Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Quick Hits 1

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.

When you wear a cross around your neck, it is not just another piece of jewelry. It is a symbol that you are marked by Jesus and understand what he did for you. It is not some de rigueur hip hop accessory or gang style bling.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Altar Ego

I have just finished reading the latest book by pastor Graig Groeschel entitled Altar Ego. The concept of this book is wrapped around the central statement, "You are not yet who you are supposed to be." For Christians who struggle with the mess that is written across their past and present, Groeschel challenges us to seek out ways to find who we are in Christ. Once we learn who Christ wants us to be, our so-called "altar ego", we can find the freedom to put aside any old unhealthy, untrue, unbiblical thoughts about ourselves.

The book is broken down into three main sections:
  • Sacrificing Your False Self for Your Sacred Identity in Christ - Recognizing the false labels that you or others have used to form your identity.
  • Sacrificing Cultural Relativity for Eternal Values - Moving beyond what the world expects of us to develop traits (e.g. patience, integrity, honor, gratitude) that bring us closer to God.
  • Sacrificing Self-Justification for Passionate Obedience - Learning to step out boldly in full obedience to our God.
In each, Groeschel illustrates how our troubled self-images get in the way of getting to know our God and fulfilling our purpose in His kingdom. The chapters contain lots of anecdotes and humorisms from the author's life. Sometimes corny, sometimes trite, sometimes moving, sometimes powerful. If you have read any of Groeschel's other books, this one is aimed at the same audience and written at the same level. It contains nothing groundbreaking or that hasn't been said in dozens of other books that sit next to it on the shelves at your local bookstore. Yet it served
me as reinforcement and strength as I battle with my daily demons. In this role it was a decent addition to my devotional time.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Man in the Moon

Another rough day.
   Struggling to get through.
     Marking time, but until when?

Looking for a break.
   Praying and praying and praying.
     Only voices in my head.

Check the mailbox again.
   Pull a few weeds along the driveway.
     The phone remains quiet.

Wander out in the back yard.
   Look to the sky for comfort.
     I only find the moon.

Feeling small.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Deeply Odd

The seventh and most recent entry in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz is entitled Deeply Odd. Back in the first novel in this series our hero dealt with a group of satanists (see Odd Thomas). In Deeply Odd, he is faced with them again. However, his first go-round with these cultists involved men who were, in a sense, playing at a game. In this book, these satanists are the real deal. They worship the dark lord, have pledged their lives to him, and carry out his evil bidding. In this story, Odd has just saved a number of cities across the U.S. from nuclear attack (see Odd Hours) and then stopped a developing rift in the space-time fabric (see Odd Apocalypse). As he lets his supernatural gift of psychic magnetism lead to him to where he is needed to stop evil and lift people up, he encounters a trucker who is surrounded by an aura of pure darkness. In this meeting, he has a vision of children being tortured and brutalized in unspeakable ways. He also comes to see that the universe has a much more complex and layered existence than he had come to understand.

This story follows Odd as he works to understand what this trucker is about, who he is in league with, and what they are up to. He learns that 17 children have been kidnapped with the purpose of being human sacrifices to Satan. Odd is assisted by two unlikely guardian angels. The first is an old woman who seems to know him and has insight into his spirit that goes beyond just mere humanity and worldly wisdom. She has unlimited resources and is plugged into some sort of good samaritan network. The second guardian angel is, strangely enough, a high profile film director whose spirit is able to interact with Odd in ways that other lingering spirits have not been able to. In order to save these children from what he has foreseen, Odd must enter into the very lair of Satan, and that is just what he does.

Now in this seventh installment of the series, Odd has been through so much in such a short period of time, that he has been affected. He feels that his soul has been stained, that he is taking on the timbre of those he has pledged to stop. Yet at each moment, Odd does what he has to do given what is available to him. He recognizes that what he has done is necessary, but that does not serve to reduce his anxiety and his feelings of guilt. Ultimately his spirit finds a measure of healing and peace, even if he does not find the answers to all of his questions. I look forward to the next release in this series from Mr. Koontz as Odd continues to make his way back home.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

10 Minutes

I am a creature of the light. The short days of winter wear on me to the point that I struggle with a deep depression. Dark when I get up and go to work. Dark when I get home. I can almost feel the vigor and energy seeping out of my skin. Realizing how finite the long days of summer are, I try to take full advantage of them. This includes spending lots of time sitting outside in my screened-in porch. I can often be found out there after dinner reading my latest book or enjoying time with my daughter.

Now that we have passed through the summer equinox, I can already notice the days getting shorter. Just a few weeks ago, I could sit outside until 8:30 or 8:40 p.m. with enough sunlight to read my book, I now can barely see at 8:00 p.m.. My anxiety reminds me of a woman fretting over her ever-resonant biological clock. Time is running out to take advantage of what I have. I can feel completely defeated if something comes up at the last minute that delays me from getting outside to drink in all of the sunlight that I can.

The other night, my delay was entirely self-inflicted and I ended up just kicking myself over it. I knew that after I finished cleaning up the dinner dishes, that I would have only about 10 minutes of light left to relax with outside. I worked quickly to keep on my schedule, realizing how much I was looking forward to my short time outside. I don't know what happened, but some random thought jumped into my mind to check something on the computer. Before I realized what I was doing, so much time had elapsed that it was pitch black outside. I had wasted my opportunity. I had allowed myself to become distracted by something trivial and lost an opportunity to find my peace. I can't tell you the number of times that I have let insignificant things get in the way of experiencing something so much better, so much more important. In some cases, it is a few moments of relaxation. In others, it is the death of a relationship.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

White Board Incident

I know of a great way to leave your mark in this life. All it entails is to permanently mar a $20,000 projector screen in a brand new, state-of-the-art meeting room on the first day that it is available for public use. Sound like your kind of opportunity? Then let me share with you the full scoop on the great white board incident. Oh, I should probably also mention that this incident involved an addle-brained, polish scientist with a fairly sizable ego, who also happened to have a deep disdain for all of his fellow colleagues. I don't think that this is a prerequisite for you to leave your mark in this manner, but I am guessing that it helps.

Let me describe for you the scene. A large group meeting in a new conference room at work. The front of the room is outfitted with new white boards and an assortment of dry-erase markers. For the group meeting, our leader comes into the room and takes a few minutes to figure out how to lower the 20 ft projection screen from the ceiling (covering the white board) and to turn on the overhead projector. Each of these operations involves lots of discussions with everyone present. Lots of quips and jibes are exchanged. A typical one is, "How many scientists does it take to figure out how to lower the projection screen?" There is not a single person in the room who is not a part of this spectacle.

Just a short while later, our addle-brained, polish scientist with a disdain for his co-workers and a sizable ego to boot, wants to make a point that the rest of us are apparently too dim-witted to understand. He confidently strides to the front of the room and grabs one of the new dry erase markers and ... can't you see it coming already?? ... scribbles all over the new $20,000 projector screen. Of course, everyone else in the room was screaming at him to stop, but he figured he was just been shouted down by his colleagues for being so darned smart. Those markings remain on our conference room projector screen to this day. When a newbie asks about what happened, the great white board incident is passed on.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I just finished reading Craig Groeschel's 2011 book entitled Weird (Because Normal Isn't Working). This book is written primarily for what I would term "everyday" Christians, folks who have somehow separated their regular life of work, family, chores, and recreational time, from their Christian lives. All too often what seems to define your regular, run-of-the-mill Christian is that they go to church semi-regularly on Sundays and give a bit of their money to help the church and other charities when they can afford it. Yet this pattern has developed into a passionless rut, carried out more because it has become part of the routine, and has left many as little more than lukewarm Christians. Right up front Groeschel states:

"My concern with our culture and primary motivation for writing this book is that we've made lukewarm synonymous with normal."

"We're not much different from those who aren't Christians. We're normal. We spend our time and our money like normal people. We behave like most others. We have the same problems in our marriages, and with our kids, that people around us have."

Should the status quo really be the status quo? Shouldn't those of us who truly believe in a grace-filled, loving God, who sent His son to die for our sins, have more at stake in our lives as Christ followers than the occasional attendance at a church service and a few cancelled checks in our files? Groeschel makes it clear that this type of Christian life is not pleasing to our God, and does little to separate us from non-believers. Yet it has become the norm. But the norm isn't working and we need to get a little (or a lot) weird if we are going to get back to loving our God with passion. In so many things in life, Groeschel states:

"If you want what few others have, you have to be willing to do what few others are willing to do."

Groeschel gets specific, covering topics including our time, our money, our relationships, our sex lives, and our values. I really liked this book and valued the time that I spent reading it during my devotional time.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Sometimes as I lay in bed at night enwrapped in darkness and quiet, I pick up faint but distinctive sounds. Skittering, scratching noises. Creaking floorboards. Suserrations that seem to echo across the ceiling. Some might just attribute all of this to comfortable dismissals such as, the house is just settling, just a trick of the wind, or a squirrel scampering across the roof tiles on its way home. But did you ever ponder, even for a moment, a much more plausible scenario? ... MURDER!

Why should your house be the exception to the crime scene culture that is on every network primetime program? Folks just like you are being offed every half hour in the most creative manners imaginable. Night after night. Struck down with trophies, stabbed with fine kitchen cutlery, bludgeoned with fireplace pokers, smothered with plump and soft pillows. You might look at me and say, phooey or blah! But I would ask this question, can you recall the last time there was a murder in your own domicile? Likely you would tell me that it has never happened. I would then counter with the sound and rational rebuttal, well statistically you are due.

As for me, I have suspicions about my own home due to some recent discoveries. As workers were installing a new ceiling fan in my bathroom, they found a corroded box cutter concealed up in the rafters. This space was not accessible except through the opening made for the fan. As if this find wasn't sobering enough, out in my porch, deftly hidden up in the lintel above one of the doors, I discovered a rusted pair of heavy-duty scissors. I can only tell you that I fear for my life.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Odd Apocalypse

The sixth novel in Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas series is called Odd Apocalypse and leads to new and greater challenges for our hero Mr. Thomas. At the end of the fourth novel, Odd Hours, Odd has just saved the lives of tens of thousands of individuals by thwarting a terrorist plot to obliterate goodly chunks of several major cities. He beat a path out of the sleepy seaside resort of Magic Beach just ahead of the authorities. Traveling with him was a very strange young lady. Part waif, part mystic, part enigma, yet clearly Annamaria is of pure heart and compassion. The two of them meet up with a businessman, who is so charmed by Annamaria that he invites them to stay for a time at his estate Roseland. Upon arrival, they find Roseland to be more than just some small, rundown dwelling. It is a sprawling encampment, pristine, manicured, and a clear marker of the taste and wealth of its owner, Noah Wolflaw. (Note that the fifth novel in the series, Odd Interlude, contains a story of what happens on the way from Magic Beach to Roseland.)

In short order all of the wonder and magic of the place disintegrates into coal black dust. Odd learns that the members of the small staff of the estate, the cook, the groundskeeper, the maids, and the security chief, are not just quirky, but that they seem to be hiding something. The more that we get to know their host Mr. Wolflaw, the more we know that he is up to something no good. As Odd has the curiosity of a cat, he begins probing and poking around, which elicits a more than nasty response from his host and his workers. The more he investigates, the more strange things he finds. When strange turns to haunting and terror-ridden, Odd must use his gifts to find out what dangers have caused his supernatural gifts to lead him to Roseland. The title for this book, Odd Apocalypse is certainly appropriate.

At times this book teetered on the edge of an over-the-top madcap romp with overtures of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie. Yet Koontz knows when to let his protagonist shine with his wit and his wisdom, and when to evoke a bit of pathos to show us his hero's heart. I enjoyed my time with this one. Now onto the most recent story in the Odd Thomas adventure, Deeply Odd.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

iTunes Latest - 13

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.
  • Somebody's Baby - Pat Benatar (1993) - A song from Gravity's Rainbow about a life discarded and the questions that don't seem to have an answer. This one will bring a tear to your eye. I love this song.
  • Everybody Lay Down - Pat Benatar (1993) - A standard Benatar rocker. It's about no pain, no gain. No guts, no glory.
  • In These Times - Pat Benatar (1997) - Sometimes the world seems to be in such bad shape, that humanity has made such a mess of everything, it is hard to find a reason to want to look to the future.
  • Papa's Roses - Pat Benatar (1997) - A song about regret, about a failed relationship, about hurt that can't be erased. If you ever doubted that Benatar could sing, this one will convince you of how lovely and resonant her voice can be.
  • Suite Madame Blue - Styx (1975) - I stumbled across this a couple of times in my journey. A protest song heightened and set apart by its cut from the cloth of "rock symphony" ala Queen. Styx has a place in my heart as they were always on heavy rotation (especially Come Sail Away) back in my middle school dances.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Vulcan Logic

My pastor made a statement during service recently regarding his vision for our church in the next five years. He referred to the growth trend that our church has experienced in its first year of existence and that he expected that trend to continue. What he didn't say but was apparent is that he eagerly looks forward to the day when the average weekly attendance is double or triple the current numbers. At this thought, I had a flashback to my previous church that caused me some consternation.

When I joined my last church, the average weekly attendance was about 500 or 600, spread out over two services at the local YMCA. Due to skyrocketing attendance growth numbers, they decided to start an evening service at a small local playhouse. This was the one that I attended. The number of folks who were part of this meeting numbered about 50 to 80. It was intimate and personal and I found a place that allowed me to be comfortable. I never felt overwhelmed in a vast sea of people. However, after a few years, the church was able to construct a new building of their own and moved all services to their new campus. However, before the first year was out, they had reached capacity. The lead pastor then began to actively share his vision of how to handle the rapid growth, by expanding to multiple campuses with services linked through live sermon feeds. Thus he would preach at one location and folks elsewhere would watch on a projection screen. Initially this notion was met with much negativity. He then strongly stated that anyone who did not support this vision to open the doors to more and more folks was basically telling the unchurched that they can go to hell. He then channeled a bit of Mr. Spock from Star Trek:

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one."

I tried to give things a chance, but after a couple of services of watching my church service on "T.V." I knew that it was a stumbling block to my relationship with God. The teaching became mass market. It became impersonal. I felt more of a spectator than an active participant. It was a lifeless experience that impacted me to my detriment. But as I thought about my pastor chiding me that if I grumbled or voiced my displeasure with his new church service paradigm that I was somehow getting in God's way, I knew he was wrong. His paradigm seemed much more to me to be strongly ego-driven. His logic was faulty. The needs of the many don't outweigh the needs of the one, when that one is Jesus.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What Good is God?

Philip Yancey often lists his occupation as a journalist, however I know of him only as a Christian author. Nearly all of his books that I have read have focused on tackling or considering the question of "Where is God"?. Where is He when the world is in such desperate need of His presence and His healing? As this question is a common one asked by atheists, agnostics, and true believers, it is a good one to discuss. While the full answer to such a question cannot be answered by us, sometimes in the discussion, comfort and healing can be found. These notions of comfort and healing are really what Yancey's book What Good is God? is all about.

In addition to Yancey's work as an author, he spends a significant amount of time traveling around the world on various speaking engagements. Through the years, he has found himself at the scenes of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, prisons, government crackdowns, and hotspots of all different sorts. This is likely natural as Yancey has done a lot of thinking on issues such as Where is God When it Hurts?, Disappointment With God, and Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference?. In his book What Good is God?, Yancey gathers together the talks that he gave at ten different scenes of tragedy and hurt and puts them together. He includes talks from:
  • Virginia Tech - Immediately after the campus massacre in 2007.
  • China - Meeting with members of the underground Christian church in 2004.
  • Green Lake - Discussions with professional sex workers in 2004.
  • Cambridge - Remembering C.S. Lewis. A discussion on how to approach faith in 2008.
  • Bible College - A commencement address on how to make a practical difference in the world in 2007.
  • South Africa - The importance of grace from within the shadow of Apartheid in 2009.
  • Memphis - Living in a judgmental society in 2008.
  • Middle East - The tempest that is the Middle East in 2009.
  • Chicago - Meeting with a group of alcoholics in 2003.
  • Mumbai - During the terrorist attack in 2008.
His collected talks, while illustrating the worst of man's inhumanity to man, provide some sage thoughts for better knowing God, for providing comfort and healing, and for suggesting how Christians should respond in the face of their own personal tragedies. A well written work, heartfelt and humble.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Manna Kept

I recently completed reading The Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis. I will post my review of this book at some point in the near future. However, I wanted to share with you a lesson that Mr. Lewis imparted to me some 80 years after he put the words to paper. The topic is about the development and the evolution of the relationship between a man and wife. More specifically about what mature and healthy love should look like and what it should not look like.

"Do you not know how it is with love? First comes delight; then pain, then fruit. And then there is joy of the fruit, but that is different again from the first delight. And mortal lovers must not try to remain at the first step; for lasting passion is the dream of a harlot and from it we wake in despair. You must not try to keep the rapture; they have done their work. Manna kept, is worms."

In an earlier season when I played the role of husband and lover, I realize that I tried to cling so desperately to that first manic, irrepressible, sapid, mind-befogging infatuation, that spirit-drunk addiction of new love, that I never gave that more mature love an opportunity to bud and then flower into its fullest fruition. Instead, in my rush toward ecstasy, I plucked that new growth off the vine thus thwarting the possibilities of that future garden.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Odd Interlude

The sixth book in the Odd Thomas series is entitled Odd Interlude. This book represents a sort of side road story that takes place between the books Odd Hours and Odd Apocalypse. It was initially released as a three-part e-book, but was subsequently published as a standard mass-market paperback. The story takes place on the drive from Magic Beach (the setting in Odd Hours) to Santa Barbara (the starting point for Odd Apocalypse). Those who have been following my reviews on the books in this series will now know that Mr. Odd Thomas is a likable man, early 20s, decent, honest, loyal, and respectful. He would call himself just an average guy, with nothing special about him. However, he has the unique ability to interact with the lingering spirits of this world that have, for some reason, not been able to move on to their final resting place. As the series has developed, Odd's interactions with these lingering spirits have gone from the main mechanism that has driven the plot forward, to more of a bit of comic relief. As the stories have gone on, the schemes of the folks that Odd has thwarted have grown more grandiose, more over-the-top. However, while that could make for a dismissible pretense, it is the protagonist with his winsome ways, his selfless manner, and his wry humor, that has kept me turning page after page.

In this story, Odd's supernatural psychic abilities have caused him to stop at a truck stop along his journey. He is pulled there because he senses a controlling evil that he cannot ignore. What he finds is a waystation run by a large family that at first glance seems charming. However, he notices that several family members have strange injuries. As he starts to puzzle this, several of the family members go from acting kindly toward him to threatening. When he has an encounter with a strange entity who tries to take over his mind, he knows that something is very wrong in this place called Harmony Corner. Finally, he comes across a 12 year old girl who is hiding from her family because she fears for her life. The truth then comes out and it is left to Odd to try to save the day. A far-fetched plot to be sure, but still a fun romp between the main elements of the story arc. Now onto the next book in the series, Odd Apocalypse.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Observations 27

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.
  • A news report on CNN brought out the fact that Cap'n Crunch of cereal fame is not who he claims to be. A US Navy spokesperson stated that the Cap'n, in fact, has no record of service with the military branch. Worse yet, he is actually wearing the uniform of a commander, one full rank below captain (as seen by the three stripes on his jacket sleeve).
  • A commercial came on T.V. the other night for some kind of beverage. The tag line was "Flavor so intense, even bacon can't make it better." I chuckled at that.
  • Driving to work the other day I passed a lady driving a vehicle who was working a crossword puzzle. Pen in one hand, the steering wheel and crossword book in the other. She seemed to be spending more time looking down at her puzzle than looking up to see the road. I thought that texting and driving was illegal.
  • I was sitting in a meeting the other day and all of the participants had Mac laptops. Well, all except for the one guy named Mac, who was using a Windows machine.
  • I passed a woman at work the other day whose legs looked like toothpicks. They were also very long. I grew worried because she was wearing high heels of such comic proportions that I feared for her if a small gust of window stirred up or if she exhaled in the wrong direction. Terrifying, quite terrifying.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Band Played On

A postdoctoral associate that was part a University group that carried out research at the laboratory where I work had a heart attack and died at the end of last week. He was 40 years old with a wife and child. Just a few days before his death I attended our usual weekly group meeting and he sat in his accustomed chair just a few feet behind me. Over the past few months we had engaged in an email exchange regarding some details of a project that he was working on. His father also happens to be a colleague of mine, working in my group. Father and son could often be seen working together sitting side by side at the computer terminal in the father's office.

At our most recent staff meeting on Monday, our group leader began by announcing the death. There was a bit of a pall over the room. A respectful hush as the available details were shared. ... Contributions would be collected for some flowers. ... A viewing and funeral would be scheduled for later in the week. ... We would receive email once everything was scheduled. The air and attitude in the room at that moment felt much as you might have expected. Yet 30 minutes later, everyone was back to their usual joking and talkative ways. The news was received, processed in short order, and everyone's life seemed to go forward as usual.

Yet two chairs in that meeting room normally occupied were empty. One will remain so from this point forward. I thought about the shock and helplessness felt by the grieving family and it tore at me. Their deepest pains and sadness overflowing without check. Later in the morning I learned that the dead man's wife was visiting in Russia. Due to visa issues she would not be able to return to the United States for some weeks. I can only imagine how utterly alone and helpless she must feel. It must be absolute torture. Yet for everyone else, the band played on.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Some weeks when I go to church, something connects with my heart and my mind and I feel fully integrated into the service and the experience. In that place and in that moment I feel like I belong, that I am where I am supposed to be. However, other weeks the people annoy me, the music falls flat, and I can't focus on a single word that the preacher says. At the end of the hour I just want to get out of there and go home. However, truth be told, some weeks are even darker than this ...

Recently, I attended service where my pastor and the music director were both out of town. Knowing this as I drove to church that night, my mindset shifted into a decidedly negative perspective. Instead of recognizing what was going on, I think I turned up the flame under that simmering cauldron until it came to a full boil. When I got out of the car I was already cursing the perky door greeters who would shortly barrage me with their plastic smiles. When I walked into the sanctuary and saw the replacement singer, I decided that I didn't like the look of him. I just knew that I was going to hate him. When the service started and I looked around the room at the hundred or so folks present, I did know a single one of them. I thought to myself, if every last person in this room just disappeared, never to return again, my life wouldn't miss a beat.

In that service I got so frustrated with myself and the clamor of vindictive negativity swirling through my head, that I knew that I was not honoring God with my presence or my attitude. I ended up just leaving even before the music set had been completed. When I got out to my car, through tears I tried to find some calm and some peace. I wanted to beat myself up, but I felt an overwhelming presence of the Spirit telling me to reset and try again next week. That is just what I did.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Yes = Yes

"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No', 'No.', Matthew 5:37

The above bit of scripture is really an important statement for each of us to take to heart if we are to be marked as a person of integrity. It is telling us that we need to make sure that our actions match well what we say. When we say one thing and do another, even when there is no intent to deceive, our integrity can take a hit. Sometimes we can run into trouble when we unwittingly bite off more than we can chew. In the moment we make promises that our busy schedules and existing commitments just cannot allow us to keep. I think that too often we get into trouble because we do not want to disappoint others, so we make promises that are unrealistic or impractical or short-sighted. I can share one anecdote from my experience.

Recently I had arranged to have a contractor come to my house to do some work. He only did this kind of work part time, after he got off from his full-time job. I knew this and told him that I was happy to accomodate his schedule. I told him that there was no rush. I only asked that he simply let me know when he wanted to schedule the work. Yet time after time he would tell me that he was going to come out to the house to start the work and then he wouldn't show up. He never called beforehand to tell me that he had a conflict in his schedule. He just gave me an excuse the next day and the game repeated. Even though he is a decent man and he eventually completed the work skillfully, his reputation and his integrity took a hit with me because he did not let his 'yes' be 'yes'. The man was overloaded with his existing commitments, but he didn't want to disappoint me. So he made statements that a realistic assessment of his schedule would have told him he shouldn't have.

It takes a very long time to make our reputations and just a moment to do them great damage.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Odd Hours

The fourth entry in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz is entitled Odd Hours and follows immediately from the end of the third novel, Brother Odd. There our protagonist, Odd Thomas, who has the ability to see and interact with the lingering spirits of dead people, thwarted the schemes of a disturbed scientist/monk at a monastery in the high Sierras. After this adventure, Odd decided that it was time to head back to his desert town home of Pico Mundo. However, on the way back he felt a strong compulsion that he was needed somewhere else, that some new danger was imminent. This feeling is part of his special abilities, what he calls his psychic magnetism. Ultimately, he ends up in a small, peaceful, resort town on the California coast called Magic Beach.

Arriving in this new place, completely unsure of why he has been drawn there, he begins to have powerful premonitions that are confusing and utterly disturbing. Images of destruction on a scale that rocks him to the bone. As he is trying to make sense of what all of this could possibly mean, his psychic magnetism leads him to a group of men who are clearly out of place in the idyllic setting of the sleepy resort community. When the leader of this brutish group tries to intimidate Odd by laying hands on him, somehow Odd's vivid dream plays before both of their eyes. The leader of the group is so spooked that he tries to take Odd out. As Odd flees for his life, he comes to understand that he has stumbled upon a nefarious plot on an unimaginable scale. Relying on his instincts, his gifts, and some beautiful people along the way, he once again saves the day in his own simple and humble way.

Another fun and enjoyable read that I recommend. While some may gripe that the plot is more than a bit unrealistic, and I wouldn't disagree, the enjoyment comes from Odd's character. Even though he finds himself in difficult situations, he does not shy away from trying to make a difference in the world. He has a palpable joie de vivre that is infectious. He also has a wry sense of humor that keeps me smiling, but also stirs warm feelings in me quite often. Now onto the fifth book in the series Odd Interlude.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day 2013

Happy July 4th to my United Stated of America Independence Day celebration fans! Hope you have a great day off from work (if you are so blessed) or that you have a productive and satisfying day on from work (if you are so blessed). Hope too that the accompanying artwork for today gives you a smile.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Back Porch

I have a nice house that I try to keep up as best I can. However, it is pretty clear that I take what I have for granted far too often. Yet the other day as I sat outside on my porch reading in my latest book with a glass of iced tea on the table by my side, I happened to glance up and my eyes were opened. It's like the scales fell from my eyes and I took in the beautiful trees in all their verdant finery, the sun-dappled waters on my clear water pool, the lovely pastel hues on the flag hanging off my deck. I noticed the bird songs emanating from the tree boughs all around me and I drank in the sweet, warm breeze. In that moment I became a part of it all, celebrated, and gave thanks.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I work at a government-funded laboratory where I have been carrying out research for nearly 20 years. Over this time I have seen the facility transition from an open campus site to one guarded nearly as heavily as a military base. Yet the changes have been so subtle that many likely have not noticed what has been taken from us. With each new disturbing international incident, whether school shooting, hijacking, terrorist attack, or sabre-rattling antic of various foreign governments, new rules, regulations, and security measures are put into place. More guards, more patrols, more fences, more vehicle searches, more locks, more barriers, more entry requirements, more stern faces, more suspicion. Who or what do they think they are keeping out?

The more time I have to spend playing their over-the-top war games and filling out their security forms and protocol documents, the less time I have to do the research that I am here for. Recently I was asked to serve as the on-site mentor for a group of graduate students who are visiting for the summer to work on a project that I am leading. Two of the students, who have been enrolled at a major U.S university for several years, happen to be from Iran. I was just asked to complete a detailed security and monitoring proposal for both workers over the duration of their visit. Wow.

So, our young students are no longer young students, the future of our field. What we know about them from working closely with them for several years does not matter. They wear new labels now. Potential threat. Possible terrorist. Unfriendly. Enemy. The point here is not whether such security measures are necessary or warranted or wise given the state of the world today. The point here is the deep lament that just saturates me knowing that our world has degenerated into this disgusting condition and this seemingly irreversible state.

Monday, July 1, 2013


I have been following the news related to celebrity chef Paula Deen. Likely you have heard that in the past few weeks, she has fallen on hard times. The news reporting machine has been providing up-to-the-second updates on Deen as her gastronomic empire collapses around her. The amount of vitriol and acid effluent is mind-numbing. Yet nothing about what I have heard makes any sense. I will certainly admit that I don't know the full story based on what has been reported, but from what I have seen, the penalty does not fit the crime. The story began when a woman who worked in a restaurant owned and managed by Paula and her brother, brought a lawsuit against her bosses charging them with discrimination. In a deposition related to the case, Paula admitted under questioning to using the word "nigger" more than 30 years ago when talking about a black man who held a gun to her head in an attempted bank robbery. Seemingly, as a result of this admission, Paula has been branded as a racist pariah. In the past week she has:
  • Been fired from the TV network on which her cooking shows were broadcast.
  • Had a number of endorsing and merchandising contracts terminated with companies such as Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Sears, Novo Nordisk, Smithfield Foods, and QVC.
  • Had four of her restaurants operated by Caesar's resorts shuttered.
In parallel with all of this have been the uncomfortable, disjointed, inconsistent, tear-filled emotional apologies released by Paula and her crisis management team. She is beseeching everyone to forgive her for her unspeakable crimes. What type of skulduggery is afoot here? Is she apologizing for uttering a racist word 30 years ago, or is she asking for forgiveness for a lifetime of bigotry? Although I did not grow up in the segregated south, I used the dreaded "N-word" a few times in my youth before I understood what it implied. I learned and self-corrected. The world went on without incident. Why is this situation any different?

What really bothers me is that it now seems that suddenly every ill-informed person on the street has positioned themselves as the unquestioned, anonymous, and unaccountable accuser, jury, judge, and executioner. Guilty! Case closed. What has happened to the United States such that we have become the most litigious and overly sensitive population in the history of humanity? No matter what is said, cries of bigotry and discrimination immediately fly around. Is this because they sense a quick buck through the law? Is this because by pulling someone else down they can feel better about themselves? Is this because they are jealous of others more successful than themselves? Is it because their hurt is a learned, instinctive response? Is it that they are on a quest for equality and fairness?