Friday, March 29, 2013

The Jesus I Never Knew

I have recently read two books by Philip Yancey that I absolutely loved, Where is God When it Hurts and Prayer. Both of these works were noticeably cut from a different mold than the myriad generic, cookie-cutter theology books that fill the shelves at your local bookstore. The two Yancey books that I have read represent in-depth looks into topics that show a high measure of thought, reason, and consideration developed only after years of study. Given that these were the first two Yancey-penned books that I have tackled, I thought that I would continue with another Yancey work as I sought out a book for my devotional times. What I selected was The Jesus I Never Knew.

Yancey's approach to this work was essentially based on the following question:

Could we be perpetuating an image of Jesus that fits our pious expectations and sensibilities but does not match the person portrayed so vividly in the Gospels?

He then considers various aspects of Jesus as put forth in the New Testament gospels (i.e. the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), whether they be from the point of view of those who were "on the scene" or statements/actions of Jesus himself. Given the title of this book, you can imagine that Yancey comes from a background where he has had to work hard to set aside various modern interpretations and pictures of who Jesus was and what he was like to reclaim the Jesus of the Bible.

My take is that this work is essentially "bread-and-butter" theology. I do not think that, what I would term "active" Christians (those who attend church regularly and study the Bible regularly), will read anything that they do not already know. However, more casual Christians, seeker-type Christians, or those who have never really spent time studying Jesus, will find lots of things that may upset or reform their view of who Jesus was. The next Yancey book that I have on my shelf to read is Disappointment with God. I greatly look forward to this one.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Moving Pictures

When my daughter was younger, we went and saw nearly every kid's movie that came out. Over the years we saw dozens of them. I loved the excitement that this experience elicted from her. It wasn't just the movie itself, but the lead up was part of the fun too. We would make an advance trip to the convenience store to buy some candy and then we would also get insanely large drinks and popcorn at the concession stand. We made sure to buy our tickets early so that we could get to the correct room and get our "usual" seats. We would then have 10 or 15 minutes to play games and be silly before the coming attractions started up. These always seemed to give us something to look forward to. During the movie itself I loved to watch my daughter thrill in the sights and scenes playing out before her eyes. We shared so much laughter and even a few tears. On the way home we would then talk about the characters and our favorite scenes and rate the movie in relation to others that we had recently seen.

However, somewhere along the road to her growing up, our trips to the theater together fell away. Now we have not gone to see a movie in several years. Whenever I suggest that we go see something that comes out, she replies with a "Maybe." I have come to know this is my daughter's code word for "No thanks". I guess that it is not cool to be seen in public with your dad. While this kind of makes me sad, I understand the response. For some reason, this is how nature programs many of us.

The other day, out of the blue, my daughter suggested that we rent a movie at the grocery store kiosk. As we sat on the couch with our snacks enjoying the show, I felt a stirring of the old times when she was younger. I was surprised that this made me smile. Usually it pulls out feelings of melancholy. I then remembered that I kept all of the stubs from the movies that we have seen together in her "memory box" in her bedroom closet. I hope that one day she will go through this box and smile when she stumbles upon all of those old memories.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Observations 20

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. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • Some guys are so eager to get their bathroom time over with they they seem to be pulling out their "assets" as they are pushing open the door to enter the lavoratory. I can tell you this is not a great way to run into someone.
  • I had been following a car on the way home the other day. The driver was erratically swerving in and out of their lane every few seconds. When I passed the car, I looked over and noticed that the driver had a cigarette in one hand, a cell phone in the other, and a bear claw pastry in the other. Yes you read that correctly.
  • You have got to love "targeted" ads that show up on your social media pages. My Facebook page had a prominant ad today for "The Diaper Center". How could they know of my needs in this area?
  • I love it when people dish out advice that is unrealistic, naive, and simplistic. It makes it so much easier to ignore them.
  • As I passed by a car with the license plate of "JSBACH" the other day, I was certain that I heard a piece by Beethoven playing on his stereo. Hmmm, I wonder if Johann knows he is in league with a two-timer?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hair Club for Men

The country of North Korea has been making the news far too much recently. This communist regime is led by Kim Jong-un, who rules over this nation of some 25 million people. The populace is subjected to strict prohibitions, censoring, and isolationism. Nearly every aspect of their lives is rigidly controlled. Jong-un views himself as a kindly, generous, father-figure to his people. He believes that his government has lavished upon them everything that they need to live a comfortable, productive, state-run existence. This has given him warm feelings that have permeated him to his core. Thus he felt perfectly at ease naming himself supreme dictator of the country. His term is not "for life", but "for eternity". That really cuts down on the need for any sort of pesky campaign finance reform measures.

The leadership of the nation of North Korea, or as it is formally named, "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (I am not certain whether it was named using irony or sarcasm), has reached the level of one of those cartoonish, campy movies that they used to lampoon on the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 show. The supreme dictator and his lackeys and military generals all sport a comical number of medals on their uniforms. These medals, which reflect more light than a Dolly Parton jumpsuit from the 1970s, look like they came from the discount bin at the local Dollar General store. Every one of these overstuffed cariactures is also wearing a farcical hat that is about 3 sizes too big. They always seem to have goofy grins on their face like one of them just passed gas.

One of the side pieces in the news that I read the other day brought back memories of a post that I wrote a few years ago about the Iranian government's crackdown on folks with unapproved hairstyles (see Dictated Style). Now we find that the North Koreans, not to be outdone by some group of Arabs, has its own government mandated list of allowed coifs. Reports are that the secret police round up all of its citizens whose hairstyles do not appear on the approved list and force them to get makeovers. Oh, the humanity. Of course the most amusing aspect of this story is that the supreme poobah, Jong-un himself, has a hairstyle that is not on the approved list. Shameful.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Patriot Games

Working for a government facility for some time has really opened my eyes regarding how the wider world views Americans and their decadent, capitalistic institutions. Specifically, there seems to be enough of a credible threat against us in the form of terrorist factions, that they require us to be ever vigilant in the ways of the militants. For example, we are required to spend at least 45% of our time at work preparing for the inevitable attacks and learning to quickly recognize when a terrorist calls us directly on our office phones with word of an impending threat. This training takes the form of excessively thick manuals and instructional videos.

Attached to every phone in my work place is a bomb threat checklist. It is secured to the phone with a thick, inflexible titanium cable that is about 15-in long. If we should recognize that a terrorist has called us, we are to ask him to help us fill out a survey so that we can make sure he is not a faker. If our survey tells us that the threat is credible, then we are to keep the caller on the line a bit longer so that we can ask him to tell us how we can defuse any booby traps or bombs that he has liberally sprinkled in and around our site. You would be surprised to know how many terrorists are willing to hang on the phone and work their way with you through a 20 page checklist. This shows their dedication to their craft.

On the checklist, one of the areas to fill out is a section labeled "Background Noises", i.e. sounds that we can distinguish as we listen to the potential terrorist. Some of the items on this list include: House Noises, Crockery, Bar Sounds, Kids Crying, and Animal Noises. As Dave Barry would say, "I am not making this up." The very next part of the checklist asks us to get the caller to tell us about his accent. Some possibilities include: Polish, Pakistani, Belgian, Indo-European, and Foreign. If I cannot identify the who, what, where, when, and how from questions like these, then I am clearly not a true patriot.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Dance with Dragons

The fifth and most recent book in George R. R. Martin's engaging saga called A Song of Fire and Ice is entitled A Dance with Dragons. Most of the book's narrative actually occurs concurrently with the story arcs focussed on in the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. The main plot lines involve i). the queen regent of Westeros, Cersei Lannister, and her desperate grasp for power and subsequent trip into the schemes of one more conniving and clever than she, ii). the queen across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen, and the intrigue within her court and her marked maturation, iii). the sorrowful plight of the imp, Tyrion Lannister, as he is traded and kidnapped and enslaved, and iv). the new Lord Commander of the Night Watch, Jon Snow, one of the few moral and level-headed men in the kingdom.

Certainly the number of plot threads is numerous and, at times, I wonder if even Mr. Martin has a clue to how everything he has brought up and developed will end. There are just so many loose ends and so many posssible directions in which he could go. I read in a recent online interview that he has passed on major story details to his publisher in case of his death. Even after five books and nearly 6000 pages, this epic tale is a long way from being done. After being so ensconced in this world for several months and being a part of the lives of so many intriguing characters, it is a major disappointment to me not to be able to transition immediately into the next book in the series. The sixth book is rumored to be targeted for release in 2014 or 2015 and is tentatively entitled The Winds of Winter. I definitely give the first five books in this series my highest recommendation and eagerly look forward to the next release to see where things will go.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Grind My Gears 32

Grrrr ... Grrrr ... Freakin' grrrr. All of my pent up frustration and gear grinding exasperation is directed at those drivers on the road who do not know what in blazes they are doing. Their lack of basic knowledge of the rules then inconveniences the rest of us who are competent and who do not wet our beds on a regular basis. In particular, I am up in arms about folks that sit at the front of the right hand turning lane who do not understand that it is not only legal, but fully expected, that thou shalt turn right on red if there is no oncoming traffic and it is safe to enter the intersection. Instead these spotted malamutes just sit there even though there is not a vehicle on the cross road for 20 parsecs in either direction. What are they waiting for? Where is their let's-get-out-of-here
instinct? The only reason that I can see for their just sitting there is that they enjoy the sound of my arteries nearing the rupture point as my blood pressure rises exponentially. Either that or they are trying to get some sort of petty revenge on me for actually knowing the rules of the road and doing my best not to unnecessarily hold up my fellow drivers.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ravishing Ronald

The classic 1950 Looney Tunes cartoon short Bunny Hugged focusses on a world championship wrestling match between the undefeated champion "The Crusher" vs. the flamboyant challenger "Ravishing Ronald". After the wrestlers are introduced to the crowd and the match begins, The Crusher charges up into the face of Ravishing Ronald and lets loose a blood curdling roar. The force of the blast is so great that Ravishing Ronald's arms just flap behind him in the breeze. I recently had an experience that made me feel weak and overpowered in this same manner.

I had planned to meet a friend of mine after work to talk over a cup of coffee. I arrived at the coffee shop about 10 minutes early and went inside to claim a table. About 5 minutes after our scheduled time, I called my friend's phone but got no answer. I waited another 20 minutes and he still hadn't shown up. With a deflated spirit I kind of slunk out of the place and drove home. My friend called me about 10 minutes later to tell me that he just lost track of time as he got embroiled in some project for work. I tried to be gracious, but I know my mien was laced with hurt and disgust.

In similar situations in the past, I have responded by distancing myself from the those who hurt me. My mind seems to linger on the hurt, the embarrassment, and the frustration. With my long history of such conditioning, I began to drift down that same path again. I told myself that my friend really did not want to spend time with me in the first place and that he viewed our meeting as an onerous chore. That evening when I got home, I stewed and let my negative feelings cover me. The frustrating thing is that I have come to trust my friend and know that he was sincere in his apology and that he was embarrassed for his oversight. When I told my daughter what had happened, her remark was quite simple, "Why don't you just schedule another time with him?" Why didn't I think of this? That is a response that is much more Crusher than Ravishing Ronald.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Blasphemous Questions II

Back in November 2008 I wrote a post entitled Blasphemous Questions, in which I raised a number of frank questions about Christianity that had been on my mind. Certainly none of the comments that I received on that post help me to frame any semblance of an answer to any of them. I guess this means that they are doomed to continue rattling around my gray matter for a while longer. However, in today's post I wanted to pose some new thoughts that have been plaguing me. Some may view what I have to say as blasphemous, but with all due respect, I know that my God is big enough and graceful enough to allow me full freedom to raise such questions. Today's issue is crucifixion. The bible tells us that Jesus died upon a cross. It is believed that over the past 3 or 4 millenia, tens of thousands of men have also been crucified in the same manner. Jesus and countless others were hung upon a post to die a slow and agonizing death.

I have read two books recently during my devotional time that both made explicit statements that God showed his great love for each of us by allowing his son to die on a cross. For this very reason, we are told that we should fall on our knees and worship. However, given the tens of thousands of ordinary men who also died in this same manner, what is so unique about Jesus dying in this manner? To me, the only thing that makes the death of Jesus on the cross any different from any of the other men who died in this way, is that he knew that his death was temporary. If he was God as he claimed, he knew his fate from the beginning and he also knew what would happen afterwards. Like Jesus, each of the other tens of thousands of men who were executed upon a cross, died an excruciating and humiliating death, but they had no knowledge if that death was the end, or if they would wake up in hell or in paradise. It seems to me that if Jesus were fully human as he claimed, his suffering was no worse than what any of the other men faced. However, in some respects he had the easier road to take because he knew what lay ahead of him.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Observations 19

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. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • I came across the following statement in Our Daily Bread the other day that stuck with me. A Christian is a living sermon whether or not he preaches a word. That really does say quite a bit.
  • I passed a hospital the other day whose building was a massive, sprawling brick structure. The place was ornate, pristine, and absolutely stunning in its design. The grounds were immaculately manicured and contained a wide variety of fountains, topiaries, and landscaped areas. It was located on a street called "Hardy Cash Drive". ... No kidding.
  • Passing by the veterinarian hospital near my house the other day, I saw an old lady on her knees by her van in the parking lot utterly broken. The look of pain on her face and the tears pouring out of her eyes told me her story so much more vividly than if she told me herself. I have lived this situation myself before.
  • I came into my lab at work the other day to find the phone ringing. When I answered it, the person on the other end asked for someone named Jason. When I said that they had the wrong number as nobody with this name works in my lab, the person said, "That's alright, he sometimes goes by a different name, I'll try again later." They then hung up.
  • I turned on the radio the other morning to hear the hosts talking about dreams. One mentioned a tale about a vegetarian crocodile who was sad because he couldn't eat children. This made me giggle.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Feast for Crows

The fourth book in George R. R. Martin's saga A Song of Fire and Ice is entitled A Feast for Crows and picks up where the third book A Storm of Swords left off. We find a once mighty kingdom fractured and chaotic. Those who have survived the battles and assassinations are scrambling to consolidate their power and their holdings. Of the five lords who had named themselves king of Westeros, four have been killed under mysterious circumstances and the fifth has been driven from his stronghold with the last of his surviving men. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the majority of the population, wildlings and zombies have been amassing along the northern frontier of the kingdom and the last vestige of the old empire, Daenerys Targaryen, has awakened three dragons across the narrow sea and begun amassing an elite army to retake her birthright in Westeros.

In this fourth part of the tale, Martin changes his writing approach a bit to focus on just a subset of the story arcs developed in the previous three novels. We follow the intrigue, plotting, and drama surrounding the king's regent and mother, Cersei Lannister, as she rids herself of all who would oppose her. We also see the slow metamorphosis of Cersei's brother Jaime as he struggles within himself to find honor. Other more minor characters are followed as they play their parts to set up the narrative for the next novels in the series.

A number of online reviewers have griped that this fourth novel did not do too much to advance the main story. While that might or might not be the case, I really enjoyed this work and thought it was written at a high level that fit perfectly within the existing story arcs. Martin still has a long way to go to bring everything together, but I am very much enjoying the ride. Now, onto the fifth part of the series, A Dance with Dragons.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Elevated with God

Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Ferdinand Marcos, Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung, and Sun Jong Il were each preserved after their deaths in a sort of new age mummification process. Even years after their passing, each of these world leaders still casts a long shadow. Such shadows still intimidate and inspire intense feelings amongst their countrymen. It is fair to say that these men, for the most part, are regarded by western history as tyrants who brutalized their people, crushed any dissentors, and looted their countries treasuries for their own pleasures. It is interesting that they each started off as revolutionaries who dreamed of delivering their people from the oppressors whose boot heels were against their necks. Yet somehow along the way, their lust for power and ultimate control rotted them into corpses long before their physical deaths. They succeeded in bringing change, but simply replaced one ribbon of black for another. Even after decades of their abuses and human rights violations on unimagineable scales, they are still held in awe by many of their countrymen. Some have even elevated them to the level of deity.

It seems to me that the preservation of their bodies after their deaths is directly connected with their unchecked egos from the time when they still drew breath. Even today they are still revered because many who suffered during their reigns are still alive, and still very much fear them. They will never forget what happened to those who opposed them in any measure. They have been conditioned in their responses. It is frightening to think that many from the younger generations have been misled by the national propaganda movements to rewrite the biographries of these brutal dictators in glowing terms, painting them as national heroes. Elevating monsters to the level of gods.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mummer's Farce

... All our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told my an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

I was involved in a bit of an online discussion the other day that centered on an important hot-button topic of Christianity. I very much enjoyed being a part of this back and forth with people that approached this debate with thought and respect. There was no hate speak, no angry words, no ultimatums. Yet given what I read and saw of the various posts, it seems to me that much of Christianity is a bit of a mummer's farce.

Mummers were bands of villagers in medieval times who would perform sketches in the public square in return for food or money. The farces played out typically had threadbare, scattered plots with lots of ad libs, disconnected pantomime, and bizarre cariacatures. So, what does this have to do with my observations of Christiantiy? Well the point is that in my online discussion there were several examples of:
  • Scriptures quoted that were made up out of whole cloth. They sounded "biblical" on the surface, but were not defensible in light of the teachings of Jesus.
  • Scriptures quoted correctly, but entirely out of context and thus dangerously invalid.
  • Folks inventing their own flavor of theology based on their own upbringing, environment, and "local" culture.
  • Folks whose personal beliefs did not take into account the full range of complexities relevant to form a rational argument that remained defensible under questioning.
All of those involved brought something of their own to the discussion to flavor the stew of the arguments, however many views that people argued for with passion, could not hold water when subjected to a more carefully considered and structured debate. Yet their incomplete and often unfounded views deeply shaped their Christian beliefs and how they lived their lives. All of this plays out to the script of the mummer's farce. To be certain, I too was one of the actors on that stage playing their part.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hard Candy

I had in mind a theme for this post that I suspect will come out a bit sappy. However, I felt a certain kind of internal prompting to write this in order to express a bit of my heart. I think it will also reflect a bit on how I view relationships, in particular, my relationship with my daughter. Likely, those who know me well will not learn anything new about me through reading this post, but hopefully there is a knowing smile of recognition here for everyone.

Each Sunday when my daughter and I go to church, I always put two hard candies in my pocket. After the music is done playing and we take our seats to listen to the pastor's sermon, I pass a candy to my daughter. I hold the second one back until she has unwrapped hers and placed it into her mouth. Only then will I take the second one for myself. My reason for delaying is that I have a backup in hand should my daughter drop her candy when opening it. I bring the candies for us to enjoy together, but I really bring them because I know they make her happy. Whether I enjoy one too is not the primary issue. This simple act is just a way that I show my daughter how much I love her, knowing full well that she doesn't know what I am up to. I sometimes smile to myself as she unwraps her candy knowing that one day when she has a child of her own, she will come to know these simple and silent expressions of love too.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Old Man Winter

It seems that the moment that you open your mouth and enter the realm of braggadocio, you might as well just paint a big ole target on your chest and wait for your come-uppance. For example, you might utter one of the following phrases to your close chums:
  • I have never been in a car accident involving a 1952 Ford Fairlane.
  • I have never eaten a bowl of Alpha-bits brand cereal that did not include at least three of the letter Q.
  • I have not wet my bed since I was 15 years old.
  • I have not been forced to wear a gaudy holiday sweater in all my years.
  • I have never contracted scurvy.
You must understand that the moment that you make such a public claim, you will be 'hit' with one of the following: a car seen in the program Leave it to Beaver, a Q-less bowl of pure sugary goodness, moist breeches and/or knickerbockers, poor taste, or an unexplained craving for citrus fruit or pirates.

However, even with all of this stated, I am going to go out on a limb and make a bold declaration. This is the first winter season of my entire life where I have not had to pull my winter jacket out of its closeted stronghold. Sure I may be inviting a cold spell the likes of which my area has never seen. I may have just written the death certificates of any number of poor unsuspecting individuals. I may have written my ticket to an appearance with Anderson Cooper whose motto is, "I am so a real reporter!" Take that old man winter.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Storm of Swords

The third book of George R. R. Martins's A Song of Ice and Fire series is entitled A Storm of Swords. This story picks up where the second book in the series A Clash of Kings left off. We find now five different lords have anointed themselves king of Westeros, each fully invested in playing the game of thrones. Martin has a masterful way of setting the scenes and developing his myriad characters and plot points. His approach is to write each chapter from the perspective of one of the characters. He is also one of the few authors who shows no reluctance in regularly killing off any of main players in his narrative. Of course, this is an important touch of realism in a story of war and betrayal and intringue. Lords, knights, sellswords, whores, ladies, common folk, all fully ensconsed in settings and situations that we can see and smell and taste.

Yet even as the kings plot and scheme and battle to claim power, lands, and kingdom, the vast expanses beyond the boundaries of the kingdom of Westeros are ripe with drama. The last remaining heir to the old dynasty of Westeros has awakened three dragons, the last of their type in the world. Slowly and methodically she is building her army. An army whose sole purpose is to ravage the warlords of Westeros and to scourge the land of all resistance to her claim to the crown. Beyond the northern boundary of the kingdom, tens of thousands of wildlings are amassing to sweep over Westeros and plunder its riches. Perhaps even more worrisome are the gathering numbers of wights and undead that are greatly increasing in numbers in the north. Very little is known of these hordes as they slaughter all in their path, initiating their victims into their ranks. They are coming, but given the campaigns distracting everyone in the land, nobody seems to be aware of the peril. Now onto the fourth book in this wonderful series, A Feast for Crows.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I was reading the other day when I came across the word oubliette. I have come to know this term from reading various works in the genre of medieval literature. Dragons, knights, peasants, and lords. If you haven't stumbled across this word before, an oubliette was a not uncommon section of many castle dungeons. It was really nothing more than a deep vertical shaft that was used to house a prisoner. It was often only large enough for the captive to stand up in, possibly not of sufficient dimensions to allow its guest to crouch down, to sit, or even to turn around. The prisoner was lowered down through a grating in the ceiling and then the cell would have been sealed up again. Sometimes the shaft had a trap door at its bottom to allow any remains and debris to be removed. Sometimes the next prisoner was just lowered down on top of the decaying flesh and bones of previous victims. The human body was not designed to withstand such an environment for more than a few days. Once interred into the oubliette, the shadow of death was certain. A more excruciating and confining death could not be imagined.

Just picturing such a scene, you can begin to understand why a captured knight or mercenary would beg for immediate execution by the sword. Better to die with honor on the field of battle in one's natural element, than to be thrown into a chasm and forgotten. Of course, those captured of noble or high birth, would be confined in quarters or cells "as fit their station" until such time as they could be properly ransomed. I can't help but think of the generals and the admirals located miles and miles away from the front lines who push plastic pieces around on landscape dioramas like chessmen, who never truly appreciate that the game that they are playing at results in real losses of real men who can never escape their lots in life.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

iTunes Greatest Hits

For nearly the past year I have been sharing my iTunes purchases with you through this blog. I have been having fun with these posts as I usually have some sort of memory associated with each song. However, with my most recent iTunes post, I shared most five most recent purchases and the "artists" included Britney Spears and NSYNC. As you can imagine this brought much scorn and derision from folks who read this post. I was called a wussy, a bed wetter, a flake of corn. I clearly brought shame upon myself that will likely not be scoured away no matter how hard I loofah in the shower.

After that post, I feel like I have to take whatever steps I can to try to redeem myself. I understand that this will be a long and deliberate process, frought with many possible dangers along the way. As a first tentative step, I looked into my iTunes library and thought that if I shared my most played songs, some modicum of healing might take place. The following list contains my top 10 most played songs from highest to lowest.
  1. Stranger Than Fiction - Bad Company (1992)
  2. There is a Reason - Alison Krauss and Union Station (2002)
  3. Find the River - R.E.M. (1993)
  4. It's My Life - Bon Jovi (2000)
  5. Walkin' on the Sun - Smash Mouth (1997)
  6. Ship of Fools - Robert Plant (1998)
  7. 29 Palms - Robert Plant (1993)
  8. Magnificent - U2 (2009)
  9. Kryptonite - 3 Doors Down (2000)
  10. Little Angel - Bad Company (1992)
Did this list help my case in any way to regain my manhood or am I completely hopeless at this point?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


What do folks do when they are awarded a promotion at work? Some might relish the increase in salary, some might celebrate with a bit of the bubbly, and some might purchase some cutting edge electronic gadget that will make their friends envious. I think that for many folks celebration is a natural response to such news. Certainly advancements in position are associated with recognized competence, success, or longevity at a given company. What is not to savor when your worth, effort, and energy are recognized and appreciated in a formal way?

I was spurred to write this post because I recently received a job promotion at work. While this serves as some validation for all that I have done in my career to get to this point, this news has kind of caused me to ponder my station in life. My latest promotion marks my climb to what effectively represents the highest possible rung in my career ladder. I have reached the top of the mountain. There is no higher level that I can attain in my field. While that is gratifying, it seems like just yesterday I was a young man, eager to find his way and to make his mark. Eager to be doing the things that my mentors were doing. Now the student has become the master. Where did all the time go? How could my life race by so quickly?

As I write this post I am sitting in a meeting room filled with 30 or 40 of my colleagues. As I look around the room, I can quickly recall working with many of these folks on one project or another over the years. Each project that I was involved in forged more links in my career chain. With just a few moments of reflection, I start to gain some perspective and I can more clearly see how I got to where I am now, one relationship at a time.

Monday, March 4, 2013


The term "relapse" is synonymous with failure. Most often it is used to label a situation in which an addict, who had found some measure of recovery, falls back into their old dependence. The addictions are often linked to alcohol or drugs. However, for me, the term relapse is also associated with the resurfacing of old behaviors, utterances, and attitudes that I thought had long ago been vanquished. In my case, this includes battles with spells of jealousy, lust, intense anxiety, self-hate, racist thoughts, anger, and hopelessness among others. I have expended enormous effort to bring these issues under control in my life and it is both frustrating and demoralizing to me when they reappear in force.

It is said that for a multi-lingual person, their true native language is revealed by what language they curse in when they strike their fingers with a hammer. I think that this picture is applicable to me. When I am beset by life's hammer strikes, I think that how I respond reveals the true condition of my heart. Just because I seem to have gotten past certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, they still are very much a part of me, even if I have not seen them for a while. Sometimes it feels in moments of personal failure that my responses reveal that my "recovery" from old attitudes was little more than an ill-fitting skin that is far too easily sloughed off. In those moments my relapse seems complete.

My pastor recently told the story of a man who was confessing some unspeakable things that he had said in the heat of an argument. With tears in his heart he declared, "What I said, those words were just not me." But in truth they were. They were very much a part of him, just more deeply buried than other parts. We need to find strategies to more effectively handle these behaviors and comport ourselves when the inevitable relapses do occur.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Clash of Kings

The second book of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is entitled A Clash of Kings and picks up where the first book A Game of Thrones left off. The land of Westeros is in chaos as four different kings have crowned themselves in the wake of the untimely death of Robert Baratheon. Robb Stark in the north, Stannis Baratheon in the East, Renly Baratheon in South, and Joffrey Baratheon who has claimed his father's throne. The land is filled with murder, battles, rape, and pillaging, and is steeped in scenes of death and privation.

Lord Eddard Stark has been killed as a traitor to the crown after he uncovers the secret that Joffrey is not the king's true son, but the bastard offspring of the queen and her brother, the powerful knight Jaime Lannister. The king's brothers Stannis and Renly are not only marching on the royal palace but have set each other in their crosshairs. This story is laced with intringue and scheming as the royals try to gain the upper hand on their rivals. All who are seeking the crown have no interest in ruling and governing their people. It is about power, glory, and gold. It is about the thrill of victory in battle. It is about defeating those who would stand in your path.

Two other story arcs are taking on a more central aspect of the plot. One centers on the exiled heir to the throne from House Targaryen, which was overthrown by Robert Baratheon. Daenerys Targaryen, who through magic and her natural dragon blood, has brought to life the last three dragons in the world. It was through the power of the dragons that House Targaryen had kept their tight grip on power. Daenerys is plotting how to take back the crown that she believes is hers. Also, the men of the Night's Watch that guard the northern boundary of the kingdom are facing an incredible force of wildlings that have amassed and are marching to Westeros. Their armies are being pursued by the much more powerful forces of dark magic of the undead. Great story telling that I have absolutely loved. Now, onto the third part of the story in A Storm of Swords.