Friday, October 31, 2008

Appreciating Friends

I once publicly thanked my friend Keith for allowing me to take every premise to its most absurd conclusion. This was a joke that I often used with him in private during my sentence in graduate school. This sentiment simply meant that I deeply appreciated the fact that he let me be me. I could talk to him about any topic and he would give me the freedom to say whatever I wanted to say, whether right, wrong, or completely off the point (this latter condition was the case more often than not with me). There was never any judgement in his replies, just acceptance of me. I remember that after a long, hard, pressure-filled day, or a day in which I was bored or keyed-up and did not feel like working, I could always swing by his office and just shoot the breeze, relax, and reset. Our discussions were always filled with laughter, silliness, inanity, and mutual, unconditional enjoyment. I think that Keith was one of the few people I could show my silly side to because most everyone else expected me to be serious and uptight. Not Keith. Friends like him are rare in our lives and they should be embraced and celebrated. Let your friends know how much you appreciate them today. I wanted to share a few good quotes on friendship that get my point across much better than I can.

  • A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway.
  • Who finds a faithful friend, finds a treasure.
  • What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.
  • The only way to have a friend is to be one.
  • A faithful friend is the medicine of life.
  • Friendship multiplies the good of life and divides the evil.
  • Friendship needs no words.
  • The best mirror is an old friend.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ahh Bach!

My post title represents a famous line by modern philosopher Walter "Radar" O'Reilly. He was coached to say this when heading into a discussion of classical music with some snobblish acquaintances to fake his way into their graces. He had no knowledge of this topic as he was, after all, a low-level, boorish paper-jockey. I have had this experience before too (I am, after all, a low-level atom-smashing jockey). I was at a conference in Vienna about 10 years ago. It just so happened that the Austrian National Museum (Kunsthistorisches) was a couple of blocks from the conference venue. I decided to kill some time between sessions by checking it out. I should say that museums, to that point in time, could not hold my attention (yaaaaawn). The featured exhibit at the museum at the time of my visit happened to be the largest collection of paintings of Pieter Bruegel ever assembled. Bruegel was a Renaissance painter and is known for his landscapes and peasant scenes. His most productive period was in the 1550s and 1560s. His body of work remains unparalleled today (at least according to some snooty art brochure that I am just now making up). I was determined not to be impressed. I was in the front door and out the exit in a little better than 15 minutes. Not bad if you ask me. I headed back to the conference site to find someone to go get a coffee with. On the way, I came across a colleague and friend of mine (he was there for the conference too -- I don't know random folks walking around the streets of Vienna). He said he was going to the museum to -- let's all say it together -- check out the Bruegel exhibit. As I was looking for some company anyway, I tagged along with him. The next thing I know, it was 5 hours later and the museum curator had to kick us out as it was closing time. It turned out that my friend was an amateur Bruegel afficionado. He knew so much about the history and themes of each painting. He was able to explain the symbolism and nuances of each work in such detail that I was totally mesmerized. By the end of that afternoon, I had fallen in love with the works of this Dutch master. I currently own prints of The Triumph of Death, The Tower of Babel (yes that tower from Genesis 11), and The Fall of Icarus. The color palette and intricacy of his paintings are such that I never grow tired of studying them. I am always finding new details and beauty in his works. This post also brings along a life lesson. Sometimes, when left to our own devices, we can totally miss out on the true meaning and beauty of life. There are times when an experienced sherpa can bring much more out of us (or put much more into us) than we could have imagined.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Greatest Show Ever

Sometimes it is fun to write about less serious topics. I think it exercises, at least in me, less frequently used portions of the brain. Synaptic connections are built, neurons flow, and one can, at times, find their smile. I wanted to write about the greatest show ever. I am speaking, of course, of Pinky and the Brain, a cartoon executive produced by Steven Spielberg. The show ran on the WB network from 1995 to 1998 and even won several Emmy awards. I read somewhere that critical acclaim is the same thing as quality. However, mainstream approval and acceptance is also something that kills the essence of countercultural coolness (or coolosity as scientist call it). Be that as it may, I have all of the episodes (amounting to 12 DVDs) and though I have seen them all many times, and can recite all plot lines from memory, I still love to watch them. They make me laugh out loud, even after the worst days. I have found over the years that the healing power of laughter is simply amazing. (Interruption from pesky outside reader).  Dan, I have never heard of this Pinky and the Brain show that you are alluding to. (Back to me).  Wow, you must have been raised in some Aleutian fishing village far from electricity and indoor plumbing. Let me fill you in. The show is about two genetically altered lab mice (their genes have been spliced, don't you know). They try every night to take over the world, but alas, their plans are always thwarted. The characters include The Brain (aka Mr. The Brain), who is a semi-evil but totally sympathetic super genius, and his feckless (completely without feck) sidekick Pinky. His brainial capacity is (ahem) markedly less developed than The Brain. He represents the lovable idiot who randomly shouts out expressions like "Poit", "Narf", "Zort", and "Troz". He has even been known to opine "Fjord".  He loves the taste of chalk and pals around with dryer lint. The show is written at a level that it will keep the young ones amused, but it is really for the worldly grown-up as it is loaded with references to celebrities, politicians, world issues, sweep-the-nation crazes, secret societies, etc. Do yourself a favor (and your funny bones) and check it out. Don't be completely without feck and learn to appreciate references to The Subclub (TM), Chia-Earth, Micro-sponge, and gene splicing and bagel warming. "Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?", "Same thing we do every night, try to take over the world." Let me know if you are as hip and cool as I know I am by telling me how much you love and respect this fine program.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

From Both Sides Now

Over the past few months I have read two books that were fascinating to me. Both are well written, dynamic, engaging, and quite deep. However, the point that fascinates me is the very different perspectives from which these two books were written. The first book is called The Shack by William Young and the second is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. While one must be guarded against taking either work too literally (as they are both fiction), they have really helped me to understand the approach of God and Satan much more clearly. In The Shack, we get an up close look at how the holy trinity works in the life of every person and we get some insight into the differing roles of the father, son, and holy spirit. In The Screwtape Letters we can gain some understanding of how the master tempter tries to pervert us and redirect us toward sin and away from grace through his minions. Both books are very much worth your time. When reading The Shack my eyes were rarely dry and I felt filled with the holy spirit who was working to advance the "learning moment" (an educator's term) that was before me. When reading The Screwtape Letters I kept thinking "how devilishly clever" the enemy is in their approach.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reading (Argh)

I am allegedly a highly educated man.  I have a Ph.D. in nuclear physics and know lots of big words and can even use them correctly in a sentence.  The embarrassing truth, which I have finally owned up to, is that I do not like to read.  There I said it. (Pause for gasps from the readers).  I was doing fine living like this, minding my own business. I wasn't hurting anyone. Then someone in my small group encouraged me earlier this year to read a particular book, and then another, and then another.  Dang, now I have read over 20 real books this year (where a real book is one that has more words than pictures).  The worst part of it all is that I now look forward to finding some quiet time to read and get lost either in a good work of fiction or non-fiction.  I am reading like there is no tomorrow and actually enjoying it.  What will the neighbors say?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Identity in Christ

I have been living a lie. Outwardly I smile and laugh, but I have been dead on the inside for quite some time. To be more correct, I am dying but not dead. I like the way that it is expressed in the song Lost by Coldplay, Just because I'm losing doesn't mean I'm lost. Part of my recovery involves some profound words that I say to myself every day. I have seen them attributed to Robert McGee and called Identity in Christ.

"Because of Christ's redemption, I am a new creation of infinite worth. I am deeply loved, I am completely forgiven, I am fully pleasing, I am absolutely complete in Christ. When my performance reflects my new identity in Christ, that reflection is dynamically unique. There has never been another person like me in the history of mankind, nor will there ever be. God has made me an original, one of a kind, a special person."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The New and the Old (a Lesson)

For a week, my little girl Maddie and I had been looking forward to having dinner at a particular restaurant (Panera Bread). We were both so excited about spending the afternoon together and then sharing a special dinner that evening. The afternoon did not turn out to be so special as Maddie was not happy about doing her homework and less happy about my trying to show her how to do it. This led to a bad attitude on both our parts. I was almost to the point where I was going to call off going out at all.  

Tensions eased a bit on both sides after a while and we left for our dinner as planned. On the way, a video game that we were working on together (and nearing completion on) erased all of our stored information and all of our hard work on finishing it was lost. When we got to Panera, we found our favorite seating area unoccupied and marked our territory with our jackets. We were both excited and things were looking up. When we went up to the counter to place our orders, the restaurant was out of the one thing that my daughter had been looking forward to (and the only thing on the menu that she would actually eat). She asked to leave for home. On the way, I was close to tears as the whole afternoon was not going according to my plan. Maddie could sense how upset I was and she said something that opened my eyes. She said daddy, having dinner together at some restaurant is not important. The only thing that is important is that we get to spend time together and talk and have fun. She was totally right and her statement changed my outlook completely. 

When we got home, I was renewed of spirit, and I decided to see if there were any other Panera locations nearby. It turns out that there was one much closer to our home than the one we went to, but I didn't even know about it. When we got there, they had everything we wanted, in fact we both liked the place better. An evening that was not turning out well was saved and we both had a wonderful evening, all because of an important lesson that my little one taught me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


It is funny how being a Christian can impact your way of thinking. Before I accepted Christ as my personal savior, I seemingly had the ability to do anything that I wanted without any feelings of guilt. Sure I had my own internal moral compass that defined right and wrong for me, but my life was still full of sinful thoughts and behaviors. Of course being a Christian does not eliminate the sinful thoughts and behaviors, it simply makes you more aware of the fact that God's moral compass is quite a different instrument than our own. There is an interesting idea that God is within us, and when we sin, we are dragging God along for the ride. There is always so much to consider in how we go about living. The further I get along the road, the longer I realize that the journey is. The title of this post is frustration, but this is only a hook to draw you in. The life of a Christian is not meant to be one lived always thinking that they are being cheated or that they are always missing out on the fun. Following the way of God is supposed to be uplifting, and hopefully, it will ultimately be a much more natural part of our fabric.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here's a Start

I have been an active voyeur of blogs of several of my friends. However, there comes a time in every man's life when he must stand up and be counted. So, I have started this blog of my own. To be clear, I have no real agenda, no real plan, and no real clue of how I will use this space. I will most likely approach my blog with all the predictability of a Shaquille O'Neal free-throw or a politician's point of view. Stay tuned.