Friday, August 31, 2012


Growing up, from the time I was a teenager to the time I was in my mid-twenties, I never thought that I would have a child to raise. Once I was faced with the reality of this important responsibility, it caught me unprepared. I was one of those people who was not particularly comfortable around children. Now I had a daughter of my own. From that point on, I suspect that I proceeded along like many folks, just doing the best that I could, trusting on instinct and love to get me through. Now that my daughter is a teenager, most of my time with her seems like a blur. I don't know what I did or how I did it, but I do know that I am very proud of who she is and how she carries herself. I think that so far, given that I had no game plan or set of strategies or any trace of parenting experience, I have been exceedingly lucky and overwhelmingly blessed. But I also fully conscious that my job is not over, and I still have many important things to pass on to give my daughter the best chance to be independent, confident, and successful as she navigates her own future.

When I came across Charles Swindoll's book, Parenting - From Surviving to Thriving, I felt that it would be a worthwhile read for me. At its heart, this book is about raising your children in a Christian home and demonstrating for your children precisely what that means. Swindoll begins from the following key mission statement on parenting:

The job of a parent is to help his or her children come to know themselves, grow to like themselves, and find satisfaction in being themselves.

He then takes us through some key scriptures that provide biblical insight to support this statement, notably in the books of Proverbs and Psalms. He also gives specific examples from the biblical narrative of important lessons to be gleaned from several of the Old Testament patriarchs and from parables told by Jesus in the New Testament. I used this book as part of my devotional time and felt that it was time well spent.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

iTunes Latest - 5

Back in December of 2011, I finally discovered iTunes on my Mac. This service has really helped me to reconnect with my love of music. One of the things that I really like about music is that so often a given song has a strong association with a time or with a moment in my life. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my history with each song.
  • I Kissed A Girl - Katy Perry (2008) - I know what you are thinking on this one. Why? For some reason this is just such an in your face, infectious joy ride of a song, with more than a subtle hint of titillation, that it just puts a smile on my face.
  • Go Insane (Live) - Lindsey Buckingham (2008) - I am a big fan of Fleetwood Mac and of Lindsey's guitar playing. This live, solo guitar piece has an entirely different quality than the keyboard driven single from 1984, but it is haunting and lovely.
  • No Sugar Tonight - The Guess Who (1970) - This song is definitely my favorite release from this group. Burton Cummings, the lead singer on this work, sounds like what a rock star should sound like.
  • Long Cool Woman - The Hollies (1972) - Another oldie but goodie. I have always turned the radio up when this one came on and have more than once belted this one out while pretending that I was up on a stage in front of a sold-out auditorium.
  • This is My Night - Chaka Khan (1984) - While I am not a fan of Chaka Khan's music, this one pulled me in when I first saw its video on MTV. I like the message and feeling of empowerment that this one throws out there.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

The other day I was rummaging through the junk drawer in my kitchen. As I was pawing my way through the massed odds and ends, the overhead light reflected back a flash that sent me into a wonderful daydream. All triggered by the sight of a small black-framed mirror, the kind that you clip onto the visor in your car. I got this mirror initially when my daughter was a tiny baby so that I could keep an eye on her. But it stayed attached to my visor all the way up to the time that she was in elementary school, when she finally moved up to the front passenger seat of the car.

I used this mirror for many years so that I could look into my daughter's eyes and she into mine whenever we went anywhere in the car. I believe that real connection happens between two people when they can look into each other's eyes. I didn't just talk to the windshield and she didn't just talk to the back of my headrest. We shared so much through that mirror. Even now when I gaze into it I still see the reflections of all the stages of that young girl who always looked to me for connection, for company, for support, for security, for a sounding board, and for sharing her dreams.

After I pulled the mirror out from its internment in the bottom of the kitchen drawer, I decided that it shouldn't go back there. It should be put somewhere where it can continue to help me reflect on those old and treasured memories in my life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


The following anecdote is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

(Sound intro)

6:00 a.m. - A torrential rainstorm moves over the modest residential house of a respected middle-aged man.

6:45 a.m. - The rainstorm shows no signs of abating. The man starts to get nervous that his yard is flooding. This sets him into an irritable, edgy mood.

7:25 a.m. - The storm continues to dump water from the heavens at an ever-increasing rate. The man's yard is under 6 inches of water, a level that has never been seen before. A new concern is that the man's pool is getting dangerously close to the overflow stage.

8:30 a.m. - The pool is less than an inch from overflow. The man makes the decision that he must empty water out so that it does not get behind the pool liner, potentially causing thousands of dollars in damages.

8:45 a.m. - The man enters his cramped pool pump house and is instantly swarmed by blood-thirsty mosquitos. He is already soaked to the skin just from the short walk out there. After extending the drain hose into the back of his yard, he engages the pump to start draining water from the pool. Immediately the hose ruptures.

8:52 a.m. - After frantically re-attaching the hose to the outlet pipe, a task nearly impossible to pull off with wet hands, a second attempt is made to turn on the pump. The hose ruptures again.

8:53 a.m. - The man begins muttering words that would instantly turn a bottle of ultra-pure spring water jet black. In his rising anger he hits his head on the shelf in the pump house and badly skins two of his fingers trying to fend off the increasing mosquito swarm.

9:21 a.m. - A third attempt at attaching the drain hose leads to a third rupture. The pool is beginning to overflow. The man rips the hose stub off the outlet pipe and begins chewing on it and screaming at the top of his lungs.

9:47 a.m. - The man throws his hands up and heads back inside, throwing a hissy fit in his garage that would make a two-year old envious.

10:35 a.m. - The man heads back outside to try again and notices several holes in the remaining hose stub and no further attempts can be made. He begins screaming like a rabid idiot. The rain abruptly stops and the world did not, in fact, come to an end.

This man clearly showed how not to act in times of crisis. Can you spot where he went wrong?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chunk O' Change

There are lots of folks who, if you give them the slightest opportunity, will blather on and on about the joys of owning your own home. They will throw out specious arguments like what a great investment it is. But this statement is pure nonsense as you can't spend a dollar that is packed with all of your earthly belongs including your rare LP collection of Barry Manilow recordings. They will then try to counter by telling you that you get all sorts of tax breaks. Again this is the prattle of a cretin. Spending $1000 to get $1 back still leaves me $999 in the hole. I think a child of three could even understand these economics. Finally, they will try to tell you that money that goes into a mortgage is not lost like money that goes to a landlord. My response? You're a quarter short of a nickel! For every two dollars that I pay in mortgage, half goes to pay the interest on the loan. Then there is the joy of insurance, property taxes, home upkeep fees, llama surcharges, etc, etc, etc. Plus you had better set aside huge piles of cash to pay for the unexpected. Such as new heating and air conditioning units that either die without 30 days written notice or are so ineffectual that it is actually comical.

The above photos show the before and after of the work the HVAC crew did in my house recently. I took a photo of the workers as they were carting away a wheelbarrel filled with what was once my hard-earned cash. They were singing and whistling like the seven dwarfs as they left my property. The memories were too raw on this one, so I will save that picture for another post. As I was laying in the fetal position on the floor trying to recover, I could swear that I heard the shingles up on the roof whispering in clipped and hushed tones something about a revolt. I am going to need a bigger wheelbarrow for that one.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Kingdom

The final book in Bryan Litfin's Chiveis trilogy is entitled The Kingdom. This part of the story picks up on the heels of the second book The Gift. Through a very trying and painful set of trials and ordeals, our intrepid heroes, Teo and Ana of the kingdom of Chiveis, have at last recovered the New Testament of the Bible of Christendom. These stories and teachings had been lost for hundreds of years due to the actions of dark and powerful forces. Those who had been seeking Deus have finally started to understand who the suffering servant was and that he was one and the same with the triumphant king. The second great commission begins to move out from Rome into the surrounding kingdoms. Yet unspeakable suffering is being plotted against all who call on the name of the God of the ancients.

Teo and Ana, now with a version of the complete Bible translated into their native tongue, begin to travel back to their homeland. A return that should be marked by victory and hope is overshadowed by a powerful alliance of followers of the underworld god Astrebril. The armies of darkness have been marshalled in direct response to the growing threat posed by those who follow Deus. New believers are being welcomed into the ranks of the blessed and the numbers are becoming too large to discretely handle. A final showdown is inevitable, but despite the seemingly hopeless odds of the believers, their triumph is assured.

This was a very enjoyable series to spend time with. I thank my online friend Bill at Cycleguy's Spin for the suggestion to read this trilogy. It was very interesting to consider this version of a futuristic Earth and to travel with these compelling protagonists as they learned to trust a God they were only just getting to know.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


When my daughter was quite young, she eagerly looked forward to me coming home from work so that she could share everything that had happened to her that day. Nothing was held back - funny things she heard, plot lines from videos she watched, songs she had made up, treasures she had discovered, and all of her big ideas. She just bubbled over with excitement relaying all of the things that she had stored up to tell me. Today, our conversations are noticeably different, neither deep nor wide. Our exchanges are limited mostly to lite and forgettable fare - comments on the weather, commentary on our TV program, the plans for dinner. Moments after they are uttered, they settle to the ground forgotten. How did a loving relationship get to this point?

The other day my daughter and I were watching television. She was sitting on the couch in the living room and I was in the kitchen putting away the dishes from our lunch. I took the opportunity to slip into my bathroom. While I was in there, I could hear her talking. As she still thought I was just behind her in the kitchen, her voice assumed a conversational tone. I knew that she was speaking, but I just could not make out the words.

That got me to thinking about how many times when we have actually been in the same room and where she said something that didn't register with me. Perhaps I was too focussed on the TV, too engrossed in my book, or just lost in my own thougths. I wonder how our communication would be today had I made a concerted effort not just to hear her, but to really listen to what she said. Would it have made any difference? Would we be in a different place than we are now? Will things ever get any better or is the die already cast?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Gift

The Gift is the second book in the Chiveis triology of author and theologian Bryan Litfin. This series takes place in the 25th century after a deadly virus and a deadlier all-out nuclear war has effectively erased most of humanity from the Earth. Now the world consists of small feudal kingdoms and essentially all of what we would term modern technology and culture has vanished. It is in this world that a captain from the kingdom of Chiveis meets a beautiful farm girl. Together Teo and Ana discover an ancient copy of the Old Testament and begin to form a deep and rich relationship with each other and with a god so different and wonderful compared to the dark and vengeful gods that they have been threatened with their entire lives. At the end of the first book in the series, The Sword, Teo and Ana are forced to flee Chiveis for their lives as the high priestess of Astrebril sought to consolidate her power by eradicating any vestige of this new cult from her lands.

Teo and Ana made their way across a brutal and harsh mountain glacier to a neighboring kingdom. There they met up with a scouting party of soldiers seeking to keep marauding bandits out of their lands. Teo, a highly trained soldier is welcomed into the midsts of the army and Ana serves by preparing meals. During this time, Teo and Ana struggle to find their way with a new religion, away from the people and the structure that they know. It is not easy for them, but they continue to grow in their faith. Eventually Teo locates a secret route that the raiders are using to access the city and he and Ana are brought to the king. The beautiful Ana is made a part of high society. Teo is relegated to the lower class role of a teacher. In this period, Ana becomes enamoured with her new lifestyle and loses focus on who she is and her relationship with God. Teo, does his best to respect Ana and continues to protect her from within the shadows.

As Teo bides his time, he uncovers the path that God has prepared for him. He is to journey to the new Rome to locate a copy of a rumored New Testament of Christianity. However, there are powerful agents who view this old religion as a curse and a plague that must be mercilessly erased at all costs. Teo is torn between protecting his beloved Ana and following the path of his destiny. Here, Litfin weaves a good tale of restoration, courage, victory ... and, yes, love. Teo and Ana still have a long road ahead of them, but they are committed to following the one true God. Now, onto the last part of the trilogy, The Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Homespun Wisdom

Henry Ford once said about making cars something to the effect, "It costs as much to build something ugly as it does a thing of beauty, so why make something ugly?" His point was that if you are going to put in effort, why not do something worthwhile that will be appreciated? The cost is the same. I remember hearing this quote on some television documentary long ago and it has stayed with me. While I have not remembered his exact wording, I think his point still comes across clearly from what I have. Of course, this statement is not limited just to the manufacture of automobiles. It seems to me to be a generally applicable statement. If you are going to make an effort, why not make it a good one? The cost is the same.

For example, when you work on a project for your job, when you take on a chore that your spouse normally does, when you do your yard work, when you listen to a friend who is hurting, or when you are playing with your children, instead of doing a half-hearted job that will just cause people to get upset with you or dismiss you or marginalize you, go that extra step, spend those few extra moments, listen with your heart and not just with your ears. Do your best work even if nobody notices or comments. This is a great way to make something beautiful. I think Henry gave us some good old-fashioned homespun wisdom with this one.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Sword

I have just completed reading the Chiveis trilogy by theologian Bryan Litfin. The first book is entitled The Sword. What is impressive to me is that this work is his first published fiction novel and it really pulled me in. Apart from the tendancy to fall into trite and uninspired character dialog from time to time, I give this effort very high marks and recommend this adventure whole heartedly.

In the year 2045, the Earth was ravaged by a killer virus. As nations tried to protect themselves from outside infection carriers, they quickly pulled into themselves and grew wary of all others. In the ensuing panic and saber rattling, nuclear war was unleashed and the planet decimated. A few pockets of humanity somehow managed to survive out of the ruin. Some 400 years later, mankind has begun to rebuild and reform into kingdoms of a feudal order. The technology of the 21st century has vanished and the history of the "ancients" is mostly forgotten. We are ushered into the small kingdom of Chiveis, situated somewhere at the base of what were the Swiss alps. A kingdom at peace, but a tentative one at that. King Piair is popular, regal, and long-serving, but he is controlled by the high priestess of Astrebril. The high priestess holds the true power in the kingdom and she owns a most dark and ruthless soul.

We are introduced to a farm girl from the outskirts of the kingdom named Anastasia who has caught the notice of Teo, a captain in the Royal Guard. When Ana is kidnapped by outsiders and presumed lost in the unknown Beyond, Teo crosses the border and rescues Ana. As they flee their captors, they encounter an abandoned city of the ancients. At its center they find an old cathedral. Following a series of subtle clues, they are lead to find an old bible that has been hidden away for more than 400 years, however the second half of the book has succumbed to rot and decay. Teo and Ana thus begin to learn of the one true God. A God of love and grace, not fear and control. They know then that they must bring this God back to Chiveis and spread the word to every corner of the kingdom. Yet the high priestess will not allow her authority to be impugned and puts out the order to kill anyone who will not disown this new god and swear fealty to Astrebril the beautiful. Teo and Ana are forced to flee Chiveis just ahead of the king's forces. It is their only hope of survival. Now, onto the second book in the trilogy, The Gift.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Earlier this year I read Stephen Lawhead's five-part series called the "Pendragon Cycle", his telling of the legend of the rise and reign of King Arthur. The Cycle consisted of the books entitled: Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, and Grail. When we last stood among Arthur's court, he had been gravely wounded, nicked by a dagger coated with a most deadly poison. One moment he was with us, the dream of his enchanted kingdom having just taken root, and the next he was no more. Yet the legends of old presage that Arthur will yet rise again. ... Hic jacet Arthurius rex quondam, rex futurus ...

In Lawhead's book Avalon (The Return of King Arthur), the story of the Pendragon Cycle is given another chapter in modern day Britain. Thomas Waring, a deeply entrenched politico, is the majority party's leader and the Prime Minister of the land. His main agenda is a crusade to officially end the British monarchy once and for all. Not only does he consider this a shameful waste of the country's limited resources, but the royals have consistently shamed their people with their tabloid lifestyles. Waring's primary reason for his drive to end the monarchy is really his goal to consolidate his power and take control as the country's first president. A path seemingly made all the easier when King Edward, the seated king, apparently commits suicide from his estate in Portugal.

Through a series of fateful occurrences, the strange and eccentric M. Embries, takes particular interest in the young caretaker of a Scottish manor, James Arthur Stuart. Mr. Stuart learns that he is actually the rightful king. Ultimately, he accepts his calling to save the monarchy and rally his nation. Yet nothing is simple in this task. The Prime Minister is using the political machine to smear the King and the nation is facing the deadline of a upcoming referendum to end the monarchy once and for all. Even behind all of this, dark forces from long ago still have this new Arthur firmly locked in their sites.

While not a bad read by any means, it lacks the stately beauty, carefully and intricately crafted narrative, and masterful character development of any of the books of the Pendragon Cycle. Still, I enjoyed my time with this book.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

iTunes Latest - 4

Back in December of 2011, I finally discovered iTunes on my Mac. This service has really helped me to reconnect with my love of music. One of the things that I really like about music is that so often a given song has a strong association with a time or with a moment in my life. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my history with each song.
  • Too Late - Asia (1985) - The band Asia was on their downside when they released the album Astra. I can't fully explain why I liked this song, but it worked for me back when I was in college and I still enjoy it today.
  • When You Love Someone - RTZ (1999) - This is the band that gave me the name of this blog and I am a fan of Brad Delp, the lead singer of RTZ. It seemed right that I should have the only RTZ song that I like on my play list. This is a great piece of work and Barry Goudreau's guitar is sublime.
  • Hollyann - Boston (1986) - I have been on a bit of a Boston kick lately. This is another excellent composition off the album Third Stage that has Tom Scholz' trademark Rockman amplifier sound.
  • Soon - Tanya Tucker (1993) - I remember sitting in the dinette area of my small apartment when I was in graduate school recopying some homework while listening to my stereo. For a while, I went through a bit of a country music phase (Eagle Country 99.3 FM). One evening this song by a young singer came on the radio that touched me with its heart and sultry melancholy. It just gave me tingles. It still does.
  • Like an Avalanche - Hillsong United (2011) - I first heard this song a couple of months ago sung by Brooke and Stephen Haggerty at my church. It pulled me in and touched my heart. Their version blows the doors off this version by the original artist, but this one is still enjoyable.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Observations 4

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created 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". In this state 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 odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • As I was watching a car commerical on T.V., I noticed that ad contained a liberal amount of tiny white text superimposed over a white background. Presumably this contained all the legal stuff that they are required to show by the letter of the law but take great pains to hide. The only readable portion of the wording showed the car driving at a reasonable speed down a suburban street and it read, "Professional driver, do not attempt."
  • I pulled up to the guard gate at work driving 15 m.p.h.. The old guard leaned out of the booth and with a serious face tells me that I was speeding. He then informed me that the speed limit was only 10 m.p.h.. Young whippersnappers today!
  • The people first in line at a red light always seem to take far too long to apply pressure to their gas pedal after the light turns green. The farther back a driver is from the light, the quicker they react.
  • When it comes to electronic gadgets, you always seem to like what the other guy has better than what you have just purchased (and committed to a two-year service agreement).
  • As far as I can tell from years of experience, all dishes in your typical Mexican restaurant look identical and contain the same ingredients, regardless of what you order.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Yeoman's Work

I use the phrase "yeoman's work" from time to time, but I did not know its origins until my curiosity finally drove me to poke about online. It turns out that in the 15th and 16th century, British farm owners were referred to as yeoman. Sowing, tending, and harvesting sizable acreages was recognized as backbreaking labor, so the phrase "yeoman's work" came to refer to any type of work that required great physical effort and exertion.

For the most part, I would not say that I especially enjoy projects that require such hard labor. Those that need to be done out of necessity, I complete (eventually), but I tend to mutter and complain about the task from start to finish. However, one job that I tackle each year that involves yeoman's work is the remulching of the landscaped areas in my yard. Yet with this job, I take a notable satisfaction in its tackling. When the work is completed, I am drenched with sweat, bone-weary, and every muscle in my body aches. But, sitting back and looking at the completed work, somehow fills me with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Perhaps in working the land, I am rekindling some deeper connection with those farm workers from long ago.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Flying Fig

Back when I was a l'il un, toiling away in a one-room schoolhouse with the dozen other kids in my settlement who had not yet died of cholera, typhoid, or scurvy, I remember that they taught us the proper way to prepare a letter. At or near the top of the parchment, you started things off with "Dear Reginald", regardless of who you were actually writing the letter to. I presume that if you were a cretin of some sort and broke with this convention, you were likely sent off to some dark and foreign land, like Canada. Eventually, with the invention of indoor plumbing, rain gutters, and personal computers, everyone transitioned away from actual paper letters to email and other electronic communication forms. However, even here, things were still expected to begin with "Dear Reginald".

I read in the news headlines the other day that over the last decade or so, the greeting portion of our communications has essentially gone the way of the dodo. Even when it is included, the salutation is now most often omitted. I was kind of taken by surprise in reading this, because I typically start my various form of communication with the word "Dear".

Now that I know the new paradigm, and upon further reflection, I guess that I have never much been comfortable with the term "Dear". To my mind, "Dear" means something cherished and valued. Usually I couldn't give a flying fig about most of the folks I communicate with, so using the opening word "Dear", has likely given them the wrong idea about my feelings for them. This changes everything.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Stuff Christians Like

My pastor and friend robshep turned me onto blogger Jon Acuff. I started following his blog and found him to be quite insightful and astute. This blog is meant for folks who are actively chasing their dreams. Although primarily for would-be authors, it contains wisdom across the spectrum of dream-chasers. As a disciple of Dave Ramsey, he clearly fits into Ramsey's stable of self-help/advice sherpas.

Poking around this blog page, I quickly learned that Jon maintains a second blog called Stuff Christians Like, which is really a humor/satire site related to all things Christianity. I read a couple of his most recent posts and they convinced me to order his book of the same name. I was hoping for a read that would make me smile, while at the same time giving me some dimensions of depth and Christian insight from a man of wisdom. A few days later the book arrived and I worked it into my reading cycle. As it is only about 200 pages long, it amounts to a quick read. Here is what I took away from this book:
  • The Jon Acuff that I had followed on his advice blog writes with a very different style than on his humor blog.
  • While he has a few moments of insight or beauty in his humor book, there is a lot of juvenile and silly/inane stuff too. There is a lot of filler and fluff. While his writing is "humorous", there is very little that I found laugh-out-loud funny and very little that I found particularly clever or thoughtful.
  • Now that I have finished reading Stuff Christians Like, I am unable to relate to you a single anecdote from the book. To me this is the very definition of light, non-descript, and unmemorable fare.
  • As I was reading it, I kept counting the pages left hoping that it would be over soon.
I think a younger version of me would have appreciated this book more. Maybe my issue is that I don't know funny. Certainly I have not enjoyed the last few humor books I have read. It is very likely that these sorts of books should no longer be part of my reading time as there are other genres that I get into so much more. If this is what passes the bar for funny, I will pass next time.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

No Deposit, No Return

My online friend Bill, who posts at Cycleguy's Spin, wrote a recent post where he talked about how he had in the past hurt folks with his words. Whether it was sarcasm or inappropriate jokes, even though he meant them in jest or fun, they still caused others pain. Finally, a friend confronted him with an assessment that accurately described his condition, he "assumed a familiarity that was not there". For some reason, these words have stuck with me. But I have been thinking about them from a slightly different point of view.

When people that you know come to you with news about losing their job, about going through a divorce, about a recent diagnosis, or any number of other things that cause them hurt, anxiety, despair, frustration, or the deepest of soul pains, healing words most often seem only to flow forth from those that they have a history with. Trite lines declaiming, "my thoughts and prayers go out to them", are insignificant and meaningless from strangers or outsiders. The soothing, healing balm of comfort and strength, reassurance, commiseration, and empathy, only comes from those who have made a significant investment in our lives. Not from those who interact with us only at the most shallow and pedestrian levels. There is little value returned in the dark moments of live without significant deposits along the way.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Children's Games

Monopoly, twenty one, checkers, and chess ...

I have always love playing games of any sort with my daughter. From simple board games like Shutes and Ladders and Candyland when she was quite young to Checkers and Monopoly when she got a bit older. We also loved to play card games like War and Go Fish. Looking back, the particular game that we were playing did not matter. It was the time that we spent together talking and being silly. I remember plenty of rainy days spending hours playing Poker with our Scooby Doo cards for acorn tops. Then there was Crazy Eights. This was the first game that she really mastered and could beat me with her strategy and cunning. I graciously accepted defeat and tried my parental best to model how to be a good sport. However, I still knew that if we played any sort of video game, I would blow her out of the sky and/or water with my superior skills, hand/eye coordination, and cat-like reflexes.

The other day, I finally had to acknowledge that not only have my skills eroded over time, but that hers have developed to the point that she is by far the dominant gamer in our house. We were playing Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii the other day. She controlled Donkey Kong and I controlled Diddy Kong. We had been trying to get through one of the levels for a while without success. At some point it became clear that one of us was holding us back, and it wasn't her. She literally picked up my character, wresting gaming control from me, and with me on her back, zoomed through the level in a matter of moments. I sat there powerless and mesmerized. Maybe I can get her to play War with me again, that should increase my odds of winning significantly.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Insistent Hello

I'm a guy and there are certain characteristics that I share with others of my kind. One of which is our ability to communicate without words. For example, when I pass another guy in the hallway at work or at a monster truck rally, it is perfectly acceptable, even preferred, for a subtle head nod to be exchanged. This, as every guy around the world knows, means something like, "Hey, how ya doin'?" That's all that is needed. Period. To actually say anything aloud, would be pointedly gauche and break with all appropriate etiquette rules. Yet even though the pygmies in the Amazonian rain forests clearly understand these conventions of social interaction, apparently there are at least two folks who were confined to live under a rain barrel for their entire lives and were just recently released among us.

Person #1 - Out beside the building where I work, there is a quadrangle-type sidewalk layout, with each side some 80 ft long. I was at the far end of the square when I man that I barely know came out from the building, stepping on the sidewalk at the furthest point from me. When I looked his way, he gave me an overly enthusiastic wave. I responded with a reluctant head nod and kept on my way. At that moment he called out at me in an elevated tone, stoked with some level of annoyance. I just kept going, not having any time for shenanigans of this sort. The man chased me down and confronted me with exaggerated hand motions, "I said hello to you."

Person #2 - I came into a building at work the other day having just swigged a mouthful of coffee that I hadn't yet swallowed. Just a few paces in from the door is the elevator that I needed to use. However, standing at the elevator was a middle-aged woman and her male co-worker who had already pushed the button and were waiting for the elevator car to appear. She stopped her conversation with her colleague and said hello. As my mouth was full of coffee, I replied with a head nod, knowing full well that this should have been entirely sufficient to fulfill my social obligations. The lady then turned her body fully to face me and planted her hands on her hips. She looked at me over the top of her glasses for a beat and then snapped, "I said hello to you."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Infinite Embrace

My old pastor once told me that he was blown away at the strength of my faith given that he never saw any of my prayers answered. It was really more of a rhetorical statement that hung in the space between our ongoing conversation. But do not for a moment think of me as some paragon of faith or someone touched by the Apostle Paul's spirit with utterances like, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. In fact, more often that not my faith is paper thin. Often I find that I am a fair-weather Christian, tending to grumble and complain about everyone and everything in my weakness and frustration. I know that I should just shut up and give praise, but me-centered prayers and petitions and mewling seem to mark me.

Recently, I found myself in a season marked by stormy seas. I just could not find even a short period of calm when my mind could settle. The few things that I cherish most in my life seemed to be slipping away from me. It was absolutely demoralizing and stole every shred of my will to go on. I had more than lingering thoughts of just chucking everything. I got to the point where I just cursed God and His silly games and infuriating subtlety. I can deal with yes to my prayers. I can handle no. But prolonged silence always takes me down the road toward doubt. Just beyond doubt is agnosticism. From there it is just a few steps toward walking away from my faith entirely. I hate writing these statements because they reveal me for the coward and self-centered being that I truly am.

I don't know where this voyage is heading, but today the seas are a bit calmer than they were yesterday. Some conversations were had that were necessary and healing. A few locked doors, perhaps, were re-opened. I thank God for his unending patience with me as I try to find my way and I thank God for His infinite embrace.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Till We Have Faces

I have read a number of Christian apologetic works by C.S. Lewis over the years and he has earned my greatest respect as an author and a thinker in this genre. However, as a novelist, thus far I have only tackled his Space Trilogy series. But that suite was indeed a masterpiece. My most recent Lewis novel, Till We Have Faces, turned out to be his last. But, while quite different than his science fiction writing, was just as masterful, and I give it my highest recommendation. This work amounts to a retelling of the mythological story of Psyche and Cupid, but with Lewis's signature touch.

The story takes place in the kingdom of Glome, located on the outskirts of the Hellenistic world. When King Trom loses his wife, he seeks to quickly remarry so that his maid can produce a male heir for him. Thus far his offspring consist of two daughters, Orual and Redival. The king's new wife is quickly with child, but dies giving birth to another daughter, Psyche. The child is unmatched in beauty. The ugly Orual loves Psyche as a mother and devotedly takes to her upbringing. Ultimately, the townspeople of Glome come to worship Psyche for her beauty and healing touch, instead of worshipping the local goddess of nature, Ungit.

Following a devastating plague, drought, and famine, the high priest of Ungit tells the king that relief will come only if Psyche is sacrificed to Ungit's son, the Shadowbrute. The king complies to save his crown and gives up his daughter for sacrifice. Later, Orual goes to bury Psyche's bones and finds her alive and hale. Psyche invites Orual to her palace, which is invisible to Orual, and speaks of a husband that she is not allowed to see. Orual convinces Psyche to take a lamp in at night and look. Psyche is discovered and banished from her lands. Orual becomes the queen of Glome upon the king's death and lives the rest of her life in dread and misery for the loss of her sister, for her virginity and lot, and for the unfairness of the gods. Just before her death, she is allowed by the gods a glimpse of perspective. How she has loved, but has loved selfishly and with a misguided heart. Ultimately, everyone is dehumanized by their lack of love or their egregious mis-steps in what they think is love, so that even though people can still see their faces, they are just mere illusions.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

iTunes Latest - 3

Back in December of 2011, I finally discovered iTunes on my Mac. This service has really helped me to reconnect with my love of music. One of the things that I really like about music is that so often a given song has a strong association with a time or with a moment in my life. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my history with each song.
  • Shandi - Kiss (1980) - I was a huge fan of Kiss in the mid-1970s when they were the biggest band on the planet. All of the make-up and mystery helped make them larger than life. The album Destroyer didn't hurt that image either. Ultimately, their star began to fade and they had to make some stylistic changes to keep pace with the times. This song was part of that effort and I always loved its sound.
  • The Breakup Song - Greg Kihn Band (1981) - In the early 1980s, this song was played so much that it was unavoidable even in the remotest parts of the galaxy. However, when fresh, it was a distinctive song that made me want to be a rock star. After not hearing it for a couple decades, it was definitely fresh enough to listen to again.
  • What Can Daddy Do - Sniff 'n the Tears (1980) - I had recently purchased the song Driver's Seat by this band. Because that is their only known song, they are typically lumped into the "one hit wonder" category. But this song tells the story of a wayward child who is struggling to find what she wants in live. I love the edge and the phrasing.
  • Sweet Sixteen - Billy Idol (1986) - I am not a fan of most of Billy Idol's work. He tried to cast himself as this tough guy, punk rocker with a permanent snarl on his lips. However he seemed kind of scrawny and plastic. But this song has a brooding, ethereal edge to it that pulled me in.
  • I Think I Like it - Boston (1986) - I bought the album Third Stage on cassette just after it was released. A great album that I really enjoyed. This song was a positively charged rocker that always lifted my spirits. I thought this would be a great addition to my exercise play list. Boston is also one of the only bands that I have seen in concert.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I don't know about you, but I normally don't give a second thought to pushing a button on my TV remote and then being able to choose from several hundred high-definition channels. It's kind of amazing to think how utterly different my present situation is compared to when I was a kid. We got three primary VHF channels (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and one or two grainy UHF channels (depending on the weather) that we could watch on our tiny black and white television.

I completely take for granted the fact that I can withdraw the plastic and chrome encased phone from the holster on my belt and place a call from pretty much anywhere at any time. It wasn't all that long again where I used to make calls on a box the size of a carton of milk with a rotary dial and a heavy, corded handset.

I can pop up the screen on my laptop and connect in a matter of moments to any number of computers around the world. I frequently use programs that allow me to conduct video meetings with colleagues from Europe, Asia, and South America connected simultaneously. The first personal use computers weren't even readily available until I was in high school.

You would think that slow, crawling progress over many years might not be recognized and appreciated, but technology upgrades and changes and moves from generation to generation almost before our eyes. Perhaps it is the dizzying level of progress that spins our eyes in our heads and numbs us to really taking note of the technological marvels that we use every day. However, for me a recent experience made me sit up and take notice. It was near midnight on a Monday evening when I had decided to place an order on Amazon for 5 books. I came home early on Wednesday to check on something at the house, and my order was sitting on my front steps. This just totally blew me away. Absolutely amazing.