Thursday, April 30, 2015

On My Own Terms

Recently, I came face to face with an aspect of myself based on an event that happened last August. For some reason, it has taken me nearly eight months to gain some perspective and some insight on my attitudes and thoughts from that day. My feelings and my approach were not unique to that moment, but really are a part of my core. The trigger was a line from a sermon by my pastor that I have heard uttered from the stage countless times, but for some reason this particular time that moment from eight months ago came into focus and I understood more about myself and my shortcomings. The statement that brought all of this about was a simple truth, "We are not meant to live life alone."

For many years now I have felt the void of loneliness in my life. Not just a woman's presence to be my life partner, but of friends and companions to enjoy life with. As an adult I have consistently struggled to make friends. What I lack in opportunity to meet people socially, I more than make up for in a judgmental attitude that finds all sorts of reasons to reject and dismiss those around me. As I have failed time and again to make friends, over the last several years I have essentially stopped trying. I have come to understand that it's not them it's me and have slowly and surely just isolated myself in my own fortress of solitude.

Eight months ago, I was invited to a get-together at my pastor's house on the occasion of his birthday. For reasons that I still don't understand, I accepted his invitation and went. His house was filled with about three dozen of his friends, most of whom I had never seen before. The evening was difficult for me because I was an outsider and these folks were all mutual acquaintances. Looking around the living room, kitchen, and den, I could see defined clusters of folks chatting and laughing. Not having the social skills to approach any of these tightly formed groups, I spent some time observing the people at this gathering. What I saw, for the most part, were a rather "eclectic" group of folks of a sort that I would normally never even give a second thought to interacting with. Yet while they were interacting and enjoying each other's company, I sat apart from them and tossed about labels and increased my distance. It became clear to me from that simple truth, "We are not meant to live life alone.", that apparently even though I am lonely and have very few friends, that clearly I will only accept relationship if it is on my very narrowly defined terms. It became immediately obvious to me why I am in the situation that I am in.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Observations 88

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.
  • Yesterday, for the first time ever (or at least that I can recall), I used the word bosom in an email.
  • Speaking of email, have you ever gotten email from someone whose subject line does not reflect what is in the body of the message in any way? They just keep replying to the last message that you sent them. I think this needs to stop, even if legislation is involved.
  • I would like to suggest an entirely new paradigm for medical doctors. If they don't fix you then they shouldn't get paid. As a corollary, if they don't fix you in a timely manner then you get to give them a hard kick in the groats.
  • The squiggly openings on the front of fancy stringed instruments like violins and cellos are called "f holes". Somehow this sounds vaguely dirty.
  • I really find it odious when a marginal band that has only put out a couple of "records" releases a "greatest hits" album.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

iTunes Latest - 26

I have been a user of iTunes since 2011. This service has allowed me to bring music back into my world and to reconnect with so many great songs from my past. 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 moment in my life. I have also found that every now and then a recent song inspires me. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my thoughts on each song.
  • Iron Hand - Dire Straits (1990) - I began to check out the 25 year old album On Every Street by Dire Straits recently when I, by chance, had stumbled across the title track. I then began to work my way through the other songs on this release. Iron Hand is a soulful dirge about the often unnecessary and efficient violence of warfare.
  • When it Comes to You - Dire Straits (1990) - Another tune from On Every Street with a melody hook that pulled me in and compelled me to listen. About the nastiness of someone who wants out of a relationship.
  • Piano in the Dark - Brenda Russell (1988) - The day after I finished my last exam as a senior in college I quickly left that life behind and
    transported to a new life in a new state as a graduate student. Suddenly everything that defined my comfort and familiarity was replaced with awkward and new. The first morning that I woke up in my dorm room this song came on the radio and spoke to me about connection. Boy does this one take me back to that scared but eager young man.
  • So Many Tears - Regina Belle (1987) - Enduring my final heartbreak in highschool and feeling like I was doomed to be alone for the rest of my life, I ran across this song that expressed my hurt, my frustration, and my longing so well.
  • Rock of Life - Rick Springfield (1988) - As I was finishing high school and starting college, Mr. Springfield was running in a bit of a hot streak and his popularity was on a roll. This album was quite strong but it was the last that he would put out for nearly a decade as he had a bit of a burn out and his muse departed. This song is a loud, infectious rocker, but if you listen to the lyrics you can get a sense that this is an artist who is running on fumes and needs to get away.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Silent Echoes

If there is one characteristic that consistently marks my daughter, I would say that it is adaptabilty. No matter what forks have appeared in her life's young path, she has bravely gone down whatever branch she must and has continued along mostly unaffected. Something in her make-up allows her to accept the conditions in her life and adapt to whatever situations that come along the way with her positive attitude fully intact. Even when she has been sick, she still finds a way to make the best of things.

For the past several years, my daughter has been affected by recurring migraines, a condition that has plagued all of the women on her mother's side. Even through the misery of these regular episodes, which typically recur several times per month, she has been able to keep her smile and to deal with their impact on her life. However, recently the spectre of this neurologic condition has quite suddenly changed its pattern and has sunk its icy grip into my daughter. Over the past several weeks an episode has descended upon her and brought her low. I have stood by helplessly as the pain, nausea, and non-stop visits to doctor after doctor have slowly ablated her spirit. Ultimately, she was admitted to the hospital as they were forced to more drastic measures in her treatment.

As the nurses came into her room for blood samples, I stepped out into the hallway to give her some privacy. For about 15 minutes I paced a loop about the silent ward following the path laid out by the brown tiles that marked a zig-zag pattern on the floor. For a man who likes to be in control, there is nothing quite so maddening, so utterly frustrating, as to be completely powerless and unable to affect an outcome. When I could go back into her room, I sat by her bedside for several hours telling her stories to distract her, making plans for things we could do again when she was feeling better, and refilling her cup of ginger ale. As the evening wore on, it was time for her to get some rest and I headed home.

Normally upon entering my front door I am greeted by an echo of the presence from my daughter as her laughter tends to linger, bouncing off the walls and transforming the house into our home. However, upon entering into my foyer, the house was utterly still, layered in a thick, murky silence.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Knights of Crystallia

The third part of Brandon Sanderson's tale regarding 13 year old oculator Alcatraz Smedry is entitled Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia. This story follows shortly after the previous episode Alcatraz Versus The Scrivener's Bones found our young hero saving his long-lost father who had been trapped as a ghost spirit in the ancient library at Alexandria. Once Alcatraz, who grew up shuttling from foster family to foster family, found his father, he expected to get some explanations for why his parents gave him up and to reconnect with the father that he had heard so much about from his grandfather. However, on his journey back to his family home, his father locked himself away and paid no mind to young Alcatraz.

Faced with the apparent rejection from his father, however, did not allow Alcatraz much time to brood or contemplate because it seemed his people had just entered into negotations to sign a peace treaty with their mortal enemies, the cult of evil librarians. Alcatraz quickly grew suspicious of this talk of peace from the librarians (who are evil) as it went against their very nature. He then set about learning what they were up to and then thwarting their plans. However, just when he figured that he had saved the day and would be feted as a hero, he ran face first into a conspiracy involving those sworn to protect his people, the celebrated knights of Crystallia.

Another great story filled with humor, interesting situations, and the wonderful characters that I have come to know in this series. I now moved onto the last book in the series, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Good in Me

When life seems to put us on a downward slope, either by ill fortune or by our own makings, it is easily to see ourselves as a caricature of who we really are. It is all too easy to let labels like loser, fool, failure, useless, and unlovable, drape over our shoulders. No matter what happens to us, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves amid, it somehow becomes second nature for us to see the negative in ourselves. Instead of learning lessons that could help us in future interactions, we become so defeatist, so beaten down that there is no fight left in us and we let our self-imposed labels do our speaking for us. I would also say that as we give into self-loathing, it becomes all too common for us also to become blind to the good in the world around us, whether it is the kindness of others or the beauty in a sunset, our shutters are closed and anything that might lighten our mien, is another opportunity missed.

If there was an easy path to turn around our dispositions, then either our depressions where mere indentations along the road of life or we have somehow stumbled upon the missing person, place, or thing that had caused the eclipse that we were enveloped in. Most often, the path through negativity and all the garbage that accretes onto it with time, just causes us to further slip away from life and the desire for living. Our existence just becomes a pathetic exercise in marking time. In such a situation, it does us good to remember that what we think defines us is mostly of our own making, our own perspective. We need to be reminded of the truth that there are some things that make each of us beautiful. For me I wanted to list five things that describe some aspect of good in me.
  • I have consistently given everything that I have to my daughter to make her feel special, loved, and valuable.
  • I have never taken my job for granted and still after nearly 3 decades of work, give my all each and every day.
  • I have come to be much more generous as the years have gone by.
  • For the most part, I try my best to be an honorable man.
  • No matter how bad any day in my life might be, I still try to wake up each morning with a renewed spirit and a reasonably open mind.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Observations 87

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 just saw a car commercial where the vehicle was sitting on the deck of an aircraft carrier with jets taking off next to it. An archetype hot-shot pilot then jumped into the car and raced off down the flight deck convinced that he could keep up with the planes. In small print on the bottom of the screen it warned us not to attempt this stunt.
  • There is an honest to goodness company in my area called Doodie Calls. This is a service that will come to you house to clean up all of the dog crap in your yard. Who would take this job for a living? Who would admit to having such a job?
  • I recently told my daughter about a company in my area called Doodie Calls and she actually thought it was a good business idea. Have you ever wondered if a body snatcher has snatched your child? Oh where did I go wrong?
  • There is a radio ad that claims, "If you have more than $5,000 in credit card debit, it is your right to settle for substantially less than you owe." Is anyone else's "BS" detector going off?
  • Have you ever thought something was common knowledge and then found out that it wasn't either common or knowledge? For me, I had always thought that BMW stood for British Motor Works. Turns out BMW is a German company and the "B" is for Bavarian.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Who I Am - Abstract

This series was inspired by some candy bar art pieces that my daughter made for a school project. They now sit proudly on display in my private collection.

I once saw a therapist to help deal with feelings of depression. One of her psychologist mantras was, "Fake it until you make it." Namely, that if we wish to feel or live in a certain manner, we should pretend to that reality until it finally comes upon us. It was her opinion that such a game can help us to transform our thinking and our behavior to effect a new reality. I never had the patience or the fortitude to play such charades. In this regard the words of Popeye the sailor resonate within me, "I am what I am and that's all that I am."

In some ways, I wish that I could project a young Sean Connery, confident, mysterious, brash, and sauve, but that would be an impossible make-over given the raw material that is me. I am not made of such stuff. The stylized version of me that I would like to be the reality, is well beyond my prosaic ability to pretend or to project. The best that I can do is to provide some kind of abstract representation of myself. What you see of me contains all of the elements of who I really am, but morphed and distorted. Without the appropriate fragment of the Rosetta Stone, you are not likely to understand the correspondence between the abstract to the literal. That is mainly for my protection and peace of mind. I really have no great desire to trick you into accepting me more fully for this pantomime.

The third part of the art project focused on transforming the literal into the abstract. My daughter chose to make her candy bar into something that reflected some elements of the literal, but ultimately was non-representational.

(Part 3 of 3)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Quick Hits 35

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.

If your favorite professional sports team was low on talent, would you support them if management decided that they should lose on purpose (a.k.a. "tanking") to secure a higher draft pick?

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Scrivener's Bones

The second part of Brandon Sanderson's adventure with Alcatraz Smedry is entitled Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones and picks up following the tale of our 13 year old oculator shortly after the end of Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. There we learned that the world is actually controlled by a group of evil librarians who will stop at nothing, absolutely nothing, to control mankind with their nefarious ways. Young Alcatraz had grown up as an orphan shuffling from foster home to foster home, quickly wearing out his welcome as he has a knack for breaking things that he touches. The world that he knew changed irrevocably on his thirteenth birthday when he received a gift from his father, a man who Alcatraz believed had died many years ago. When a man attempted to kill him and an eccentric old stranger claiming to be Alcatraz's grandfather showed up, everything became a chaotic blur. Alcatraz learned that he is an oculator, a person with the power to activate and control special lens. Further, he learned that the Smedry family has a long and storied history as powerful oculators and are leading the resistance against the librarians, who are evil.

In this story Alcatraz is being transported to his homeland, a continent that exists in the Pacific Ocean but does not show up on any maps due to the influence of librarians (as you might have suspected). On the journey, Alcatraz learns that his grandfather has made an unexpected trip to Egypt, to the library of Alexandria, one of the most dangerous places in the world. It seems that old Leavenworth Smedry has found some evidence that his son Attica may have gone there some time ago. The trouble is that this ancient library, while a wealth of all worldly knowledge, is a place where souls are trapped as ghoulish librarians forever. With worries about his grandfather and rumors about his father, Alcatraz decides that he must travel to this fortress of librarian power to lend a hand. However, he must do battle and match wits with a half human/half dark soul librarian who wants to take his blood and the lenses that were his inheritance.

This story is in the young adult genre, but I really just found it funny, unique, well written, and wonderfully charming and full of whimsy. I can't wait to move on to the next part of the tale, Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Who I Am - Stylized

This series was inspired by some candy bar art pieces that my daughter made for a school project. They now sit proudly on display in my private collection.

The veil that I wear most often in public has been crafted and designed to make me look like a different version of who I really am. However, I am not a particularly adept player on the stage, and have never had the desire to work that hard to pretend to be something that I am not. The version of me that is displayed in public is therefore not some utterly different creation, but a stylized version of the real thing. I don't consciously attempt to portray black when I am really white, sinner when I am really saint, or a river when I am actually dust. I guess that the me that I present to others is like looking at the real me through a thick piece of glass or a reflection of the real thing that I would form in a fun-house mirror.

One of the characteristics that has marked me since I was a child is that I never felt particularly threatened by the effects of peer pressure. While some are moved to talk a certain way or do certain things to gain acceptance from others, I have always felt fully secure to just be me and to do what I was comfortable doing. So, why do I put on a facade that does not reflect the true me? I think the answer lies mainly in protection. I am naturally moved to form into a defensive posture not to gain acceptance, but to keep folks away. Prying eyes and intimacy make me uncomfortable. In some ways the version of me that I project is not meant to be a stylized covering meant to make me stand out as hip or cool, but more to be a camoflage to allow me to melt unnoticed into the background.

The second part of the art project focused on transforming the literal into something stylized. My daughter chose to make her candy bar into something sleek, flashy, and decorated.

(Part 2 of 3)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

iTunes Latest - 25

I have been a user of iTunes since 2011. This service has allowed me to bring music back into my world and to reconnect with so many great songs from my past. 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 moment in my life. I have also found that every now and then a recent song inspires me. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my thoughts on each song.
  • Feel it Again - Honeymoon Suite (1986) - In the last few months I have been digging on this band from my past. Way back in my early college years they were big on the FM dial. This nugget is typical of their style and their attitude. It provides the perfect impetus to energize me.
  • Under the Rose - Kiss (1981) - In the late 70s, Kiss, once the most popular band in the world, was on the decline. In their release Music from The Elder they tried a gimmick, namely writing the soundtrack to a fictional movie of the Lord of the Rings genre. The release was considered as a major flop, not because its musical selections or artistry were second rate, but because Kiss was viewed as a straight ahead rock band. However, this tune with its haunting, chanting refrain is pure gold.
  • You Don't Have to Prove Yourself - The Fixx (2003) - In 1983 Fixx album Reach the Beach came out and I fell in love with it. However, it is the only album of this band that I ever owned. The Fixx kind of fell off the map is the late 80s even though they have released new albums in each decade since then. I came across this gem from their 2003 release Want that Life that reminded me why this band once pulled me in with their sound and their musical choices.
  • Keep it on the Inside - Matthew Perryman (2014) - I recently read the Donald Miller book Scary Close and it came with its own well done music soundtrack. This piece is all about fighting back from the demons that always seem to be pulling us down.
  • On Every Street - Dire Straits (1990) - Mark Knopfler has a way of pulling me in with his guitar work. He doesn't just produce noise and wasted energy. Each strum, each pluck gives rise to a vibe that somehow makes me part of the tune. This gem is about the one who touched our heart in the moment but disappeared before we could let the taste dissipate.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Who I Am - Literal

This series was inspired by some candy bar art pieces that my daughter made for a school project. They now sit proudly on display in my private collection.

There are several different sides of me, faces that are displayed to different folks at different times. I have worked a lifetime to fashion and manipulate the version of me that I allow others to see. Some of this image preparation is done to:
  • Hide the embarrassing stuff so that you won't make fun of me.
  • Make me come across as more intelligent than I am because of my pride.
  • Distract you from the areas of sin that are all too pervasive in my life.
  • To make me appear happy and adjusted so that you don't see how far off center I really am.
  • Make me come across as confident so that you don't have reason to scratch at the thin veneer that covers the real me.
What is interesting about the persona of myself that I have crafted over the years is that it was not created just for me to drape over myself whenever I go out into public, something to fool the masses, that is then hung up in the closet when I get home. More and more it seems that my costume has been designed mainly to fool me, so that I can look in the mirror and not see what a mess I am and the problems that I have brought about in my life. My worst moments seem to be when I somehow catch a glimpse beneath my shroud and see what is actually there. That true me is not an attractive, kind, humble, or confident man. More appropriate descriptors would be lonely, sinful, fragile, unhappy, driven by lusts, desperate, lost.

The first part of the art project focused on forming something literal. My daughter chose a candy bar. Looking at what she made, you can almost taste the yummy goodness of the real thing.

(Part 1 of 3)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Observations 86

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.
  • Have you ever been totally parched and filled a cup at the sink to slake your thirst only to gulp down a mouthful of hot water? Yeah, me too.
  • I went into the Office Warehouse store looking to buy some super glue. I asked the salesperson and he was clueless. He looked up at the signs labeling the different aisles and finally pointed me to the aisle labeled "writing implements". I asked him how come it wasn't in the aisle labeled "binders".
  • I waited in the checkout line at the Office Warehouse store as the checker was dealing with a return for the customer in front of me. When the checker could not figure out the proper procedure, her blood began to boil. In her frustration she started to swear like a sailor on shore leave and she turned to me and snapped, "Sir, you need to be in any lane but this one." I told her that I couldn't agree with her more.
  • On a friend's blog he used the expression "pawn scum" when he meant to use "pond scum". I just could not expunge the image of dirty, grimy chess pieces. Regardless of the context, this was worthy of a giggle.
  • There is a local cosmetic surgery center running ads on the radio with the tag line, "More hair equals more confidence." The trouble is that they never say in the ad where they have to install this magical new hair that gives rise to this confidence.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Evil Librarians

I am a huge Brandon Sanderson fan and have been deeply impressed with all of his fantasy books that I have read to date. He is a skilled writer with a talent for building worlds and systems of magic while developing characters that have flesh on their literary bones. In working my way through Sanderson's oeuvre, I decided that I would not pass over his young adult series regarding one Alcatraz Smedry. In the story of Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians we come to find out that evil librarians are the true rulers of the world. This dark sect moves with single-minded purpose to keep mankind ignorant of the truths that might set them free. Battling against the heartless enemy are a brave group of men and women who are trying to bring the truth to light and to end the longstanding oppression of the cursed librarians.

Alcatraz is a 13 year old boy who has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. In very short order, he wears out his welcome and the agency woman comes out to take him to his next family. Alcatraz is not necessarily a bad person, he just has an uncanny ability to sow destruction and to bring about carnage with everything he touches. However, his world turns absolutely upside down on his 13th birthday when he receives a package from his father, who he believed to have died some long time ago. Shortly after he receives this mystery package, someone attempts to kill him and an eccentric old man shows up claiming to be his grandfather and telling Alcatraz that he is an oculator, a powerful member of the resistance. Leavenworth Smedry, also an oculator, has the great talent of being late. He clues Smedry into what an oculator is and how his talent for breaking things is actually more blessing than curse. Slowly, Alcatraz comes to learn a bit more about who he really is and what he was born to do to help save the world, and all of this happens while he and Leavenworth work to infiltrate the local library, the bastion and center of power of the librarians.

This story is written as a memoir of Alcatraz in the first person and is absolutely chock full of whimsy, inanity, belly laughs, and just a great old fun ride. Some might see the "young adult" stamp and keep walking. I say a great story with original and compelling characters should not be bypassed so quickly. In fact, I loved this story so much I immediately dove into the next book in the series, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I went to a seminar at work the other day given by a visiting scientist of some note. I came to learn from his presentation that his long and distinguished career spanned work on a large variety of topics covering a number of different fields from physics, to chemistry, to biology, and to mathematics. I wondered how this man got his ideas and how he came to be a recognized authority on so many different subject matters. The simple answer that he related during his talk was "curiosity".

Each day he sets aside some time to read through the abstracts of recently published papers in a number of different scientific journals. Every now and then some perplexing question or phenomenon resonates within his mind and piques his curiosity. Before he knows it, he has filled several pages on his notepad with calculations and ideas for further consideration. Oftentimes, he just ponders a bit on how a given question should be approached or he relates a question or observation in one field to a similar question or observation in another field. Sometimes he finds that he gets lost in a maze of questions and imponderables in his own mind that lead to a dead end. Other times, a path toward exploration emerges before him and he lets his curiosity lead him where it will.

It is amazing how far this approach has brought him when looking back over a career spanning some 50 years. His mindset is that so often we unnecessarily limit or pigeonhole ourselves into focusing too narrowly on what we perceive as our area of expertise or experience. We never stop to consider that the world has endless fascinations to which our experience can contribute toward further understanding.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


I am presently in my eighth year of writing this blog and most of the time I have no trouble finding things to talk about. Over the past couple of years the content on this site has been subtly changing. Whereas I used to write a lot more pieces exploring a given topic or feeling, I knew that I could not sustain that pace. I am reminded of a line from the Creedance Clearwater Revival song Lodi, "somewhere I lost connections, ran out of songs to play". So to keep up with the relentless schedule, I moved to more "automated" regular pieces, such as my Friday book reviews or my regular Observations series. While not meant to be particularly heady or heavy, they have been fun to write and have also served to give me fodder for posting.

Over the past couple of years, I have watched the bloom fall from the rose in the world of blogging. It does not seem to be as trendy a thing to do anymore. Several folks who I used to follow abruptly stopped posting and our relationships ended equally as abruptly. It is a bit melancholy when what was once a fun hobby marked by expression, passion, playfulness, and attention, has become either a bland habit or a thankless chore. I guess that old John Fogerty song kind of hit the nail on the head in that we all run out of songs to play.

Yesterday I marked post number 1800 on my site. My goal, for no particular reason other than the appreciation of round numbers, has been to last until post number 2000 and retire. Who knows if I will make it that far or if I will continue on beyond that. For now, I just wanted to pause and reflect on eight years in the business and 1800 posts. I also wanted to thank my regular visitors who have been kind to me with their time and their interactions.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Cross Roads

The second novel published by Wm. Paul Young is entitled Cross Roads. If the author's name is not familiar to you, it might be that you will recognize the title of his first novel, a modest 18 million seller entitled The Shack. When I read The Shack back in 2008, it resonated strongly with me on a number of different levels. It was a superbly written novel and so filled me with emotions that I had to stop reading at any number of different places because my eyes were overflowing with tears. That novel gave me a way to embrace, to approach, and to grasp the triune Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Shack is one of the two or three books that I would request if I were to be exiled to a small island for the rest of my days. However, this post is not about The Shack, but about Cross Roads. Would it surprise you if I told you that my reaction to this book touched me nearly every bit as deeply? Another absolutely beautiful and touching piece of work that I give my highest recommendation to.

The story involves Anthony Spencer, a man who has lived his life keeping score. The one with the most money and prestige is the one who will be declared the winner. Tony has relished destroying anyone who opposes him, or even displeases him. He has kept a list of names of people who have irked him and one by one has taken joy in squashing them under his heel. He has made the choice to keep everyone in his world at more than arm's length for fear that people only want what he has worked so hard to take or to claim. In one moment he is certain that his life is marked by victory. In the next moment, in a drunken state, he has an accident and is clinging to life in an ICU. It is in that moment that Tony meets Jesus and the Holy Spirit, written as simple, yet beautiful, allegorical representations. From a different perspective outside of himself, and with prompting, teaching, and guidance from Jesus and the Holy Spirit, Tony comes to understand who he has become and why he is the way he is, yet he finds no condemnation, only love. Jesus tells Tony that he will go on a journey where he can choose to physically heal one and only one person that he meets. When that choice is made his journey will end.

We then travel with Tony as he slides back and forth from a spirit in this world to his place in the world between this one and the life after. Tony, as you might imagine, undergoes a stunning transformation from a point of strength and confidence. Young's writing left me in tears as his wonderful and pure expressions of love and sacrifice spilled across the pages and left me wanting to embrace life and living more strongly.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Veil

Recently, I have been afflicted with some pain and tightness in my left shoulder and bicep. After a few days of suffering with no signs of improvement, I made an appointment to see my doctor. After a few questions and some poking and prodding, he scheduled me for an MRI. As I have been subjected to several of these scans in the past, I knew what to expect. However, even knowing what is going to happen and understanding a bit of how the "magic" works, seeing your innards, your very pith and marrow, on a computer screen, still absolutely fascinates and enthralls me.

In an MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging procedure, the presence of hydrogen atoms is detected by subjecting them to a strong magnetic field that aligns the spin of the protons (i.e. the direction of their intrinsic magnetic moments) along the direction of the external field. These protons are then excited into a higher energy state by applying a radiofrequency source at a specifically tuned frequency. When the magnetic field is turned off, radiation is given off by the excited protons that can be picked up in sensitive detectors. For MRI scans, an cross-sectional image of tissue can be made by producing a well-calibrated magnetic field gradient across the extent of the tissue so that the magnetic field strength can be associated with a given location in the tissue. Since the proton signal frequency is proportional to the magnetic field, a given proton signal frequency can be assigned to a location in the tissue using a mathematical mapping procedure known as a Fourier transform. This provides the three-dimensional map of the tissue. The contrast between different types of tissue is revealed as the proton density is different in different types of tissue. What results from these scans are detailed images of what lies beneath our skin, yet without a single incision made or drop of blood shed.

When my daughter was young, I used to attempt to explain to her (when she asked) how various physical phenomena occurred. Sometimes she would be quite disappointed to understand how nature worked, almost as if I were ruining the magic or pulling back the veil to reveal the wizard. However for me, even knowing a bit how things work, never takes away my amazement and wonder at the practical applications mankind has been able to develop based on initially esoteric observations and studies.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Tuf Voyaging

At some point last year I decided that I wanted to explore the works of author George R.R. Martin. Having thoroughly enjoyed all of the different entries in his A Song of Ice and Fire series (also known as his Game of Thrones books), I began to work my way through some of his other stuff. My most recent read was the enjoyable science fiction romp entitled Tuf Voyaging. The story begins in a world plagued by cycles of disease and death in a remote world near the edge of the galaxy. Ultimately we learn that these cycles are caused by a long-lost Earth "seed ship" designed for ecological warfare on a planetary scale. The regime that built and launched these ships had been overthrown a millenium ago and the ships were lost in time. However, a group of small-time salvagers discovered the last of these ships and made to stake their claim. Deperate for transportation to the distant ship, they hired a trader, one Havilund Tuf, to take them on his small cargo ship, the Cornucopia of Excellent Goods at Low Prices. After the salvagers turn against one another, Tuf is left to claim the prize of the awesome might that is the seed ship.

Tuf is a very interesting character. Part fop, part eccentric, part garish clown, part shrewd businessman. Just when you think that he might be played for a sucker or taken advantage of, he always seems to have another card to play to remain in control. In this story Tuf and his feline companions travel from world to world using the power of the immense and glorious ship that he calls the "Ark" to help the ever odd-ball and wacky leaders that he comes across. Most of them are so blind to the problems of their worlds that they are ripe for Tuf to both bless them and curse them at the same time. The way that Tuf plays them is quite delicious fodder. A story that was engaging, playful, and quite unlike any of the stories that I have read from Martin. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Christian Advertising

Today's post begins with the following question, "What is the difference between Mick Jagger and a Scottish Christian?"

Mick Jagger says: "Hey you get off of my cloud."
The Scottish Christian says: "Hey McCloud get off of my pew."

O.K., so I may have mixed up that joke with another, but either way, this provides an apt lead in to my gripe about Christian advertising, specifically when the common man uses his own lifestyle to let others know of his faith. But the problem is that normally every time we make a bold declaration, we need to be sure that we know who we are representing. Let me give some examples that I have come across recently.

Example #1: Many churches like to distribute magnetic decals or bumper stickers for their members to attach to their cars. These same folks then take to the roads and drive like absolute maniacs. They wildly switch back and forth from lane to lane cutting others off and running lights. I am sure that when other folks spot these church decals or bumper stickers and witness this type of selfish and aggressive driving, they just might find another reason to deny Jesus because of his followers.

Example #2: Many churches like to distribute t-shirts to their members as a perk for volunteering. These same members then wear these t-shirts out in public all the while cussing loudly like sailors on shore leave or otherwise just being loud and obnoxious. Do they think that folks don't see the message advertised on their clothing and then develop a negative opinion of Christians and their God?

Example #3: Many Christians when asked about their faith by folks who they are trying to impress will respond by denying their Lord with lines such as, "I go to church, but I am not some kind of zealot." What kind of message does that send to outsiders?

I often think that if we continue to act like we normally do, Jesus would much prefer us to discard those decals and bumper stickers, that we zip up our jackets when we go out in public, and that we keep our mouths shut when talking to others about him.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Observations 85

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 can't believe by this point it isn't common knowledge that Canadians are easily identified in that the tops of their heads are not connected to their bodies. Did South Park teach us nothing?
  • "Outside?" may or may not have been the response uttered by a highly educated person after his colleague came up to him and said, "Wow, the rain is really coming down."
  • I was at the hospital the other day for some tests. On the way in I saw a sign that read, "Caution! Speed Humps." Speed humps? They are called speed bumps. I am not going to get sick and come back if they are going to continue erecting nonsensical signs.
  • When my neurologist stabbed me with a needle I cried out with a manly "yip" in response to the pain. Without looking up from what he was doing, he asked me if I was some kind of a wimp.
  • I went up to the IT "help desk" at work the other day to deal with an issue with my computer. Within a few moments I was suddenly surrounded by about 15 IT guys who began looking at me in a threatening manner. In that moment I became panicked that I was about to be a victim of more senseless dweeb on nerd violence.