Saturday, October 30, 2010

What's Up Doc?

Today's post is about gaining insight into ourselves through vegetables ...

Most every day for the past year I have placed a small container of baby carrots in with my lunch. My regular fare includes a sandwich or tortilla wrap, a small yogurt, and my carrots. Well, after a while, I started to question myself regarding the inclusion of the carrots in my lunch. I started to gripe and complain and grouse that every day I prepare for myself the same old thing. Day after day after day.

Where is the variety? Why not mix things up and try something new? So I did. I replaced my carrots with an apple, ..., for a day. You know what? It was then that I realized how much I missed my container of carrots. The very next day they were back. Ahh, the comfort of the usual and the known, even when we try to push it away, our hearts ache when it is gone. There is a noticeable absence, a feeling of loss. What's up doc?

Friday, October 29, 2010


The fifth edition of Charles Swindoll's Great Lives series is entitled Elijah, A Man of Heroism and Humility, and takes us through the "biblical life" of the Hebrew prophet Elijah as detailed in the Old Testament in 1,2 Kings. I use the term "biblical life" here because Elijah bursts onto the scene in about 900 B.C. in the northern kingdom of Israel, already an older man. He is used mightily by God and then leaves this earth in a most unusual manner. He is only one of two people recorded in the scriptures who passed into God's presence directly, without experiencing death.

Elijah serves as God's appointed and anointed prophet. The kingdom of Israel is lead by King Ahab and his domineering wife Queen Jezebel. They are described as among the most wicked people on the face of the earth. Under their leadership, the kingdom has been turned away from worshipping God; all of this has occurred just a few generations after King David had left a united and God-fearing nation. Ahab and Jezebel worshipped a god known as Baal. Elijah serves as God's instrument to rid the land of Baal, along with his priests and prophets, by reminding them of the one true God. However, before Elijah is ready to be used mightily by God, he is trained to fully rely on God by hiding out during a long drought at a secluded brook and later by living with a poor woman and her son.

The pinnacle of Elijah's moment on this earth is the showdown that he sets up for the people to witness between himself and the prophets of Baal. Each side was called to erect an altar and call upon their God to rain down fire and set it ablaze. The false prophets danced and carried on for hours next to their altar and were silenced. Elijah had his altar soaked with water before he called upon God to set it alight. Of course, that is just what God did. Many people where called back to God that very day. Ultimately, Elijah, having fulfilled his calling and purpose from God, with heroism and true humiility at every step along the way, trained his successor Elisha to take his place. Now, on to the next volume in the series, Paul, A Man of Grace and Grit.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Giving Tree

I have come to look forward to springtime in my current neighborhood for several reasons. These include the budding of the early season flowers, the greening transformation of the lawns, and the welcome emergence of the foliage on the trees. So many varied and wonderful sights that serve to provide a feast for my eyes. However, beyond all of these, there is a tree in my neighbor's yard that I have been particularly taken with. I don't know exactly what type of tree it is, but I would describe it as stately, tall, and pleasingly symmetric. In the spring, it dresses itself with beautiful white blossoms for about two weeks. I purposefully park beneath its shadow as I wait for my daughter at her bus stop. On more than one occasion, I have found myself lost in thought while staring up at it. For the past couple of years, I have been making a mental note to get a photograph of this tree when it is in full bloom, but have never managed to follow through. I would say, "next year".

The other day a storm rolled through my town. Although we braced ourselves from its winds and heavy rain, there was nothing all that unusual about it. It simply generated a stay-inside weekend. Nothing news shattering in my yard but a fresh littering of pine needles from the tall fir senties that flank my property line. Nothing to pay any real mind to. However, as I was leaving for work in the wake of that storm, my eyes spotted a fallen limb in my neighbor's yard. My heart immediately sunk and my spirits fell. I quietly uttered, no, not my tree. The break wasn't a minor twig or branch, but a main artery that had split off a sizeable section of the main trunk. As the tree was still fully dressed in its green foliage, it belied the full extent of the damage. I held out hope that it could somehow be saved. However, as I came home that evening, I was shocked to see that the whole tree was gone. Only a dusting of wood chips and bark remained from the unforgiving machines. A beautiful and peaceful arbor was gone, the ground left naked and exposed.

I know it was just a tree, but I will miss its beauty and majesty. I will miss the imagination and awe that it stirred within me as I gazed upon it. I know its absense will take a little bit of the joy and expectancy away from my next springtime.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Me Against Myself

Amy Carmichael was a protestant missionary who opened and ran an orphanage in India. She lived from 1867 to 1951 and ministered to the poorest of the poor. Her biography notes that she served without furlough for 55 years. A remarkable record and proper model of sacrificial service to be sure. I stumbled across a prayer that she had written long ago that resonated within me. Words that should turn our focus of blame, condemnation, and attention of others straight back onto ourselves.

God, harden me against myself,
  The coward with pathetic voice
  Who craves for ease and rest and joy.
Myself, arch-traitor to myself,
  My hollowest friend,
  My deadliest foe,
  My clog, whatever road I go.

Obviously, although this saint has been gone for a long time now, she is still ministering to us.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The C-Train

I have written several posts since I started this blog about maturing, about growing up and growing older. Part of this transformation with the passing years is gaining a certain amount of humbleness and needed perspective regarding our frail human nature. When we were children, most of us lived life with reckless abandon, fully convinced that nothing could ever stop us or slow us down. However, at some point in each of our lives, we come to understand that we are finite (see Invincibility Lost). For me, this moment occurred with certainty when I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 30. For others, this moment comes later in life, perhaps when they recognize that they can't keep up with their grandchildren.

I have been living under the shadow of the tracks of the C-train for a long time now. The train passes over from time to time, always coming upon me unexpectedly. Although I never look forward to its appearance, I have learned to accept its presence and, I would say, make peace with it. Initially I was swept along through the current of those usual five steps of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When I finally reached the point of acceptance, it was then that I found myself able to live again. It took a long time, but the bubbling fear within me eventually quelled. I can now talk about my experience not as the end of my world, but just as a part of my life, even if someday that train finally takes me away.

Recently, an older colleague of mine at work was diagnosed with lung cancer. He found out that I was a member of the C-train brotherhood and stopped by my office to talk with me. We talked about our lost invincibility and how it shapes our outlook toward tomorrow. I think by the time we were done with our conversation he felt blessed that he had already lived a long life with good health. When he left my office he then turned and winked at me, "everything else from here on out is gravy". Now that's a different train entirely.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Letter to a Memory

A philosophical question often asked goes something like this, "If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Another twist on this question goes like this, "If color is something perceived only when light enters the eye and is processed by the brain, do the clothes in our closet actually have a color in the absence of light?"

This is all just a prelude to a question that I have been pondering over the past few years. I guess it too, like those above, is some metaphysical machination. If a letter is written but never is read by its intended, what happens to the emotions recorded by that pen's ink?

I have written several letters where I poured my heart and feelings out on the page, that were never read by anyone but me. A piece of my soul is sent out looking for connection, only to be missed or ignored. Return to sender. I have also been told that sometimes when feelings or expressions of regret become bottled up inside us, a good way to set ourselves free from their incessant pressure and presence in our mind is to write a letter and then burn that letter. I guess this is a symbolic gesture of burial or release. It seems like writing a letter to a memory.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nature Issues

I have had it with nature, had it right up here I tell you! At every turn it seems to be against me. I always seem to be either too hot or too cold. When I need to work in the yard it rains. When my flowers and grass need rain, the unrelenting sun withers them to ash. If it's not the weather, it's the critters and bugs that attack me non-stop. They invade. They bite. They buzz. They are relentless. They don't know the meaning of the term "personal space". Mark my words nature. You shall be hearing from me in the sternest of terms. I plan to write a strongly worded letter I do.

The latest episode of outright mockery occurred just in the last month. I carefully and painstakingly prepared my yard. I put down the broadleaf weed killer. I put down the soil preparation nuggets. I spread the grass seed. For two days I dragged the sprinkler all around my yard, making sure that every precious grass seed was nourished and cared for with that essential liquid element of life. I looked after the seeds. I spoke to them. I sang them flagrant words of show-tunery for goodness sake. I bitterly and endlessly complained about all the hassles involved in watering that stinking, rassen-frassen yard. Sure would be nice if nature cooperated a bit and some rain came earthward.

The very next day, nature came through. I thought that we were beginning to make some progress in our relationship. After about an hour of non-stop heavy rain, I let nature know that my yard had received enough water and that it could turn off the valves. But no. It rained continuously for the next four days. It rained so much over my yard that the Atlantic Ocean was noticeably depleted. Heretofore unknown Spanish galleons were laying on dry ground up and down the east coast. Bah! I say bah! About two weeks later, my pathetic yard was still as brown as an over-cooked dinner roll, yet grass was sprouting up unchecked in every flower bed and off-limits area on my property. Thanks ever so much nature. You should look out for that letter. Mark my words.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A+ America 2

Recently, I outlined the premise behind my new running series of posts called A+ America. Today's first entry of positivity was one that totally and pleasantly caught me by surprise. Now I can tell you that I tend to do most of my grumbling and griping about the human condition when I am driving. It seems to me that it is here that humanity displays what it is really made of. So many drivers out on the road seem to only care about themselves. Their safety. Their schedule. I can assure you that in my few-mile-long drive from home to work, I am typically cut off multiple times. People run the red lights at will. Everyone seems to believe that their turn signals are entirely optional and serve no real purpose whatsoever.

I have seen too many horrible accidents and near accidents between emergency vehicles and drivers who refuse to let them through. Hey, why should they be inconvenienced or miss a light. It's not their emergency. Well, this all sets the stage for my first A+ America award. I was on my way home from work the other day. It was the height of rush hour. The road was completely packed with cars. It was that time of day where you keep one foot hovering above the gas pedal and one hovering above the break. Nobody is getting anywhere fast. That's when I first heard the siren wailing in the distance behind me. A check of my mirror revealed it was a fire engine. As it got close to my position, the most amazing thing happened. It looked like the parting of the Red Sea. Every single driver on that road with me somehow just cleared a path and the truck was not delayed for a moment. I have never seen that type of obedience to traffic protocol before. I have to admit that the drivers on the road with me made me very proud of humanity at that moment. Thumbs up to everyone.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Grumblegrouse

They say that it doesn't exist. They say that it is just an urban legend. But I know differently. I can say first hand that everything that is talked about in the corners in clipped and hushed tones is quite accurate. Quite accurate indeed. I must call out, beware the grumblegrouse my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! And yes, he most certainly came whiffling through the tulgey wood, burbling as he came!

The grumblegrouse is known to me. I can hear him from my office grumbling and grousing, swearing and pounding his desk snicker-snack! His words most vile, his tone harsh and uffish. And though I should know better, his high-pitched squeal and awkward turn of phrase leave me smirking. If only he could see what he has become. If he could sit by the Tumtum tree and think it out, he would use that vorpal blade and slay that grumblegrouse. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

(With a tip of the hat to Lewis Carroll who helped me to gyre and gimble in the wabe. His famous take on nonsense verse in The Jabberwocky inspired this piece and my view of a constantly grumbling and grousing colleague.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesdays with Maddie

Tuesdays with Morrie, subtitled "An old man, a young man, and life's greatest lesson", was a tear-jerker type of movie that came out in 1999 about a sociologist and his relation with one of his students. I never saw the movie, but you can rest assured that it was punctuated throughout with swelling music, contrived pathos, and at least one dead body. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the movie was touching because the student made an effort to set aside time to meet with Morrie regularly. It was important for both of them. I believe that Morrie was slowly dying and the student, though a grown man, still realized that his old teacher still had a lot to give him.

I stumbled upon a memory of this movie and it made me think about the importance of setting aside special time to be with those that are important in your life. For the past several years, I have purposefully set aside Wednesday afternoons to be with my daughter. This is a time where I keep my hectic schedule free from any and all appointments and responsibilities so that our special time is not impacted. For anyone who knows anything about me, this is a pretty big deal.

While our Wednesday afternoons are certainly not the stuff that the movie-going public would go to see, this time of togetherness and sharing is precious to me. "Wednesdays with Maddie - A daddy, his daughter, and life's best moments".

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Please Smile

Sometimes I find myself in a bad mood. Something sets my positive switch to negative. There are times when I don't even recognize the trigger. I'm angry, sullen, and depressed. A frown is locked onto my face and nothing, it seems, can provide the key. Even when cognitively I try to rationalize with myself that being in such a mood is uncalled for, I feel powerless to overcome the cloying embrace of darkness. It's almost like I suddenly find myself in a deep hole that I can't climb out of.

The other day I was with my daughter, a time that I always look forward to. A time where my spirits are typically buoyed by her presence and her energy. A time where I can release all my outside troubles and concerns to the four winds, and just relax, find my peace, and be with her. However, I found myself down and I did not understand why. I tried to shake it off, but I kept falling deeper and deeper under its spell.

My little one quickly figured that something had me down and tentatively tried to make some conversation with me. I could barely speak in reply. She came over to me and wrapped her arms around me and uttered a simple plea, "Daddy, please smile." Sometimes, though, even when we have every reason to be joyful and connected, some rogue process takes over our minds and our spirits and pulls us down. I wish I had a cure. I wish that I could get back all the time that I lost to inexplicable sadness and depression. I wish I had access to that switch within me to always help me find my smile when it gets lost.

Monday, October 18, 2010


If you ask most people about the story of Moses, their mind immediately begins to form images of Charlton Heston. Heston played the larger than life Old Testament character in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 classic The Ten Commandments. Most would assume Moses was a charismatic, square-jawed, in control, verile man's man. However, Moses lived a life marked by contrasts. On one hand he was God's-appointed leader of the nation of Israel, but on the other, he was a man who struggled with issues of self-doubt, anger, loneliness, and regret. Ultimately, he accepted his calling from God and did what he had to do. Since his death, there has never been another man who had the sort of face-to-face relationship with God that Moses did.

In the fourth volume in Charles Swindoll's Great Lives series, Moses, A Man of Selfless Dedication, we follow through the life of Moses from his birth through his death. His time on this earth was marked by three distinct stages. He lived his first 40 years as Egypt's favorite son, as the pharaoh in waiting. At the end of this phase, he came to accept his true Hebrew lineage and to eschew his adopted Egyptian standing. In his rush to step up and represent his people, he killed an Egyptian and turned pharaoh against him. He spent the next 40 years of his life hiding out in the desert, resigned to a life as a lowly shepherd. It was during this time that God was preparing his heart and his mind. Moses then spent the last 40 years of his life leading the fledging Hebrew nation out of captivity in Egypt to the promised land.

As God's chosen leader of the nation of Israel, Moses was the point man in leading the 2 million Israelites out of Egypt. It was a major struggle from first to last. The Israelite ranks were filled with people who refused to believe God's promises even when he was living among them and revealing his power to them on a daily basis. Moses was the person who had to live with these people for 40 years and deal with their constant whining, their constant threats, their constant stubborness, and their constant sinning. However, he led graciously, with strength and dignity. He was a constant Godly presence among the Israelites until his appointed time came to pass the mantel of leadership to another. The next volume in the series is Elijah, A Man of Heroism and Humility.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A+ America 1

If you have been reading my blog ramblings for any length of time, you have probably figured out by now that I am, by nature, a negative person. The glass is neither too big nor too small, some jackwagon just gave me one that was two sizes too big. You can bet big money that if I have a pulse, I am grumbling about something. It could be the motorist who just cut me off in traffic, the person who let the door slam in my face, or the git who I did something nice for who didn't even bother to thank me. I could go on and on and on.

I could also tell you that being a negative person is not something that I am proud of. I can assure you that my venomous spewings are only semi-conscious. It seems that no matter how hard I try to control my tongue, fuss and squawking somehow find their way out into space. After living with myself for so long, this is more than frustrating to me. In many ways it sickens and depresses me. It shapes how I see nearly every corner of the world. For starters, a regular feature on this blog is my "Grind My Gears" segment. In these posts I rant on something that has ruffled my feathers, whether it be food labels, traffic circles, or feeble staplers.

However, in my effort to overcome this snorting and hacking beast, I feel I should give some effort to balancing out my negativity with positivity. With this said, I will be introducing a new feature on my blog called "A+ America" with things that demonstrate to me that not everything on this earth is bad or rotten or corrupt or worthless. This series will aim to be a way to cancel out the minuses I introduce with some plusses. Stay tuned as I venture into uncharted territory in the weeks and months ahead.

Friday, October 15, 2010


If I listen close enough, it sometimes seems that I can hear the life being sucked out of me. In an instant, the flame that burns inside that serves to provide me with vitality, humor, empathy, energy, and drive, can be snuffed out. Sometimes, the ebb of that flickering flame is so subtle that I scarcely notice it slowly dying away. When that light has been extinguished within me, I just want to give up. Nothing in my world arouses any passion in my belly and I become an emotional zombie, a useless shell ...

When I entered a new season in my life several years ago, I made a vow to develop some friendships. I have always had trouble with relationships of any sort due to my social disabilities and personal history. Yet I felt it was important to strive to look outward instead of focussing inward. I put every ounce of energy I could into working through my own acute feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy and shyness. I put myself in very uncomfortable and foreign situations because the investment was important. It was necessary. It was crucial. However, something happened along the way that has only made things worse ...

I had made a few friends. I had found a new church. I met weekly with a small group. I went to counseling with a psycologist twice a week for nearly a year. Now here I am. The friends that I had started to get close to have all moved away. My church has grown so rapidly that I feel that I am but a grain of sand on a vast beach. My small group experience has been more than uneven. My psychologist only told me what I already knew. I feel like I have completely lost traction. However, I don't want this season to turn me into someone who believes that I don't need other people, or that I'm a lost cause and nothing in my life will ever change for the better, or the Lord is not with me because I am unworthy, or that this is proof that God does not exist, or that these tests are more than I can endure. I don't want to give up and throw in the towel just yet ...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cultural Relevance

I wrote a post recently called "Repeal Bible Laws" where I asked a simple question. Are there any laws in the Bible that you do not agree with? I asked this question because I have found that opinions associated with some issues (e.g. family values, what constitutes marriage, ...) seem to fluctuate from generation to generation. What might be viewed at one time as sacreligious or detrimental to society, might at a later time be tolerated with grumbling and strong debate, and finally accepted as just another lifestyle choice among various alternative choices. Majority opinions can and do fluctuate. Depending on the age, what is black can be accepted as white and what is white can be accepted as black.

Several folks commented to me on my earlier post with a viewpoint that struck a chord with me. They stated that if the church and its teachings do not keep up with the times, it is bound to be left behind as an archaic and irrelevant institution. Hmmm. I always thought that the Bible, the word of the living God, was a manual for our lives constructed from unassailable truths. Tenets that were inscribed deep into solid bedrock, not in the clouds. One is a universal truth, the other subject to change with the wind. Seems to me that a religion with a sliding scale of what constitutes sin is no religion at all. It is a feel-good movement, a popularity contest. Indeed, such a "religion" rests uneasily on a slippery slope that allows popular opinion and the latest prevailing trends to be the real god that is worshipped.

Sometimes I worry that people just do not understand what Christianity really is and what it is not. You can be a great person, an upstanding member of the community, loving and warm and giving. You can donate your time, money, and energy. You can even feel spiritual toward people all over the globe. But, this doesn't necessarily mean that you are a good Christian. As I understand what the Bible teaches, if you do not follow its teachings, you are sinning in the eyes of God. It doesn't matter if you like it or not. It doesn't matter whether you agree with it or not. The laws of Christianity should not have to keep up with humanity, instead, we must keep up with them. It's not that Christianity will be left behind, instead, we risk being left behind.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The French Disconnection

Way back in high school, I was something of a whiz kid. The only word that ever showed up on my report card was AAAAA. Not only did I study hard, I was blessed with a certain level of cognitive ability. I don't remember too many stories from my high school days, but one negative kernel has stuck with me lo these many years ...

When I was a freshman, I took an introductory french class. As I already had several years of french instruction under my belt, this class was nothing more than a review of what I already knew. Not only did I have a mind that stored up some knowledge, but I also had an ear for hearing the language and a tongue for speaking it. I was so good that I remember one day when I was having a private session with my french teacher in the language lab, the portugese teacher walked in and an impressed look suddenly stretched across his face. He looked at me and declared, "Wow, it even sounds like you are speaking a foreign language!" How's that for an endorsement of my abilities?

Yet one day after I took a test, my french teacher took me aside and accused me of cheating. I stood my ground and defended myself. I had no need to cheat and would never resort to such a tactic. He eventually accepted my statement. However, he wrote across the top of my very next test paper, "I still have my doubts." This man was actually accusing me again. I was flabbergasted. I approached him and demanded that he present his evidence. He refused. I challenged him to give me a make up test where he could sit and watch me alone. He declined. I told him that if he ever accused me of any such act again, I would bring this before the principal and the school board if necessary. He never uttered another charge against me. However, it still eats at me why he would accuse me so falsely.

I endured a similarly frustrating experience very recently in my life. I was part of a group of adults that met regularly. After several months together, I thought the group was getting along pretty well, really opening up and getting to know each other. However, after a recent meeting, one of the people in the group turned against me, yet would not tell me why. It was so frustrating and so out of line, that it immediately sparked the memory of my french disconnection from so many years ago. So, Jean-Luc (or whatever your name was), now that some 25+ years have passed, will you finally tell me what grounds you had for accusing me twice for cheating on your tests?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Right as Rain

There is a verse in the New Testament book of Matthew that gives us some instruction on how to pray, and also, how not to pray. Matthew 6:7 says, "When you pray, don't babble on and on like the heathens do." Sometimes I have to chuckle at myself for some of the thoughts that run through my head during my prayers.

Recently, I was slogging through a day under a deep veil of depression. I am not even sure what brought it on. However, by the time I got home from work I felt immobilized. Everything in my mind was dark and filled with hate and dread. I'm not sure how I did it, but I managed to make a small supper that I laid out on the coffee table in the living room. I sat down on the floor and just got lost in a haze of thought. I was hurting and anxious and uncertain. At that moment I prayed a prayer inspired by dialog from The Matrix. There is a scene when a troubled Neo visits the Oracle. She offers him a cookie and tells him, "I promise, by the time you're done eating it, you'll feel as right as rain." My prayer was that when I finished my supper, I just wanted to feel as right as rain.

You know that when I was done with my supper that night, I felt in control of my mind. My emotions were in balance. I felt energized and alive. The storm had vanished for a time, replaced by warm and welcome sunshine.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Treasure Box

As I went into her room to put a few pairs of clean socks into her dresser, I noticed a lower drawer sticking out just a little bit. Something shiny caught my eye. As I opened the drawer in full to satisfy my curiosity, I could feel the tears welling up in the corners of my eyes. There sat her box of treasures. Little things that she found and collected along the way. Things to claim as hers. Things that she played with for a season and then retired when something new came along. Each has a memory associated with it. There is a bag of marbles, some of which I had as a kid. There are a few field day ribbons that she won years ago at school. A hand-carved top and the zip-cord from a wind-up car. A few pom-poms from a cheerleader doll and some pretty stickers that I gave her that we both felt were too special to actually use.

I remember a rainy afternoon some 3 or 4 years or so ago, when she pulled this box out and spent many hours rummaging through it. Her laughter and squeals clearly indicated that she was rediscovering her treasures all over again. I can hear her asking me "Daddy do you remember this?" time and time again. That day was likely the last time that she thought about her treasure box. I would guess that at this point, none of her collection holds any meaning to her. Years go by and growing up has a way of changing our values and our wonder. The future brightens and opens up, while the past fades gently away. It is expected and healthy for her. Yet, I will remember.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chicken Tampon

I get the penny saver every week in my mailbox like many folks across our great nation. I quickly skim through its pages to be sure that no real mail got mixed up in its hydra-like grip before I deposit this rag in my recycle bin. As I leaf through the pages, I typically see the weekly ad for the local grocery store advertising their low, low prices. I don't know about you, but in all my years of skimming through these ads, I have never once seen a listing for chicken tampons at $4 per pound. What about you?

I can hear you all now, flapping your arms and scratching your feet across the ground. You have no idea what I am going on about. O.K., I will break it down for you so that you too can feel the rage that I now feel. I bought a package of chicken breasts the other day at the supermarket. When I got them home, I opened the package and placed the chicken parts on my cutting board. At the bottom of the styrofoam tray, was this 4-in by 6-in absorbant pad. A pad that I have affectionately named the chicken tampon. This pad by itself weighed over half a pound. Does anyone else out there in "cyberland" feel the bile rising up in their throats? Is anyone else pounding their clenched fists on the nearest table? ... What?? ... Don't you see what is going on here? ... Those corporate chicken so-and-so's are purposefully and insideously adding dead weight to their packaging so that they can charge more. Talk about a bitter taste! Somebody get me a Tic-Tac.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Blizzard

We had already been on the road for 6 hours. It was a trip that I had gotten used to after making that back-and-forth once a month for several years. I used to jokingly tell folks that it was an 8 hour trip, but my patience only lasted for 7 and a half hours. However, I had developed several strategies, silly games in my head, to help pass the time and the distance. Things like counting license plates from different states, seeing how long I could stay in contact with a particular car or truck, or changing the pattern of my grip on the steering wheel every few miles. Kind of mental gymnastics to keep me alert.

For this trip, I was not alone. I can tell you that this was a real treat, an occurrence that was becoming less and less frequent. However, when they were with me, I felt complete. I somehow felt like I was finally fulfilling my most important role. I was the leader, the one responsible for getting us through safely, for watching over everyone. In some silly macho way, I felt like a real man.

After 6 hours on the road the atmosphere in the car took on a mixed feel. I, like the horse smelling its stable on the wind, knew that we were on the home stretch. If we just endured for a little while longer, I could get us home and back to our world. However, the opposing sentiment was to stop off at the next exit as we had just passed a Dairy Queen sign. In addition to getting home sooner, I fought to stay on the road because I sensed an opportunity to save a bit of money. When it was clear that the request to stop was not really a request, my heart sank out of my chest. I was wounded and somehow felt like I had been stripped of my role as leader. My feeble defense as we pulled into that Dairy Queen parking lot was to pout and grumble.

That journey that I had made so many times induced me into some pre-programmed mode. To stop was to give up. Perhaps this was just another of my silly games to get through the long drive. But, I now realize, that I was petty and self-centered. I'm sorry. I should have been more deliberate to stop and taste the Blizzards of life with you instead of having to face them alone.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I ... Ummm

In the depths of my soul, I struggle mightily when I hear folks talk about how inane or arcane Christianity is. Some people just have a way of attacking the walls of my faith in a way that stirs up clouds of conflict within me. Their words of ridicule can make me appreciate how silly and convoluted some of the stories in the Bible appear. They find easy marks in the very public and widespread failings of some of the most powerful people in the church. They stir up feelings of fear, suspicion, and distress in people with regard to the church; they make it seem like we are doing more harm than good. How can I defend my own beliefs in such a harsh light not only to others, but also to myself. I have touched on this topic before (see Voodoo Religion II from several years ago). In the past, my best defense against such salvos was to bury my head in the sand, to avoid even hearing their words, to run away from the disturbing thoughts. However, lately I have been trying to tackle these conflicts more directly. If I can't defend my beliefs, if they don't stand up to questions or probing, then they are not genuine.

Related to this issue, I have always struggled with talking to non-Christians about my faith. I am troubled by my failing in this area because one of Jesus' last instructions to his faithful was for us to go out and teach the world what we have learned. This is often called "The Great Commission". This instruction, this command, from Jesus is not for us to spread his message among other believers, but to non-believers. However, it is one thing to talk to others who are receptive and listen with an open mind, but it is another thing entirely to deal with those who are hostile to my beliefs. In the past, I would run from such conflict and hide away. Lately, however, I have learned to take solace from the advice in scripture, Proverbs 9:8, which tells me don't waste your time on a scoffer; all you'll get for your pains is abuse.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


It is done. Nearly 1200 pages in less than 4 days. Does that give you any sense about my passion and involvement with this series? It started with The Hunger Games, continued with Catching Fire, and finally culminated with Mockingjay. In this series, Suzanne Collins created a very real, very haunting future for our world and what happens to humanity in post-apocalyptic North America. In the first two books in this series, we witness the nightmarish existence of Katniss Everdeen. Every instant she must decide who is friend and who is foe, who she must kill or form an alliance with. A single act of defiance against the establishment in the Hunger Games and she has become the face of the revolution, the mockingjay.

The surviving Districts have now taken back control from the Capitol. Katniss' district was fire bombed and only a fraction have survived. They have been taken in by District 13 that was thought to be destroyed over 70 years ago. However, they have been biding their time, waiting for the right moment to strike back. Collins brings us to understand President Snow of Panem as a cruel, heartless dictator. He has survived for so long by ruthlessly killing anyone who opposes him, or represents a real or imagined threat. In contrast to President Snow is President Coin of District 13. She seems like a stable, emotionless leader who has done what needed to be done for her District to get by. But along the way, we find out she is just as sadistic, just as power hungry as her counterpart in Panem.

Katniss eventually comes to fully understand that President Coin will just repeat the cycle of human suffering and domination all over again. Replacing Snow with Coin is not a step up, but a step back. Katniss does what she has to do to stop this evil seed from being planted. Ultimately most everyone that she cares about has been killed in the revolution. She is allowed to go back to District 12 and go on with rebuilding her life. She is not alone. Her Peeta is with her, and eventually so are her little boy and girl. Just when you think that humanity never really learns from the mistakes of its past, you find that maybe they have in a way.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Catching Fire

In the second book of her Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins picks up immediately where the Hunger Games left off. The victorious tributes from District 12, Katniss Everdeen and her assumed boyfriend Peeta Meelark, are back home from games. The games are staged every year by the government of Panem in the Capitol, as a way of amusing themselves and keeping the people living in the Districts in line. The wrinkle in the ointment at the end of the Hunger Games was how Katniss and Peeta managed to trick the government into declaring them both winners of the games, where for the previous 73 years of the games, only one tribute could live. This trickery amounted to defiance of the government. This single act sparked bloody uprisings in a number of the Districts. A revolution has begun that threatens to overthrow the oppressive government.

Katniss gets a sense of what her defiance has ignited as she and Peeta make the government-organized victory tour through the different Districts and the Capitol. When they finally get back home, her life is in danger as the government starts to brutally crack down on the citizens and President Snow has targeted her. However, the more the government seeks to gain control of the uprisings, the more it fans the flames of the populace. Now nearly a year after the 74th games, it is time to select the tributes from the 12 Districts for the 75th games. However, every 25 years a special version of the games is played to give extra reminders to the Districts of what their past rebellion has cost them. This year, each District must choose two tributes to send to the games who were past victors. Even the strongest of you cannot overcome the power of the Capitol. No ... Katniss and Peeta must go back to the arena of death again.

In a fight to the death, alliances are made and alliances are broken. There can be only one victor. In this new area, the government has devised terrors to kill off even the heartiest tribute. Mutant primates, flesh-eating bugs, acid fogs. However, behind the backdrop of alliance hunting alliance, something else, quite subtle is afoot. Several of the tributes are secretly part of the rebellion. Their job is to protect the face of the rebellion, Katniss. As the fighting builds to a climax, Katniss takes down the energy field that surrounds the arena and then blacks out. When she comes to, she finds who her real allies are and a bit more of what is really underway. There is something special about District 13, the one supposedly annihilated by the Capitol all those years ago. Now, onward to the final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hunger Games

After the apocalypse has ravaged the world, the scattered and broken remnants eventually regroup. Survivors work to reform some semblance of a society. However, some view this as an opportunity to seize power and control. In the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we find a new country called Panem has established itself in North America. It is arranged into a central city called the Capitol, where the rich and powerful live in comfort and ease, and a number of outlying, scattered Districts. Here the working class exist solely to provide the resources needed for the citizens of the Capitol. At one point long ago, there were 13 of these controlled and gated Districts. During an uprising, one was razed and the people brutally exterminated. A clear lesson was delivered on the price of revolt. The remaining 12 Districts now toe a thin, brutal line to survive.

One element of the Capitol regime's control is the annual Hunger Games. Here, every child between the ages of 12 and 18 is entered into a human lottery. From each District, one boy and one girl are selected. The 24 children are taken from their families amidst great pagentry and put into an outdoor arena to fight to the death. 24 enter - only 1 can leave. That one and their family will live out their lives back in their District in comfort and substance. The "festivities" of the games are broadcast across Panem to serve two distinct purposes. One to send a clear message to the Districts of who has the real power. The second is for the amusement of those in the Capitol. To them it is all one big, fun show, something like a mixing of the Olympics and the gladiator battles in the Roman Coliseum. To keep things moving along and exciting, the organizers force the contestants (referred to as tributes) to directly engage one another when things get too slow and the television ratings begin to sag. They do this by controlling every facet in the arena from the climate to the availability of food and water.

The Hunger Games (this year is the 74th) follow the plight of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. She survives her paultry, meager, wanting life in District 12, where her father was recently lost in a mining accident, and has had to learn to provide for her mother and sister. When her beloved younger sister Prim is selected as the girl to represent District 12 in the games, Katniss takes her place. We then follow along with Katniss as she heads off to the games. Her life now depends on using every survival skill and instinct she has learned back in District 12. Ultimately she is declared the winner of this year's games after the other contestants are killed. The problem is that through some deceipt, where she pretended to fall in love with her fellow District 12 tribute, both were allowed to survive the games. This is unheard of. She played this game for their survival, but the repercussions of mockery and defiance against the Capitol and their system of control begin.

In the Hunger Games, Collins created a world that was so painfully real. Throughout it all, she develops a hero who is not a ruthless cutthroat, but instead a real little girl who has to grow up and rely on herself. She has to learn how to step out of the limited existence that she knows, to give into the system without giving herself away. A highly recommended read that you won't be able to put down. Now on to the second book of the trilogy, Catching Fire.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Exploding Tortillas

Do you have a friend that you only see on occasion, but when you get together, it's like no time has passed at all? Nothing seems forced or rushed. I'm not talking about that friend that you sit up gabbing to all through the night, just savoring every ounce of catching up that you can squeeze in. That seems like a relationship between women. I am talking about that superficial guy type of relationship where tortillas can explode and the fun still continues. There is no weeping or mewling. You know them. They know you. The point of getting together is to have fun, to relax, and to be silly. I have such a friend.

I realize that some may think that such a relationship sounds shallow and empty, that it lacks depth and breadth and true feelings. But for me, such a relationship contains a deep value and importance. We enjoy our time together because we have connected as friends. We don't have to pretend to be anything that we are not. After having lunch or dinner together, or just sitting around chewing the fat, I am usually left with cramps in my sides from laughing so much. This is not the kind of laughter borne from nervous edginess or from trying to fit in or to appear agreeable. This is the type of laughter that comes from deep down inside that brings healing. It stays with you and lightens you of the things that burden you down in life.

We had dinner the other night at a little Mexican joint that I know in a nearby strip mall. Nothing big or fancy. The kind of place where no two pieces of silverware match. We met after a long day of work. As it was getting late, I was quite hungry and immediately set to work assembling myself a chicken tortilla as soon as the food hit the table. I could just tell that it was ready to burst in my mouth with its yummy goodnessTM. I suppose that in my haste, I did fill that tortilla a little full, perhaps a bit too full. As I bit down on one end, there was an unexpected build-up of pressure at the other. The thin torilla could not contain the enormity of the deliciousnous and ruptured, sending a saucy missile hurtling across the table. I was powerless to stop it. As the liquid munition twisted through the air, the whole world immediately fell into slow motion. I yelled out "Nooooooo!". His defenseless plate of tortillas paid a heavy price. He looked up at me shaking his head and said, "Did you just goob on my torillas?". Oh the humanity! The senseless loss. You know what, he didn't even ask to be reseated. Now that's a good friend.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tin Man

The fancy placemats and silverware were set out on the dining room table. A small arrangement of wildflowers served as a colorful and aromatic centerpiece. The purples and yellows he knew to be her favorites. The richness of scent in the room was complimented by the meal that was carefully planned and prepared, and now was staying warm in the oven. The lights had been lowered to create a romantic and intimate atmosphere, and the addition of a few candles had served to frame the space in intricate dancing shadows and orange hues.

This date had been circled in red ink on his calendar for many months. He had put thought and consideration into every last detail. Like so many, he felt that any anniversary ending in a 5 or 0 somehow was an extra special milestone. He remembered how celebrated and festive their 5-year anniversary had been. Today marked 10 years. Why did a wonderful dream such as this have to fly by so quickly? Images and scenes from their courtship flooded his mind with such vivid clarity, that it seemed to have just been yesterday. He knew that most couples never reach this point. This was a moment to look back over with fondness and gratefulness for all that they had accomplished together. It should be a time to look ahead and continue to celebrate and plan for their future. A reason circled with red that reflection was appropriate to count their blessings. A time to renew their vows over conversation, a delicious meal, and some time alone.

He came out of his daydream about an hour and a half later. He knew all too well his reality. He felt silly that he had even attempted to pretend on what should have been such a special evening. He slowly stood up from his chair and blew out the flickering candles with a brusque puff and turned the oven off. It was best just to go straight to bed. He would put things away in the morning. For now, even though it may be silly and futile, he just wanted to fall back into that dream.