Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve 2013

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock ... Just a little while until everything changes, until nothing changes.

Tick-tock, tick-tick-tick ... We may never be the same, yet we remain as we were.

Tick-tock, tock ... The slate is wiped clean, but it is the same blackboard and the same chalk.

New Year's Eve seems to be one of those celebrations that adults just adore. A chance to stay up late, drink too much alcohol, and act like boisterous children. But I think that having fun and celebrating whatever comes your way is a great way to approach life, provided that you do so responsibly and respectfully.

I have never been one to be a great participant in the festivities. After my college days were over, my body has always shut down well before midnight. That's O.K., I still wish you well. I pray for blessings for you in the new year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Resolutions 2013

Each year at the end of December I sit down and ponder a set of New Year's resolutions. While this may label me cliché, my considerations in this area have served me well. Reflections on who we are, where we have been, and where we are going, I think are necessary to give us some direction so that we don't move through life following Brownian motion. While some may be satisfied ping-ponging around in a random fashion from season to season, I find my best strategy is to define a set of goals or boundary conditions before I set out. I want to recognize what I want and what areas of my life need my time and attention.

It is only natural that as I plot my course for the upcoming year, I take a hard look back at the preceeding year to see how well I achieved the goals that I laid out. Today I share with you my findings. Certainly baring myself in this manner will allow you to see into me more deeply than I am comfortable, but maybe someone will get something out of this that will make this worthwhile. You will note that I tend to trip and fall more than I succeed. That does not necessarily indicate defeat. If I give my best or even a reasonable effort and fail, I can still live with that failure. It is the failures due to my own laziness or ineptness that frustrate me and pull me down. Anyway, here is my list of 2013 resolutions with a brief commentary for each item.
  • To go out on at least two dates - Once again it was a date-less year. However, I did take a friend's advice and planted a few seeds. Who knows what will germinate and bloom in the future?
  • To exercise the whole year - I did very well with my exercising throughout the year. The only days I missed were due to sickness and when my machine broke and I had to wait for replacement parts.
  • To consistently take smaller portions on my dinner plate - I failed completely on this and I lacked discipline from start to finish.
  • To make several new friends - I was feeling like this had been a complete failure until my pastor started inviting me pretty regularly to meet over coffee. Also I am working to develop a friendship with a couple at my church and had them over to dinner late in the year.
  • To grow closer to my daughter - I do not feel like I was especially successful here. Part of the issue as our children age is that they are, by design, growing more and more independent. I always feel like I am struggling to let go of the young child that I knew. Also it does not help that she lives only part of the time with me. Being apart so often does not lead to depth in a relationship.
  • To embrace adventure and living to a higher degree - I would say that I failed almost completely in this area. As I get older, I find that I am becoming more and more satisfied to hide out at home after work.
  • To find some degree of happiness and peace - I think that I healed a bit this year in part due to the passage of time when the emotions and the memories naturally dissipate, but also due to a more concerted effort of focusing less on myself. I still have a long way to go before I can claim anything sustainable, but maybe there has been some progress.
Now I will prepare my list of resolutions for 2014 and plan to give my best effort to be successful on each. Win, lose, or draw, the key is to keep trying.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Best Books of 2013

This year I have read 72 books and have come across some that really captivated me. In fact, looking back over my list, I can say that there wasn't a turkey among them. I have been on so many adventures through the pages that I have turned. So, as is my tradition at the end of each year, I wanted to share my list of the top 10 "books" for this year in no particular order. Note that I use "books" because I typically count a series by an author as one entry.
  • A Song of Fire and Ice series (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons), George R.R. Martin
  • Odd Thomas series (Odd Thomas, Forever Odd, Brother Odd, Odd Apocalypse, Odd Interlude, Deeply Odd), Dean Koontz
  • The Brothers Karamozov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Dancing Priest series (Dancing Priest, A Light Shining), Glynn Young
  • The Rabbit Angstrom series (Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest), John Updike
  • His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), Philip Pullman
  • The Books of Mortals (Sovereign), Ted Dekker
  • The Pilgrim's Regress, C.S. Lewis
  • Licks of Love, John Updike
  • The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike
I have already started to pick out some books for the first part of 2014. 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.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Blog Recap 2013

It has become my tradition at the end of each year to look back over my posts for the past 12 months and pick out my 10 favorites. Actually, most often the posts that I choose to put on these lists are not so much the best composed from a technical standpoint, but the most memorable to me. Something silly that gave me a laugh when I desperately needed one or allowed me to explore a topic that was uncomfortable or forced me to take a risk that I might otherwise not have or gave me an opportunity to capture a memory so that it didn't get away entirely.

I began this blog back in 2008 when I felt that I was at the end of my line. Back in those days I wrote chiefly for myself. Blogging was an activity that allowed me to put my mind to something that helped to dispel the darkness. Today, I hope that something of what I have to say might somehow help others. Maybe I give you a chuckle or express something that helps you to better understand yourself. My greatest hope is that every once in a while I can, in some small way, help to heal someone and bring some measure of resolve to give it a go for one more day.

So, without further ado, here is my top 10 list of my own blogs (in no particular order) for 2013.
  • Inside - Outside (Dec. 11) - About being on the outside and looking in.
  • Silver Frame (Nov. 26) - A tribute to my daughter and missing the younger version of her.
  • A Tisket a Tasket (Oct. 10) - A gift that still gives.
  • Rolls and Drones (Oct. 9) - An apology to a friend insulted.
  • One Last Hug (Sep. 26) - About embracing the present before it becomes the past.
  • Starry Sky (Sep. 18) - Feeling small and finding a way through.
  • Interview (Jun. 24) - A sit down with my friend Kai.
  • Terminus (May 30) - A final goodbye to a piece of my heart.
  • Replay (May 13) - The blessed memories in the mess.
  • Nightmares (Jan. 10) - About losing sleep over things are out of your control.
I hope that you found some value here and thanks for supporting me through this site. I so appreciate the visitors. See you in the 2014 recap.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013

I hope that everyone, young, old, and in between, finds a reason to smile today. Oh, not just a nervous smile or an obligatory smile, but a smile that arises up from the very depths of your spirit that you could not contain if you tried. Merry Christmas to everyone. May God keep you and bless you. I also take today to give thanks for all of my online friends and look forward to growing our relationship in the coming year.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

When we consider the eve before any important moment, it can often lead to feelings of panic or unease. There always seems to be so much to do and so little time left before the deadline. In the case of Christmas Eve, so many folks find themselves in a tizzy with far too many items remaining to check off their "to-do" lists. Wrapping presents, preparing the house for tomorrow's company, preparing baked goods, making sure that everything is in place for the big Christmas feast, and worrying and fretting over every little detail and potential issue (real or imagined). I pray that you find some time to get away by yourself and find the peace that eludes you. Furthermore, I pray that you all remember to celebrate with joy the birth of Jesus and reflect on what He ultimately sacrificed for you. Blessings to all of my online friends.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Observations 41

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.
  • Presently there are no less than 4 of the stick-type erasers sitting on my desk. Hmmm, I wonder if this is trying to tell me something.
  • Nelson Mandela passed away recently. One of his basis statements was, "No one is born hating." Another was, "If they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love."
  • I ordered take-out at a restaurant the other day and when I got home and opened the bag, I found a jackpot wad of napkins. The stack was more than 4 inches high. Really, I only need one or two and I am good.
  • I just read that at this year's Super Bowl game, tailgating (or cooking out and drinking beer in the parking lot) will not be permitted as it has been for all previous Super Bowls. Football fans are responding with hate and vitriol, yet this game will be played in New York City in February. Is sitting outside nibbling snacks and drinking a cool beverage in such conditions a good time for anyone?
  • A group of six folks went out to play in the Nevada snow and did not come back. After more than 48 hours in frigid conditions, hope was dwindling that they would survive. They were found alive and in pretty good shape considering their ordeal. Finally a news story about a positive development in our world.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Love Licks

Having completed reading the four novels in author John Updike's "Rabbit Angstrom" series, I was eager to read the final entry in this series, a novella included in his 2001 book Licks of Love called Rabbit Remembered (which was worth the price of admission all by itself). This book contains, in addition to the novella, a dozen short stories covering a number of different themes (including a parting story in his Henry Bech series). It was an enjoyable read that allowed me to get a broader sense of the author and his approach. If you are a fan already or you are interested in testing his work out before committing yourself to a full novel, this is a great place to start.

The short stories included:
  • The Women Who Got Away: The story of a social clique who all slept around with each other. Trying to be casual and hip, but it all lead to hurt and some perspective.
  • Lunch Hour: Remembrances of coming of age through seeing people at a 40th year high school reunion.
  • New York Girl: The rise and fall of an adulterous affair.
  • My Father on the Verge of Disgrace: The reflections by a man of his father as he came of age. Dad transformed from hero to average Joe doing what he could.
  • The Cats: A son visits his mother's farm after her death and has to deal with a herd of cats. This connects him to his mother again.
  • Oliver's Evolution: A short piece on the evolution of an awkward, sickly boy into a responsible man.
  • Natural Color: About the freedom of a brief affair but the imprisoning after effects.
  • Licks of Love in the Heart of the Cold War: An American banjo player's view of the world on a goodwill trip to Russia.
  • His Oueve: A final short story regarding Updike's alter ego, Henry Bech. Once last chance to say hello and then a final goodbye.
  • How Was It, Really?: A man in his late 60s looks back on a life devoid of memories as he never allowed himself to be present in the moment.
  • Scenes From the Fifties: A man reflects back on a moment from his youth when he was not yet worldly.
  • Metamorphosis: An odd relationship between a patient and his plastic surgeon.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Quick Hits 11

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

I will be dating myself with today's question, especially if you are familiar with the Fox lawyer-filled "dramedy" Ally McBeal that aired from 1997 to 2002. We have several unisex bathrooms at the place where I work. How do you feel about this? Could you use a stall next to a person of the opposite sex?

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Grind My Gears 35

Sometimes the doings of nature really get stuck in my craw. Now I don't for a moment have any idea what a craw actually is, but if you were to look in mine, I have no doubt that it would be brimming with doings. It seems like nature has it in for me. We are late into fall and at this time of year there is barely enough daylight to last the duration of an old Manilow song. Interestingly enough, this is also the time of year when nature causes the trees to shed their leaves like a diseased poodle. This shedding does not happen conveniently all at once, but over the course of several months. Given the aforementioned length of day issue, it is impossible to do any yardwork during the week when I, unlike nature, have to go to an actual job and work for a living. On the weekends when I am available to work in the yard, nature conveniently sits a nasty, bloated rain cloud above my property that incessantly pours down its waste water. The sky is perfectly cloudless up until midnight on Friday and once again at first light on Monday morning. Meanwhile, the leaves pile up and the glares on my neighbor's faces as they watch me drive down the road get nastier and more contorted. Nature really grinds my gears.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Action Word

There is a couple from my church that I have come to know over the last year or so. In this time we have had several dinners together. I have been over to their house a couple of times and they have been over to my house a couple of times. However, I am certainly not part of their inner circle. Our relationship has not reached a level that they would even think to contact me if they were met with some major trouble in their lives. So while I am not simply another frequency in the background noise of their lives, neither am I included on their phone's speed dial.

Recently I had these folks over to my house and they shared with me the news that they were expecting their first child. The next day I sent them am email to let them know that if there was anything that I could do during the next six months or so before their little one's arrival, to let me know. I think that normally this is where such exchanges end. Such offerings are typically tossed out and accepted at the level of a "congratulations" or a "I'm happy for you". Simple pleasantries and platitudes. Even though my offer to help was genuine, because of the level of our relationship, I expected that it would be received and disappear quickly into the aether.

However, I was quickly taken up on my offer in a most unexpected way. I was asked specifically to pray for them at their upcoming doctor's appointments. While some may regard this request as trivial or unimportant, it did not strike me that way at all. When I ask someone to pray for me, I do not make such requests lightly. In fact, such requests find me at my most vulnerable. Prayer requests are not simply to be received passively. Prayer is an action word and can often be one of the most important things that we can do for another.

Monday, December 16, 2013

iTunes Latest - 15

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.
  • Misled - Kool and the Gang (1984) - I had never been a fan of this band, but their 1984 release Emergency caught my attention immediately as this was a very good pop record. This song marked the time shortly after I had graduated from high school and was off on my own in college. It definitely takes my mind back to that time listening to my stereo in my dorm room or wandering around campus with my Walkman. Oh that wicked temptress and her siren's song. Even today it still holds up as just a tight piece of work.
  • Oh My Heart - R.E.M. (2011) - I am a big fan of this band, from Eponymous where I first started to like them to Around the Sun where their star had clearly faded with time. This song is from their final album and is really nothing more than a rehash of some of their other songs like Driver 8 and Houston, but it still has a vibe that makes me sing along.
  • ÜBerlin - R.E.M. (2011) - Another song from their final album Collapse Into Now that has an All the Way to Reno sense to it. It is about being surrounded by countless others but being totally overwhelmed and feeling alone. Only when we reach out for connection is the spell broken.
  • Le Bel Age - Pat Benatar (1985) - The album Seven the Hard Way marks the last Benatar album where she was considered musically relevant. After this she was no longer embraced in the mainstream. However, this song was and is a gem that I think stands up with time. I have this album on cassette and hearing this song takes me back to my time in college in upstate New York. I am of the opinion that this lady is extremely talented and boy can she sing. Le Bel Age holds out hope that the old dark ways can be buried and that the future will shine.
  • Rock and a Hard Place - Rolling Stones (1989) - I have never been a particularly big fan of the Rolling Stones, but this song from the album Steel Wheels has an edge to it that always lifted me up. A prototypical rock and roll song with electric guitars, background groans and utterances, and Jagger doing what he always does, belting it out with panache and energy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bech at Bay

The final novel in John Updike's trilogy on Henry Bech is entitled Bech at Bay. In the first novel, Bech: A Book, we were introduced to author Henry Bech - mid-40s, apathetically Jewish, smugly indolent. A man whose body of work includes four novels, one of which has become a classic of its time. In Bech is Back, we meet up with Henry a decade further on. Bech marries for the first time in his life, and after doing little more than coasting on his reputation for some 15 years, writes a book to spite his wife. The book becomes a best seller and Bech's wife divorces him for sleeping with her sister. In the 2008 novel Bech at Bay, following the established pattern, we meet up with Bech another decade later.

This story is not so much about the trials and moods and pressures of being a writer as were the previous two, but more about what it is like to, in some sense, suffer a literary career. The praise that comes along seems completely overshadowed by the envy and criticism. It is about the paralyzing effect of your own track record and the worry about your place in history. This is played out against his taking a lover some 50 years his junior, his almost campy night avenger persona to silence those who he felt effectively silenced him, and about his being awarded the biggest honor in literature only because of political maneuvering amongst the award committee.

Regardless, Bech is still Bech. He never rides too high or sinks too low. He is so much more content to coast along, living his life one scene at a time, sensing himself "as if he were an experiment whose chemicals were about to be washed down the drain." This trilogy served to allow Updike to express his frustrations and distaste and anxiety with what he personally experienced as a writer in the public eye, sometimes subtle, sometimes thinly veiled, sometimes overt. A definitely worthwhile read.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Observations 40

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.
  • Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd was recently fined $50,000 for spilling his beverage on the court at a basketball game. Oh, and he did this because he was out of time-outs and needed to stop game play so that he could huddle with his team and draw up a play for them to run. I think he should be given a league-mandated sippy cup so that this type of miscue won't happen again in the future. Oh, and his team ended up losing that game.
  • I just came out of a high-level committee meeting where we were trying to define a set of software rules for our group to obey. After an unproductive hour where consensus could not be found, the chairman remarked with both frustration and bemusement that we had a meeting of five people and we had 10 decidedly different opinions because everyone had changed their minds at least once.
  • I just read a CNN report that driverless cars are coming soon. Do you think your boss would accept that you were late to work because your car left without you?
  • In the men's bathroom at work, an anonymous stranger put a jar of a fragrant oil on the sink with a poofy label of "white peach and bergamot". Now the place smells like some kind of spring-time orchard instead of a moldy cesspool. This isn't the way that it's supposed to be. Who would do such a thing?
  • Have you ever followed another driver for some distance, through turn after turn, and never once do they use their turn signal, when they suddenly make a turn and use it? I wonder if it just occurred to them to follow the rules of the road or the blinker activation was a malfunction.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Inside - Outside

All of my life I have had trouble fitting in and finding my place. Most of the time I sit on the outside looking in at everyone else living and loving and laughing, wishing with all of my heart and soul that I could be there too. Yet it just hasn't happened and I am running out of time. Sometimes being one of the crowd can bring you down and take away or diminish what it is that makes you special. But there is another side to this. That "crowd" is made up of folks ready to share a meal, a laugh, a conversation, or to walk with you through life.

When I look at other guys, so many of them seem to be laboring to maintain a crafted image of who they want others to see them as. Maybe this helps them to gain acceptance, to fit in on the inside. However, I have never had any measure of success playing that game and I just don't have it in me to even try. Thus I tend to face the world with all of my idiosyncrasies, annoying habits, child-like tendencies, and goofy sense of humor, come what may. If erecting a false facade around me is what it takes to allow me in, I know that I will forever remain on the outside.

In writing this blog for so many years now, anyone who has stopped by regularly has pretty much seen most everything that makes me up, a couple of paragraphs at a time. I have nothing to hide including the following statements of truth:
  • I often cry at children's movies. I can remember uncontrollable tears at the end of Toy Story 3, Epic, and Brave among others.
  • I have not been with a woman in nearly five years even though I have had the opportunity.
  • I sing to myself when I am feeling blue.
  • I like the Backstreet Boys and even have Hanson's mmmBop on my iTunes list.
  • I haven't had a close friend in years. I have come to understand that my troubles in this area are, for the most part, not with them but with me. I can be a rather strong cup of tea.
  • Every relationship that I have been in with a woman has ended in heartbreak. Every single failure was due to my shortcomings and weaknesses.
Does stating these truths make me any less of a man or make clear why I am where I am in life? Who's to say, but I don't think it matters. I am where I am. I am who I am. I will continue to work to improve myself and, despite my issues, I still hope that someday soon I will find my way on the inside so that I might be able to help bring others inside with me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Buzz Words

Buzz words are frequently created that sweep across the nation and tend to get folks hot and bothered. Action committees are formed, laws are passed, people are shown the error of their ways, and society gradually makes changes. The current hot topic buzz word is "bullying". When I was a kid, what is now termed bullying, was viewed as a natural method to toughen kids up, to help them develop the skills to be able to stand up for themselves. Now even the slightest hint or allegation of bullying can bring an entire organization to their knees.

A few years ago, the buzz word du jour was "profiling". Profiling refers to using the nominal characteristics of a group of people to make generalizations about an individual. Typically this was based on ethnic stereotypes. Profiling as a practice bubbled up into the national consciousness when law enforcement was found to be systematically targeting minorities for investigation of possible criminal activity. However, profiling is a more general action of acting toward someone based on our preconcieved notions and biases.

As much as I wish that I could pretend that I don't profile others, I must confess that this is a constant struggle with me.
  • I tend to avert my eyes when passing by a homeless person on the street.
  • I become more aware of my surroundings when I am in the presence of minorities.
  • I can be dismissive toward those who are not particularly intelligent.
  • I have been known to be disrespectful toward unattractive females.
  • I draw conclusions about others because of how they dress.
It is easy to consider that my thoughts are not that big of a deal, to dismiss my bigotry and judgments as not hurting anyone else. However, I have seen more than a few instances where even when I didn't say a thing, my opinions were still transmitted to those around me and noticeably affected their behavior and attitude toward another. It's almost like my cloud of buzzing negativity infected them.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Quick Hits 10

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

A baby is born with severe mental retardation. There is no hope that this child will ever become self-aware and will spend most of its existence bedridden. It turns out that this baby has a defective heart and liver, both of which will fail in the near term. With organs for transplant so limited in availability, does it make any sense to allow this baby to receive these transplants?


What do you think?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bech is Back

The second entry in John Updike's trilogy on his alter ego Henry Bech is entitled Bech is Back. In the first entry, Bech: A Book, we were introduced to author Henry Bech, who was simply drifting along through life, a decade passing since he had last found his muse. His reputation was built upon his first published work, which became a well-read classic. He had then written three more books, none of which had garnered any positive criticism or any modicum of commercial success. Whether it was the struggle of creativity, the tedious nature of the writing game, or the frustration of further tarnishing his legacy, Bech had become content to simply drift into middle age, coasting on his reputation and earning a living by touring the world on various speaking engagements. After a time, Bech simply became resigned to who he was and what he had become.

Bech felt that he had been cast by life into a role it amused him to not quite fill.

In Bech is Back, Bech at 50 faces a moment of dissatisfaction with his lot and makes the rash decision to get married to his lover. Bea does not represent someone to whom he is particularly compatible, but she is a choice that represents to him stability. Once married, Bech gives up his Manhattan apartment and moves into his wife's suburban home. When she begins to nag at him to write again, he begrudgingly takes up penning his next book, the ghost of which has been drifting in his mind for some years. He took up writing again not because he felt particularly stirred in this direction, he did it more to spite his wife. When his new book is finished, he is more than taken aback when it becomes a best seller. Just as his book has thrust him back into the limelight more than 20 years since he was the next great thing, some impulse within him, for reasons that even Bech likely couldn't pinpoint, leads him to sleep with his wife's sister, who happens to be one of his old lovers. His wife then divorces him and Bech is back to where he started. Bech is back to being single, drifting, and doing whatever it was that he was doing before, hoping that he can just finish out his life without having to give anymore of himself.

Now onto the final book in the trilogy, Bech at Bay.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Conviction

I was listening to the radio on my way into work the other morning. I don't remember what the topic of discussion was about, but I do remember that a lady called the show to share her wisdom. She claimed that fleas can jump 600 yards in one bound. Immediately the host of the show saw this as folly and pointed it out, but the lady continued to argue that this statement was indeed a fact because she had heard it on a T.V. show. She was convinced of her source and vehemently defended what she saw as an unassailable fact. The show host then quickly checked on the internet and found that this distance was more like 6 inches. The "fact" that she embraced so deeply, was wrong by an astounding factor of 3600. She was not only wrong, but she almost could not have been more wrong. This led me to wonder how often do we hold a deep belief based on such obviously flawed logic?

Part of the inspiration for this post came to me from a Bible verse my pastor has been talking about recently:

Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 1 Peter 3:15

Personally I worry that I will do more harm than good to the name of Jesus if I have not carefully considered the Bible in full detail. That includes studying it carefully through complete readings of multiple versions from Genesis to Revelation, from studying multiple Bible-study expositions, from meeting and talking about it with others to deepen and broaden my understanding and to develop the necessary defenses to give an accurate account of what I know. If someone asks me about the God that I worship or presses me on what I know about Jesus and I argue that a flea can jump 600 yards in a single bound, I will not only quickly be seen to be spouting nonsense, but I will diminish the name of the Lord.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oldster

According to the laws of nature, I have lived my life subject to the standard measure of time evolution, where an utterance of One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi lasts for the exact same duration now as it did at any point in my past. According to W.A.S.T.E (the Wacky Assembly of Scientist-Type Egg-heads), the second (or the "Mississippi") is officially defined as the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of Cesium 133. Well from my experience, while this definition may have had some validity when I was a much younger person biding my time during games of hide-and-seek, it seems now that I am an oldster, time is flying by at an incredibly accelerated rate.

One recent evening when I was brushing my teeth, I looked in the mirror and my regular me was scowling back at me as it usually does. Then when I woke up in the morning, the above image was as plain as day. What happened? Well, it turns out that I have reached the age when my eyes have decided that they have had enough of doing their job in a convenient open-up-and-work operational mode. Now I have worn standard eyeglasses for the past 25 years or so, however, in the past year I have come to understand that standard eyeglasses no longer will work with my eyes. I now require bifocals and in order to actually be able to see, I had to actually buy a set of them. If you didn't realize it, bifocals only come in one frame style, such as you might see on one Albus Dumbledore. When you try them on in the store, the clerks cannot help but to speak to you at an incredibly elevated volume and offer to pre-chew your food. Now that I wear bifocals and, hence, clearly fit the standard definition of an oldster, those pesky Boy Scouts are always trying to help usher me across busy intersections, naturally believing that I am quite helpless. Also, I cannot help but to yell out at the neighborhood children to stay off my lawn.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What We Talk About

The latest book by Rob Bell is entitled What We Talk About When We Talk About God. For those of you who don't follow Bell, he used to be the pastor at Mars Hill Church in Michigan. He became the paradigm of the young, hip church leader who used books and videos to share his vision and his message. However, at some point along the way, Bell began to struggle with his faith and wrote a very worrisome book called Love Wins where he made a number of assertions questioning the existence of God and whether he was just a human construct. Wrestling with his doubts and struggles in such a public way must have been absolutely horrific for him. He ultimately left the church that he had founded and moved to California to find himself in the entertainment industry. Many even raised the possibility that we had heard the last of Bell given his downward spiral. However, just a few years after the dust from Love Wins settled, Bell has come back with his new book. A book written from a place of peace, perspective, self-assurance, and strength. Here we find a book written in the usual Bell pseudo-poetic, reflective style, but also with a bit more humor and a bit more true prose.

I must say that I didn't truly appreciate what Bell's main message was in writing this book until I reached the very last sentence of the epilogue. However, before I get there, I thought it appropriate to include a line from one online reviewer who wrote " ... [this book] challenges conventional notions of God as an otherworldly divine being set apart from humanity, opposed to science and insistent on a conservative interpretation of the Bible." In fact, Bell states:

To elevate abstract doctrines and dogmas over living, breathing, embodied experiences of God's love and grace, then, is going in the wrong direction. It's taking flesh and turning it back into words.

In other words, Bell's whole message is that God is likely to be more clearly perceived during moments when we are living life and interacting with those around us. Instead of God only coming into our consciousness during the times when we go to church and are beaten over the head with some deep sounding sermon about God and the doctrines of the church, once we relax and keep our eyes open to what is going on around us every day in every place, we can then begin to see God everywhere. It is this observation that Bell uses to conclude this book. A nice, reflective, approachable work that I recommend.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Quick Hits 9

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

Christian folks tend to hold a lot of deep-seated views about what sort of man they will support as their pastor. Could you fully support a pastor who is divorced? What about one whose wife is an athiest?

What do you think?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday

Big game hunters set out across the savannah with only their trusty rifle and their wits. The thrill of the hunt is what energizes them and speaks to their soul. It is the me vs. them challenge, life or death, winner take all, that ignites that spark deep within them. No quarter granted and none expected. No prisoners taken alive. Only the most cunning and the strongest will make it back to tell their tales. Today is a more suburban parallel to that sort of adventure for many. In fact, it often seems that the exact same mindset plays out in what is termed "Black Friday". A fully contrived corporate kick-off to the "holiday" shopping season. When those mall doors open at 3:00 a.m., the adrenaline-laced stampede is afoot, with much the same drama as witnessed in Pamplona during the running of the bulls. One mis-step and the unlucky shopper will be unmercifully trampled to their untimely demise.

Normally when one is considering whether to put oneself into harm's way, a careful cost-benefit type analysis should be performed. In other words, is the very real possibility of dying a gruesome death worth saving a few bucks on some off-brand T.V. model that nobody has ever heard of and will likely spontaneously combust within 17 days of purchase? Most folks in full charge of their mental faculties would say, "duh, no". Yet somehow the ink fumes from the penny-saver ads, with their mind-control formulation, intoxicates the masses. Delusions of grandeur take over such that folks become certain that this year they will be successful and find that bargain that will make their lives complete or that will finally get their little Suzie or Johnny to love them. Some may read my words and say "bah" and some might say "pahtoosh", but those that utter these dismissive grunts are likely daft from having camped outside the mall all night waiting for the doors to open. It's too bad I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to you, because whether you know it or not, you are already a goner. Black Friday indeed.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my online friends. I hope that this day finds you in the company of those you cherish, that you have plenty of delicious things to eat, and that you build some lasting and cherished memories. Blessings to all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Observations 39

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.
  • Why do the baggers at the grocery store think that the plastic bags are limited to holding only one item each?
  • I have a friend who I believe got himself one of those mail-order brides. He is playing the whole thing a bit coyly. However, what makes me giggle is the image of the UPS truck pulling up and unloading the box.
  • If someone showed up to your house demanding figgy pudding, exclaiming loudly that they won't go until they get some, how long could you hold out before you turned the hose on them?
  • In the "why does this kind of stuff always seem to happen to me" files, I was cleaning up my kitchen after dinner the other evening. A piece of cheese had stuck to the cutting board and I went scrape it off with my fingernail. The cheese went under the nail and poked through the delicate skin. Shortly after my finger swelled up to the size of a ripe mango.
  • Have you ever noticed that in many "iconic moment" photographs, there is always someone in the shot doing something embarrassing or sketchy?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Silver Frame

There is a photograph of my daughter up on my mantle. The silver frame holds a version of her from several years ago. Oftentimes I will stop and say hello and let my thoughts wander. Old reminiscences bubble up to the top of my mind and I think about how much more centrally positioned I was in her life back then. I think about how we used to go on such grand adventures and let our imaginations soar to unchecked heights. Today our few moments of free time together seem to whisk by just so quickly. After school, homework, and other activities have commanded most of her attention and energy, she normally just wants to unwind with some television. It wasn't all that long ago when our time together was arts and crafts, reading stories, and playing all sorts of games that we made up. I have said time and again to myself how much I miss the younger version of my daughter. So I talk to her up there in her silver frame and try to hold myself together.

A friend once told me that a parent's job is to love deeply but hold loosely. Our most important responsibility that we cannot turn from is to raise children who can confidently go out into the world at their time. While I accept this fully and have strived with all that I am to be a successful parent, I can't help feeling guilty when I just want to have a little more time with my daughter before her time to fly comes along. Her picture allows me to talk to a version of her contained in that silver frame that won't go away, and will always have eyes that look to me to find adventure.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Clarity

I recently wrote a book review where I included the following statement:

Long-winded and rambling sentences with far too many ambiguous pronouns, problematic syntax, poor grammar, missing punctuation (like dozens of needed commas), and dangling phrases, too often made it difficult for me to understand what [the author] was trying to say.

Some folks may read this and label me as a pedantic, judgmental man who gets his jollies by putting others down so that he can feel superior. Look at me, the sheriff of the grammar police! But I assure you that often these so-called trifles are critically important in interpreting the arguments and intentions of the author. I assure you that I can often be led down an unintended fork with an author who is sloppy as to the rules of writing. Consider some examples:

1. Man surprised nobody answered his help-wanted ad:
What he wrote: You will be required to work twenty-four hour shifts.
What he intended: You will be required to work twenty four-hour shifts.

2. Frustrated victim as killer approaches:
What she said: Don't stop!
What she intended: Don't. Stop!

3. Hungry Cannibals:
What they said: Let's eat, grandpa!
What they intended: Let's eat grandpa!

4. Lonely lady on dating website:
What she wrote: I find my inspiration in cooking my family and my dog.
What she intended: I find my inspiration in cooking, my family, and my dog.

5. Bloodthristy panda at the gun range:
What actually happened: Eats shoots and leaves
What he meant: Eats, shoots, and leaves

Have I made my point clear? What you actually write can say something quite different from what you had intended. Is it any wonder folks are often misinterpreted?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bech: A Book

Having recently completed my first foray into the oeuvre of late author John Updike with his sublime and melancholy Rabbit Angstrom series, I knew that I wanted to continue to discover his works. My next choice after a bit of research was to read his trilogy about author Henry Bech. Henry is a fictional creation, but he represents in some ways, Updike's alter ego. Though there are many personal and physical differences, Bech often becomes a vehicle for expressing Updike's feelings of how the world can pressure and tax a successful artist, beating him down, turning him into a shell of what he once was. Whether through unending demands, unrelenting flattery, or unforgiving questions of "What's next?" or "What have you done for me lately?".

In the first book in the series, Bech: A Book published in 1970, we meet Henry Bech. Single, Jewish, mid-40s. Bech hit it big with his first book, Travel Light, and has been struggling to live up to the public's expectations ever since. Bech captures his own essence with precision:

Henry Bech, with his thinning curly hair and melancholy Jewish nose, the author of one good book and three others, the good one having come first. By a kind of oversight, he had never married. His reputation had grown while his powers decreased.

As we get to know Bech, he is a dry well. He has not written anything noteworthy or new for that matter in many a year. He subsists by embarking on one personal appearance after another. Yet he still holds out hope that some place or somebody will appear as a muse to relight his spirit. A gripping read, written more in the style of a biography by Bech himself, each new chapter in the book representing the latest chapter in his life. Now, onto the second book in the series, Bech is Back.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Quick Hits 8

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

I was reading a book the other day by a pastor who was doing a bit of crowing about how much more accepting and welcoming his church is compared to some others. The author wrote the following:

A man visiting (our church) requested a meeting with me to tell his story. "I'm a homosexual, and I have a live-in partner," he said. He told me he had been kicked out of his last church. Then he asked, "If I came here, would I be welcomed?"

I said, "Not only will you be welcomed, but also you will be loved." I explained to him that he could not join the church or hold a position of leadership, but we would be thrilled for him to get involved in other ways.

Seems to me this pastor is behaving exactly as those from the visiting man's previous church. I really see no difference in their attitude or approach.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Diet Woes

I am now firmly ensconced in what is known as "middle age". A few gray hairs here and there, arthritis affecting my joints, and a constant hankering for Geritol. Heck, the other day in Walmart I stopped to look at the new fall line of walkers. Anyway, one of the other glories of middle age is that the body's metabolism slows down to the point that a single M&M candy takes several weeks to digest. In the meantime, all of the other stuff that is eaten, like Moon Pies and whipped cream straight from the can, is immediately turned into fat. In fact, love handles and what is termed the "beer gut" are direct remnants of a lifetime's supply of Moon Pies and whipped cream straight from the can.

I have kept a journal of my weight and my exercise sessions for more than 10 years now. During this time I have done a reasonable job of maintaining my weight at right around 200 lbs. With my metabolism almost audibly winding down, I have had to compensate by removing calories from my diet in one form or another in an almost regular fashion. Ten years ago my daily calorie intake was about 3300. Five years ago is was down to 2900. Today my intake is about 2500 calories per day. A simple calculation tells me that in 31.25 years, in order to maintain my weight at 200 lbs, I will not be allowed to consume a single calorie. My diet will be limited to packets of fake sugar, diet water, and mass quantities of freshly picked kale. Man, that makes for a depressing future.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Craveable

My online friend Bill (who posts at Cycleguy's Spin) recommended the book Craveable by pastor Artie Davis. I decided to pick up a copy and work it into my devotional time. The central theme of this book is summed up with the following statement:

The church will be more craveable to people in our communities when the Christ followers in them become more craveable.

This book is essentially a call for revival, a revival based in taking stock of who we are as Christians and what we have become. If you sense a bit of negativity behind this call, you will understand where Davis is coming from. In his view, "Christian" has become a word associated with negativity, with an institution viewed as judgmental, ignorant, and intolerant. Instead we should be working to develop ourselves into a group that is based on love, forgiveness, and grace. In short, we should be seen as craveable to those on the outside. If we become vessels of Jesus, we will naturally have a pull to bring folks to know God and his plan for us.

With many in the world viewing Christians as a despicable, horrible lot, that is exactly how they are going to perceive Jesus. We need to remake ourselves to listen as Jesus listened, to love as Jesus loved, and to lead as Jesus led. When we start down that road, not only will we become associated with love, but folks on the outside will associate those same characteristics with our God.

This book took me nearly five weeks to complete. Part of this was due to the fact that the book was meant to be read over 40 days. However, I think the main reason is that the writing style is a bit muddied. Long-winded and rambling sentences with far too many ambiguous pronouns ("we"s, "they"s, "he"s), problematic syntax, poor grammar, missing punctuation (like dozens of needed commas), and dangling phrases, too often made it difficult for me to understand what Davis was trying to say. However, it is clear that this book was written with a noticeable passion for Jesus and its message is an important one to consider and to act on. I found my time with it worthwhile.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Observations 38

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.
  • If you still don't get this, please hear me. Bellbottom style pants have never, ever looked reasonable on anyone at any time. Please do yourself a favor and throw out all of these silly contrivances at once. Also, I recommend that you boycott any stores that you find selling them.
  • Bullwinkle: Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.
    Rocky: Bull-man, give it a freakin' rest. You say the same thing at the start of each commercial break and I am sick of it.
    Bullwinkle: Gee, didn't know my own strength.
  • Have you ever taken a nap such that when you woke up, you felt so much like crap that you wish you could just rewind to the moment that you first laid down and had someone punch you in the face instead?
  • (This is for the guys to ponder.) Don't you hate it when you are using the urinal and somebody comes in to use the one next to you and just wants to have a chat fest? It's even worse when it is someone that you have a strong dislike for.
  • I saw a bumper sticker the other day that was designed to invoke a positive U.S. spirit. The sticker showed an American flag billowing undaunted in the wind with the phrase "The Power of Pride" emblazened above it. I nodded my head knowingly, recognizing these cautionary words from an entirely different context.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Directed Verdict

I just completed the novel Directed Verdict by Randy Singer. This is the first of his books that I have read, but he has now written more than a dozen since this 2002 offering, his first. Singer has an extensive background as a trial lawyer, and this book includes a fair amount of courtroom related drama. The story begins with an American missionary couple in Saudi Arabia. Sarah and Charles Reed are working to spread Christianity in that nation. They are targeted by the nation's Islamic "religion police" known as the Muttawa. The couple is tortured and Charles is killed. The head of the Muttawa, a scowling stock character named Ahmed Aberijan, sets the Reeds up as drug dealers and Sarah is deported.

Back in the states, we are introduced to a small time, but reasonably successful lawyer named Brad Carson. Brad is participating in a law school exercise on international law with a big-time lawyer named Mack Strobel from a big-time law firm. There Brad meets a student named Leslie Connors, and they develop a bit of a rapport. A chance encounter between Brad and Sarah Reed, ultimately leads Brad to file suit on behalf of Sarah and Charles against both Ahmed Aberijan and the nation of Saudi Arabia. Brad, who has no experience in the dealings of international law, asks Leslie to join him as co-counsel in the case. It turns out that the opposing counsel is Mack Strobel.

In this novel there are several different story arcs. Of course, we have the drama in the court room, including a surly judge who has a strong dislike for Brad, and who maybe has been influenced by a member of the defense team with promises of a district court position. We also have the goings-on of the members of Brad's prosecution team. Given that the defense is secretly being fed key information and prosecution witnesses are being discredited by inside information, it certainly seems that one of them has been corrupted. Finally, we have the growing personal relationship between Brad and Leslie.

I thought that I had figured out who was up to what about two thirds of the way into the story and what their motives were. However, Singer had a few surprises for me that only developed at the very end. This was a decent read that kept me turning the pages. There were some touching elements of Christian faith being shown in some very difficult situations, amid some very brutual persecution. However, I think that the most lasting effect from reading this story are the feelings of frustration and unease I felt regarding the U.S. justice system. I worry not only about corruption of court officials, jury members, and the lawyers, but also about how final declarations of guilt and innocence seem to be totally predicated by the skills and tricks of the lawyers more so than the true facts of the case.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

IF-THEN-ELSE

In computer science, conditional statements are constructs that perform different actions depending on whether a programmer-specified condition is true or false. Although the specific syntax or statement format varies a bit among different computer languages, the basic form looks as follows:

IF (condition = true) THEN
(execute this series of steps)
ELSE
(execute this different series of steps)
END IF

There are no surprises, no gnashing of teeth, no questioning, and no drama when the condition is tested to be true. In such a case you can know with 100% certainty what will happen. If the condition is tested to be false, then too you know with 100% certainty what will happen without fail. Let's consider a specific example.
So, knowing this, tell me why you are surprised every time we end up at point B?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Roundabout

I was watching a T.V. cooking competition the other evening that involved several chefs preparing a number of different courses for a panel of expert judges. After each course, the cook whose meal was the lowest rated was eliminated from the competition. As I was listening to the critiques of the judges, one of them began to really lay into one of the contestants. She noted that he used a spoon to taste his dish and then he continued to use this same spoon to stir his pot. She was absolutely disgusted that the cook was mixing his saliva in with food that he was planning to serve. She called him unprofessional, refused to taste his dish, and she made it clear that he would not be moving on in the competition due to this grevious act. Yet to my eyes, in a roundabout way, she likely is a much worse offender than the man that she verbally attacked.

A close-up camera shot of the judge's hands showed that she chews her fingernails. It was apparent from the condition of her hands that this wasn't some minor nervous habit, but a chronic behavior bordering on psychological disorder. She had essentially gnawed off all of her fingernails and her hands were absolutely sickening to behold. Her fingers must be in her mouth all the time. As she spends a significant portion of her day in the kitchen or on cooking sets and is constantly using her fingers to sample her cooking, it follows that she is mixing into the food her saliva and likely traces of blood from her nasty little finger stumps.

How often in our lives do we chide someone with a harsh tone for something that we are just as guilty of doing? We lash out with a waggling finger and a clucking tongue for behaviors that are prominent in our own lives. Are we blind to our own actions or figure that because we are so wonderful that we get a pass? I can't tell you how often I have criticized someone for their failures, habits, or shortcomings, when I suffer from the same lot.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mountebank

A mountebank is a derogatory term used to label someone a cheat, a charlatan. Someone who specializes in devising scams or schemes to steal money from other people. Snake oil salesmen, whose skillful charade is all promises without delivery. The old flim-flam, sleight of hand, and bait-and-switch. If you look at the news on any given day, it is becoming more and more likely that you will run across a modern day version of the mountebank. Looking at the headlines just today I found the following stories:
  • Johnson and Johnson agrees to $2.2B settlement for false marketing.
  • Hedge fund tychoon to pay $1.8B fine for misleading investors.
Is America becoming a society of cheaters? Is the almighty dollar outpacing the basic underpinnings of living in a society, of looking out for your fellow man, of respecting others? Nobody looks askew at another person who makes money with hard work, ingenuity, and good fortune. Yet swindles and business practices that skirt the rules or are dubious at best have become part of the corporate paradigm. Look at what I stumble across every day:
  • Mail disguised to look like a bill or a government notice that is designed to trap us.
  • email scams trying to get our passwords or to get us to send money.
  • Online retailers whose webpages are designed to build in subtle and/or hidden charges and fees.
  • Well produced television ads with exhorbitant "processing" charges.
  • Unreadable small print on TV commericials. White text on a white background with a blurry small font even on a high-definition monitor.
  • Unscrupulous door-to-door salesmen or telephone solicitors.
Where will all of this darkness end? If we have to look to our government to legislate basic maxims of decency, honest, and respect, I fear the battle to restore society cannot be won.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

I usually post a tribute post on Memorial Day to honor those soldiers who gave their lives in service for this country. However, today on Veterans Day, I thought that I would write a post to honor those who have served our country with courage, with pride, with honor, and came home to tell their tales. If you are a service veteran, thanks for all that you did. Tomorrow I will be back with my usual fare, but today I thought I would just keep it simple.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Shadow Lamp

The Shadow Lamp is the fourth entry in author Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series and takes up where the third book, The Spirit Well, ended. Once again we are reintroduced to each of the main characters as they move around from place to place and era to era in the multiverse using the connecting pathways known as leys. There are three different factions that make up the story. The first group are the members of the so-called Zetetic Society, a benevolent group of explorers who are seeking to protect the secrets of "time travel" from those of darker intentions. At the same time they are also trying to make sense of the cosmic mysteries of the different parallel universes into which they are moving in and through. Much of what they know had its genesis through the man who first carried out extensive studies of ley travel, one Arthur Flinders-Petrie, the man who created the "skin map". This group includes Kit, Mina, Gianni, and Cass. The second group includes the nefarious Earl Archalaeous Burleigh (and his group of ne'er-do-well minions), who has been using any and all means at his disposal to claim the complete skin map for himself. However, it is far from clear if he understands what he expects to find at the end of his quest. Certainly he cannot even begin to comprehend the Pandora's box that he is seeking with such blind ambition. Finally, we follow the descendants of Arthur Flinders-Petrie (his grandson and great grandson) as each tries to figure out the secrets that old Arthur took to the grave with him.

In this part of the story, the plot significantly advances and we start to get a sense of what is at stake and what The Zetetic Society was formed to protect, even if they didn't fully appreciate their charge until now. Slowly a hard reality is beginning to come into focus. In fact, if what they suspect is true, the very future of the Universe is at stake. It is possible that something that the great Arthur Flinders-Petrie did in a desperate act of love set an irreversible course into motion? Is there anything that can be done to arrest the cataclysm? Is there enough time or is the die cast? The story will come to its conclusion in the fifth and final entry of the series, The Fatal Tree, set for publication in 2014. Another wonderful story from one of my favorite authors. I look forward to seeing how Lawhead brings this one home.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Observations 37

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.
  • What is it about wearing bonnets that causes people to drive so slowly? It seems that every time I get stuck behind someone driving 20 m.p.h. below the speed limit, it is some little old woman wearing a bonnet.
  • I tend to get frustrated with my own body when I find that I lack the dexterity to do some task that I don't think is all that big of a deal. Also, my frustration is great if my body needs to go to the bathroom more than a reasonable number of times in one day.
  • In a Marion Barry north-side episode, the mayor of Toronto said, "Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine, probably in one of my drunken stupors." Now that is some quality leadership, eh?
  • I often wonder if companies who change the design of their products do any testing of what they produce. All too often I come across these design changes and within milliseconds can identify several immediate practical design flaws that fail the basic common sense test. What gives?
  • Have you ever taken a look at a picture of yourself and thought, "That doesn't look like me."?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lather

I attended a scientific conference a few weeks ago. Each day the meeting agenda followed a standard format. The morning and afternoon were each divided into two 90 minute long sessions, and each session consisted of a number of presentations by different speakers. If a session chairperson is on top of things, they might get all of the talks on a single computer so that the transition from one speaker to the next is efficient. However, it is not uncommon for each speaker to use their own laptops for their presentation. In such a case, it normally takes a few minutes to set up the connection between the laptop and the projector before the speaker can begin.

In this meeting, I found myself in a session with regular computer interchanges and the man sitting in front of me caught my attention. As each subsequent speaker fiddled with connecting their own computer, he began to grumble. As the session went on, his complaining grew in duration, volume, and vehemence. He had become outraged that the speakers had not put their talks on the main computer. However, what was interesting to me is that the moment the speaker began their presentation, Mr. Outrage paid not one iota of attention to the talk. I thought to myself, why is this man complaining so loudly when his only reason for being present in the session was to add carbon dioxide content to the room and take up space? Why did he make such a scene when he had nothing at stake and didn't even listen to the talks? I think folks sometimes like to work themselves up into a lather just to work themselves up into a lather. The bard would say that they are all sound and fury signifying nothing.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Edifice

The term edify means to build someone up or to uplift them with encouragement. When you think of the word edifice, it refers to an imposing building or structure. Steel, concrete, brick, and mortar. Built to withstand any oncoming storm. In much the same way, when we edify someone, we give them strength to withstand any oncoming storm in their lives. I can't tell you the number of times when the simplest gesture from someone, a wave or a nod, has helped build me up, giving me strength to get through the moment. However, those people who have intentionally invested in me over a prolonged period of time, have given me an even greater strength that has effected lasting changes in my makeup.

The issue is not whether you edify someone as a short term investment (i.e. a compliment, a handshake, a brief encounter) or whether you edify someone as a longer term investment (i.e. befriending or mentoring someone), the issue is that we should be strengthening one another regularly. I have noticed that folks, especially men, feel awkward or less than manly if they try to edify others. We all need to find a way to get past this weakness. To appreciate this fact, just think back to when someone went out of their way to build you up. If you can remember how powerful their investment in you was, whether short-term or longer-term, you cannot help to pass this same gift on to another.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Godzilla

One of the requisite skills for my job as a scientist is the ability to communicate the details of my work to a wide range of audiences, from the general public to a group of my peers. For this latter group, one form of communication is through publication of my research in peer-reviewed scientific journals. However, another equally essential avenue is to be able to give oral presentations at various scientific conferences. By the time I was an assistant professor, I had given talks at several dozen meetings and experience had taught me how to give an effective presentation. During my first year at the university, I was invited to give a talk at a conference in Japan. It also turned out that one of the senior professors in my department was also attending the same workshop. During the presentation the audience of about 100 scientists seemed to follow along with my talk and I got a number of very good questions when I was finished. At the end of my session there was a coffee break and I had further discussions and answered questions from a number of other individuals. Everyone I talked with commented that they enjoyed my talk and that I had given a strong presentation.

Just a few minutes before the next session resumed, my senior colleague called me aside in the hallway and began to tell me how disappointed he was with my presentation and that he believed the room was abuzz with dissatisfaction with my talk. As he was a full professor in my group and we shared a research grant, I did my best to hear him out. However, I knew that my talk was good and I had heard from more than a dozen folks who specifically told me that I had done a good job. Something wasn't right here. I wasn't until we got back home that I learned that the government agency that was considering our latest funding proposal had rated my part of the research proposal significantly above that portion proposed by my colleague. It seemed that his attack had nothing to do with my presentation, but was entirely associated with his bruised ego. He was aiming to try to put me "in my place".

There is an important lesson here for all of us when we move to have a serious talk with someone or to criticize their work or their effort. We all need to search our hearts to understand our motives. If we aim to have strong, frank words with someone, we had better be certain that they do not come from a place of selfishness, of envy, or of pettiness, else we become Godzilla. Ultimately my colleague and I learned how to work well with each other and, in fact, we still interact regularly on research more than 15 years after this episode.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rabbit Remembered

The final entry in the Rabbit Angstrom series by author John Updike is entitled Rabbit Remembered. This book was published in 2001, a little over a decade after the last full novel in the series, Rabbit at Rest. At the end that story, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom had died of a massive heart attack. Now, we enter in the life of those he left behind a decade after his passing. Even after all this time, Harry's presence still looms large over his family. Janice, his widow, now in her early 60s has grown into the family matriarch. Although more seasoned and more in control of her life, she still battles with her same demons. She has married Harry's old childhood friend, Ronnie Harrison. It turns out that Harry actually despised Ronnie and saw him as a brute and a classless loser. Ronnie also resented Harry for so many things, not the least of which was his long affair with his wife Thelma who died of lupus more than a decade ago. Eventually we learn that Ronnie courted and married Janice not so much out of love for her, but as a way to get back at Harry, to claim something that was his. To finally beat Harry at his own game. Ronnie is clearly a bit of a low-life weasel, but he is good for Janice and provides her stability and someone to grow old with.

The story also follows Harry and Janice's son Nelson who has stayed cleared of drugs for more than ten years. After he stole more than a quarter of a million dollars from his parent's to support his habit, which eventually cost them their Toyota dealership, he went into a career in helping the down-and-outs of society. He went into this life not so much because he wanted to help those who struggled as he struggled, but because he has taken on the role of martyr to deflect the blame he still feels for what he put his parents through. He still feels that everything he did was not his fault, however, he has finally become at 43 years old, something of a responsible man. He has gained some perspective and respect for his father. Also we are reintroduced to Annabelle, Harry's illegimate daughter from his liaison with Ruth after he walked away from his marriage back in the 1950s. Annabelle has her own life's baggage, and now at 40 and single, was encouraged by her mother to seek out the Angstrom clan as her only remaining family. This reunion is initially painful and awkward, but ultimately serves as a positive thing for both Annabelle and Nelson. We finally get a bit of a happy ending after so much negativity and scheming and selfishness. A great way to end a most enjoyable series.

This novella was included in Updike's book Licks of Love, that included as well a dozen random short stories that I will review in an upcoming post.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sin = Sin

The starting pitcher for the winning team in game 1 of the baseball World Series was accused after the contest of doctoring the ball using Vaseline. Through the years folks have always given pitchers who have been suspected or caught doctoring the baseball cute nicknames and treated their antics playfully. Yet the same people who have winked and nudged at their friends about the baseball spitballers, utter much more definitive statements about blackballing any pitcher proven to have used steriods. However, one thing is perfectly clear, both the player applying a foreign substance to the surface of the ball and the player injecting themselves with drugs, were cheating. Both were seeking to gain a competitive advantage. Is one better than the other under the law? Well, in fact, yes. If caught, the baseball doctor would only get disqualified for the remainder of the game. The steroid user, if caught, would be banned for at least 50 games. So under the written law, there is a difference. However, under moral law as defined by sin, there is only one color of sin. There is no black, white, and gray. All sin is an abomination to God. The baseball doctor and the steroid user are equally guilty.

It's funny how we like to compare our sin with that of others. We make ourselves feel better by thinking that we are not as bad as some others that we know.
  • I only cheat on my wife when I am drunk. Bob does it all the time and with anyone that even looks at him.
  • Sure I may take assorted office supplies from work every now and then. But Marcia worked herself a kickback in the recent contract.
  • I got into a scrum with that jerk who bumped into me at the bar the other week, but Carl got into a knife fight.
  • I only cuss when I am upset or frustrated. Susan has a mouth like a sailor.
We have developed great skill at rationalizing all of the sinful behaviors in our lives. We seem to be able to look into the mirror and not see ourselves as we truly are. Our sins are either no big deal or are the fault of someone else. Yet the math is clear, sin = sin. There is no escaping that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Observations 36

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.
  • I always find it a little creepy when an old(er) person tries to sport a hairstyle meant to be worn by children.
  • At my workplace next to each trash can is a recycling bin for aluminum cans, glass bottles, and paper. Yet if you look in any trash can, you will nearly always see discarded cans, bottles,
    and paper. Can folks not see the value of conserving our finite natural resources? What is going on here? I mean the recycling bins are right next to the trash cans. It couldn't have been made any easier.
  • I don't know what the reason is, but folks always seem to go completely insane when they are offered free food. They will stand in line to eat sickening amounts of whatever second rate food stuffs are placed before them. I just cannot figure out the appeal.
  • The other day I spontaneous began to sing aloud, "Sprite makes better holidays, limon is the reason ..." However, I was not drinking a Sprite. Curious.
  • After a couple of sessions working on repainting the railing of my deck, I can completely understand the mindset of Tom Sawyer in this regard. It is hard and tedious work. Perhaps literary history should not judge ole Tom so harshly.