Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Proud Gibberish

I was shopping in Walmart the other day with my daughter. We went in to pick up a couple of typical items. In whole, this appeared to amount to a very ordinary trip to the market. While we were navigating through the outskirts of the toy section, we passed by a caucasian woman talking in a rather obstreperous tone to her infant child who happened to be strapped into the seat of the shopping buggy. She was saying over and over again to the child, "nihao". Her manner of speaking to the child reminded me of how one might teach old Polly to ask for a cracker. The memorable thing about this chance encounter was that the woman's tone of voice increased noticeably whenever someone passed by her. She appeared desperate for attention. It was a most ostentatious display. We halted a safe distance away to verify this rather odd behavior. Indeed, she repeated this pattern again several times. My daughter and I looked at each other, shook our heads and made a mental note between ourselves that this woman was clearly a kook, and we then continued on our way.

After we had found what we wanted, we headed to the checkout. I bet you can guess pretty quickly who came up behind us in line just a few moments later. Of course, it was Mama Nutbag from earlier. (Kind of reminds me of a plot line in a bad sitcom.) Now she had us as her captive audience. She immediately began saying to the baby "nihao, nihao", and then she looked up and announced to nobody in particular, "you know, nihao is Japanese for hello". The behavior was so odd, I felt strangely uncomfortable and, frankly, rather embarrassed for her. When I was paying for my goods, she repeated her same bit for the checkout clerk. She proudly announced, "My baby is saying nihao". The clerk, just trying to get his miserable day over with, looks at the child half-heartedly and says, "well, meow to you too", thinking that the child had been playing kitty. The mother, in her snootiest tone, moves closer to Joe-checkout and says "nihao is Japanese for hello sir!". The clerk says, "well, I don't know anything about Japanese, so I'll just say hello and leave it at that". By this point, my daughter and I were bursting with mirthful giggles and had to hastily get the heck out of there before we soiled ourselves.

The moral of the story is to be yourself at all times. If you try to communicate in fancy, presumptuous terms, you can guarantee that you may be puffed up with pride like the peacock, but nobody else will have a clue what you are trying to say, and furthermore, nobody will care. One other sidelight to this story that also strengthens my point, nihao is actually Chinese for hello.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Friends, I have been struggling with the concept of forgiveness. Of course, this seems a crazy thing to say. Everyone knows and understands the forgiveness thing. Someone does or says something against us and we forgive them. In other words, we release them from their debt against us, we do not hold the infraction against them, we wipe the slate clean now and forever, we let go of any claims of revenge. For true forgiveness, these steps must be appreciated, whether the other person recognizes their act against us or not, whether they apologize to us or not. Once forgiveness is granted or given or recognized, we are to completely let go of the offense against us. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the Godly thing to do. We are reminded:

Peter got up the nerve to ask, "Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?" Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.", Matthew 18:21

I suppose that I get this, I am not dull. When someone strikes me once, I know the course and forgiveness is not difficult. When someone strikes me twice, I may grumble and brace myself, but I can forgive. The struggle that I am having with forgiveness is when the offender continually strikes me and strikes me. When I am bruised and bloody and I know that the assault won't stop, what then? Am I to armor myself, to fortify, to protect? I am human, and directing negative thoughts and negative energy toward the other person just happens. It is how we seem to be wired. What is the appropriate Christian response? What is the wise thing to do?

Lost deep in the jungle of darkness and confusion, I finally found a shaft of light, one that I was led to, one that I could not have found on my own. If God can forgive me time and again as I continually sin, with full knowledge that the offenses will never end, can I too not show grace? Can I too not demonstrate, even in some pared down and totally unmarkable manner by comparison, what I now recognize and understand? Possibly. At least I can try. Try to love and try to grow. I know that I will not succeed every time, maybe even not most of the time. Ultimately, simply the desire to forgive may be the most important step on this journey.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Oy, You Egghead!

I believe that one of our duties to God is to use the gifts that he gave us to the best of our abilities. Since I was a young boy I knew that I wanted to be a scientist, and in fact, I knew that I wanted to be a nuclear physicist. Thankfully the Lord has blessed me with a skill set to enable me to follow my dream, and to be successful in my field. I wanted to share one egghead-type post of the abstract of my most recent work that has just been published [Ref: Phys. Rev. C 79, 065205 (2009)]. Thanks in advance for putting up with me on this one.

Beam-Recoil Polarization Transfer in the Nucleon Resonance Region in the Exclusive ep → e'K+Λ and ep → e'K+Σ0 Reactions: Beam-recoil transferred polarizations for the exclusive ep → e'K+Λ,Σ0 reactions have been measured using the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility's large acceptance spectrometer (CLAS) at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. New measurements have been completed at beam energies of 4.261 and 5.754 GeV that span a range of momentum transfer Q2 from 0.7 to 5.4 GeV2, invariant energy W from 1.6 to 2.6 GeV, and the full center-of-mass angular range of the K+ meson. These new data add to the existing CLAS K+Λ measurements at 2.567 GeV, and provide the first-ever data for the K+Σ0 channel in electroproduction. Comparisons of the data with several theoretical models are used to study the sensitivity to s-channel resonance contributions and the underlying reaction mechanism. Interpretations within two semiclassical partonic models are made to probe the underlying reaction mechanism and the s-sbar quark-pair creation dynamics.

O.K., so now you know more about what excites me! If you want to discuss the data results or the model interpretations, let me know. I can even wear my white "scientist-type" lab coat if you that would make me seem more authoritative.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pinkies Up

People look at me and immediately form opinions about what I must watch when I turn on the television. Because of my high level of education and my occupation, people automatically assume that I enjoy Masterpiece Theatre (note the erudite spelling of "Theatre") while munching piping hot scones and drinking Earl Grey tea from a fancy porcelian service whilst my pinky is pointed straight upwards. These same folks probably also just assume that I speak with a snooty, European-sounding accent that brings to mind summers in Tuscany or crisp fall days reclining on the Champs-Elysees. Of course these people, to the best of my knowledge, have never peeked in my windows at night while I am laying on the couch in my ripped and possibly off-color underwear, scratching randomly, and covered in a fine layer of cheese dust from having scarfed down a bag of cheddar poofs. Clearly not the picture that matches most folks perception of me and my tastes. You know what, that's just fine. Shows like Married with Children, Family Guy, South Park, or even Spongebob Squarepants make me laugh and I don't have to think too hard. I'm not embarrassed to admit that these shows resonate with me and make me chortle and release deep-seated stress accumulated throughout the day. Furthermore, I don't have to go to the bother of having to prepare scones with their overt savory fillings or adopting a European lifestyle.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Remember

There are images and scents and tastes that have become engrained in me. They are more than just stale data collecting dust in the corners of my mind. Once triggered they set off a reaction that floods my senses with scenes and emotions and vignettes from the past. It's hard to put into words, but these encounters, if you will, are not like watching old reels. They are much more vivid, alive, emotional. Sometimes I can be set off by something and it is like hearing a single clear voice in a crowd that puts everything else in the background. In an instant it takes over as the sole reality in my mind, and then just as quickly, fades away into the aether. I have three examples to share, one for each category listed.

Image: The Mariner's Museum holds a special place for me as the grounds and walking paths were a big part of my courtship and early married years. The walks alone together or with our dog Georgie. Later they included outings with our little one. I remember.

Scent: During my courtship I used to wait in the evening for my beloved at the bottom of her stairs while she took her shower in the evening. The smell of her soap upon opening the bathroom door was a mark of the completion of duties and the beginning of a few hours of togetherness, closeness, sharing as the day came to an end. I remember.

Taste: When I was going through the period of my cancer diagnosis I received a number of whole body scans in various types of imaging systems. On the morning of one test I had to go through a multi-step process of purging and cleaning my intestines. There was a particular nasty suppository that was part of the process, but another was a laxative that had to be consumed. It tasted faintly like ginger ale. Whenever I drink a ginger ale, the entire morning huddled close to the bowl comes rushing back. I remember.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thanks Friends

Hey folks! Those of you who blog regularly understand the work that goes into this activity. In my case, my mind is always on the lookout for ideas and topics. Sometimes my mind gets wrapped around an idea and I spend some time forming and shaping it into something that I publish. Lots of my blogs are things that I explore just for me. They are things that I need to or want to think about. Others are just fun things that I come across. Sometimes I am seeking advice or feedback. Certainly in an endeavor of this sort, the time and energy and encouragement and feedback of others are welcome and appreciated. So, when my mother sent me the above picture, I thought it would be the perfect vehicle to thank all of you who visit my site and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cult Classics

I would like to discuss a blast from the past. Ready? Are you sure? This one is a real turkey. A real steaming pile of dung. The program was called Manimal. Cue the spooky background music. Cue the velvet-throated voice actor.

Dr. Jonathan Chase . . . wealthy, young, handsome. A man with the brightest of futures. A man with the darkest of pasts. From Africa's deepest recesses, to the rarefied peaks of Tibet, heir to his father's legacy and the world's darkest mysteries. Jonathan Chase, master of the secrets that divide man from animal, animal from man ... Manimal!

Yes, you read that right my squirrelly friend. Manimal lasted for just a few weeks in the fall of 1983 on NBC, the same network that brought us "Sparky the Sassy Dill Pickle" back in the 1970s. The premier was built up with an expensive and incessant ad compaign that last all summer leading up to its debut. The show centered on a shape-shifting man would could morph into any animal he wanted in his secret life as a crime fighter. "Form of a menacing gerbil!". It turns out that manimal actually liked to change into a hawk most of the time, perhaps because this was the only crappy special effects that the show could afford. It certainly did not have sufficient money to afford talented script writers. In short, the show was a total train wreck from the very start.

There is an important life lesson here. Once you realize that a given idea is a clunker, one for which there is no possible salvage, you need to set it down, walk away, and never look back. You must do this regardless of how much time, energy, and money you have invested. The one possible exception to this rule falls into the category of "cult classics". Sometimes an idea is so bad that it becomes good. You have to be your own judge on this one.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Grind My Gears IV

I am standing by the doors waiting. The light on the button panel is illuminated. I am running a bit behind schedule and starting to gripe inside about what is holding up the car. Out of the corner of my eye I notice another approaching. He walks up and pushes the elevator button that I have already clearly pushed. This one is starting to get on my nerves, but I let it go. I coolly have a sip of my delicious java beverage. Another few moments pass. The clock continues to advance. Finally, the doors open and we get in. I push the button for the fifth floor. My fellow lifter pushes the button for the second floor. I do a double take. Did this guy just wait for several minutes to call the elevator to go up just one floor? What nerve. What laziness. If only I had a garotte. Mr. Button pusher and his I-am-too-lazy-to-climb-one-flight-of-stairs attitude really grinds my gears. I think they should install microcomputers in every elevator so that it cannot go up or down just one floor without written notification from the president (or his mother). This type of behavior borders on idiocy. Instead of being able to mindlessly lean up against the wall and pass the time, I have to go over and push the button to close the elevator doors. I am now later for my meeting as well. What about the poor simps who get off on this floor because they are not paying attention? Then they have to go through the whole charade of pretending that they meant to get off on that floor, all the while making complete fools of themselves as anyone with half a brain can clearly see what has happened. Those left inside the car then give the obligatory smirk as the doors slowly close, sealing the outsider's fate. The next time some joker gets on your elevator and pushes the button to go just one floor, I believe it is your duty, nay, your right, to exhale in a clearly audible manner, thus letting this inconsiderate boob know that you know.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Sheep Goes Baaaaa

I can't figure the human race out. I see how people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds act and form opinions, and I am just left scratching my head. Are we all just sheep? Can't we form our own opinions based on an iota of rationality and independent thought? I even spent some quiet time in my pondering spot just trying to make some sense of it. I came away with nothing. Absolutely no answers. What's that you ask friend? Oh, what is it exactly that I am jabbering on about? O.K., that is a fair question (but I must say that I am taking some exception to your tone of voice). In order to answer this question, let me take you back to a couple of things that got me started that have come up recently.

Item #1: Budweiser, the "king" of beer has a new advertising campaign with the tag line "The more you know, the better it tastes". Are you freakin' kidding me? This "beer" is just slightly above "bat urine" in its overall quality and taste. How can any rational person's taste experience of this product have any correlation whatsoever with researching their "product" or even reading the label of the can? I mean it says right on the packaging that it is filtered through worm guano packed in the intestine of a rabid ocelot. Does this knowledge suddenly make me jump to my feet and reach for another Budweiser product with an entirely new frame of mind?

Item #2: I have a tendency when driving with my daughter to point out high end cars on the road as we drive along. Ooooh, there's a Maserati, a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, a Ford Pinto, etc. She has come to the very clear understanding over the years that the more exotic (pronounced ik-spen-siv) a car is, the uglier it looks. I think at times we tend to drool over things, really lust after them, if somebody comes along and tells us that we should like them. Just because they are expensive, they must be the things we dream about. If we really just stop for a moment and consider what we are salivating over, would we still come to the
same conclusion?

O.K., now that you have the full story on my question, maybe you can tell me what has humanity come to? While I wait for your reply, I'll just finish my beer. Hmmm, what's this? Beechwood aged? Awesome, so refreshing!

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's Not About You

Sometimes it's not about you. When you love somebody with all your heart, it is amazing how feelings of pride associated with the big moments in their lives can overwhelm you. Feelings so pure and tender and joyous. The spotlight is not on us and that is so totally fine, it's their chance to shine and to step out. To stand on their own and their own accomplishments. The other day I attended my daughter's fifth grade graduation ceremony. She wore a beautiful new spring dress and her first pair of big girl shoes. When she came into the auditorium, she quickly searched to find me as she walked with her class to their assigned seats. A smile crept across her face, followed by a small wave. Tears started to well up in my eyes. When it was her turn to walk across the stage, get her certificate, and shake the hand of her principal, my mind flooded with images and moments from the past school year. I thought of how hard Maddie worked on her homework each day. How she made sure she completed her assignments, even for subjects that she did not particularly enjoy. Her private recorder concerts for me still echo in my mind. I still hear her going over spelling words as we drove to school. I remember the nervousness on days when she had to do her oral reports. Maddie you really made your daddy proud. Seeing you grow and mature, gaining wisdom, knowledge, and confidence as you go, is a wonderful journey to share with you. All of my love, daddy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Strife vs. Contentment

Today I want to focus on the notions of strife and contentment. In my mind, I view these states of existence as opposite mindsets. With strife comes worry and anger and longing and tension and anxiousness. A negative shade of color. With contentment comes peace and relaxation and gratefulness. A smile that can be given as a gift to one and all. In the last several years, I have somehow let strife have the upperhand in my life. A constant reassurance that I turn to so often is found in Phillipians 4:6-7:

"Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

These words are a powerful tonic in times of strife. On the other side of the wall is contentment. That feeling of complete ease with ourselves and the universe around us. No cares, no worries, no troubles. Complete and total inner peace. There are some relevant verses in the book of Proverbs that I really like in this area:

"Better is a dish of vegetables where love is,
Than a fattened ox and hatred with it."
, Proverbs 15:17

"Better is a little with righteousness
Than great income with injustice."
, Proverbs 16:8

"Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it
Than a house full of feasting with strife."
, Proverbs 17:1

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Delicate Genius

Exerpts from Seinfeld episode 103, "The Kiss Hello":

GEORGE: I still don't see why I can't ask her about my arm.

ELAINE: She's a physical therapist. She doesn't want to have to deal with that outside of the office.

GEORGE: Why not?

ELAINE: Because, it is what she does.

GEORGE: I love these people, you can't ask 'em questions. They're so mentally gifted that we mustn't disturb the delicate genius.

Come to think about it, I believe that I would fall into the category of a delicate genius. When all of my cylinders are churning and fine tuned, my mind is at peace and is a model of focus. In this state I have had people knock on my door or walk into my office and I neither heard them nor saw them until they physically assaulted me. When I am cruising down this road, the doorways between my right brain and left brain are fully open, neurons are firing, and I can concentrate so deeply with such creativity and wisdom that the secrets of the universe are clear and obvious to me (careful here, I have used the literary device known as "hyperbole"). However, if the smallest seed of conflict or aggression or hate or jealousy or concern is planted in me, the whole system diverts crucial resources to stewing on the issue and my ability to work and concentrate is unbalanced and destroyed. Please, you mustn't disturb the delicate genius. Just leave your gifts and offerings by the door and back away quietly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Advances in Computing

When I was a student in college (back during the Cretaceous period when the mightly saber-toothed mastedon roamed free), we had to attend our fair share of seminars, colloquia, and other group meeting talks. Back in those days, the laptop computer was some Spielbergian dream, and we had no other options but to actually pay attention to the speaker, and maybe even sometimes, throw out a question or suggestion. In reality, what happened is that those folks under 50 paid heed, while the older folks drifted off into Nodlandia about the time of the second slide (which was, of course, carved in a slab of shale). As of the writing of this blog, I am sitting in an auditorium of some 250 people in a public talk. I would estimate that at least half of the audience has their attention fully focussed on their laptops. Some are checking email, some are looking at photos of puppies (why I don't know), and some are "surfing" the web (whatever that means). Myself, as I have already admitted, am writing a blog. None of us are paying attention to the speaker, or even doing "real" work (again, whatever that is). My, times have changed. There are so many things to do now besides falling into a coma in any public talk. Actually, for those staring at their computers, there is an art to pulling this off without coming across as rude, uncaring, or uninterested. The secret is to look up from your computer screen every 5.23 minutes, gaze intently at the speaker or the screen, and nod knowingly, almost as if you were actually following along with the talk! Wheeee. Sometimes, for the more skilled, they can even stroke their chin during this brief "observation" period and let out a discerning grunt. Of course, this is a more advanced skill and should not be attempted by mere amateurs.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Farm Hall

After the surrender of Germany in World War II, the allied forces swept through Germany and rounded up ten prominent physicists who were believed to be linked in some way to the Nazi nuclear weapons program. In mid-1945, these scientists were moved to a small farm house in England. The farm house, called Farm Hall, was set up beforehand with an extensive array of listening devices. The goal of this internment was to find out first hand how close the Germans had been to constructing an atomic weapon by eavesdropping on their conversations. Transcripts of the conversations were sent to the allied military commanders on a regular basis. In February 1992, these reports were declassified and published.

The transcripts from the six month period that the Germans were held prisoner make for fascinating reading. It is widely believed that these great men of science did not know that they were being listened to for the majority of their stay. What really holds my attention is the conversations amoung the group after they are told about the U.S. bombings at Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Some believed it was an elaborate ruse of the Americans, after all, the German mind was so superior to those inferior westerners, it must be a trick of some kind. Others felt responsible, in part, for the great suffering inflicted on mankind and worried about the long-term survival of the human race. Some seemed genuinely relieved that the Nazis did not develop this weapon first. Still others went about calculations and ponderings on the details of the bomb to figure out the process that had eluded them.

The personal side of the transcripts may be even more telling. The clear dichotomy and divide between the private self and the public image. Acting and speaking one way when they believed they were alone, and a completely different way when they finally began to suspect that their conversations were being monitored. Amazing how quickly we disavow or run from our
loyalties, our opinions and feelings, our behaviors of the past, under threat of persecution or prosecution. Sounds like a man named Peter from 2000 years ago, "I know not this man". But, the key that should not be missed, is that this painful episode did not ultimately define Peter. There was opportunity for growing and learning, which, of course, he did in abundance.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

200, 200, 200

Back on February 14, 2009 a milestone on this blog was achieved. In that post, called Round Number, this blog celebrated its 100th post. Today, on June 13, 2009, I celebrate another round number with my 200th blog. Where did the time go? Since my 100th post, my daughter has grown up and is now a junior in college, my IRA has fallen in value to be worth slightly more than a handful of belly button lint, and my remaining hair has come in totally white. Actually, my 100th post was only a couple of months ago, but I sure have covered a lot of ground. In case you are worried that I may run out of ideas any time soon, please relax. Take a deep breath in (and then don't forget to exhale). My mind is fertile with ideas for the next several months. That tingling means it's working. So much to say, so little time. I hope you will continue to travel on this journey with me as we move toward entry number 300.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Men's Room Attendant

Having had to do my fair share of "public speaking" over the years, lots of different people will pass along advice to you. How to dress, how to make your slides, how to answer questions, how to pace your presentation, etc. The one universal tidbit that I seem to get is never to begin your talk with an apology (e.g. I am sorry that the talk that you are about to hear is going to be a total train wreck, etc.). With full knowledge and appreciation of this, I am going to begin today's blog-isode with an apology. I am about to insult a very powerful and influential group with my words today. For that I apologize, but after a few moments reflection, you will find my words to be irrefutable. So, here goes.

The world's most useless job has to be the men's room attendant. They sit in the corner of the bathroom, talking and singing to nobody in particular. Beside them a bowl of stale mints and an assortment of cheap colognes. Perhaps more important to them is their "tip" jar. I have no idea what their alleged role in the business world is, but I can assure you that it is completely silly. When I am trying to go number 1, I am not in the bathroom to have a meaningful conversation with anyone. I just want to be left alone to do my thing. I can't imagine anyone striking up a bathroom conversation begun by someone whose opening line is "How's it hanging?". Taking this uncomfortable discussion a bit further so that I can fully illustrate my point, consider, just consider, having to go number 2 in a bathroom with one of these professional loiterers hanging about (like a Klingon orbiting Uranus). I personally cannot imagine having someone eavesdrop on this very, ahem, personal mission. Plus, who in their right mind, would want to hang around outside of a row of stalls taking in that atmosphere and ambiance? This is just gross and more than a little bit strange and disgusting. So, with apologies to this very powerful union (who no doubt have strong connection to the mob), it is time to end this very useless charade and clean out the men's room of all non-essential personnel.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Grind My Gears III

What really grinds my gears? In today's installment I want to rail on nature. To be quite honest I have had it up to here with it. This planet seems to be teeming with all sorts of objectionable critters. Ants, termites, ticks, centipedes, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, horse flies, mosquitos, gnats. Dang. I wish that some giant boot would come down from the heavens and squash the life out of every last one of these pests. I can't go out into "nature" without being accosted by something. Biting, buzzing, sucking, stinging, bothering. Why can't I get a judge to sign a restraining order against "nature" to keep it away from me, to keep it from impacting my life, to keep me from grumbling and cursing and gnashing my teeth? I can see why nature would want to go after "naturalists". I mean, anyone who likes to live in the out-of-doors, is obviously asking for it. I mind my own business, I try to avoid going outside for any reason. What did I ever do to nature in the first place?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Revival II

I belong to a wonderful church family at Waters Edge Church and I have met lots of true and sturdy Christian brothers and sisters there. The church is growing very quickly. It is now 6 years old and has an average weekly attendance of about 1200 folks. In the year and a half that I have been attending, the average attendance has increased by about 30%. They just opened their new church home and had over 1900 folks show up on the opening Sunday. However, being a part of this fellowship can leave you blinded or at least myopic as to the world around us. More and more folks are joining the church, it is growing and the word is getting out. This all seems like such good news, and, of course, it is. However, it is well known that there is no guarantee of a man's piousness just because he is a member of the Church. We are all driven, driven to reach after money and stuff, to covet the things and the ways of this world, to oppress and deny and judge. Wars and hate groups and oppression and starvation. The negatives seem to grow and increase exponentially with each passing year. But the statements of growth in the church and the increase of the negative seem to be completely at odds with each other, somehow diametrically opposed with each other, out of phase. A most curious juxtaposition. It seems that the age that we live in is very much like the age that Charles Spurgeon lived in or any other age in the history of man. We need revival, we need understanding, we need each other, and we need true Godliness. This need goes so far beyond words or understanding or zeal. It is in the living of it that we will begin to truly live.

(Part 2 of a 2 part series)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Revival I

I have been reading excerpts from the classic work "Spiritual Revival: The Want of the Church" by Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon is viewed as one of the pillars of the church in the mid-1800s. It is said that everything old is new again, or better yet, some things never change or go out of style. This is especially true in my view as I look at the world around me some 150 years after Spurgeon lived. Let me share what I read and let you judge for yourself how you see the world.

Spurgeon stated that in his day there were many people in his country (England) that professed to be children of the most high God. But he asked the questions, "Are there any fewer cheats than there used to be?", "Are there less frauds committed?", "Do we find morality more extensive?", "Do we find vice coming to an end?". Of course the answer was no, no, no. He surmised that his age was as immoral and ungodly as any that preceded it. There was just as much sin as there always was, although perhaps one could say that it was more cloaked and hidden.

The general question is this. If the "population" of Christians and God-fearing individuals (or even followers of any mainstream religion for that matter) is increasing, or if the fraction of the Christians in the world population is increasing, shouldn't we expect some quantifiable level in improvement in the areas listed by Spurgeon?

(Part 1 of a 2 part series)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Looking for a Hero

I have never been that much into hero worship. Sure, when I was a kid, I thought certain celebrities or athletes looked cool or were worth imitating at some level. But, as I grew up and passed through my teenage years, these kind of thoughts dissolved away. However, I have friends who are still into a bit of hero worship. I have never felt it my place or my responsibility to talk them out of this. I sense that they are kind of living vicariously through these others. After all, heroes can do things that we never could. By talking about them, or following them, or watching them, maybe we are that much closer to being able to dunk a basketball, or hit that monster home run, or be seen with those beautiful women. Funny that folks look past the deep flaws in their heroes. Funny that they see only a manufactured image. Funny that the reality can be much different than the persona or the reputation.

Kobe Bryant betrayed his wife. Alex Rodriquez is an admitted cheater. Elvis Presley was a drug addict. Rock Hudson was gay. I suspect that the hero worshippers or groupies are immune to the truth at times. They might be aware of the facts, but they find a way to look past them or gloss them over. Does following someone or emulating them or making a big deal of their talent or accomplishments somehow amount to tacit approval of their behavior? On one level I think it does. On another, probably not. After all, hero worship is just fantasy. Isn't it?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Future Tense

Have you ever looked forward to some big occasion for a really long time? Maybe you marked your calendar and counted off the days. When the big moment finally arrived, did you have a sense of overwhelming joy or a sense that the whole thing was somehow anticlimatic? For several years now, my church (Waters Edge Church -- WEC) has been planning to move away from being a portable church using rented facilities to one with their own building. Construction started less than a year ago (in about August 2008) and Sunday May 31, 2009 was the big opening day, the first services in our new building. Our lead pastor, Stu Hodges, commented that he had gotten two types of feedback from folks in recent days. Either the building, the grounds, and the experience brought euphoria and awe, or it brought some level of disappointment. I'm quite sure that the folks who expressed disappointment were not upset in the least with Waters Edge having a place of its own. Perhaps it was just with small architectural decisions, or color palette choices, or opinions on layouts, or location, or the modest size of the structure, or the selection of Otis Spunkmeyer cookies for the lobby hospitality area. It seemed the responses where either a 1 or a 0, nothing in between. I suspect that some folks just object to change. They get used to things being a certain way, and if they vary even a little, they are conditioned or programmed to gripe. Well, these contrarians need to stifle themselves (as Archie Bunker used to say). They probably were not there each week to set up and tear down the church when we met at the YMCA on Sunday mornings or to set up and tear down the church when we met at the Yoder Barn Theater on Sunday evenings. A huge amount of work, requiring a sizeable number of people. As for me, the experience of being in our new building, being a part of the process and the moment, was a total thrill. Our service felt so natural, our presence in this new locale seemed so organic. The band sounded great and the lighting was an exciting new element. Stu was on top of his "game" and gave a great first talk, and WEC was very much WEC.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Old Car -- New Car

Can an inanimate object, a thing, have a soul? Perhaps a personality? Maybe you would allow that it could hold a special place in your life. A connection to memories. Something that was with you or belonged to you during an important part or phase of your life. With me, this thing happens to be a car. A 1998 Ford Taurus sedan to be exact. This car was the first one that I ever owned. It was parked in my driveway for the entire duration of my married life. It was with me on many business trips alone and with my family, it was used to transport my little one to school, to play dates, and to dance lessons, to name a few. I guess that I form a special attachment to some things, a kind of friendship in a way. A good example of this is the warmth that I feel when I spot my car in the airport parking lot after being away on a trip. It just fills me with a warm feeling of comfort, of familiarity, of, well, friendship.

Well, like relationships with people, nothing lasts forever. There is always a beginning and an end. Such is the case with my 1998 Ford. Recently my old friend passed the 100,000 mile mark and then started to show its age. I became a regular at the repair shop, and after several thousand dollars, everyone began to call me by name. I sensed the end was near. I tried for a time to ignore the signs, to go on as I always had, to hope that the last repair would hold my friend tight for a while. Alas, two weeks ago it was the air conditioner. An estimated $1,000 repair was the final straw, and led to saying goodbye. For the past week, I have been developing a new relationship that I hope lasts for a while. Anyone who knows me, knows that I hate goodbyes more than anything.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Degrees of Sin

I, like you, am a sinner. Perhaps, like me, from time to time you do some self-evaluation to recognize areas of sin in your life and then work on them with goals and purpose and effort. It is interesting that I don't fully appreciate how certain areas of my life are infected until I reflect on them for a while. Slowly I become sensitized to the problem, with its causes and effects. Sure it is great to work toward self-improvement, working toward some ideal or respected paradigm. However, when I fall short of my goal, or witness old attitudes resurfacing that I thought I had quelled, it really frustrates me and deflates me. Oftentimes I try to delude myself that my latest sin wasn't to the same degree as before, or at least I had behaved myself for a time. However, I ultimately understand that my sinful nature is so entwined with my life that I will never be free of it. It will always be waiting to bubble up to the surface. That old tormenter has returned.

I have had long discussions with several friends about the nature of sin. Are there lesser sins and greater sins? Are there varying degrees of sin with consequent degrees of retribution? While this debate has gone on for some time, the answer seems to be maybe. However, the answer to the question really does not matter. The Bible teaches that sin is what separates man from God (see Isaiah 59:2). It doesn't matter what you have done or the extent of your transgression, sin is a rebellion against God, and all sin can be equally harmful in separating us from him.

Now I realize that this sounds like there is no hope. We are screwed and there is nothing that we can do about it. Some might say that as we are already guilty, why even try? Why not just live our lives and do whatever we want to do? My personal belief though is that sin is in our nature and we will never be separated from its shadow. However, I truly believe that our Lord is well pleased with us when we work on ourselves in his name, when we make efforts to turn to him for strength and support. When we own up to who we are and what we are and seek him out for his compassion, grace, and forgiveness. It doesn't matter how many times we have fallen, it is the getting up that counts.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Service Burden

In times when the spirit fills us, we can be moved to make committments to service. Initially, the mental and physical strain of this work might go completely unnoticed as our hearts are light and our minds are focussed. However, after a time, a certain weariness can begin to move in and settle upon us. What was once a delight and joy, a way of connecting us and fulfilling us, may be looked upon with a hidden disinclination. As Hannah Whitall Smith said, the soul finds itself saying, instead of the "May I?" of love, the "Must I?" of duty. The yoke, which was easy at first, begins to gall, and the burden feels heavy instead of light.

If your acts of service start to become a burden, if a feeling of regret for having stepped up or stepped out begins to settle in, it is time to step back. It is essential that you take a break, a time out. Carve out some quiet time and think about what you are doing, why it is important, how it helps or benefits others, and, most importantly, who you are making this effort for. This time should be taken regularly to reorient yourself, to reset your priorities, and to reenergize your mind and heart. Each time before you begin your tasks, take some time to pray for a right attitude, a humble spirit, and that God will use you as he desires for the outcome that he has planned.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Splitting Hares

He's off and flyin' as he guns the car around the track
He's jammin' down the pedal like he's never comin' back

Reflecting on this photograph and the painfully true-to-life lyrics from the old Speed Racer cartoon, I cannot imagine any scenario in which there is a dry eye amongst any of my readers. Bunny shish kabob is afoot. How many more times must I subject you to these frightening images before you will understand, before you will help to bring about change?

Monday, June 1, 2009


Everyone needs a sanctuary. A place of refuge or asylum. A place of quiet and comfortable and safe. A place of strength and of peace and of reflection.

A gentle breeze, the echos of laughter, a familiar song, a welcoming fortress. My sanctuary.