Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Repeal Bible Laws?

There are many laws on the federal and state books that we supposedly must obey, whether we agree with them or not. Disregarding any of them can certainly put your freedom in peril or perhaps merely the amount of cabbage in your wallet. However, given that we live in a democratic society, there are several avenues that we can follow to go about getting certain laws repealed or changed. This type of story is daily fodder for every news outlet.

Today's question is one that I started to ponder recently, and the answer to the question is still in a nascent form in my mind. The question is:

Are there any rules, thou shalts, or thou shalt nots in the Bible that you philosophically disagree with?

Perhaps there are things that you feel were added to the list of sins in God's word primarily through the cultural (i.e. human) viewpoint of the writer that you doubt are truly from God.

The spark for this question came about from an article that I was reading on CNN regarding the gaining world-wide acceptance of gay rights. The fact that more and more of humanity is adopting a new attitude and new opinion on this topic, shows how cultural biases, opinions, and views of bigotry and intolerance can change from age to age. Things that we viewed as strictly verboten centuries ago are now fully accepted without a second thought (like women's rights). The issue of gay rights is just one example. Perhaps you feel that there is language in the Bible concerning the rules of marriage and/or divorce that strikes you as outdated, overstated, impractical, or misguided. Maybe there are other areas.

Of course, we are "stuck" with the Bible and its requirements for the rest of time. There is no going back and rewriting it or protesting or devising alternative interpretations of the text. So, what say you? Anyone have any opinions or thoughts that they would be willing to share (publicly or privately) with me?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Public Speaking

Part of my job entails giving public presentations of my work. Conferences, workshops, seminars, colloquia, group meetings. Over the years I have learned to get over my fears of public speaking and to actually enjoy these opportunities to discuss and share my work with others. However, public speaking is generally recognized as the number one fear of a good fraction of the population. Being comfortable up in front of an audience, I have found, is a process that takes some time to master. It takes lots of practice. Of course, some folks take to being up in front of a crowd and being the center of attention quite naturally. It becomes the place where they shine, where they are in their comfort zone. Others, alas, even after many years of practice, still fall apart when in this type of situation.

Over the years, I have witnessed some very obvious examples of what not to do in public presentations. Some examples are from single, specific individuals, and others are just nervous traits that emerge in general. I thought I would share a few that came to my mind:
  • During an interview talk, the candidate was given a clear plastic pointer stick. He was so shaky and nervous that he set up oscillations in the stick. The amusing shadows projected on the viewing screen caused the audience to giggle throughout the entire presentation.
  • Many times I have seen an audience develop vertigo from a laser pointer in the hands of a nervous speaker. The beam of light just bounces in an uncontrolled manner all over the room.
  • A young speaker in a conference was interrupted by a fire alarm during her talk. After exiting the building and reassembling in the meeting room, the session chairman told her to continue from where she left off. She responded through heavy tears, "I only know it from the beginning."
  • A friend of mine uncontrollably displays his nervous energy in front of a crowd by grabbing his crotch violently. He is unaware of this behavior to this day.
  • Lots of nervous folks incessantly clear their throats. I have seen some do this uncontrollably every 15 to 20 seconds for an hour straight. Talking to them in normal situations, they never even once clear their throats.
  • I have seen several speakers who will snork up snot from the depths of their bowels in front of an audience. With the microphones amplifying every ounce of phlegmy goodness being pulled out from their bodies with the subsequent swallowing. Yeah, gross beyond words.
  • Some folks burn off nervous energy by wildly pacing back and forth across the room or the stage. I get tired just watching them.
  • Back in the days before Powerpoint and electronic presentations, we used to make our slides on transparencies or sheets of plastic. For an hour-long presentation, this would require probably about 40 or 50 slides. During the start of an interview talk, a nervous candidate was fumbling so wildly that he knocked his stack of transparencies on the floor. Picture flinging a deck of cards up in the air. There was no way to recover from this one.
  • More folks than I can remember develop the flop sweats in public venues. Buckets of perspiration just pour off their bodies and at the end of their talk, their clothes are drenched.
  • I witnessed a frail woman, who could not have weighed more than 60 or 70 lbs, try to give a talk at a conference that I went to. When the session chairman put the microphone around her neck, the weight of the device pulled her head down so that she was staring at the floor. This forced her mouth right onto the microphone. I had to spend the next 30 minutes listening to a cross between the Peanuts teacher and Darth Vader, listening to her gasp and wheeze with each breath. Quite painful.
Hopefully, I will not do something in my nervousness to make my own list. Time will tell. The secret is always to prepare fully, to give one or two practice talks to yourself out loud, and always, remember to breathe.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Grind My Gears 17

Walking up and down the aisles at my local supermarket has lately been causing my blood pressure to spike. It has further led me to mutter uncontrollably to myself and use the word consarnit so much my ears begin to bleed. I have found with my keen sense of recognition that product after product that line the shelves use terms like "bistro" or "artisan" on their labels to try to make their pre-packaged slop seem trendy and hip and culturally relevant. Let me share just a few truths about these terms:

1). A bistro is a place that has a limited, overpriced menu of frou-frou foods. The people are snobby and care excessively about how you dress. Usually they require you to have some sort of European-sounding accent and a neatly trimmed mustache (women too). I wouldn't eat at a bistro if you threatened to kick me in the buttocks.

2). An artisan is a person who lives in some 60's beatnik-style commune. They tend to wear long, flowing gowns and are prone to wear head bands and Birkenstock-type sandals. They reek of jasmine and incense, and more often than not, they are covered in dried clay. You can bet that they smoke cannibus cigarettes regularly and thus are not to be trusted with anything, especially food preparation.

Any manufacturers that use the terms bistro and/or artisan in their product lines really grind my gears. You can be sure that I have to close my eyes to choke down their fancy pizzas, soft cheeses, elegant jams, and gourmet praline lady fingers.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tape Balls and Other Lessons

Over the years, I have been known by many names. Fuddy duddy, stuffed shirt, kill joy, stick in the mud, ..., grown up. Time after time I find myself high strung and uptight. The anxiety that I feel associated with a potential juice spill on the carpet or a mud stain on a pant leg or a small amount of waste, usually drives me over the top. Too often it has led me to try to control every action of my young daughter. Ultimately, I found myself sucking away her unbridled enthusiasm and elation.

Over the years, thankfully, she has slowly but surely taught me to let go. To learn to embrace the moment and have fun. Go with the flow and let life and moments happen. This includes:
  • My daughter has always loved to play with Scotch tape. To hear her squeals as she "ties" me up is magical. For years, when I heard that sound of tape coming off the roll, all I could think of was the waste. A few $1 rolls of tape given just to her have caused me to smile whenever I see the discarded tape balls that she leaves behind.
  • My daughter loves to splash outside in the rain. The only thing that can make it better for her is to have me watch her frolic around. You know that you can quickly dry clothes in today's modern appliances? The next hurdle for me to cross is to go outside and join her in her dance.
  • My daughter loves when I let her turn the hose on and play with it in the pool. She makes water fountains and sprays herself and me. A few gallons sprayed on the deck for the smiles that she gives me are well worth it.
  • My daughter loves to run through the grass barefoot. Why I always frowned incessantly over this I don't know. I reasoned that I didn't want her to step on something that would hurt her. Now I have learned to let her romp.
  • My daughter loves to eat pudding from a bowl without using a spoon. I have learned that she can quickly clean herself up with a napkin. Her giggles are far less stressful on me than my elevated heart rate.
See, even though I am getting older, I still can learn a few things. Now if you will excuse me, I need to get a coaster under that juice glass, I don't want it to leave a water mark.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Traveling Man

Ricky Nelson used to sing that he was a travelin' man, who made a lot of stops all over the world. I can relate. I too have traveled all over the world, albeit, reluctantly, and with more than a bit of dread. You see, I have never really cared for being out on the road, away from home.

First, air travel is horribly uncomfortable for me as a semi-tall person with bad knees. I also think that whoever the heck it was who invented the upside-down comma shaped seats that force us into the most uncomfortable position possible, is most likely related to Dr. Mengele. I'm quite sure that he danced with passion and glee as he made the seat cushion/floatation device of a material so hard that sea otters could use it to crack open clams. Then, usually, after a long, body- and mind-draining flight, when you don't have an ounce of energy or cognitive ability remaining, you are then forced to figure out the local taxi/subway system to get to your bed-bug-infested hotel room. I am not sure if you have noticed this when you travel, but many foreign countries have this annoying habit of not putting up clear signs in English. What a world. What a world.

However, if I were to be forced at gun point to admit something positive about traveling to far away places, it would be that I have seen some amazing sights and eaten some awesome food. But, seeing that there is no gun pointed at my head, I shall not utter such niceties, lest travel start to think it is something special or even remotely enjoyable.

Anyway, today I find myself on the road again (which sounds vaguely country song-ish somehow). Not a particularly distant or exotic locale mind you, but travel nontheless. I am heading down to Columbia, South Carolina as part of my job. I already know from my itinerary that this will be one very long, very exhausting, very busy day. But hey, what's not to look forward to? Cramped and tiny puddle-jumping planes, invasive butt monitoring at today's state-of-the-art airports, long lines, surly people, long meetings with people wearing suits. I could go on, but it is already too depressing as it is.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


My friend robshep sees lots and lots of movies. He has a passion for checking out the latest releases. He then shares his opinions on his blog. My guess is that he also then spends time discussing his favorites and not-so-favorites with his friends and co-workers. All of this makes him more culturally relevant.

However, for me, I too go to the movies, but I am, ... well ..., culturally relevant to an entirely different crowd. I have not gone to see a grown-up movie in many years. I save my movie nights to go see what might be termed more kid-friendly or family-friendly movies with my daughter. Looking over the ticket stubs that we have collected, it seems the last 10 movies that I have seen are:
  • Fly Me to the Moon
  • Madagascar: Escape to Africa
  • Up
  • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
  • Planet 51
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • Shrek Forever After
  • Toy Story 3
Now I could tell you that I am merely going along to chaperone my daughter, that I find these movies sappy and silly, that I prefer much more high-brow entertainment. I could, but that would not be true. I love going to see these movies. I love the positive messages and the child-like imagination that it stirs within me. I assure you that I am not missing out on a thing. If the truth be told, my daughter is probably the one who must chaperone me at the movies.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Today I finished Volume 2 in Charles Swindoll's Great Lives series, Esther, A Woman of Strength and Dignity. Although this is a rather short Bible book in the Old Testament, a mere 7 full pages and 7 chapters, Swindoll has written a book 200 pages in length to outline and tell the story of this Jewish woman who lived some 2,400 years ago. Nevertheless, even today, there are a lot of lessons, Godly lessons, to take away from this story.

Esther has historically been a somewhat controversial, perhaps misunderstood, book of the Bible. There have been many heated debates about whether this book should even have been included in the canon as it is the one book of the Bible that never mentions or even alludes to God. However, the remarkable and intriguing story surrounding this woman just serves to show that even when God is invisible, He remains invincible.

The basis of the story is the new queen of the Persian empire Esther, who has replaced the old queen Vashti in the huge and powerful kingdom of Ahasuerus. The newly named prime minister is Haman, who has a long-standing hatred of the Jewish people. Spurred on by this hatred, his new position of power, and perceived insults by Esther's guardian Mordecai, he tricks the king to endorse a plan to exterminate all of the Jewish people that were in the kingdom. However, Haman did not know that queen Esther was a Jew, and he did not know of her relationship to Mordecai. Ultimately, Mordecai and Esther devise a wise plan that saves the Jewish people, does in the evil Haman on the very gallows that he had erected to kill Mordecai, and strengthens the position and liberty of the Jewish captives of the empire. The entire experience gave rise to the Feast of Purim, a holiday that is still celebrated by the Jewish people to this day.

As I noted above, Swindoll has written a 200-page book covering a Bible book that spans only 7 pages. Clearly he does not just limit himself to describing the Biblical text. He takes the opportunity to relate how the story of Esther and her heroism tells a tale of selflessness, courage, and Godly behavior that is relevant at any point in any culture. My favorite part of the story is when Mordecai is trying to convince Esther to step up and go and talk to the king. He tells her "who can say but that God has brought you into the palace for just such a time as this?" (Esther 2:14). God wants to use us for his plans and he will strategically place us to give us this opportunity.

Now, on to the next book in Charles Swindoll's Great Lives series, Joseph, A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Did you save the love notes that you exchanged with your spouse from those early days? Many people treasure these and store them away in old shoe boxes or drawers. Maybe, because of the modern age of electronic communication, you have a folder in your computer email account where you keep all of your back and forths. For some, perhaps many or most, it can be an eye-opening exercise to look back at the length and the tone of those message from your courtship period compared to what you pass today.

Early on you took the time and gave the energy to expand on your thoughts in more than computer-ese shorthand. You actually gushed when you talked about how special and how important your beloved was to you, about how much you missed them and valued them and worried about them. Fast forward a few years in this cache of exchanges and it is disappointing and telling how much your expressions of love have diminshed, or how they have disappeared altogether. There is very little praise and joy and expressive words of love. All replaced by quick and harsh, get-to-the-point facts.

If you find this to be true in your life, perhaps it is time to ask yourself if you think that your spouse no longer needs to hear those words of affirmation and reliance and love. Maybe the truth is that you feel uncomfortable expressing these thoughts to them. Perhaps you think, they know how I feel, I shouldn't have to do all that crap any more. It is just unnecessary. My guess is that those who no longer make efforts to gush over their spouses or feel a certain excitement communicating with them, have relationships that have lost their spark and freshness or have some deeper issues.

I would recommend that you spend some time perusing some of those early love letters and exchanges and then seek to find pathways to reignite that palpable, expressive love with them. Continued, constant effort will be rewarded with a richness beyond your wildest imagination.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Had a Dream

Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement will forever be tied to MLK's famous "I had a dream" speech that he delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. The moving words of this great address will be remembered for the ages to come as a watershed event in the development of the minds and attitudes of millions of people across the United States of America.

Today I would like to share with you another "I had a dream" speech that will only be remembered by me. I woke up early last Sunday. While my little one slept all cozy and snuggly in her bed, I busied myself with some reading, checking email and various blogs, and staring out the window at the glorious day that was already unfolding. The sun was coming up over the house and illuminating the flowering trees and gardens in my back yard. A light, gentle breeze was stirring the wind chimes hanging in the gazebo and a few hummingbirds began to appear at the feeder to drink the sweet nectar.

Lost in thought, my mind was rustled back to my seat from the sounds of my little one trudging from her room out to find me. As she was rubbing the sleep from her eyes, her gaze met mine and she uttered "Daddy, I had a dream. I crossed a banana and a monkey and got a ban-onkey." What a delightful way to start a morning together, laughter and hugs. Laughter and hugs.

Friday, August 20, 2010

God Proof - Q.E.D. II

After reading the first few chapters of Frank Tipler's book, The Physics of Christianity, it is clear that he likes to mention lots of arcane theories, which he seems to do solely to convince us of his scientific prowess. One of the reviews for this book claimed that Tipler's writing style is approachable by experts and non-experts alike. Yet the writing was entirely obtuse and borderline jibberish. One of the fathers of modern physics, Ernest Rutherford, once said that any good theory should be understandable by an ordinary barmaid. I can assure you that based on this definition of a good theory, Tipler doesn't make the grade. He makes a sizeable number of dubious, tenuous, and subtle claims that he states are basic scientific tenets (as you will find in an introductory book on quantum mechanics), however, he is at once comical and frustrating. He loves to drop names of big-time, respected scientists and how their celebrated work clearly backs up his theories. I am sure they would feel more than a bit uneasy if they even knew that their good names were being "used" in this manner. Tipler indeed displays all of the tell-tale signs of a grade-A, first-class crackpot. Let me present a few quotes from Tipler's book:
  • After a treatize on quantum tunneling: "I shall use this to explain the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
  • "... so the Second Law of Thermodynamics can be regarded as a law governing the spiritual side of the material universe.
  • "The laws of physics suggest an end to human history in the "near" future - sometime in this century."
  • "There will indeed be a resurrection of everyone who has ever lived, and indeed we will have "spiritual bodies" - our resurrected bodies will be in the form of computer programs."
  • "Thus we come to the real reason why many modern physicists find standard quantum gravity unacceptable: it implies the existence of God."
  • "I accept the laws of physics, in particular quantum mechanics and relativity, which is why I accept not only the existence of God but His Trinitarian nature."
  • In guessing of Jesus' chromosome makeup, "Such males are normal in behavior and intelligence, but have smaller teeth, shorter stature, and smaller testes than normal males."
In spite of all of my issues with this work, there were still a few interesting and lucid nuggets that gave me pause to think through some of my personal confusions and, perhaps, to make some sense out of them. One thing that this book made me reconsider was my definition of a miracle. Tipler states that most people think that a miracle is a violation of physical law, but why would God violate his own laws? God never acts contrary to his own creation. His laws never change, just as his will never changes. His laws should necessarily include his physical laws of nature, thus God's miracles are wonders that must not violate his physical laws. I think this is a valid viewpoint. Of course, Tipler just had to add "Since His laws are His direct creation, studying His natural laws is as pious an act as studying the Bible." ... err ... so apparently going to college to study physics is just like going to seminary.

However, despite a few intriguing ideas, this book is overall too far out there and too unapproachable to be taken seriously. It seems to fulfill the very definition of pseudo-science - filled with far too much jargon to provide enough intellectual bullying to make it seem plausible and scientifically sound, but beyond your level of understanding and education. There is always a veneer of truth to the words that crackpots preach and push, but, in the end, even though it will take some time to understand what is really being said, it is untenable hogwash. I also don't believe that faith in God, the ultimate act of trust and submission, can be replaced by a few scientific theories and equations, ending in Q.E.D..

(Part 2 of 2)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

God Proof - Q.E.D. I

There are many examples in the annals of scientific discovery where someone proposes a new theory or explanation that goes so far against the prevailing ideas that they are labeled as a heretic. Every now and then, however, they turn out to be right, but it sure takes courage to go public. If you are wrong, your reputation could be deeply stained for the rest of your career.

I just finished reading a book with the eye-catching title The Physics of Christianity by Frank Tipler, a physics professor at Tulane University. The book jacket kind of pulled me in with its promise to examine a few noted biblical "miracles" from the standpoint of physics. Truth be told, one of my biggest issues with being a scientist and a Christian is that miracles seem to result in direct violation of the physical laws of the universe. Fish and bread feeding multitudes, Jesus walking on water, wooden staffs that morph into serpents, and, of course, Jesus' resurrection from death to life. In these tales, it is hard to separate truth from allegory from superstitious legends from the notion that the Bible is said to be God-breathed. My intellect tends too often to get in the way of my faith. The book claims that "A highly respected physicist demonstrates that the essential beliefs of Christianity are wholly consistent with the laws of physics."

A look at the Tulane University Physics Department web page reveals Prof. Tipler looking austere and professorial. However, try typing the name Frank Tipler into Google. You are immediately barraged with a long series of links labeling him as a crackpot, unrealistic, eccentric, fanatical. Ouch. He claims that we can prove the existence of God using the laws of physics. Sounds brave. Sounds intriguing. Sounds worrisome.

More tomorrow. This will be interesting.

(Part 1 of 2)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Buddies

They were always there for you, ready to cuddle with and hug whenever you needed them. Always available to listen to you, to take part in your make believe, to go out with you on adventures. They provided comfort, companionship, and love. I too am very attached to them. They have become part of our family. Through your imagination, each has developed their own style and unique personality. Each one very special. Now as you grow up, they slowly are set aside for more grown-up pursuits and desires. This is natural and an important step for you. However, I will remain to watch over them and we will keep each other company until you call on them again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Through My Fingers

Did you ever want to clutch onto something as tightly as possible so that it couldn't get away, to ensure that it would linger a few moments longer, only to watch helplessly as it slipped through your fingers anyhow? For me, it seems that the more I try to control and plan and contain a moment or an opportunity, the more I find that it eludes me and gets away far more quickly than I ever could have imagined. This feeling always seemed to overwhelm me whenever I was put in charge of "camera duty" for one of my daughter's big moments. I so badly wanted to capture every instant, but I ended up so distracted with directing and lighting and producing and filming, that when the moment was over, I missed it. I missed the anticipation, the reactions, the joy, the squeals, and the mood. Later when watching that home movie or looking through those pictures, I knew they could never satisfactorily substitute for taking in the scene directly with my own eyes. A picture of a juicy red apple is a pale shadow compared to biting into that same sweet, ripe, delicious fruit, experiencing it with all of your senses and letting the juices run down your chin.

Today as we approach the middle of August, I find those same pangs of loss arising within me as summer slips through my hands. Try as I might to savor the sights and sounds, it has moved past me so quickly that it failed to leave a mark. Somehow in my longing to make this season special and memorable, I seemed to have missed out on the memories I was hoping to create. As summer approached I had dreamed of days spent going on adventures with my daughter, of swimming in our pool, of laughter and joy, and of taking a big bite out of life. Somehow in my trying to grab onto summer and in making it last, it snuck past me. It snuck past me with nearly 3 weeks of 100 degree weather that kept us inside. It snuck past me with a few weekends apart from my daughter. It snuck past me as I was looking down inside of looking up.

Now there are just a few weeks left until school starts, a few weeks more until the pool is closed. Already the days are getting shorter. I feel almost empty inside. That feeling like you just got sucker punched in the gut and you are desperately gasping for air to fill your lungs. I wish that I could rewind the last few months and have this opportunity over again. Better yet, maybe I should try a more productive approach and just enjoy the remaining weeks as best as I can. Just let go of the planning and worrying. Step out from behind the camera and just live.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Two years ago when I was scouting out my current home before I decided to purchase it, I noticed that the neighbor's yard contained a huge old and weathered tree. It was at least 12 feet in circumference at its base and about 50 feet high. It had been dead for quite some time, a fact that was pretty obvious with just a quick glance. However, surrounding the base of the tree was an overgrown holly bush that provided some greenery and helped to mask the demise of the old tree. Even though all of this was somewhat of an eyesore, it still provided quite a bit of shade on the northeast corner of my house and driveway and also provided effective privacy from the neighbor's house.

I came home from work the other day to find the local tree-care service had descended on my neighbor's front yard. Half a dozen workers, covered in wood shavings and wielding chain saws, busied themselves placing the scattered remains of that old tree in their truck. Looking at the pieces of the trunk, they were nothing more than hollow cylinders, completely rotted away on the inside. I guess that it had to come down. Better a controlled felling than an unpredictable act of nature that could cause significant property damage. I stood in my driveway agape at the newly shaped vista, now drowned in stark and glaring sunlight. It has now been a week since this all took place, and my eyes have still not adjusted.

The other morning I was sitting in my car before leaving for work and I once again surveyed the drastically altered landscape of my neighbor's yard. I found it funny how sometimes other people can make necessary changes in their lives and it leaves us who rely on them exposed to a sudden harsh light in which we struggle to adjust.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Double Standard

In Seinfeld episode #106 from season 6 called "The Beard", George Costanza rails at his friends for setting him up with a bald woman. However, they could not understand what he was so perturbed about, after all, he was bald too. ... Hmmm ... I'm afraid that I must side with George here. I mean, it may sound like a double standard, but a man being bald is part of nature. A woman who is bald is just a freak show. You can yell at me, thrown dirt on my shoes, and kick my puppy, but deep down inside, you surely harbor the same opinion. What is acceptable and tolerated for a man is a big no-no for a woman in many ways. A good example is peeing. Men are decreed by nature to stand up when they pee, but if a woman is known to attempt this maneuver, she will certainly be removed as chairperson of the Rotary Club.

O.K., let's move on to another example. This is one that seems so obvious to me, but alas and alack, someone is clearly not getting it. There is a woman I know at work who, being a foreigner from another country, has a reputation for being classy and sophisticated. Some have labeled her as fashion conscious or fashion forward. She owns fancy european handbags and wears expensive shoes from Gucci and Ferragamo (or perhaps it is Ferrigno?). She can be seen one day with a handmade silk scarf and the next with a huge diamond brooch. It all just screams elegance. But something is now amiss, and I am at a loss. Perhaps it is the old double-standard coding in my male brain.

The issue is that every single day this week, she has worn the same dress. I would think that a lady of refinement and sophistication would dare not wear the same clothing twice in the same decade let alone five days in a row for fear of the fashion repercussions of having someone recognize it as a repeat! I am starting to think that perhaps I need to organize an intervention or something. I think somebody needs to set this woman straight. Of course, the same situation or judgement does not apply to men. I mean, I wear the same jeans to work day after day after day and nobody, as far as I know, has ever cast aspersions on me for doing this. But I mean come on! I would never dream of showing up to work even two days in a row wearing the same dress! Talk about your faux pas.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I came across an expression the other day that really started me thinking.

It's opportunity that makes the thief.

This expression is credited to renaissance philosopher Francis Bacon. It seems to me that the idea behind this phrase is that we are all looking, at heart, to cheat or steal, but we remain in line only from the fear of being caught or being exposed. It's the idea that we obey the law for fear of the stick hanging over our heads and not because we believe in their morality and the notion of fairness and justice. Anybody given the opportunity to cheat with assurances that they will get away with it, will indeed take that opportunity.

Let's consider just a few what-ifs that span a range of opportunities.
  • Suppose a filthy rich, old, eccentric lady with a terminal disease is walking down the street and drops a bag containing 1 million dollars in untraceable bills. You happen upon the bag and there is nobody around. What would you do?
  • Suppose you are in a busy airport walking to your gate when you stumble upon an antique diamond brooch with a broken clasp that has fallen into a planter. You are just about to board the plane and could make an easy grab and go. What would you do?
  • Suppose you purchase a second-hand computer and find an undeleted folder containing several thousand illegally downloaded song files. What would you do?
  • Suppose that a young boy is sitting near you as you wait outside the library and leaves behind his shiny new iPod when he runs off to meet his friends. What would you do?
In each of the above "what-ifs", there is an opportunity. An opportunity to get something for free and nobody would ever be the wiser and an opportunity to do the right thing. I maintain that what we do and how we act when nobody is watching is a much better measure of our character than what we do and how we act when we are surrounded by others. I would like to think that more than a small handful of us would return that bag of money, find the owner of that necklace, delete those files, and call that young boy back to gather up what he left behind.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Who is your one?

Too often I listen only to my own voice. I'm selfish that way. The signs along the true path can be quite clearly marked, but I still stubbornly travel where I want to go. From time to time I come to the realization that I am treading where I am not supposed to be. Occasionally this steers me back toward the light, but it seems that I mostly just shrug and continue along undaunted and unswayed on my original heading.

Who is your one?

Jesus told me very clearly that "He is the way", but it seems that the din of the world around me and my own issues have caused me to suppress this truth. I regularly do what I want and say what I want. I strongly suspect that anyone who views me would have no idea that I am a Christian based on my behaviors.

Who is your one?

I must confess that I do realize my sin and understand that I need to pray for armor to protect me from myself. I need to claim the cleansing water of forgiveness that is mine. However, what does it mean when I continue to go back to that well day after day for the exact same issues? It seems that I sin, ask forgiveness, but then never make any changes to keep me away from that sin. It is a pitiful cycle, a silly child's game. I feel that at some point Jesus will say that he has had enough, that I'm never going to change. He will claim that I have set myself up as my own god, that I have made myself number one. As the tears roll down my cheeks, I realize that he would be fully justified in doing this. After all, who really is my number one?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not Through Yet

Recently I posted a blog series entitled Bondage (you can read through it starting from the first post - Bondage I) about being in sexual bondage. Some may get the wrong idea that this series was about sexual gratification associated with being chained or tied up. Most assuredly it was not. It was about being held captive to sexual addiction and lustful thinking. Certainly a very personal series for me to present. Today's post was written based on another thought that came out of some background reading that helped give birth to that series. One book that I read was Pure Desire by Ted Roberts. As I was reading I came across a chapter that detailed the feeling that many sexual addicts feel at some point during their ordeal that they are "done". They feel that they just don't want to go on living any more. They feel like they are too far gone, too broken, too messed up to turn their lives around. They have completely lost their self-respect. Nothing matters any more. Nothing in their world gives them any joy or peace. They have lost their smile. However, this is a nadir that can be reached by most everyone at some point in their lives, not just sexual addicts.

Roberts writes "It can be such a subtle change in a man's heart, just a click on the inside, unnoticed even by himself. But the change is monumental, because he's quietly decided to quit." As I was reading this chapter and the related personal attitudes, tears were running down my cheeks. The words and descriptions had resonated with me because I have been in that place. I have had those feelings of utter despair. Whenever Roberts (who is the pastor of East Hill Church in Oregon) counsels individuals who have reached this state, he always asks the question:

Who told you God was through with you? You may have given up, but God hasn't given up on you. It's over when God says it's over, and He'll never give up on you!

This sentiment, while simple, may be just enough to help folks ride out the storm a while longer and may also supply much needed comfort to a Christ follower who is deeply hurting and is starting to believe the whispers that they are finished.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hornet's Nest

I have just completed reading the so-called Millenium trilogy from Stieg Larsson. This trio of books includes:I immediately dove into this one the day after completing the second book in the series. I was so hooked on these characters that I felt almost compelled to hasten back to the unfolding story. In the final installment in the trilogy we follow the separate but entwined paths of the protagonists Mikael Blomkvist (journalist from Millenium magazine) and Lisbeth Salander (lesbian satanist chick) as he tries to save her and expose the dirty, out of control, and corrupt underbelly of the Swedish government's secret police in the process. Meanwhile, she tries to exorcise the demons that have corrupted and stained her life.

The trilogy consisted of nearly 2000 pages and the drama and intrigue continued until the very last sentence. The aspect that I enjoyed most in this book was the rich and dynamic interplay and exchange between the two characters even though they had no personal contact throughout the story. Mikael was dealing with the police, government agents, assassins, terrorists, and other all-around bad guys in the outside world trying to uncover the truth and separate it from the lies and misinformation, while Lisbeth was locked away in the hospital under continuous guard after taking three bullets and being buried alive at the end of the second book. The two characters had really come to understand and respect each other in a unique way. They moved and interacted based on this knowledge even when they could not communicate directly. Of course I was teary as the story came to a close with the open door and the invitation.

According to several sources on the web it seems that Larsson, who died unexpectedly in 2004 at age 50, had planned to write 10 books in this series. He had a full-time day job and wrote these Millenium books as a hobby in his spare time. In fact, he had even written about three quarters of the fourth novel and had laid out plot lines and details for all or most of the other books in his planned series. I should say that I would definitely have loved to continue my relationship with these characters. In fact, I should think the best compliments that you could give an author would be to say that you were thristy for their work and you ended up caring deeply for the characters that they had dreamed up.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Flavio Gustaffo

Oh crap! I think that I've made a terrible mistake here. I don't know what I am going to do. Perhaps I can get out of this jam if I just keep the lights in my house off and ignore the doorbell. Maybe I can arrange for a transfer to Borneo. Oh, I know! I can enter into the witness relocation program and get me one of them new identities. I'm somewhat partial to the moniker, Flavio Gustaffo. I bet he, unlike myself, would be someone bold enough to go out in public wearing a handsome felt fedora. He also would probably have a neaty trimmed mustache and goatee. ... What am I talking about? Perhaps I should take a step or two back and fill you in (seeing that you asked so politely).

I have been part of a small group at my church (affectionately called WEC). We meet once a week at our host's home. At these meetings we develop "structured relationships" and talk about God and God's part in our lives. We get to know one another and try to support one another. In my most recent group, we were together for more than a year before the group endured beyond its "freshness" date and dissolved. So, I was forced to go back and register to be part of another group. That's when the trouble started. As I was quite sleepy during the application process, I absent-mindedly checked an innocent-looking box that asked "Would you be willing to host the group?". Apparently someone in the church office took this stray pencil mark on the form seriously and the next thing I know, I had been signed up to host my next group! That's why I must find a way to escape. Soon I will mysteriously vanish and my troubles will all be over.

Some may ask me, "Hey Gustaffo, nice fedora, but what's the big deal? Why all the drama and gnashing of teeth?" Well, I am not all that comfortable around people, especially a group of a dozen folks that I have never met before. Not only that, but they will all be in my very own home. Yikes!, Zounds!, and Egad! For those that know me, you can probably guess that this is a pretty big deal. Please pray for Flavio.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

In a Heartbeat

From the album Holy Water by Bad Company, the song With You in a Heartbeat. I dedicate this to you still after all that has happened. A promise is a promise.

I had your picture, I had it there on the wall
It's been a long time, I didn't notice it fall
Just goes to show you, things get strange, there's nothin', nothin' I can do
You got your own life, I got mine, I still got feelings for you

And I wonder what you're thinking, does it ever seem right
Don't you know there's something missing, we don't have to fight
If you call me tonight

I'll be with you in a heartbeat, just whisper my name
And I'll be with you in a heartbeat, no questions, no blame
And I'll be with you in a heartbeat, just whisper my, just whisper my name

I got no answers, sometimes I just wanna shout
Which way to turn now, can't seem to figure this out
I haven't seen you in oh so long, nothin', nothin' seems to fade
Tried to forget you, but you won't go, ooh the memories we made

And I tried so hard to fight it, but it keeps comin' through
Ooh you were all I ever wanted, I'm waiting for you, if you wanted me too

I'll be with you in a heartbeat, just whisper my name
And I'll be with you in a heartbeat, no questions, no blame
And I'll be with you in a heartbeat, just whisper my, just whisper my name

And I wonder what you're thinking, does it ever seem right
Don't you know there's something missing, we don't have to fight
If you call me tonight

Friday, August 6, 2010

Played with Fire

I recently posted my review of the Stieg Larsson book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As this adventure was so wonderfully addictive, I hurriedly moved to the second part of his Millenium Trilogy called The Girl who Played with Fire. The "girl" in both of these books is one of the main protagonists, Lisbeth Salander. This young woman seems at first blush to be deranged, amoral, self-centered, psychotic, and anti-social. She looks like a teenage street tough, with chopped hair, tattoos, and piercings. She is rude, moody, gruff, and dark. At the end of Dragon Tattoo, we are just starting to understand that there is something very dark in her past that has scarred her deeply and caused her to believe that she can only rely on herself. Yet at the same time, there is something redeeming and refreshing about her that makes you care for her. Make no mistake though, if you cross her, you will be in big trouble. If you underestimate her, you will regret it. In this work, we start to understand who this person is and the horrors that she has been through. We understand why it is her against the world. Larsson has really developed a person in Lisbeth of such lucid darkness and raw emotion, that you really desire for her to find the peace that she is seeking.

This book was 724 pages in length in the paperback form that I had purchased, but it was a very quick read. Maybe I should say that I completed it in just a few days because once I started reading, the action and story line pulled me in so completely that I didn't want to stop. At several points along the way, during particularly climatic scenes, I found myself yelling out at the characters trying to help them or warn them. I became fully immersed in the unfolding drama. Part of the issue here is that the antagonist, Alexander Zalachenko (Zala), is such a unique and mottled character. He is deliciously evil. He is cut-throat, savage, egocentric, and possesses a stone cold heart. He has fully embraced his evil ways and will stop at nothing to protect his empire. Even more compelling and gripping in this story is the relationship between Zala and Lisbeth. Zala has formed Lisbeth into who she is today and Lisbeth has formed the mysterious Zala into who he has become.

This book ends with our heroine Lisbeth in a world of trouble after the dust settles in the battle to the finish between Lisbeth and Zala. Some loose ends appear to have been tied up, but if you think about it, you realize that the real story is just beginning. Now to the last book in the trilogy, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I have heard the word maelstrom uttered by a number a disparate sources over the past few weeks. It's a term that conjures strong images in my mind. A maelstrom represents a disordered and tumultuous state of affairs, a strong tempest. Its usage signifies bedlam, chaos, and confusion. A strong and uncontrollable whirlwind. I tend to think of it in terms of a constant onslaught of torment that is hard to understand and fight through.

My ongoing maelstrom is a personal battle that I have been engaged in for some time. This campaign is one that originated in a nightmare. It arose out of the deceipt and betrayal and communication problems and laziness that are so common in our world today. I never expected myself to be in this situation. A once sweet and delectable ambrosia turned sour. Purest white lost its promises and joyful smile and fused into coal black. Yet today, I am forced by circumstances to continue in this conflict. I try to go forward with a positive spirit and a generous heart, yet it seems that all too frequently the bandage is ripped off the wound before it has a chance to heal. Just when a modicum of peace starts to collect, the cloud is blown away with a selfish act or a harsh tone. I know that I do not have the mind or the stomach for this. I pray for a thick skin and a soft heart. Jesus told us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you", Matthew 5:44.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dragon Tattoo

I don't know how I stumbled across the list, but there it was on my computer and I glanced over it from top to bottom. I guess I was just absent-mindedly following links on CNN. The best selling authors in 2008 and 2009. One author, Stieg Larsson, caught my attention. He had written a series of books that had sold 27 million copies in a very short period of time. What was interesting was that the books were published after his untimely death at the age of 50. The series of books is referred to as The Millenium Trilogy. They fall into the class of mystery thrillers. Several of the comments on the book jacket used the term "addictive". I ordered the first book in the series to see what the big deal was about. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

My copy of the book arrived in the mail about four days after I placed my order. 644 pages. Four days later I had finished my reading. Wow, what a ride. Now I should say that I don't normally read books of this sort. All too often they seem formulatic and contrived. They are the equivalent of eating cotton candy when I should be gaining sustenance from a more hardy fare. However, this book intrigued me and held me and made me want to go back for more as I worked my way through a story about the history of the Vanger family from Sweden and their complicated and uneasy relationships. Several of the members of the family shared a sick passion that was slowly and cleverly uncovered by an investigative journalist and a young, punk/goth woman who had a talent for finding out the dirty secrets of people just to satisfy her own curiosity.

The story unfolds over the course of a year, when a retired CEO from a once powerful Swedish manufacturing company hires an investigative journalist who was sued for libel after publishing a story of crooked dealings of a powerful business man. Once his credibility took this major hit, he had to lay low for a while to let the pressure dissipate. His assignment was to write a biography of the Vanger family, but this was just a cover. His real purpose was to investigate the death of the cherished granddaughter of the retired CEO. He wanted someone to take one more look at the case before he died. She had disappeared 35 years ago under suspicious circumstances and the case is now stone cold.

Stieg Larsson weaves together a wonderfully crafted story and plot line and history. It is so hard to know who is telling the truth. Sometimes people are not who they seem to be. Sometimes they are. It all comes out in the end and sets the stage for the second book in the trilogy, The Girl who Played with Fire.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


How I have contempt for that sea of nameless, faceless humanity. That often blood-thristy, inconsiderate, and inconvenient throng. I drive along cursing and grumbling under my breath as they, without fail, try to drive me off the road with their rude and boorish antics. I fight through them and over them in supermarkets and department stores just to get a few simple items. They are everywhere. They cause me severe frustration and great anguish. I wish they would just go away and give me some peace. Cloying, that's what they are.

I pray often and ask the Lord to help make me ever mindful of the needs of others. This notion and this spirit do not come to me naturally, thus I need to constantly pray for strength and replenishment. In Mark 12:31, Jesus told the people that one of his greatest commandments was "To love your neighbor as yourself". The apparent chasm between the instruction and declaration of Jesus and my own feelings and actions towards others causes me great concern.

How can I in one moment view those that surround me and fill up my world as rabble and in another moment pray for them and love them? It seems like I have lost comprehension that the people that are all around me are the ones that I am actually praying for and supposed to live in brotherhood with. The words of Mark 9:24 fill my thoughts, "I do believe but help my unbelief."

Monday, August 2, 2010


A quick perusal of my reading list will show that over the past several years, I have read a number of fairly broad topic self-help books on Christianity. Several authors have a style and approach that just resonates with me and I tend to seek out their works. They include Mark Batterson, Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and Max Lucado. However, I have a particular fondness for Charles Swindoll, having now read a dozen of his books. For some time now I have had my eye on tackling one of his in-depth character studies. However, I had not gotten around to this given other books that I had on my list to read. So, finally, the time came to start in on Charles Swindoll's "Great Lives from God's Word" series. The first book in this series, published in 1997, is entitled David.

I think most folks have heard the story of David and Goliath, and how smallish stature David took on the 9-ft tall giant and killed him with a smooth stone from this slingshot. However, there is much more to the story of David. This book takes an in-depth look at the life of David from start to finish by stepping through the two Old Testament books, 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, that chronicle his life (with forays into his book of songs in Psalms and 1,2 Chronicles). The subtitle of the book David is "A Man of Passion and Destiny", and tells how a simple shepherd boy went from tending his flock to becoming God's chosen king over the nation of Israel. David is described in scripture as "a man after God's own heart". This means that his passions and approach were (mostly) forward-focussed on God.

You may have noticed that I slipped a parenthetical "mostly" in the previous sentence. While David was a remarkable man in many ways, there were several long periods in his life where his sexual passions ruled his life and where he started to believe in his own hype. During these periods he focussed more on himself and turned from God. As a result of his sins, he paid a very steep price that nearly cost him and his nation everything. However, he acknowledged his sins and came back to God. An important lesson from David's life (which included a long list of sexual liaisons, adultery, deceit, murder, the loss of many lives) is that forgiveness does not preclude us from having to suffer a penalty for those sins.

This work on David was very enjoyable and written in a very clear style. The only issue that I had is that Swindoll has a way of embellishing the scripture beyond what is actually written, basically reading between the lines in his own interpretive voice, to make the story fit his romanticized, sympathetic narrative. It allows him to paint David in a light that another author might have seen differently. Regardless, he is very faithful to the word of scripture and allowed me to understand King David and his legacy in glorious fullness.

Now, onto Volume 2, Esther, A Woman of Strength and Dignity.