Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Two to One

With each alpha there comes an omega. With each sunrise, a sunset follows. Sometimes with the end of a relationship, the decision is made by us, sometimes it is made for us. Some start passionately with intense fever and then just as quickly flame out. Others grow from a sweet infancy through a long, vigorous, and sustained life. Some develop organically, and some are thrust upon us by circumstances or geography. It matters not though, as each has a purpose and a time.

Relationships have always puzzled me, and I am quite sure that I will never fully understand why some flourish, others implode, and still other just seem to wither away. Even when we feel a strong bond with another, things can fall apart. I have the feeling that some are done in by small seeds sowed in us along the way, seeds that we might never even be aware of. Much to our dismay and surprise, they lurk under the surface until they germinate and take root at just a certain moment.

Some relationships we revel in, others we are happy or relieved or satisfied over their demise. Some we cling to, others we run from. Sometimes the other person has changed against our will. Sometimes we have changed or, perhaps, understood a little better what we wanted or what we didn't want. I also feel that sometimes God just doesn't bless certain unions, even when we think it is what we wanted going in. He might just be making it clear that he has something different in store for us. There is another path that we are supposed to follow.

When you feel that you are broken, that you will never find what you are looking for in a relationship, when you come to doubt yourself, don't get too discouraged. As long as we continue to live and be open, there will be hope.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns

I have likened my time with Charles Swindoll to relaxing with a good cup of coffee. Tension dissipates, peace envelops me. My mind and my body shuffle off the pains of the world and it is a time for me to focus on right Christian living and attitudes. I just finished reading an older Swindoll work called Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns. In this book, a very quick read, the focus is on challenges that we face in life, both big and small, that affect our lives, that needlessly pull us down. The Giants include fear, bitterness, jealousy, lust, depression, loneliness, resentment, grief, pain, procrastination, and rumor. The thorns include comparison, expectations, pessimism, habits, cliches, superstition, busyness, erosion, apprehension, impatience, and pharisaism.

Giants are big things that defy domination. Thorns are little things that prick, penetrate, and poison. Big or small, we need to find a way to put them in perspective and then take control. Our weakness is always aided by God's strength, our poverty is always removed with God's gift, and our brokenness is healed over by God's love.

This book probably connected as deeply as it did with me given my current place in life. I also happened to be reading it outdoors on the first day of spring. The weather was absolutely perfect and I was able to look up between paragraphs and thoughts and watch my daughter at her lacrosse game. Just seeing carefree young people enjoying life to the fullest is soothing and uplifting. It can tend to soften even the hardest of inflictions. It can make the biggest giants shrink to manageable size and can make the most painful thorns endurable.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


In some things, it's all what you make of it. It's all about your attitude. Some chores in life we just do and never give them a second thought. Others are viewed with dread and distaste. Bah, pure drudgery. Certainly I am no different in this regard.

One task folks seem to abhor is the weekly grocery shopping. For the most part, this is one thing that I have never minded doing. In fact, oftentimes I really look forward to going to the supermarket. The idea of preparing a plan for weekly meals and snacks has always kind of energized me. I love planning out wonderful meals for myself and my daughter. The thought of creating something that will bring joy fills my spirit. It is one of the "love languages" with which I can communicate fairly well.

Another chore on a typical list is doing the laundry. Lately I have made an effort to have my daughter help me with folding the clothes. It is a time where we can talk and be together. We are doing a chore, but before you know it, we have grown closer and had a good time and somehow the clothes got folded and put away.

I suspect that grocery shopping and folding laundry need not be the only chores where I can make something more than boring routine and nagging tedium. I can find ways to make sure my to-do list gets completed while adding value to my day. See what you can do.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Prison Cell

Sometimes I am surprised at how widespread cell phones have become. It seems that everyone everywhere has one of these units strapped to their sides. People have become completely enamored with this technology. It has come to rule the lives of many. They would sooner choose to have their left arm chopped off with a rusty meat cleaver than go a day without their phones. Everywhere you look you see folks distracted by them. In malls, in supermarkets, walking down the street, while driving their vehicles.

I am not immune to the lure of this siren. It goes with me everywhere. I would feel almost naked without it. I tell myself that it is an essential expense in case of emergency. It enables my daughter to contact me at any time. It enables me to stay in contact with folks at work or friends who might need to chat with me. All of this is well and good, but there is something that I don't quite understand. I have owned two cell phones in my years. Both seem to be total pieces of garbage. I have the feeling that I would get better audio quality employing two tin cans connected by a long string. I can never hear what anyone is saying and nobody ever seems to understand what I am saying. You might say that I am just simply using substandard equipment. However, I have even tried using high-end phones from my friends and find no difference in voice clarity. I am left frustrated every time I try to make a call. I then really question why this technology has burgeoned into what it is today. Is my problem with my phone, the area where I live, the phase of the moon, or planetary syzygy? Perhaps it is the folks that I am trying to talk to? What gives? What am I missing?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Roadkill Season

Just as winter is officially recognized by the Hallmark Company as "the frozen spit season", so spring is quickly becoming known as "the roadkill season". Kind of has a Norman-Rockwell-type feel to it doesn't it? For those of you who are perplexed as to the notion of roadkill season, let me elaborate. For some reason, during spring, critters of all sorts emerge from their long winter nap and then immediately run out under the wheels of the first vehicle that their beady little eyes spot. Actually, this is probably not quite what is going on. My theory is that upon waking, the pea-size brains of these creatures just have not fully shifted into drive from park. They are groggy. They have junk in their eyes. Heck, they have not even gotten to have a nice hot cup o' Joe. They have just rolled out of bed and are looking for a place to poop, and then smoosh. They are quite flat and, correspondingly, quite deceased. Their little pancaked bodies litter the highways and byways of our great nation like so many landmines across the Korean divide.

You may find the above imagery nostalgic, and maybe even a bit romantic, but I would guess that your chuckles might subside if you were to change places with the timid woodland creatures. Imagine what would happen if you woke up in the woods and then had to rummage about to find food and caffeine. My guess is that you might wander across a roadway or two in your foggy confusion. The next thing you know, you are examining the tread life on the first tractor trailer that comes along by counting the holes in your spleen. Not a pretty picture is it?

So, be sure to be mindful as you drive. Occasionally, look from side to side and let not your vehicle become an instrument of death to our furry friends. With hope, in the not too distant future, spring will become better known for its rash of vehicle accidents as motorists go to great pains to avoid gunning down cute and cuddly varmints. Well, maybe this wouldn't work after all. Perhaps we should just start amassing recipes for roadkill jerky.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bitter Root

This is an entry that I have pondered for some time, but one that I did not really want to explore too deeply because I had such a strong distaste for my own thoughts. I even considered just sitting down and writing to clear my mind and to gain some perspective, and then simply releasing my words to the wind. However, after thinking about it, I decided to just stand before you with my struggle. I figured that, perhaps, I might get some insight and comments from one of my readers that might help me wrestle things under control.

Throughout most of my life, I have been known as the precocious whiz kid. My intellectual abilities brought me recognition and helped me to define my self-worth. However, as the hands of the clock incessantly swing through their arcs, our roles must change, whether we want them to or not. Whereas I used to always be the youngest member of groups that I was involved in, today, more and more, I find myself in the position of an elder statesman. Elder statesman. I can tell you that this representation does not mesh in any way with my own internal image. This competition between my old self and my new reality is an ugly one. It does not sit easily with me. I find that sometimes when I am faced with the reality of my situation, jealousy and bitterness oftentimes can bubble up to the surface. The thoughts that run through my mind sicken me, and I can assure you that I am not proud of myself.

At the current time I am by far the oldest member of my church small group. Nearly all of the dozen members of this group are 20-somethings. Three of the women are pregnant, one guy is engaged, and one couple has just married. They are all just starting on life, still ramping up. Everything is new and young and exciting. When I begin to think of where I am in my life, with things not having worked out as I had planned and dreamed and expected, now realizing that I am getting older and starting to ramp down, sometimes I cannot face the "good news" of those around me. I find ways of isolating myself from them and not sharing in their joy nor contributing anything to it.

Why have I become so bitter that I can't enjoy or appreciate their happiness? Mentally I understand how petty and selfish and wicked and inappropriate my feelings are, but I just cannot fully distance myself from them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not Wit Dis Stuffy Nose

Have you ever been at work and Philip-phlegm or Harold-hacker or Sally-sneeze came up to you? They are clearly in the depths and throes of a horrible cold or flu or some other contagious disease. Instead of staying home and trying to get well, they have decided to come into work and share their sickness and germs with everyone that they come into contact with. Yes, how lovely. How selfish.

Well, if we are all being honest here, I am one of them. I have never let a cold (or loss of limb or gaping chest wound for that matter) stop me from dutifully showing up to work. There are several reasons for this. One is that I am generally a very busy person at work. Lots of balls in the air, lots of tight deadlines, lots of folks counting on me to keep things moving along. I would like to think that instead of staying home taking care of myself, I am putting my work first. I also believe that always coming into work, no matter what condition I am in, shows plucky dedication and resolve. I'm not one of those people always looking to slip out early, to find ways to get out of doing their share, who always seem to be on vacation when the heavy lifting needs to be done. Finally, I could not imagine a more boring time than sitting at home all day with nothing to do but watch T.V., nap on the couch, and fill tissues with green goo. This would drive me insane and probably keep me from a quicker recovery.

I know that I am being selfish by showing up to work in the grips of sickness. Certainly cold and flu symptoms are horrible, and I would not wish to pass them along to anyone. But, at least when I am under the weather, I am mindful of washing my hands whenever I touch my nose or face, and I try to limit my interaction with folks outside of my office. I am still being a self-centered jerk, but at least I am trying.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Forward

Today I had a taste. It was sweet and good. Sticky juices ran down my chin. I knew that I would enjoy this, but it caught me a bit by surprise in that it's just been so long. Walking outside in the bright sunlight, a warm breeze blew past me. It told me in gentle but sure tones that my journey through the harsh, bitter season was coming to a close. Browns, grays, and blacks were starting to be overtaken by greens, pinks, and yellows. Signs of birth and life and newness finally appearing. Kind of defrosts a hardened mind and body. Time to start cleaning up the yard, preparing the flower beds, and getting ready to invite the outdoors back into life. No more bundled up muttering, no more icy shivers of despair, no more dark mornings and dark afternoons. Today I had a taste. It was sweet and good.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Grind My Gears 15

Today's rant is dedicated to all the drivers out there on the road who are apparently trying to kill me or harm me in some manner or just plain annoy me. You know who you are. You all really grind my gears. This list includes:
  • People who systematically run red lights.
  • People who block intersections on purpose.
  • People who cut off emergency vehicles on their way to emergencies.
  • People who don't use their turn signals.
  • People who bypass the turning lane and then make the turn from the main road.
  • People who zig and zag through traffic with constant lane changes.
  • People who dive in front of me with just a few car lengths to go before a stop light.
  • People who drive expensive cars and park all day in the 20-minute-only parking spot.
  • People who try harder to look cool than to be good drivers.
  • People who think that their cars are phone booths on the highway.
  • People who drive more than 10 miles per hour under the posted speed limit.
  • People who drive with their blinker flashing without even noticing it.
  • People who own vehicles larger than the Titanic.
  • People who don't wait their turn at a four-way stop.
  • People who don't know the rules of the road.
  • People who drive on my bumper when I am going the speed limit.
  • People who drive vehicles that belch choking smoke from their tail pipes.
  • People who park their vehicles and take up more than a single parking space.
  • People who have no disabilities yet park in the handicapped spot anyway.
  • People who text while they drive.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Alas, Recycle!

I have a proposal for you to consider. Ready? .... Come on, come on! ... O.K., here goes. If there is a recycle bin within 2 feet of a trash bin and you place obviously recycleable materials in the trash bin, two goons (we'll call them Moose and Rocko), get to stuff you in the trash can. I can't tell you how many times I come across this situation. A stack of corrugated cardboard boxed thrown into the trash dumpster when there is a cardboard dumpster positioned immediately aside. A ream of waste paper tossed into the trash can when there is a paper recycling bin attached to the trash can! I sickens me inside how irresponsible people can be with their own world. What is going on here? Even when it is made as simple as could be. Are we ignorant? Are we uneducated? Are we selfish? Are we oblivious to what we are doing (or not doing)?

I don't know about you, but I try to do what I can. I remove those cardboard boxes and put them into the appropriate dumpster. I grab that stack of paper and put it into the recycling bin. However, I cannot be a full-time policeman, roaming the highways and byways of our nation doing for people what they should instinctively do for themselves and others. But what gets me even more is when people put their regular trash into the recycling bin. This guarantees that the whole bin will have to put into the landfill or sent to the incinerator. Come on fellow humans! This wonderful planet of ours is not disposable. Please, at least make an effort. Think, be aware.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Laugh Again

About 9 months ago I wrote a blog entitled Pessimism. I wrote of my struggles claiming and accepting joy. I believe that my good friend Richard Milhous Nixon would unabashedly refer to me as a nabob of negativism. Some argue that the glass is half full or half empty. Instead I would argue that some incompetent jerk just chose one two sizes too big. Certainly over the last 5 years I have struggled in my life. Struggled to understand the why, struggled to accept a new reality, struggled to find meaning, struggled to find my smile. I really need to laugh again.

My latest book is from the comfort food that for me is Charles Swindoll. His work Laugh Again is a fairly quick and straightforward read that will at least serve to lighten your mind and your heart for a time. The book is centered on the well that is the apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians. Swindoll uses the father of much of the Bible's New Testament to expound upon the notion that joyful people stay riveted to the present - the here and now, not the then and never. If only I could embrace these words! Swindoll makes it clear that joy is a choice. It is a matter of attitude that stems from one's confidence in God, that God is fully in the middle of everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen. Our lives are a ship on the sea, and we need to allow God to take control of the tiller. Only when that pressure is removed from us, that weight is taken off of our shoulders, can we ever allow ourselves to relax, to take hold of the joy that surrounds us, and then, to laugh again. Happiness is not something that happens to us based on our circumstances. Happiness is something that we must deliberately and diligently pursue.

Swindoll states so eloquently that circumstances seldom generate smiles and laughter. Joy comes to those who determine to pursue it in spite of their circumstances.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Our Passions

Omitting discussion of kooky fanatics, I love watching people work at something they are intensely passionate about. They never act out of rote muscle memory or routine or drudgery. Instead, they act out of love, out of caring, out of attention, and out of a deep concern for every aspect of their task. While they may be doing work that is physically exhausting or mentally taxing, I would never refer to their efforts as "labor". You understand that their work is more than just a job or some mundane task that they have set out to accomplish. How can you tell? Well, it's in their eyes, their attitudes, and in the aura that somehow surrounds them. I find that these folks are pretty easy to pick out in the crowd.

In my case, it is my work as a scientist. However, the passions of different folks span a broad spectrum of activities. Just considering some that I know, this spectrum ranges from my pastor and how he looks over his flock, a co-worker who gives his all in pursuing the perfect chili recipe, a man who loves to tinker with and create different gadgets that tend to amaze others with their ingenuity, a friend who designs and builds model airplanes, a student who loves competing in chess tournaments, and an older gentleman whose focusses on his vegetable garden.

I get the very real sense after talking to these different people, that these activities that hold such a high place in their lives in terms of time and energy and money, are not pursued just to fill their schedule, tire them out, or empty their wallets. It is something that excites them and pulls them in, something that they love to talk about and share with others.

What do your passions entail?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Manufactured Hardship

Life is difficult enough without us bringing heartache and headache upon ourselves. From a distance we can witness, from time to time, individuals working up into a complete and frothy lather over something that should never have happened. They scream, they spit, they curse, they pull their hair out, and send their blood pressure through the roof. Oh, but it all could have been avoided. Let me relate the following cautionary tale.

A colleague of mine and I were staying at a hotel while we were on a business trip. On the morning we were to check out and drive back to the airport in our rental car, I looked out my window and happened to spot my friend as he emerged from the front door of the hotel. He had his bag and was heading out to put it in the car. What caught my attention was the fact that he was fumbling with his shoulder bag as he depressed the automatic trunk unlock button on the car's key chain remote. He then began, curiously enough, to walk away from where we had parked the rental car the evening before. I watched as he went to the car whose trunk he had just unlocked and tossed his bag in. I shook my head as I realized his remote had unlocked another, identical make and model car. Moments later he went back into the hotel lobby to finish checking out. I watched him as he then reemerged from the hotel and this time walked over to our rental car. When he unlocked the trunk to access his bag, which he believed he had just put into this very car moments earlier, he found it to be missing. I watched from my window as the panic erupted. He quickly sprinted around the parking lot looking for the dirty so-and-so that had purloined his bag. He was literally red in the face and was more animated than Cartman on South Park.

As I watched this whole sorry episode unfold before my very eyes, I could not help but reflect on how we figuratively create this same scenario in our existence time and again. If we just paid a bit more attention and care sometimes, we would have a much smoother road to travel.

(P.S. My colleague after some 10 minutes of frantic arm waving and lip biting, figured out what had happened. He calmed down, released the tension, and now has an amusing anecdote to tell at cocktail parties.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Burning Bridges

Most of my friends speak fondly of old friends, folks they grew up with, went to high school or college with, or knew in their neighborhood two, three, or even four moves ago. In fact, they keep in touch with them on a regular or semi-regular basis. It could be at the level of exchanging Christmas cards or purposefully dropping in on them every now and then on their travels. They tell me that maintaining relationships with old friends is important and precious to them. As for me, I have always consciously and purposefully moved on whenever I have moved on. Upon any of my location changes in life, I have always thrown out the old Rolodex and started anew. I have always argued that distance does not make the heart grow fonder and it certainly does not forge any relationship deeper. When you are not a regular and consistent part of someone's life, connections fray and then break off completely. Others may counter that, perhaps, I just have not had any relationships that were all that deep. I'm not so sure. It just seems to me to take much more effort to keep old, stagnant, and past-frozen relationships alive than anyone seems to get out of them. Certainly in the past few years, after I discovered Facebook, I have kept a few old acquaintances in my life, but I can assure you that the depth of these Facebook exchanges is a pale shadow of what I used to know.

The lyrics from the old Garth Brooks song Burning Bridges drifted through my mind recently and led me to this post. Time will tell if these words are prophetic or not.

Knowing that the day
My lesson's finally learned
I'll be standing at a river
Staring out across tomorrow
And the bridge I need to get there
Will be a bridge that I have burned.

Folks who have friends from their past that are a regular part of their lives, even after moves and families. Not a strength of mine.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Disaster-free Vacation

I usually turn to to catch up on my news. However, sometimes I come to think their reports lack just a little bit of common sense, a little bit of real-world perspective. The other day they had posted a story headlined "What to do if disaster hits your trip". The intro read:

"If disaster strikes when you are traveling, preparation before departure could be what keeps you safe and gets you home."

They then listed the disasters that have plagued travelers of late, including earthquakes, rogue waves, tsunamis, flooding, landslides, questionable food, and bad service. Here, I boil down into a synopsis-type format the gist of exactly what the well-considered folks at cnn would have us do to be better prepared.
  • Earthquakes: Spend your entire vacation sitting in an aircraft locked in a cloverleaf landing pattern over a major city where there has been no earthquake. One possibility is Liberty airport in Newark.
  • Rogue Waves: Stay the heck off the water, or at the very least, never go anywhere near a cruise ship. For goodness sake, don't even contemplate reruns of The Love Boat. This is just like the scientific truism that tornados only touch down in trailer parks, so rogue waves only strike cruise ships.
  • Tsunamis: Take your vacations only in third-world, land-locked countries. Preferably, countries that have a somewhat stable socio-economic system where cannabilism is at least frowned upon.
  • Flooding: Don't overfill the tub in your luxurious hotel suite and you should be fine. Perhaps even consider limiting your bathing to a quick wipe down with a moist towelette.
  • Landslides: Do not play the 1975 album Fleetwood Mac and you should be quite safe, quite safe.
  • Questionable Food: Always pack your own snacks, bringing along a fully-loaded steamer-type trunk on any excurion that takes you more than 100 ft away from your abode. No exceptions!
  • Bad Service: Be sure to bring along your full kitchen staff on your get-away, for a care-free, fun-loving, hyphen-rich good time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I have seen the enemy, and oh how clever he is. He has infiltrated every corner, taken every possible inch. Each member of his hardened unit is fortified and well armed. Each has a number of weapons in its possession, and is additionally surrounded by a nearly inpenetrable force field. The enemy combatants are commonly known as space bugs, monkey balls, bommyknockers, bir balls, cukoo-birs, sticky balls, or gumballs. Each is a hard, dry, globose, compound fruit about 4 cm in size. Each capsule is surround by about 100 piercing spikes or barbs. Each barb is razor sharp and grabs onto everything within its reach. You can take down a hundred of the enemy, but these numbers are, ultimately, insignificant. They are insideous and devilishly clever in how they hide and ambush you. There is nothing cute and innocent about them, regardless of what others may call them. My hands and forearms bear their scars. It will be a long and bloody conflict to be sure. If I don't make it, tell my daughter I love her.

The above piece was written after another afternoon spent removing the gumballs from my gardens and landscaped yard areas. Initially there were more than 15,000 of these fruits of the American Sweetgum tree encamped in my yard. There are many, many more to be removed before my yard will be ready for spring time. Perhaps my description is a bit melodramatic for your tastes, but my fingers are lined with cuts and gouges, and I have dozens of little splinters all over my hands and arms. Ah, me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Buckets of Hope

I suspect that now that the events in Haiti have faded from the news headlines, many have forgotten or minimized what really happened in that place and simply moved on with their lives. Well, we should not all be so quick to forget. Nearly 250,000 men, women, and children died in the earthquake that struck the Caribbean island at 4:53 p.m. on January 12, 2010. Many were killed in an instant when one of the 300,000 structures that collapsed that day fell in on them. Many tens of thousands died long suffering deaths trapped in rubble. There was too much confusion, too much panic, too little infrastructure, and too little time to reach them. I know that many of my Christian brothers and sisters prayed during those early days, but the devastation and tragedy were simply of too big a scale for any of us to truly comprehend. I know that I wanted to do something to help, but had no idea how little me could in any way assist a nation some 1,300 miles away. What was worse, I really did not know what to pray for. The damage was done, the souls were gone, the place was devastated beyond recognition. I could pray for peace for the surviving people, I could pray that those in need of medical care might find the relief and healing that they need, I could pray that international aid might arrive in time to make an impact in improving the situation. I wanted to help, but had no idea where to start.

My church found a way for me to help. They are supporting an initiative called Buckets of Hope. It is a way for the small contributions of individuals to help make a bigger impact. To make our collective contributions more than the sum of our individual inputs. Fill one bucket with staples (rice, oil, beans, flour, sugar, pasta, peanut butter) and send it to Haiti. One such bucket can feed a Haitian family for a week. It might even give them a little relief, a little hope, a little peace, at least for a time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Melting Pot

I was sitting in a meeting the other day at work, when my eyes happened to scan across the room. It was then that I took note of the fact that I was the only American present. There were people from India, France, Mexico, Russia, Germany, Armenia, and Korea. Quite a melting pot. My mind started to ponder and reflect on the different circumstances that brought each of us to this place and time from the four corners of the planet. Each person certainly had their own unique story and set of circumstances to tell. Apart from me, each is thousands of miles away from their true homes and their extended families. Each is a world away from everything that they have come to know.

I could not even imagine living anywhere but the United States. Any other country would just be too radical, too different for me to ever get used to. I'm not sure if I could ever be comfortable without my usual, everyday world and surroundings. My grocery store, mall, favorite restaurants, television schedules, climate, familarity, language, culture, .... I have spent time in several different countries around the world to attend various conferences and meetings. A typical stay is 3 to 5 days. The longest that I have been outside the United States was a trip to the Netherlands for a 3-week-long summer school. When I am outside my borders, I always feel like I am just marking time or camping out until my time to return. Usually I am filled with a level of anxiety and edginess that is not quelled until my plane lands back on familiar soil. I'm certain that I just could never be truly comfortable if I had to make my home abroad. In that meeting room, each of the folks present had made a choice between their careers and their homeland. As for me, I feel pretty certain that I would have made a different choice.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lost in Thought

He's a quiet, almost stoic man who has given up much to be here. At one point, many distant years ago, he led a full, almost priveleged life. A prestigous vocation, a family, respect of his peers. When the central government collapsed, the republic was unalterably fractured, and the funding that had been his reality, vanished almost overnight. For years his work had been supported by a system that pumped money into his field for the glory of the motherland. Research was supported and valued only in the way that other symbols of national pride were supported and valued. None of that mattered, there would be no going back to what he had grown used to. He was ultimately forced to emigrate to the United States to continue his work. The only catch was that he could only leave his homeland if he went alone. This requirement was non-negotiable, a dark remnant of the old system.

Today he maintains a small apartment near his work place. I often see him wandering along the sidewalk always at a slow but deliberate pace, his head in the clouds, lost in his own thoughts. He tends to keep to himself, spending long hours alone in his office. Never a day goes by when he does not report to work. If you say hello to him, he will flash a big and courteous smile, before drifting away again. Nobody gets too close to him, it just seems to be understood. I wonder how he views his life today. I wonder if he accepts the sacrifices he has made with regrets or with peace. I wonder what he ponders as he ambles along the road of life and if he spends more time looking forward than looking back.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Knowing God

I just finished reading the book Knowing God by J.I. Packer. The book jacket claims that this work has sold over 1 million copies, and it is endorsed by the likes of Billy Graham. This book impressed me with its clarity and depth, its care and tone, its respect and style. I have not encountered a book of such logical thinking and such clear direction of the tenets of Christianity since I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I find these two works to be in a class together.

Knowing God started out as a series of articles for a publication called Evangelical Magazine in 1973 that were then compiled together for the book. The work is divided into three main sections, Know the Lord, Behold Your God!, and If God Be For Us .... I am convinced that after reading this book, and to be clear, it is not necessarily a light or quick read, you will understand your faith and the unpinnings of Christian scripture and theology at a much deeper and richer level.

Packer wrote that people have gotten into the practice of following private religious hunches rather than learning of God from his own Word, and that we must change the perception of God as some sort of celestial Santa Claus. He expanded on the difference between people who know their God and people who know of God. Those who know God have great energy for God, have great thoughts of God, show great boldness for God, and have great contentment for God. The activity of knowing God involves:
  • Listening to God's word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself.
  • Noting God's nature and character, as his Word and work reveals it.
  • Accepting his invitations and doing what he commands.
  • Recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.
Highly recommended reading that is as relevant and practical and basic and important today as it was when it was written nearly 40 years ago.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shakey Jake

We had a strange science teacher in high school. He was an older man, more than a bit odd and eccentric, with a rather ruddy complexion, who smelled strongly of Marlboro reds. He had some type of neurological disorder that caused him to shake and twitch continuously. You can probably imagine how we treated this man, pretty much the object of scorn and constant ridicule. He was referred to as Shakey Jake. Shakey Jake did not really care about winning over the students. He was typically surly and antagonistic. From time to time he would lash out at the class room when we collectively started to run amok. It was his way of trying to control the chaos that was 30 high school sophomores.

I distinctly remember one day during class when the power tripped off and all of the students cheered out in unison. It meant that we were going to get out of working on our assignments. Jake yelled out at us that we were very short sighted for cheering a power outage. For all we knew it was caused by someone crashing their vehicle into a utility pole or due to some other incident that led to someone getting hurt or killed. I remember staring down at my desk to avoid eye contact with him, but at the same time thinking that this guy was a few nuts short of a snack bag.

Fast forward 30-some years later. I live fairly close to a fire station. On a nightly basis I hear the fire trucks speeding off on potential emergency after potential emergency. Their assaulting wails echoing through my house. I can't help but ponder where they are going and if somebody, somewhere is hurt or suffering. I can't help but think of Jake and his message. Now I understand.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ode to Lint

A cup of water doth pour
as I reach toward the floor,
tis a bit strange say I
as I say my goodbye
to the mysterious wad
'twas tucked into my bod.

According to the fount of all knowledge, i.e. Wikipedia (as if I had to even tell you), the existence of navel lint is entirely harmless and requires no corrective action. This is opposed to the existence of naval lint, which requires a dedicated HazMat team and placement of the affected individual in a quarantine chamber for up to 30 days (according to the site:

Anyway, what has me really perplexed, is how much water can be stored in a typical navel cavity even though the space is fully packed with a material measured to be as absorbent as a new ShamWOW! (you'll say WOW everytime!). Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Olympics History

The winter Olympics in Vancouver have come and gone. Most folks I know watched some aspect of this 17-day-long spectacle. Whether it was the pagentry of the opening ceremonies, the grace and beauty of the figure skaters, the bravado of the skiers and snowboarders, or the silliness of the curling or biathalon competitions. These last two "sports" (I can barely type this with a straight keyboard) were included into the officially recognized Olympics competition list only after the head of the Olympics organizing committee lost a bet with his estranged brother-in-law Earl. Let's explore these two events in a little more detail.

Curling: First dreamed up during a fertility ceremony in late medieval Scotland. It is a team "sport" in which stones are slid across a sheet of ice toward a target area. The path of the stones is tidied up by two very humorous individuals wielding brooms purchased from a local Ace hardware store who vigorously sweep in front of the moving stones. The curling event in this year's Olympics was sponsored by Molson Breweries as the minimum allowed blood-alcohol content of the participants is 0.18.

Biathalon: First made up in some dude's backyard in 1978. It is a "sport" in which two random events are combined for no clear reason. This year it happened to be cross country skiing and competitive knitting. Nobody has any clue why these were paired together, but during the Olympics telecast, Al Michaels became so excited by the goings-on that he actually proposed to a giddy Chris Collinsworth on live television.

So, though you may chortle and guffaw at some of the official Olympics events, know that they each have a definitive purpose. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Mr. and Mr. Al Michaels.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Coming Off the Bench

There have been several recent stories of big-name athletes unwilling to serve their teams in reduced roles as they get older and their skills gradually ebb. What troubles me in this are the overwhelmingly petty attitudes of greed, selfishness, and entitlement that are manifested. Whereas these athletes once seemed to derive their strength and identity from the roar and approval of the crowds, their team-first go-all-out tenacity, and even their seemingly generous acts of community service, they now are reduced to bad-mouthing the same organization that rewarded them as multi-millionaires and positively promoted their images to the world.

Upon closer inspection, the veneer that covers these "stars" is seen as thin and worn. Notice that whenever they participated in community service, a camera crew was always present. The supposed services really were just staged events that only stroked the star's ego and puffed them up further. Whenever new contracts were negotiated, if the offered amount did not fully meet with their over-the-top expectations, they complained to the press and anyone else that would listen to them, that they were not being respected. You could clearly see how much the teams and communities really meant to them when they inevitably threatened to take their services elsewhere. In all of this, one should not be fooled by the aura surrounding some of these prima donnas. They are mercenaries and mercenaries only.

When their skills start to decline, do they accept whatever role the team believes is best? Do they continue to set the best example possible for their fans? Do they work to make the most of what they have? Do they work harder and longer? Few actually do. I find this to be a real shame. Team leaders are not necessarily those who have the best all-around games, but those who set the best examples. Those who can communicate to the younger players what it takes to achieve greatness. Those who can pull the various inflated egos together for the sake of the team. So, while coming off the bench may not be the most glamorous role on a team, it is a role that just might give the team its best chance to win.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Say When

Have you ever been listening to someone tell a joke or share a witty remark or observation and just had absolutely no idea when to laugh? I have recently been observing some "normal" people, and by their actions, you might seriously think they feel strongly that their audience is comprised fully of dolts who must be told when to respond with full and complete laughter. I base this on two folks who I work with on a daily basis. So that I don't reveal their true identities, I will refer to these guys as Person A and Person 2. I fear that if I were to reveal their actual identities, the repercussions on their lives would have immeasurable consequences (really!). Let me relay to you what I have observed.

Person A is someone known for his jokes. He has the uncanny ability to pull out the perfect joke at the appropriate moment with simply amazing timing. I cannot imagine that he has ever kicked himself at the end of an interaction with regret that he missed an opportunity to recall the joke that he should have told. However, he has this habit of breaking into hearty laughter after he tells his punch line. If someone comes up and asks him to retell the joke, he will again break into hearty laughter after he, once again, delivers the punch time. This behavior would repeat itself no matter how many times in a row he was asked to retell the same joke.

Person 2 is more of a dead pan, serious sort. Whenever he tells a funny, he feels the strong need to make eye contact with everyone in the room to be sure that they acknowledged his witty bon mot. It is both strange and a bit uncomfortable. I believe that he is trying to signal in somewhat primitive terms that he can joke and josh like one of the guys and gals, and thus he should be regarded as just a regular joe. If you try to avoid making eye contact with him, thus denying him the opportunity to prove just how down to earth he really is, he will retell his alledged drollery and stare at you so piercedly that one might guess he was trying to will you into spontaneous internal human combustion.

So, I guess to make it easier on all of us, just tell us when to laugh. Just say when.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tired of Life

Have you ever had a moment or a season in your life when you were just tired of being, tired of just going through the motions? Maybe for the first time you thought of the end and did not dread it? Perhaps this represented just a brief weakness or allowing negativity to root too deeply. Perhaps, though, it represented something more. Maybe several circumstances conspired to cause the stabilizing rocks in your foundation to crumble from under you. Maybe you suffered a long, slow decline of your health. Perhaps you struggled, unsuccessfully to find a sense of peace. Some thing failed, everything failed. You might even have started to despise who you were as a person.

In these moments, it takes great strength to go on living. It is physically painful to even get out of bed in the morning. As you take stock of your place and your surroundings, it seems to you that the effort to rebuild is just too great, too far beyond what you have left in your tank. You may even feel that at your station in life, you should have so much more than you do. A better job, more income, more friends, a secure and deep marriage. Left to brood in our swampy morass, the shadow of depression can swarm over you and hide the remaining blessings in your life.

One of my favorite books, Darkness Visible by William Styron, contains an apt description of this mindset. It states that if the curing wand that would make your life the paradigm of happiness and joy were sitting on a table right in front of you, you would not even have the strength or the will to reach out and claim it. What is even more sickening is that after a period of darkness in our lives, we start to believe that we are not even deserving of happiness and joy. We actively work to uproot and discard any seedlings of this sort that begin to spring up.

I have lived this moment, this season for a long time. It's funny the things that sometimes cause me to surface. A field of colorful flowers, a warm afternoon, a joke shared among friends, a hug, giving of my time, unexpectedly reaching out. The only advice I can give to the hurting and the lost, advice that I don't always take myself, is to fight it. Learn to forgive, learn to accept, learn to seek a positive spirit with an open heart and an open mind. Start small, dream big. Fight it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Watershed Moment

watershed - an important point of division or transition between two phases, conditions, etc.

The use of the term "watershed" in our english lexicon is fairly common. It is used typically to denote a dividing moment between two very different outcomes. War and peace. Happiness and turmoil. Life and death. However, the history of the term comes from a less grandiose and dramatic background. It refers to a ridge or crest line dividing two drainage areas. Thus rain failing to one side of the high ground goes one way and rain falling to the other side goes the other. The ridge line of a roof is an example of a watershed.

In this posting, I focus on the notion of watershed as a clear divide. A point in time where I marked the signs between the past and the future. The impetus for my thoughts came as I completed yet another book focussing on right living as a Christian. In the last several years alone, I have read more than 30 books in this vein. The question that suddenly coarsed through my mind was whether any of this had made a difference. Was I living differently? Did I view God differently or more fully or more clearly? Did I treat my fellow man with any greater favor? Did the books just represent a temporary warmth in my heart and mind that dissipated immediately after I closed the cover?

I think the answer is both yes and no. This, I believe, represented a watershed moment for me. When I answer no, it is mainly that I have lost memory of the detailed specifics of each authors work. Sure, I can give a brief synopsis of the book and my general impression of the author's main points of view, but that is the extent of my memory. However, when I answer yes, I realize that these books have helped me to sort out my own theology. They have sharped my understanding of the Bible, allowing me to separate the wheat from the chaff. They have allowed me to develop a clearer truce in my mind between my scientific and analytical mind, and the holy trinity. They have allowed me to better understand what I believe and why I believe it. They have allowed me to move away from being just a parrot of what I have been told to help me form the core of who I am, what I believe, and how I live.