Thursday, May 31, 2012


People with social anxiety disorder (S-A-D) can have excessive fear of social situations. Their anxiety can sometimes lead to intense panic attacks. As a result of the fear, the person endures certain social situations in extreme distress or may avoid them altogether. They are often known to suffer "anticipatory" anxiety - the fear of a situation before it even happens, even if it never happens. In many cases, the person is aware that their behavior is not fully rational, yet they are powerless to overcome their response. Adding to the associated issues are that outsiders witnessing such behavior develop strong negative impressions of the afflicted individual due to their lack of understanding. What can be confusing to outsiders is that people with S-A-D can appear completely at ease around others when they are immersed in professional or other controlled environments.

Let me share a recent story from my life with S-A-D. It begins with a co-worker of mine who hosts a well attended Memorial Day party at his house each year. Last year, I received an e-mail invitation with a request for an R.S.V.P. I dutifully replied with a "no thanks". However, my co-worker took every opportunity over the next week to pester me about going to his party. Finally, it got to the point that I couldn't endure his invite attacks any more and I told him about my issues why I do not attend these types of social functions.

Well this year, I again received the group invite to his Memorial Day party. I decided not to R.S.V.P. so that I would not call attention to myself to invite any of his remarks. However, last week before the start of a meeting that we both attended, he asked why I had not replied to his invite. When I looked at him, a light seemed to go on behind his eyes and he said, "Oh yeah, I remember, you get embarrassed in public."

You see this is the point. People who don't have to deal with this type of psychological issue just cannot understand or relate to those of us afflicted with such problems. Embarrassment? My troubles have nothing to do with embarrassment, I can assure you. "But you seem so normal at work." Work? Work is a highly controlled environment where I can dictate the parameters of the interactions that I am involved in. Oh, and just who are you to tell me what "normal" is?

Why am I telling this story? Well, perhaps it might just help to better inform folks and to help them understand some others a bit more.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lincoln Lesson

A post on my friend Bill's blog (Cycleguy's Spin) told of the story of one of Abraham Lincoln's earliest political enemies. Edwin Stanton called Lincoln a "low cunning clown" and the "original gorilla". However, President Lincoln decided to choose Stanton as his Secretary of War. Just a few years later, when Stanton stood over the coffin containing the president's body he said, "There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen." I recently had a similar turnaround, that I have referred to as my own "Lincoln Lesson".

Several years ago, the lab where I work decided to bring in a team from another lab that had developed a very sophisticated piece of equipment. This equipment was well known in my field as having a great deal of promise that never quite materialized. The promise was so great that it became an unquenchable vacuum sucking in resources and manpower. So, when the group came to my lab and was made a part of my group, their arrival caused me concern. To top it off, to have sufficient time to modify and upgrade the equipment, the entire group was excused from the service work the rest of the group was assigned. As was expected, shortly after the group's arrival, the giant vacuum was engaged and great amounts of money and personnel were reassigned to make this equipment work. This really soured my opinion of this enterprise and the man who was the group leader.

The piece of equipment was ultimately installed early last winter and it certainly lived up to its reputation. Its performance promise was sky high, yet it just never got to the point where it delivered on this promise. However, I watched from my sideline position as every member of this team worked hundred-hour weeks and dealt with all of the incidents along the way. I came to know the group leader as a very smart and patient man. He endured all of the issues with the equipment, but also, as the public face of the group, endured the enormous pressure from the management and government folks who had backed this whole venture. He handled it all with grace and dignity and skill. He impressed me, melted away my animosity, and earned my respect. The other day as I was sitting in my office with these thoughts in my head, it seemed better to give them voice, to go over and talk with him, and that is just what I did.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cookie Jar

In early 1992 a network news show sent two undercover reporters to Food Lion to work in their meat department. They had received multiple tips that the chain was systematically engaging in unsanitary meat-handling procedures. What they found was a management-mandated scheme to minimize losses by selling out-of-date meat to consumers. This included mixing expired ground beef in with fresh ground beef, bleaching rotten meat to remove its odor and then reselling it, and re-dating expired meat and putting it out for sale.

What ensued when this story was aired on ABC's Primetime Live was a lawsuit by Food Lion that stretched out over nearly 10 years. The lawsuit alleged fraud and misrepresentation by ABC as its reporters lied on their job applications so that they would be hired. There never was any doubt as to the truth of the news story. After an extensive search of the news archives you will not find one statement by Food Lion as to their sickening, underhanded, money-grubbing, disgusting breach of faith with their customer base. No statements of "we will look into this to be sure these sorts of practices are stopped" or "we screwed up and will work to make things right". Their corporate response and mantra when busted was to cry foul and to play a game of distraction and blustering and litigation.

So, the question is, how do you react when you are caught red-handed? Flat out busted. Do you own up to your mistake, take your punishment, and work to make things right with those you harmed? What about when you don't like how you were caught? How many times have you heard someone say when they are busted "I can't believe that you were spying on me!" That is a response designed to shift the blame and escape judgment. What about when you don't like the manner in which you were caught or the person who catches you? Should that make any difference?

I'm reminded of the kid who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. When his parent's walked in on him right in the middle of the act, he quickly put his hands over his face. He figured if he couldn't see his parents, then they probably couldn't see him.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

No long-winded opinion piece today. Just a reminder that all graves dug for soldiers were once covered with fresh dirt and fresh tears. Real people dead. Real people left behind. It seems appropriate to carve out some time today for reflection and prayer.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Once I finished my first Frank Peretti book a few years ago, I was impressed enough that I have since worked my way through his catalog. I have appreciated the fact that he doesn't tend to walk down the same path twice. Even though his stories have focused on very different situations and places, his strength has always been in the vivid development of his lead characters. This is not just a nod to helping us into their minds, but in allowing us to appreciate their history and what they are all about. Such is the case with Peretti's most recent novel, Illusion.

The story centers around magicians Dane and Mandy Collins, who have toured as professionals for 40 years. They have just finished up a long running show in Las Vegas and are leaving town toward their planned retirement in Idaho when their car is hit. Mandy dies of her severe injuries and burns, leaving Dane shattered. Well, that is the way it initially seems. It is then that we are taken to a scene from Mandy's past. She is 20 years old and at a county fair in Idaho with some friends. She sits down to eat her lunch when the world fades out and fades back in. Suddenly it is 40 years later and this young lady is totally lost and certain that she is locked in a dream or has lost her mind. Her past is so vivid, yet the present that she finds herself in is unmistakeably solid. Yet while Mandy is the same person in some respects, in so many others, she is a totally new creation.

The story then unfolds of how Dane and Mandy meet again and how their love and connection bridges the gap of life and death, countless miles, and the depths of time. True love is not some chance encounter but a measure of destiny. Through some creative scientific liberty, Peretti develops a story about shifting time lines and the agents who will stop at nothing to control the means of this source of power. But through it all is the bond and trust of two hearts. It is a tribute to love and a story of finding ourselves in a sinful world. Even though the ending was a bit muddled, I still found this to be a fun and interesting read.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

On the Other Hand 1

One of my greatest personal struggles is that I tend to view the world through a negative lens. I am exploring avenues that might help me to reprogram my mind toward viewing the world from a more positive vantage point.

Topic: Church leaders who rely on "image" consultants to form their opinions and their action plans.

First thought: To me this just smacks of pandering to the masses regardless of where it leads. People need to be given clear direction from the word of God, not be spoon-fed feel-good drivel just to keep them coming back to the church so that the money needed to fund the salaries and the bills (including the enormous mortgage) can be collected. Image consultants promote a phony approach that necessarily relies on style over substance. It feels to me like a crutch for the insecure and Godless. Not to mention that these snake charmers don't come cheaply.

On the other hand: Just like there are good lawyers in addition to the ambulance chasers, and honest, hard-working politicians in addition to the sex-crazed, corrupt, power-hungry rats, there are honest and Godly image consultants out there as well. If an experienced servant of God can pass on wisdom to make a church atmosphere more welcoming, more inviting, and more alive, why shouldn't we at least consider this type of service? Sometimes an outsider who has seen what works and what does not, can make suggestions that really do tear down walls and remove roadblocks for people to get to know God, especially when a church finds that something in their approach just is not working. Furthermore, church leaders who prayerfully and humbly elicit suggestions and advice for improving their work should be commended, not beaten down for trying to make their church one that brings people in and helps them get to know God.

So, I think that I have provided a few things that bear serious consideration. Hopefully now that I have planted some positive seeds, I won't immediately jump to a negative conclusion when I hear of churches that rely on such image consultants. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On the Other Hand

One of my greatest personal struggles is that I tend to view the world through a negative lens. I instinctively move to tear people and institutions down based on my first impressions or my personal tastes, before I even allow the slightest opportunity for objective analysis. I recognize this as a serious problem, and thus I am exploring avenues that might help me to reprogram my mind toward viewing the world from a more positive vantage point.

To this end, there are at least three things that bear mentioning for me to keep in mind as I approach each situation:
  • Even if something doesn't fit my fancy, doesn't mean that it is not a wonderful resource or opportunity or blessing for others. In many cases, the needs and opinions of the many, far outweigh the needs and opinions of the few (or the one).
  • Something that at first glance seems suspicious or worrisome might actually be the best possible alternative among the available options. In some sense, the lesser of the evils that could lead to the great good.
  • My instincts might just be wrong about someone or something, and I might come to a different opinion after some reasoned consideration.
So, with this rubric put out there, I would like to start a new blog series entitled "On the Other Hand" where I will try to look at two sides of an issue or institution that my first instinct would be to put down or dismiss. The format will be straightforward. I will introduce a topic and say a few words about my initial negative impression. Then I will think about the same topic in a different light, trying to approach it more positively. Let's begin down this road tomorrow with a topic that has soured me for a while, church leaders who rely on image consultants to form their opinions and their action plans.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Elevator Music

I kinda hope we get stuck
nobody gets out alive ...

O.K., so this post is for all the troublemakers out there. Those who enjoy making the lives of others around them (well, from time to time) miserable, so that they can have a bit of a chuckle at the expense of others. As for my behavior, well that is entirely excusable. I was young. I was impressionable. I was in college.

It started with me on the basement level of the school's main library. I walked up to the elevator and pushed the call button. After waiting for a moment or two, the doors slid open and I witnessed four very animated Chinese visitors. When they decided not to get out of the car, I shrugged and stepped in. I saw no other buttons illuminated, so I figured that I would take my elevator joy-riding friends with me up to the top floor. However, the elevator never completed its journey.

Somewhere along the path, the elevator car shuttered to a halt. My fellow passengers immediately became very quiet and then clumped together nervously in the corner. It was then that I sensed my opportunity for mischief. I started to breath very deeply, in ... out ... in ... out. I labored at it like I was having trouble getting enough oxygen in our confined space, like our air supply was starting to run out. My visitors gaped at each other with concern. Then they started to show all of the tell-tale signs of claustrophobia, pushing on the walls of the car, excessive swallowing, dry mouth.

Then when I had built up enough drama, I forced open the doors of the elevator car and saw that it had passed our floor by about a foot or so. I then stepped down out of the car and turned back to assist them. They were pressed hard up against the back wall of the car, refusing to step out. As I walked away to go about my business, I heard some soft whimpering that muted as the elevator door slowly closed and headed back to the basement level.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Grind My Gears 29

Let me tell you that I have had enough and I am as mad as heck! Who do these Mr. Hollywood big-shot types think they are when they willy-nilly change the voices of our beloved cartoon characters? Down through the years they have pulled the old flip-flop flim-flam on us one too many times. Off the top of my head I can list enough examples to make a grown weasel cringe, Barney Rubble from the Flintstones, Daphney Blake and Velma Dinkley from Scooby Doo, Dora the Explorer from PBS, Meg Griffin from Family Guy, Cosmo from Fairly Odd Parents, Phineas Fletcher-Flynn from Phineas and Ferb, and Dukey from Johnny Test. Changing the voice actor associated with an iconic cartoon character is like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa or slipping Waldo into the background in da Vinci's The Last Supper. It is an abomination and an unacceptable outrage that they are perpetrating on us. They are taking priceless works of art and dragging them through a fetid, swirling cesspool. Just the very idea of cartoon character voice changes just grinds my gears.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Insights on Luke

Those who are regular visitors to my blog know how much respect I have for the work of pastor Charles Swindoll. I have read dozens of his books and spent many hours over the years gaining perspective and wisdom on the lessons and the characters in the Bible from his teachings. Currently, he is publishing an epic series called New Testament Insights. Each of the six books in this series that has been released to date has focused on a detailed exegesis of one or more books of the New Testament. His most recent work in this series is entitled Insights on Luke. Ultimately, when this series comes to a conclusion in another 3 or 4 years, Swindoll will have worked his way through the full breadth and depth of the New Testament.

With Insights on Luke, Swindoll takes his second foray into the gospels. The volume associated with the book of John was published in summer 2010, and the volumes for Matthew and Mark will be released in the future. I have found that each of the gospels provides for very interesting reading given the different viewpoints of the authors and given what their aim was during the writing. While there is nothing in direct conflict among the four gospels, there are additions and subtractions. Different aspects are emphasized for different purposes. Using all four stories of the life of Jesus allows us to develop a richer and more complete picture of the Son of Man.

In his work on Luke, Swindoll takes us through the full gospel, verse by verse, to guide us, to provide deeper understanding, and to aid us in understanding the full impact of the life, journey, and pre-ordained purpose of Jesus. A very worthwhile read that has much to give you even if you have read other books with a similar purpose. The next volume in the series is slated for release early next year, Insights on Galatians and Ephesians. I look forward to reading it and sharing my experience with you.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bait and Switch

Ahhh, the old bait and switch. I feel queasy inside. Cheated and used. ... What's that you say? Fraud. ... I would heartily concur that is a valid claim to make in this instance. You see my friends, when you lure someone in with the promise of something that they want, only to stick them with something that they have no desire for, that is something that could raise up my litigious hackles. (Dave Barry would remark that The Litigious Hackles would make an awesome name for a rock band. But I will not steal his shtick for this blog). Anyway, let me get back on topic. ... Where was I? ... Oh yes, the old bait and switch. Let me tell you my tale of this shady tactic as happened to me just the other day.

Some time ago, I was working peacefully on my computer, minding my own business, when my hard drive decided that it had functioned long enough. It decided to go poof (a standard IT guy phrase). It was rendered non compos mentis (which is Swedish for it belongs in the compost pile). Well, I immediately set about to order an new replacement drive. Then I sat and waited. I waited and waited. I waited some more. Then you can guess what happened next. Yes, more waiting. During this long period the last few patience cells that I had got lonely and also went poof (a standard biologist guy phrase).

With nothing else to do, I was finally forced to go to a meeting. When I came back and entered my office, there sat a hard-drive-sized box on my desk. I was certain of what was inside because the box had a glowing aura about it and I heard a choir singing a medley of praises. I dove into the box and pulled out its innards only to find ... (wait for it) ... a book. A book that I didn't ask for and didn't need. It would not even fit into the hard drive slot of my computer. The old bait and switch. It's comical when it happens to someone else, but agonizing when it happens to you. Argh.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Itsy Bitsy Spider

"See, no monster in here ...
well now there is."

The above line was uttered by the monster named Sully in the Pixar movie Monsters Inc.. It was in a scene where the human girl nicknamed Boo had come into the monster world and was being hidden by Sully and Mike in their apartment. She was a bit uneasy about scary monsters coming out of the closet while she was sleeping. To convince Boo that there was nothing in the closet, Sully walked inside.

This quote entered my world the other night as I sat in my living room and saw a colossal-sized spider sidling across the carpet. When I spotted it I immediately began to panic (but in a manly way). He was ambling near a floor vent and I for sure did not want him to go in there. The duct system is like an open gateway to my entire house. If he entered the vent in the living room, he could come out in my bedroom and eat me as I slept, or he could come out in my bathroom and poop on my toothbrush. I needed to stop this menacing-looking spider at all costs.

My first attempt at action was telekinesis. That had no affect. I then grabbed my shoe and cautiously approached my enemy. When I properly girded my loins, I crept up to the spider and blindly swung my shoe down toward it letting out something like a banshee cry. I do not know if I made contact with the spider or not, but it arced high up into the air and landed (of course) right onto the vent and was gone. All I could think was, "There's no spider in your vent ... well now there is." Of course, as I did not have a confirmed kill, I have been forced to put my house up for sale.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In the Moment

That new Justin Bieber tattoo on your arm looks great in the moment. In the gas of that heady rush of spur-of-the-moment excitement where you and your friends decided to get inked together. Now that whole JB thing is just another fad that quickly bubbled up to the surface and is gone. Now what do you do with that blue-black stain on your arm?

This kind of impulsive and rash decision-making process happens all too often in our lives. We beat a path to the store to grab hold of that far too expensive thing that we convinced ourselves we had to have. We fly off the handle at someone thinking that we know best. We fall into bed with someone who gives us the slightest bit of attention. We abuse our bodies with drugs and food because of a bad day. We decide that we feel more than good enough to get behind the wheel of the car. In the moment.

But a moment is just that, a moment. A brief episode. A fleeting bit of time that comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Then we have the next days and weeks and, sometimes, months and years, to be faced with the clean-up of the aftermath and penetrating stains that we alone are responsible for.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Enemy of Good Enough

My daughter loves desserts, especially ones that she gets to look forward all day. One of her absolute favorites is fudge brownies covered with chocolate icing. Recently I decided to bake up a batch for her to enjoy, and along the way I was reminded of an important lesson, better is the enemy of good enough.

I knew that my daughter had a brownie mix that she preferred over others, but as I was trying to prepare a special treat for her, I decided to purchase another brand. Instead of one that came with its own icing packet, I also purchased a separate container of chocolate icing. I figured that way I could put a bit more on. If a little bit of icing is good, a lot of icing must surely be better. So, as we started off on our day, I told my daughter that we would be having brownies for our dessert after supper. This brought an expectant smile to her face. Later in the afternoon as I finished spreading on the icing, I took a step back to look upon my creation. I was certain that I had cooked up a winner.

When dessert time came, I cut my daughter her brownie square and placed it before her. She dove in and popped a big chunk into her mouth. Before I could even ask her what she thought, she set her fork down and looked at me with the saddest expression, big doleful puppy eyes. "Daddy, these aren't my normal brownies." I took a bite so that I could tell her that they were just fine, but she was right. Instead of moist and fudgy, this was drier and more cake-like. Furthermore, the icing did not really go well with it. Very quietly she said to herself, "I was so looking forward to this." The little spark in her eyes that is normally so bright had gone out. It was then that I remembered (again), better is the enemy of good enough. I quickly suggested that we run up to the grocery store and try again. Just about an hour later all was right and good in her world again as she licked her plate clean.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Mystic Rose

The final entry in the Celtic Crusades trilogy by Stephen Lawhead is entitled The Mystic Rose. In the first two entries of this epic, set in the late 11th/early 12th century, members of a Scottish noble family have taken up the crusade mission given to them by Saint Andrew to recover the most holy relics of Christiandom. The Iron Lance followed the trek of Murdo Ranulfson from Scotland to the Holy Land to find the lance the Roman centurion used to pierce Jesus as he hung on the cross. The Black Rood followed the exploits of Murdo's son Duncan as he followed his own path to the Middle East to claim the cross on which Jesus was crucified. In this tale, Duncan's daughter Caitriona takes up the call, albeit reluctantly, to find the holy cup used by Jesus at the last supper.

The story begins as Lord Duncan has taken his two daughters on a journey to retrace his pilgrimage to the Holy Land many years earlier. Cait, the apple of her father's eye, is 27 years old and, although lovely, is content to find adventure with her father and follow her own path. On a stop in Constantinople, Duncan is fatally stabbed by an old adversary. As he lies dying in Cait's arms, he pleads with her not to avenge his death. Yet moments after Duncan passes, Cait begins to lay out a plan to do just that. However, in this moment when the world that she knows has been taken from her, Cait is visited by Saint Andrew who gives her a different purpose. Yet Cait does not fully realize her destiny and who is in control of her steps.

The story follows Cait as she grows into herself. From Constantinople to Cyprus to Spanish Aragon, we follow her as she slowly comes to grip with who she is supposed to be. The lessons that she learns are accompanied by untimely death, by harsh lands and hard-hearted people, and by a few loving and caring souls along the way. Even though this part of the trilogy was notably weaker in terms of character and plot development compared to the first two books, I very much enjoyed this series and my time in Lawhead's world.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


My friend Rob tells a story of the time where he and a buddy went to a concert and, after arriving a bit too close to show time, found the parking area frustratingly packed. His buddy had an idea to drive up to the VIP area and to tell the roadies to let them in because Rob was part of the show talent. This was done in jest, a bit of a fun lark, yet it worked to perfection. Without any questions, the men opened the gate and waved Rob right on in. I have always enjoyed this story. It is one of those that you don't forget. Feeling like a privileged big shot can be kind of fun and empowering.

For some reason, I thought of this story the other day and that thought sparked a memory from my own past where I had my own taste of celebrity. A brush with being a rock star scientist. I was attending a symposium at Osaka University in Japan a few years ago. During this meeting, myself and a few of my colleagues, took the opportunity to visit a nearby laboratory that had offered to give a tour of their facilities. Upon arriving, we were introduced to our host, a senior administrator of the site. When I introduced myself, the tour guide bowed very low and told me how honored he was to have me visit his humble facility. O.K., that doesn't sound like much more than common courtesy extended to all visitors. However, he then went on to gush about how my reputation preceeded me and how my body of work was world reknown. Of course, there was no way that this man had the slightest clue of who I was. Regardless, I still got the VIP treatment from start to finish.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cary Grunt

Citified folks might be somewhat ignorant concerning the nature of the common barnyard piggy, but if you spend any amount of time in their presence, you will come to find that they tend to spend most of their day laying around in muck not doing much of anything. From time to time you may hear them making a kind of guttural, snorkish grunting sound. If you have never heard this distinctive noise, I will say that it kind of reminds me a bit of an idling chainsaw. I have been led to believe from my vast research into the subject, that pigs tend to make this sound when they are in a good mood, such as when the farmer only wants grits for breakfast or when they are out rooting about in the soil looking for tasty grubs and such on which to munch.

There is a person at the place where I work who continually makes a very similar snorking sound like the rooting pigs make. I think that he must have some sort of sinus issue that affects his sense of decorum and manners, because he walks around the place all day just snorking and grunting away at a volume level that is both comical and disgusting at the same time. However, his guttural utterances are not associated with happiness like the pigs on the farm, as this guy always seems to be in the most foul of moods whenever I encounter him. Perhaps this is because he got no roast beef or because he couldn't go home.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Watch Your Tongue

It takes a village to raise a child. - Hillary Clinton

The above statement has kind of become a catch phrase that I have heard reinvented and customized for different situations. In my line of work as a scientist, it can be adapted as, "It takes a village to carry out an experiment." The scientists come up with the ideas and the required techniques, the engineers and designers help to develop the plans for the equipment and how it will be constructed and installed, the shop technicians fabricate the components, teams of graduate and undergraduate students help to assemble the parts and carry out the calibrations and testing, and the technicians carry out the final installation.

With all of these folks, I work in and among people with all sorts of backgrounds and education levels. I have found that I am as comfortable debating the latest experimental techniques and approaches with my scientific colleagues as I am cutting it up with the technicians. I think that when you labor for long hours down in the pits with folks over many years, you develop a special bond of trust and respect for each other. ... Well, perhaps I spoke too hastily about that trust and respect stuff.

I was joking around with the technicians the other day and, in jest, made a remark about them being clueless brutes. Much too quickly they told me to watch my step or they would push my down an elevator shaft. They even had their story already rehearsed. "Man he was acting all crazy, waving his arms and chanting wildly." ... "I heard him say that he couldn't take it any more." ... "His eyes were popping out of this head and he was sweating like a pig as he screamed out, 'sic semper tyrannis'."

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Knowing Look

Part of my job requires me to travel occasionally to various conferences around the world. Several years ago, I attended just such a meeting in Vienna, Austria. Most of the participants were from countries in Europe and Asia, and I was one of the few westerners present. In fact, I didn't know anyone else in the room. My experience is that most folks attending these types of meetings where they don't really know anybody else (me included), is that they tend to sit in the same seat in the auditorium each day. Maybe it provides a measure of familiarity and comfort or perhaps it is just one less decision to have to think about.

It is kind of funny that over the 3 or 4 days that these meetings take place, a sort of bond develops between the people who sit near each other. This connection can happen even if you never have a conversation with any of the other people. Such was the case with me at the Vienna conference. There was a man who sat across the aisle from me each day. As he never asked any questions of the speaker, I could not make a guess as to his nationality. He was caucasian and looked like a regular guy, so I somehow just assumed that he was an American. Indeed, we developed a bit of a bond throughout the duration of the conference. Whenever someone said something humorous and the room had a bit of a chuckle, we would tend to make eye contact and exchange a knowing look.

I happened to overhear the gentlemen on the last day of the meeting as he was having a conversation with the conference secretary regarding his travel arrangements. I was shocked to learn that he did not know more than a few words of English. It was then that our whole relationship disintegrated. There was no way that he understood any of the jokes or bon mots that were tossed about. His laughter was just cued in a learned response to the laughter of others. Our knowing looks were all just a sham.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Black Rood

The Black Rood is the second part of the Celtic Crusades trilogy by author Stephen Lawhead. While the first part of the tale, The Iron Lance, followed the young Scottish nobleman Murdo Ranulfson on his brave trek to the Middle East to find his father and recover the holy lance, this tale centers on the exploits of Murdo's second oldest son Duncan. As a teenager living on his father's estate, he hears a tale from his dying uncle about the recent discovery of the holy cross on which Jesus died. It seems that the black rood is seen more as a trophy for the mercenaries and infidels of the region than the most holy relic that it truly is. This sparks something within Duncan, and he believes that he has been called on his own crusade to the Holy Land to retrieve the cross and bring it back to Scotland.

Against the wishes of his father, Duncan sets out on a long and arduous journey into foreign and hostile lands. This young, innocent boy encounters a harsh world where alliances bend and twist under the slightest breeze. The Franks, the Turks, the Arabs, and the Egyptians all are scrambling for glory, riches, fame, control, and empire. Duncan and his trusted friend and mentor, the monk Padraig, follow the leading of their hearts as they claw and scratch their way from one tight spot to another. At each juncture trying to stay true to their faith and the ultimate goal of their quest.

This story is wonderfully vivid, moving, and fully alive with expertly crafted characters and places. Some people's intentions are obvious, but others who seem trustworthy and above board, have hidden agendas that they will stop at nothing to carry out. The twists and turns are unexpected and cleverly laid out by a master craftsman of the genre. Now, onto the final piece of the trilogy, The Mystic Rose.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rte 66 - Rest Stop 1

I wrote not too long ago about my plans for a complete read-through of the Bible (see The Message). This plan flowed forth from an initial thought that I had at the end of last year to walk through the book of Psalms. That lead to a grander notion of reading through the entire Bible from start to finish. However, to approach things from a slightly different perspective, I decided to read a modern translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson known as The Message. Given that the combined Old and New Testaments contain a total of 66 "books", I am referring to this lengthy trek as my Rte 66 journey (thanks to my blogging friend Bill at Cycleguy's Spin for telling me about this clever name).

One of the difficulties that I have with such an "assignment" is that the overachieving student in me likes to bubble up to the surface and run amok. Instead of pacing myself and carefully poring over the lessons, the history, and the opportunity for worship, my nature says to try to read through the whole book in a couple of sittings. So far, however, I have been reading smaller amounts and stopping when I get fatigued or when I am just not in the proper frame of mind.

So, as I have arrived at the first "rest stop" along the way, I thought I would update my progress. Presently I have finished reading through the first 18 books of the Bible (Genesis through Job) and am now working my way through the book of Psalms. So we are a third of the way through the calendar and I am about a third of the way through the Bible. I have found this reading most enjoyable and challenging. I have also enjoyed my time so far with The Message. I will touch base with you all again when I reach the next rest stop a bit further up the road.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Observations 1

Since I started writing this blog back in 2008, I have become much more observant of the world around me. Because I am always on the look out for interesting and relevant things to write about, I have learned to pause and reflect on the people, events, and happenings around me. Things that I would have sloughed off and not given a second thought about before, you will see me pondering and surveying. Actually, I think that this awareness is one of the benefits of this blogging hobby of mine. So with this stated, I thought that I would begin a new regular blog series entitled "Observations", where I would share things that I have noted with wonder, curiosity, or dismay.

The seed for the first entry in this series germinated as a result of a recent drive through town as I was out on some errands. For some reason I started to take note of businesses that seemed to be everywhere that either didn't exist or were not that common even a few short years ago. Along my 30 minute drive I noted at least half a dozen of the following establishments:
  • Mattress retailers - now seemingly located in every strip mall.
  • Car title loan outlets - twice I noticed two competing outlets at the same intersection. These semi-shady quick-cash marts are popping up everywhere.
  • Health clinics - you cannot drive more than a mile without spotting at least one.
  • Drug stores - these have just run rampant. Multiple instances of two drug store chains with stores at the same intersection. They are as common in my area as gas stations.
  • Cell phone outlets - every major provider has their own store, with multiple instances of two within the same strip mall.
I find it fascinating how whole industries can bubble up out of nowhere and become essentially ubiquitous, commonplace, and accepted as part of the fabric of our cities and towns on such a short time scale.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


This blog represents a long overdue apology to a guy that I used to know. Chances are that he will never read this post as I have not had contact with him for quite some time. However, I hope that these words can still do some good, even if they are only for me. The issue is that I all too often say things in the moment that I later regret. Perhaps this post can serve to remind me to think a bit more about my words before I throw them out there.

I saw this guy once a week as part of my church small group. Even though he was quite a bit younger than me, he was the kind of guy that I could see a younger version of myself hanging out with. We had developed a friendship and would spend time before and after group chatting and sharing a laugh or two. He had just gotten married and one of the first orders of business for him and his wife was to get a new vehicle, as they were both driving older model cars that had seen some serious miles. They decided to buy a new mini-SUV. I guessed that this purchase was going to be a bit of strain on their budget. Also, it was the first big thing that he and his wife had bought together. I could see him smile when others in the group told him how great his new vehicle was. However, I decided to try to be funny. I made fun of him for buying a "chick" car. As soon as I let the words loose, I knew that I had said something really stupid. Instead of building him up, I moved to tear him down. I wish that I had apologized to him at that moment. I didn't. So, at least I can apologize now. Dave, I am sorry for the hurtful and thoughtless comment that I made. I will continue to try to do better.