details of his "trip". Of course, Mina does not believe a word. Kit then takes Mina back to the alley where the portal into the other reality was located, not only to mollify Mina, but to firm up his rattled mind. Upon entering the rift, Kit loses Mina. He ultimately meets up with Cosimo who begins to teach him about the present understanding of the "multi-verse" and about the quest to locate the map that details how to navigate along the connection paths. A map that began as a body tattoo on the explorer Douglas Flinders-Petrie who first unlocked the long-held secrets of these pathways.

Cosimo and a small group of allies have been working to explore and understand the links between the different times and places connected by the pathways. However, there are those who seek to use whatever means necessary to learn the secrets for their own nefarious reasons. These evil men are led by one Lord Burleigh who seems to turn up everywhere our intrepid explorers do, Egypt, Macao, and Prague. Everyone is seeking to locate and claim the various pieces of the skin map before the others. So far, a very interesting and well-written story. Now onto the next book in the series, The Bone House.

"The distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion - albeit a persistent one." Albert Einstein