Friday, June 29, 2012

Warlords of Nin

The second part of the "Dragon King" trilogy by author Stephen Lawhead is called The Warlords of Nin and follows about a decade after the first part of the tale, In the Hall of the Dragon King. When we last saw our protagonist, Quentin, he was a 15 year old boy who had quickly burgeoned from a shy temple acolyte to a bold and cunning hero. Now we find a man in his mid-20s who has continued to develop and grow both mentally and physically. Quentin and his friend Toli have spent much of their time living and learning in the ruins of a once magnificent city that was inexplicably abandoned by its ancient inhabitants. The story begins as Quentin receives word from King Eskevar that he is to return to the castle at once. The first winds of an incredibly dark and menacing power are just beginning to blow.

For the past decade, Mensandor has known a most wonderful peace. However, that peace has served to make its people soft, to the point that they ignore the rumbles of the approaching enemy for far too long, much to their peril and undoing. Soon enough the cruel destruction of the invading army of staggering proportions cannot be ignored as it rolls along unchecked, mercilessly destroying everyone and everything in its path. Their ultimate goal is to subdue the land and claim Eskevar's castle stronghold as their prize. Without the full support of his liege lords, Eskevar's only recourse is to send his modest retinue of knights to stand against the vast approaching horde and slow their advance. The kingdom's only hope is that Quentin might fulfill his destiny that is wrapped in a mysterious prophesy regarding a sword of light and truth. However, every moment of time that is won comes at the cost of the lives of the king's brave and honorable knights. They fight on with every last vestige of strength, even with the full knowledge that their chances of defeating the invading Nin legions are only the merest of slivers. A most entertaining story, that left me sad for those characters lost, but uplifted by the victory achieved. Now, onto the last part of the trilogy, The Sword and the Flame.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Yesterday on my way home I pulled up to a red light at an intersection. Due to the timing and the flow of traffic, I was the first in line in my lane. The four-way intersection happened to be at the crossing of two divided highways. On the island that split the lanes of the road next to me there is a certain spot that is frequented by panhandlers and others down on their luck. They are usually holding crude cardboard signs that say things like "Out of work - need money for rent." or "Please help I need money." From the looks on their faces, most often you can tell that these are desperate folks who hate standing out there with every fiber of their being. They are proud yet broken, pushed to a place that they never could have imagined.

As I sat idling, waiting for the light to change, a man in his late 20s was standing at the intersection with his cardboard sign. I had seen him in that same spot earlier in the week. Two or three cars went through the intersection passing right by him. Another car pulled up and stopped next to him. The lady in the car reached into her passenger's seat and handed the man an oversized envelope. I think he meant to take it and set it next to him, but the lady began talking to him. I could not hear what she said, but I saw the man nod his head once, then twice. She reached out and took his hand. For a moment I was perplexed, but then they both nodded their heads and she prayed over him. It was such a beautiful sight that it brought tears to my eyes. I saw there a true demonstration of godliness. A wonderful reflection of what Jesus has asked of each of us. All of this at an intersection along a boulevard called Victory. Fitting name.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Talk About the Weather

I wanted to be with you alone,
And talk about the weather

We have a place at work called "the stockroom". This area contains a supply of commonly used items, things like nuts and bolts, cable ties, batteries, basic tools, electrical and gas connections, etc. Basically in our day-to-day work the need for such items comes up and we get them from the stockroom instead of placing a catalog order and sitting around waiting for the parts to show up. Well, I happened to be working in a mezzanine level above the stockroom. I could walk over to the railing of my work space and look down into the stockroom below. There I would see the service counter where the person who has staffed the area for the past 20 years sits during the day. However, when I sat down in my work area, the folks coming into the stockroom could not see me and had no idea I was up there. As I worked throughout the day I overhead the exchanges that took place.

Essentially every conversation was initiated with a variant of "nice weather we're having today." Then the visitor and the stockroom guy would talk in a jovial and animated fashion about the weather today compared to yesterday and the weather that is expected for tomorrow. There was rarely anything else talked about. After a full day of listening to this, I got to thinking. Do folks ever move beyond talking about the weather to something that actually matters or impacts one's life? I don't know about you, but I have no interest in repeating the same banal observations or volleying the same forgettable platitudes with folks everyday. Shouldn't relationships be cultivated to a point where there is some element that is lasting and meaningful?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

iTunes Latest - 1

Back in December of 2011, I finally discovered iTunes on my Mac. This is a music service that let's you purchase entire albums of music, or just a single song. You find what you want, click a button, and a few seconds later the songs are digitally downloaded to your computer. When I was younger, in fact right up through my early to mid-20s, music was an important part of my life. I listened to help me relax and unwind. Then for a long spell, it was absent. However, a few years ago as I began to exercise regularly, music made a retun to my life. Now I could not imagine doing my workout with my music.

One of the things that I really like about music is that oftentimes a given song has a strong association with a season or a moment in my life. As the playlist moves from song to song, I find myself whisked from one point in my past to another. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my history with each song.
  • Hypnotized - Fleetwood Mac (1973) - This song became engrained in my mind back in my pre-teen days listening to the local AM hits station on my small transistor radio. I purchased this recently upon hearing the news that Bob Welch committed suicide.
  • Goodbye is Forever - Arcadia (1986) - I was a big fan of Duran Duran when they first came to the U.S. in 1981. A few years later there was a bit of turmoil within the group and they decided to go off and do some separate work. Arcadia was formed from one of the factions. I bought this album on cassette, one of my first music purchases when I was in college. I wore this tape out it was played so many times.
  • Communication - Power Station (1985) - This song came from the second Duran Duran split faction and featured the late Robert Palmer on lead. I remember staying up late in the student union building to watch them on Saturday Night Live in February 1985. This song has a vibe to it that just gets into my bones.
  • Driver's Seat - Sniff'n the Tears (1978) - Another song from back in my old AM transistor radio days. It came out back when I was in middle school. I can still see my old math teacher pantomiming to this one. It can instantly transport me back to my old room, where my whole live was ahead of me and all of my dreams were still intact.
  • When Doves Cry - Prince (1984) - This song was popular with several of the "cool" guys on my hall in my freshman dorm at college. I remember Vince had painted those stylized eyes on the wall over his bed. I think that I admitted to liking Prince more than I really did to fit in, but this song was always one that I could listen to over and over.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rte 66 - Rest Stop 2

I posted a few months ago in Rte 66 - Rest Stop 1 about my plans for a complete read-through of the Bible (see The Message). At my first rest stop, I had just finished reading through the book of Job (the 18th book of the Bible out of 66). So, at about the 1/3 mark of the year, I had completed reading about 1/3 of the Bible. Now at my second rest stop, I have continued along down the road and made some significant progress toward completing my goal. Recently I completed my reading of the 39th and last book of the Old Testament, Malachi.

Over the years I have noticed on countless occasions that most folks purposefully avoid getting anywhere near the Old Testament. Sure, allusions to Genesis, Psalms, and Proverbs in books and Sunday morning sermons at commonplace, but it seems to me that rarely is the Old Testament approached with vigor, excitement, and a thirsty mind and heart. The grumbles that arise almost subconsciously begin at the mere mention of a reading exercise in the Old Testament, "What is the value in slogging through hundreds of pages of names and endless geneologies of people dead for thousands and thousands of years?" or "The books of the prophets just seem to drone on and on with their messages of doom for Judah and Israel."

In truth, I fully appreciate these arguments. However, beneath the obvious things that might seem to weaken your resolve to dive into the Old Testament, there are some very important things that you might find of great value.
  • These books introduce us to the God of the universe.
  • They demonstrate the unlimited power of God.
  • They make clear that this all-powerful creator of time and space wants an intimate relationship with each of us.
  • They show the consistency and constancy of God's message and desires for us.
  • They show countless examples of the enduring patience and love of God to his own.
  • They demonstrate the nature of sin and its pervasive presence in our lives.
  • They demonstrate the unending, ever-present sinful nature of man and why God is critical and necessary in our lives.
I now embark upon my study of the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation. I will post again when I come upon the next rest stop along my Rte 66 journey.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Soul Detox

I have just completed reading the latest work by pastor and author Craig Groeschel entitled Soul Detox (subtitled "Clean Living in a Contaminated World"). This book focused on how to face and overcome the sinful "toxins" that we as Christians are faced with on a daily basis. Things like:
  • Toxic behaviors - self deception and sinful lifestyles of those in our world.
  • Toxic emotions - envy, self-hate, anger, fear, anxiety.
  • Toxic influences - materialism, unhealthy lifestyles of people close to us, "religion" and legalism.
While I enjoyed this book and Groeschel's down-to-earth approach, too often it takes an all too predictable path. While he is very astute in describing the various toxins that Christians face in their daily lives, his solutions are the stuff of the completely benign self-help, Christian-lite bookshelf. Step 1: Identify the bad behaviors, the troubling emotions, the problematic influences. Step 2: Just stop being bad or troubled or problematic.

Poof, you are now cured! I am not quite sure how this approach is supposed to work in my life. Having made it into my fifth decade, I carry with me a lot of deeply rooted emotional baggage that just can't be driven out or set aside with a couple of pithy sayings and a funny anecdote.

Now, I realize that my statements here seem quite negative and are tinged with a healthy layer of frustration. But my frustration is not with the author, but more with myself for not being able to get past many of the toxins that afflict my life. However, I would still aver that this book was worth my time in that it made me think and evaluate and reason with myself, it had value in giving me some improved perspective, and led me into some important conversations through prayer. I know several others out there have read this book as well. I would be interested in hearing your opinions.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


In the early days her Superman was larger than life. There was nothing that he couldn't do. Even the sound of his appearance brought forth squeals of delight and sent her running toward the door as fast as her little legs could carry her. The hugs were deep and lasting. She wanted to grab hold so that he would always be with her. She always had so much to tell him. There was no detail that wasn't shared in full, from her latest artwork, to things that she heard and saw while playing, to fun songs that she made up. I remember in those days how much I wished I could stop time and just live the rest of my days in those moments. However, time never heeds our pleas to linger. It resolutely marches along in its unflinching pace.

As the calendar pages turn in our lives, subtle shifts occur in the day-to-day that are so easy to miss. Yet viewed in their entirely in hindsight, they are not missed. I can see how my Superman persona slowly and surely dissolved in the eyes of my daughter. It began with her noticing little things, like the loose threads on my cape, the faded color of my suit, the fact that I didn't fly as high as I used to. Too soon for me, I was just an earthbound man. Still her dad, but ordinary nonetheless. No longer larger than life. While I still sometimes wish I could go back to those days where I was seen to fly high into the clouds and when I heard those squeals of delight at my presence, I am content to love who my daughter is becoming and to look forward with great anticipation to the years ahead with her.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I have never been one to revel too long in any of the "conventional" milestones in my professional life. Truth be told, I have mostly eschewed any and all celebrations associated with awards or promotions of any sort. It is not that I do not appreciate the recognition and the accompanying pay-scale increases, it has more to do with where my eyes are focused and what I consider the more relevant measures of success or progress.

On any given day at work, I have a long list of specific tasks that require my attention. Whether this is meeting with graduate students or my technicians, working on project management, preparing talks for conferences, putting out whatever "fires" come up, or just getting my "regular" work done. The thought of putting my work off for a bit of faux celebration just holds no appeal to me. What I mean by this notion of "faux celebration" is that the pomp and ceremony is most often held in the company of administrative and management types who I don't know. If there is to be a celebration, it seems pretty meaningless if it is with a group of strangers. Further, as I operate and do what I do based on my own drive and priorities, stopping for a ceremony would just distract my mind from my work and cause delays in completing what I have set out to do.

My attitude is connected to the fact that my work is not something that I do solely to earn a paycheck. It is part of who I am and what defines me. It gives me purpose and engages my mind. What excites me is completing construction of a major new piece of equipment that I have shepherded through from its inception, seeing one of my graduate students complete their thesis work, or publishing a paper on a research project that has taken several years to bring to fruition. It's not that I don't recognize milestones along my professional journey, it's just that my eyes are always on the work that I am doing today and what I would like to complete tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Observations 2

Last month I started a new occasional blog series called "Observations" (see Observations 1). It was meant to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes", wherein we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Thus we see everything from a different perspective and with different purpose than normal folks.

Today's blog came about from random things that I have recently noted from the point of view of looking out the windshield of my car.
  • My neighbor keeps a 1970s VW Rabbit in his driveway under a special car cover, yet his expensive SUV is left out in the sun.
  • I noticed a recently retired colleague pull into a parking spot at work with his wife sitting beside him. As they got out of the car and came around to the sideway, they were looking in opposite directions, yet they reached out and each found the other's hand. They then walked along chattering away happily.
  • A man jogged quickly up to his car that was parked in an up-front handicap spot. An older man with a leg deformity passed by him on the sidewalk, hobbling along from where he parked his car out in the lot.
  • Folks driving golf carts and fork lifts (which have a top speed of about 5 m.p.h.) around the site where I work typically cut me off as they pull out in front of me as I drive my car. I guess rude drivers are rude drivers regardless of what they are driving.
  • We have two special parking spots at work located right up front that are labeled, "20 minute parking only". The other day a Lexus SUV and a Porsche sports car were parked side-by-side in those spots all day.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nature Recovery

At the lab where I work, the location of my office has changed over the years. Depending on which group I worked with and my level of seniority, I have been from place to place, building to building. For a long stretch of time when I was a postdoctoral researcher, there was a bit of an office space crunch and many of the younger folks were assigned space in a series of networked trailers. This maze of 20 or so trailers was all interconnected into one big enclosure like a series of lego pieces. It was located in a small field next to the main office building. It wasn't very fancy, but it was a fine place to do my thing.

About 7 years ago, several new buildings were erected on the lab site and the folks that were assigned space in the sprawling trailer complex were moved out into real brick and mortar structures. Several years after that, the aging trailers were hauled away and the field where the trailers had been parked for so long, was left to its own devices. I walk past this field several times a week as I go to meetings on one part of the site or another, but the other day as I walked past, I stopped and took notice with a bit of wonder. It seems that nature has quickly worked to reclaim what is rightfully hers. Now a proud young pine forest has risen up from the ground. Even as I took the photo for this piece, I stumbled across a few deer bounding through the space.

So often man and his unforgiving machines are thanklessly taking more and more of the land for his own uses. It was just nice to see even a small area taken back.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hall of the Dragon King

I am excited to be working my way through "The Dragon King" trilogy by author Stephen Lawhead. I have finished the first book in this fantasy/adventure series called In the Hall of the Dragon King. The story begins with Quentin, a 15 year old temple assistant who has been having strange dreams and witnessing signs that he believes are omens regarding his future. There is alarm in the temple one morning as the priests drag in a wounded knight on the edge of life. The knight had come from a distant land with an urgent message for the queen from her king, when he was attacked and left for dead. Quentin felt an unquenchable calling to leave the temple behind and deliver the message.

King Eskevar of the realm of Mensandor, along with the kings of the adjoining lands, had sailed off with their war hosts to battle a vicious and brutal enemy who was intent on invading their lands and destroying everything in their path. In the absence of the good and wise king, a counsel of regents made up of the lords of the land, had been established to act in the king's stead. However, after several years with no word of Eskevar, the king's brother, Prince Jaspin began to develop his scheme to usurp the crown and take control of the land. As he is merely a feeble shadow of his brother, he enlists the help of the dark and powerful wizard Nimrood.

Quentin delivers the message to Queen Alinea and learns that Eskevar was ambushed and captured by Nimrood on his return from the battlefront. In order to escape Jaspin's clutches, Quentin, Alinea, the wise holy hermit Durwin, and one of the king's knights, set out on a quest to find their king and restore the land. The story follows the arduous adventures and trials of the small band as they use their wits, their heart, their experience, and the leading of the one true God, to overcome the forces of darkness. A good story, with the humble hero Quentin as an interesting protagonist pulled into a role that he could never have imagined. This was Lawhead's first published work of fiction, and it is clear from reading many of his later works, that he really has grown and developed in his craft since this effort. Even though many of the characters are kind of "stock characters", I still very much enjoyed this story. Now, onto the next part of the tale, The Warlords of Nin.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Hagion is the Greek word for sanctuary. In the Bible, a sanctuary is understood to be a sacred or holy place. In the Old Testament it refers to the temple built by Solomon as God's dwelling place on Earth. However, it can also refer to a special place that affords protection, comfort, and peace. Of course, what is a place of sanctuary to one person may be unwelcoming to another. It is one of those concepts that is in the eye of the beholder. For some folks it may a walking trail in their neighborhood park, or the cabin that they rent for a week each summer, or a bathroom that can serve as a place to get away and think when life's cauldron begins to bubble. For me, my sanctuary, at least during the times of the year when it is nice to sit outside, is my porch. I like to take my books out there and spend an hour or two just giving my mind its head as it were. There I can let go of anxiety, worry, frustration, and the perpetual din that always seems to be astir within me. It's a place where my mind seems to work and process most efficiently. Of course, my most favorite times sitting in my sanctuary are when my daughter is laying in her hammock next to me reading her book or chatting away with me about her thoughts.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Sometimes my faith is weak and I feel like I am not growing, that I am stuck in neutral, or worse, regressing. This realization or state of mind can be piqued when people around me are living out their faith in a bold way or when they are deeply blessed. When I am creeping along in my petty pace from day to day, I tend not to notice my condition. It is only when something or someone causes me to look up that I truly begin to understand that I seem to be going nowhere and others are cruising along apace. This is a strong condition of a faith that is growing stale.

I find it kind of shameful to admit, but too often the feelings that bubble up within me at these moments of witnessing God's hand on someone else, seem an awful lot like jealousy. Instead of celebrating with them, I come away feeling embittered. Why can't I be given such a blessing? Why are my "big" prayers not answered? Instead of celebrating something God has done that is wondrous and worth talking about with others, I pull within myself and grow quiet and cold.

Yet I have tasted the joy of celebrating God's movement in the lives of others. I distinctly remember attending the ground-breaking celebration of my old church where they were performing the first baptisms on the newly acquired church property. After we had celebrated with all of the registered folks who were baptized, the pastor then called for a "spontaneous baptism". Anyone present who wanted to come forward was invited to take part. Seeing the aisles streaming with folks at this call was a wonderful, beautiful, awe-inspiring moment that left me in tears and smiling so hard my face hurt. It seems to me that it is this sort of reaction that I should strive to cultivate no matter who God touches. It doesn't matter if it is me or someone in my world.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bye Bye Birdie

I came home from work a few months ago, a bit bleary-eyed and mind-fried. As I was walking up to my front door, which was dark in shadow due to the setting sun, a panicked bird of some sort flew out into my face and just scared the mess out of me. I had to sit down right then and there to collect myself and stem the near heart attack that the foul creature had brought about in me.

The next morning I discovered that a dove had built her nest in a sheltered portion of the rain gutter under the eave next to my door. Over the next few weeks we slowly came to terms with each other and developed a bit of trust. I learned to open the door slowly and quietly when I was leaving and to approach with care upon my return home. My bird guest went from flapping away wildly whenever it sensed me, to warily readying herself for flight, to contented acceptance of my presence.

Apart from occasionally resettling herself in her nest to keep her eggs warm and protected, she sat like a determined sentinel in her place. Day in, day out. Always there and following her protective instinct to the letter. It really was quite amazing and beautiful. About a month or so after she moved in, I came to expect the sound of the chirps and squawks of her new brood. A reward for her diligence and patience. The other day though, I came home and my bird friend was gone. Her nest and eggs abandoned. Clearly something had gone wrong and she sensed it and moved on. I suspect that there is a powerful lesson here. I wish her well and will miss her trill outside my door.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Two Wrongs

Today's post is essentially an attempt to write right two wrongs. The first was a "wrong" on the part of my blogging friend Ricky, who posts (or posted?) at The second was a "wrong" that I committed that has just been eating at me to the point of distraction. Hopefully by the end of this post I can come through like the tight-wearing, cape-sporting superhero that I pretend to be when I am certain that nobody will see me (but that topic is for another post).

Wrong #1 - Ricky stated in a recent post that he is not the man that he would like to be. He went on to state that the person who he would like to be is probably named Jack. Being a high-brow sort, the comment that I left on his blog was an attempt at humour (note the erudite addition of a spurious "u" in my spelling). I said, "You don't know Jack!" The truth is that the person Ricky would like to become should have a name like "Randolph Mantooth". Even though that is already someone's real name, it is much cooler than "Jack".

Wrong #2 - Face it, my reply to Ricky of "You don't know Jack!" was wrong on so many levels. In fact, I will apply one of my own sayings to myself (that I normally reserve for others), "I couldn't have been more wrong." I should have said, "You don't know Mantooth!" Now that is a comment reply with bite.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Earlier this week, I wrote a post entitled Series Spacing specifically regarding my most recent read, Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore. The first book in this trilogy is entitled Graceling and focused on gifted "graceling" fighters named Katsa and Po who lived in the land of the seven kingdoms. Through their adventures they come to know that they are beautiful and worthy of love, and they save Princess Bitterblue of the land of Monsea from the killing hand of her wicked father King Leck. Leck is gifted with the power of mind control and he has used it to keep his subjects until his boot for some 35 years. The second book in this series is entitled Fire. This book is a prequel to Graceling, taking place in a neighboring kingdom some three decades before. It told the story of a land of monsters, a land of greed, and a small contingent of leaders trying to save their kingdom. I read both novels last summer and absolutely loved them both. Then I had to wait a year for the last book in the trilogy to see the light of day. Bitterblue certainly did not disappoint.

This coda to the series re-introduces us to Bitterblue, now queen of the land of Monsea, some 8 years after the end of Graceling. We find a land that is still living (apparently) in the cloud of destruction wrought by Leck. However, Bitterblue's main advisors, who also served under Leck, have led her to believe that the kingdom is recovering and content. This carefully crafted facade begins to crumble down little by little as Bitterblue, who has effectively been confined to the confines of her castle under an endless mound of duties, sneaks out one night into the heart of her city. There she makes friends with two men, Teddy and Sapphire, in a local pub where stories and legends are told. This meeting leads to new friendships as well as a growing list of questions about reality in the kingdom of Monsea vs. what she has always been told is the truth.

This story represents a worthwhile addition to the tales of the first two books. Like Katsa in Graceling, Bitterblue makes for an interesting and sympathetic protagonist, yet the two ladies could not be more different in most respects. The only perplexing aspect of this story were the dozen or so statements regarding gay characters. They weren't an organic part of the story and their inclusion was forced, completely irrelevant, and distracting. Yet apart from this unfortunate happening, this was a most enjoyable read.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


97 - Bonfires

Flames that licked the very firmament. Songbirds that sang the sweetest tune to announce to the world that the Earth had somehow begun to spin faster and ever faster on its axis. Days became nights and back again so quickly that neither could keep it straight. It didn't matter anyway because they saw nothing but the other. One of their first adventures was shopping for a kitchen appliance. Ordinarily this might be viewed as a ho-hum trip to the nearby big box, yet they made it about each other as they drove around and talked and almost forgot why they left home in the first place.

04 - Embers

When the songbirds flew on, nobody really knows or remembers. The only sounds now were blaring theme songs from the television. Funny how something that was rarely used and never missed could become such a crutch and, ultimately, such poison. Once silence was a just a breath between the lick of the flames, now it hung heavy in the air. They had become numbed to the incessant routines and rhythm of life, forgetting about what really mattered and how pleasant and healing the heat could be.

08 - Ashes

It ended one night making music of a different kind. No laughter, no flashes of smiles and twinkle of eyes. Just impersonal, cold business. Sign here and here and here.

97-04-08. A simple sequence of numbers. Play them, who knows, you might end up winning big. Not me, they were just the combination that brought me to my end.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Series Spacing

Over the past several years, I have really gotten into a number of different fiction adventure book series. These include:
  • The Circle series by Ted Dekker
  • The King Raven trilogy by Stephen Lawhead
  • The Dreamhouse Kings series by Robert Liparulo
  • The Lost Books series by Ted Dekker
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • The Pendragon Cycle series by Stephen Lawhead
  • The Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson
  • The Darkness/Prophet trilogy by Frank Peretti
  • The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
  • The Song of Albion trilogy by Stephen Lawhead
  • The Heaven trilogy by Ted Dekker
  • The Celtic Crusades trilogy by Stephen Lawhead
There is nothing like immersing yourself in a world that is completely different than your own, with characters that you have developed a sort of relationship with. Because it can taken several weeks or months to work through a given book series, all of the details, personalities, and settings have a sufficient chance to get lodged into your brain, come alive, and become a part of you.

To date all of the different series that I have tackled were already completed by the time I took up my reading. When I finished one book, I could effortless glide directly into the next. However, recently I had a different experience. Last summer I completed two books in a series that I very much enjoyed. After a bit of poking around on the internet, I came to learn that the author was working on a third for the series. I marked it on my reading list to look out for, but as the year went on there were rumors of delays and issues with the publisher. Finally, at the beginning of May, the book came out. After a year-long break from the worlds and characters, I had to get back into the zone and reacclimate myself. It took several chapters, but I finally was able to settle myself into a comfortable and knowing place.

One thing that I like to do when I read is to take notes on the different characters for each book. What has helped a great deal in reading through the different series is to refer back to my notes to remind myself of personality traits, special skills, and relationships. In the case where I had to wait a year between reading books in a given series, this was even more useful.

How do you keep up with series books spaced out in time?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mr. Anchorman

Looking over the news headlines on any given day you will see links to stories that will leave you sickened. Too much killing, too much senselessness, too much power in the hands of tyrants and fools. It is enough to make you want to ignore the happenings in the larger world and just focus on the little space that surrounds you where you have some influence and make the decisions. Decisions like whether you would like Mountain Dew with your Cheesy Poofs for a T.V.-time snack. Yet, just when you think that all the news-gathering organizations really care about is painting the world darker shades of black, you stumble across a few stories that give you a smile that at least lasts as long as it takes your eyes to wander off to the next headline.

Just the other day, a quick perusal of turned up the following delicious headline nuggets:
  • Vote for me, I rode an ostrich.
  • 7 reasons why you should never fight a bouncer.
  • Why 5 guys, 1 goat walk 2000 miles.
  • Elephant uses smartphone.
  • Fish snags vet's prosthetic arm.
  • Naked man chews off guy's face.
  • Woman fired for being too hot.
  • Plans for pole dancing in the Olympics.
  • Software picks out fake smiles.
  • Did bath salts spur zombie attack?
Maybe these little bits of levity can help to offset the bigger headlines, even just a little.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Business Model

Over the past few years I have heard the name Dave Ramsey time and time again. He has developed a cult following among many professionals, much in the same way as the Maharishi was followed by the Beatles back in the day. I have come across way too many authors who have dropped Mr. Ramsey's name into conspicuous places in their books in an attempt to give their words more weight and to make them look well connected. This occurs even if they only drove through the same town where he happened to be staying. It is really rather perverse.

Years before Dave Ramsey came along, there was another magnetic guru, Peter Drucker, who pulled folks in like the Oracle at Delphi. His name also seems to be liberally sprinkled in far too many books connected with money and business management. I have just finished reading several of these books, and at first I did not have a fat clue as to who Peter Drucker was. A quick glance at wikipedia shows that he was the real deal. He was a university professor who taught into this 90s, and wrote over 40 books in the time span from 1939 to 2008. Pretty serious stuff I would say.

However, even among all the dry and serious discussion about corporate paradigms, business ideologies, and macroeconomic theories, I stumbled across a little nugget that kind of resonated within my brain,

Too much planning can make you deaf to opportunity.

So much of our lives is devoted to making plan after plan to get ahead. No sooner do we leave one plan sitting hastily in the dust then we are off gallivanting with another. It is schizophrenic madness, always relying on the loudest voice in the din to decide how we should act and invest. Yet too much of all this makes us deaf to the real opportunities around us.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Finishing Well

I have been battling a cup of depression for the last few months. It seems that this spell was not triggered necessarily by any one occurrence, but is related to a bit of a mid-life crisis. As I have explored this and share a bit about my issues, an online friend came alongside me and gave me a book to read called Finishing Well by Bob Buford. My heart-felt thanks to Bill at Cycleguy's Spin. This book is for those who get to the mid-life mark and realize that a paradigm shift is essential to get the most out of our remaining time so that we give ourselves the best chance to finish well. That change amounts to moving away from a quest to live a life of success toward a goal to live a life of significance.

The book is based on a series of interviews with people who have made intentional changes in their lives to finish well. One issue I had with this book is its apparent disconnected nature from the reality of the majority of humanity. The folks that Buford chose to interview were mainly multi-millionaires who opted to quit their CEO jobs and become philanthropists or to start "non-profits". Of course, very few will fit this mold. But, if you can get past this, it has a lot to offer that everyone can appreciate in the way of getting your mind situated to looking forward to your "post-retirement" years with hope and purpose. If you can identify your strengths, your passion, and your opportunities, you really can leave a legacy of blessing to others.

I think the book is best summed up with a quote that the author includes from Ernest Becker's 1974 Pulitzer winner, The Denial of Death:

"The defeat of despair is not mainly an intellectual problem for an active organism, but a problem of self-stimulation via movement. Beyond a given point man is not helped by more 'knowing', but only by living and doing in a partly self-forgetful way ... we must plunge into the experience and then reflect on the meaning of it. All reflection and no plunging drives us mad; all plunging and no reflection, and we are brutes."

As I promised Bill as a condition of receiving this book, I will look to pass it on to someone I find along the way who might also benefit from its wisdom and message.