Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In Through the Out Door

I seem to live so many areas of my life according to a strict pattern. I get up at the same time every day, I go through my usual morning routine and arrive at work at the same time, packing my usual lunch and my usual thermos of coffee. I even tend to park in the same space. Sometimes routines and patterns are not a bad thing. Sometimes putting parts of our life into cruise control, allows our minds and creativity to be free to focus on other things. And yet ...

Too often I seem to live my life making the same pattern of mistakes over and over again. I focus too much on myself. I am far too timid when it comes to trying to make friends. I battle with the same sins day after day and night after night. It is the same routine. The same song. The same dead end road. I know that this is not who I want to be or where I want to be. Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Perhaps that marks me as insane. However, I have been stuck on the same road for so long I think that I have slowly lost my heart for trying to find my way out. I have given into the strange comforts of despair and loneliness and predictability. And yet ...

I still have the faintest of memories locked away in my heart of happier seasons, where my life echoed with laughter, with shared intimacy, with looks from eyes that took my breath away. I so desperately long for relationships like that. Yet today I find myself in a place where I don't want to be, looking in the mirror at someone who is not who I want to be. Poet T.S. Eliot wrote:

"In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not"

Perhaps my time on this road is serving some necessary purpose that I will only appreciate after I have passed in through the out door.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Uneasy Feeling

The human psyche and mindset is such a fragile thing. It seems the slightest puff of wind is enough to blow us hopelessly off course. The most minute change to our plans or our routine can throw us for a loop from which we cannot recover no matter how hard we try to will it. Let me share a personal example to see if you can relate.

Each evening as I am getting ready to go to sleep, I tend to go through the same sequence of steps. Before I climb into bed, I take off my wristwatch and then my eyeglasses and set them on the bookshelf in my bedroom. The following morning after I get dressed, I then automatically reach first for my glasses and then my watch. However, my normal sequence in this dance was upset the other evening. I had been reading on the couch up until lights out. At some point my eyes got a bit tired, so I took off my glasses and set them on the coffee table. When it was time to retire, I turned off the lights and trudged into my bedroom, where I took off my watch and placed it in its usual location. The next morning when I went to my bookshelf for my glasses, I was frustrated to find they were not where they were supposed to be. I got a bit flustered in the moment until I remembered that I had left them in the living room. With a feeling of relief I went and recovered them. I then grabbed my breakfast and headed out the door to start my day.

I wasn't at work for 10 minutes when I had a strange feeling that something was not as it usually is. It didn't take me long to realize that the incident with tracking down my glasses had caused my brain to miss a step. I had left my watch on my shelf. All day long I carried this ill-at-ease feeling around with me. I felt incomplete. I kept snatching glances at my empty wrist. Try as I might my mind was not able to get back to equilibrium until I got home after work. When I arrived, I didn't even stop to set my briefcase or my thermos down. I marched straight into my bedroom and grabbed my watch.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Eyes Wide Open

Ted Dekker's most recent work Eyes Wide Open marks the beginning of his new Outlaw Chronicles series. It is also a fully integrated part of the broad story arcs that he has already created through his Circle, Paradise, and Lost Book series. The germ of the story in this new work is well summed up within a dedication that Dekker includes in the book:

"There are times when the challenges of living in this world feel like more than you can bear. When nights all alone in your bedroom seem to turn your heart into a stone. When the mirror tells you that you're not good enough; when the words of others say you never will be."

The main characters in the story are two 18 year olds, Christy Snow and Austin Hartt. They have gotten to know each other from the orphanage that they grew up in during their teenage years. They also have in common the fact that neither remembers anything about their childhood or their life before the orphanage. However, they have found in each other something that they each need. Christy needs someone to ground her and make her feel appreciated. Austin is very bright and analytical. He looks to Christy to keep him from isolating himself in his world of books and personal study. They like to spend time together talking in an abandoned storage room in a nearby hospital. This room represents a portal that ultimately takes each of them into the psychiatric wing of the hospital where they quickly become enmeshed and labeled as sick and delusional. Against their wills, they are subject to a series of ever worsening tortures that slowly cause them to go insane. Ultimately, they each reach a point where they lose their identities and come to accept the diagnosis of the seemingly sadistic head of the psychiatric ward.

However, the broader reality is not that Christy and Austin are losing their identities. In fact, they are merely buying into the identities that they are burdened with in this fallen world. An identity that is pushed on all of us to see ourselves as lacking and broken and unsatisfactory. The only way to break free of this thinking is to accept who we are as defined through Jesus. When we accept our identity as He gives it, the scales fall off of our eyes and we see how we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are made perfect through His love. The connection to events in The Paradise Series is brought out at the end and helps to give a bit more depth to appreciate the characters, how they came to be in the orphanage, and why their pasts are lost to them. However, reading that series is not necessary to enjoy this book. Not a bad effort. One I would label as typically Dekker. I look forward to reading the next entry in the Outlaw Chronicles series scheduled for release later this year, Water Walker.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Feel the Burn

I am of a belief that when I buy something, whether it be a gadget, a piece of electronics, a car, a tool, what have you, that it should last forever. Hence, I am always left disappointed when the $15 shovel that I buy breaks after 10 years of heavy use. I make that last statement only half in jest. I think my mindset is that if I pay good money for something, then consarnit, it should be able to take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. Given the way that many companies design their crap to break or spontaneously combust after a fixed time, you can imagine that this issue is a constant source of conflict and friction in my life.

Recently my faithful elliptical exercise machine (featured in my post Hurts So Good from September, 2010) died a sudden death at the tender age of about 7 years. It had been used for only about 1200 exercise sessions before its ticker conked out. I don't know much about the innards of elliptical machines, but I would guess that it was most likely an inversion in the reciprocating carburetor or a field collapse in the inverting flux capacitors. Regardless of the cause, I was devastated. But more than that, I was flabbergasted and confounded that one so young would pass so far before their time.

In my distress I gave into the pathos and two-timed my old elliptical machine. I was an unfaithful cad. I immediately went out and bought another machine and sickeningly paraded it around in front of my old model. Oh, most shameful. Then, true to my madman leanings, I cut up my old machine with a hacksaw and threw it in the trash bin with my other refuse. Please don't judge me (or the same fate may await you, bwaa ha ha).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Twist and Distort

I wrote a recent post entitled Excerpt where I focussed on a passage written by C.S. Lewis. In summary, he stated that every sin we commit is a distortion of an energy God-breathed into us. It was such a powerful paragraph in how it spoke to me and how it engaged my mind. Recently I was reading the book Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey, who liberally sprinkles his own works with references to C.S. Lewis, who wrote about the same notion, but from a slightly different angle.

"In our own times, technology repeats the cycle of Adam and Eve, Prometheus, Icarus, and Pandora. We master the atom and nearly obliterate ourselves. We learn the secrets of life only to develop techniques to destroy the unborn and the aging. We tame the Great Plains with agriculture and cause dust bowls, harvest rain forests and create floods, harness internal combustion and melt the icecaps. We link the world on an Internet only to find that the most downloaded items are pornographic. Every advance introduces yet another fall."

It seems that for every step forward we take, humanity takes two or three steps back. Instead of coming together and multiplying peace, love, and fellowship, we use every advancement to try to consolidate our power, to increase our pleasure, to maximize our profit. We seem to naturally twist and distort everything that comes our way.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Face of Evil

The fraction of the general population that is truly evil and psychotic has likely remained fairly constant throughout the course of humanity. The Bible tells us that early on in our history, one man was responsible for the brutal slaying of 25% of the Earth's population. Even up to our own time, the truly evil live among us biding their time, licking their chops, surveying their surroundings for the appropriate venue or the right circumstance. It seems that something horrific rears its head with a regularity so disturbing that the actions of the evil are just a different type of fodder for the 24 news channels. Just in recent history in our own country there is a litany of events that jump into my mind:
  • Oklahoma City, OK (Apr. 19, 1995) - 168 people blown up in a building by a three man plot
  • Columbine, Co (Apr. 20, 1999) - 13 people gunned down by two teenagers
  • New York City, NY; Washington, DC; Shanksville, PA (Sep. 11, 2001) - 2977 people killed by terrorists in 4 airline hijackings
  • Blacksburg, VA (Apr. 16, 2007) - 33 people gunned down by a college student
  • Newtown, CT (Dec. 14, 2012) - 26 people gunned down by a lone gunman
  • Boston, MA (Apr. 15,19, 2013) - 4 people killed by two terrorists
Add to this the hundreds upon hundreds of murders that take place in ones and twos each month in every city and town across our country, the thousands of rapes that place everyday, and the tens of thousands of cases of domestic abuse. Each and every act evil and horrific and gut-wrenching. Yet behind each act are the people who plan them out. When we think of them we picture villains from the movies that we have seen over the years. A cariacature of a man in the shadows with the troubled past and the menacing snear, who is endlessly wringing his hands. Yet I think Fyodor Dostoyevsky made an insightful observation about such people:

As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted that we suppose.

I wonder how much loss could have been averted if someone had reached out to these people in those key moments of their lives when they were approaching the edge of their sanity, before that last thin straw broke them.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Force Field

After the band at my church finishes their music set, the band leader is known to often ask the crowd to spend a few minutes shaking hands and chatting with those around them. Some folks enthusiastically embrace this time and you can hear the raucous mingling of laughter and conversation from the assembled crowd as it bounces around the auditorium. For me, however, this is a time that fills me with dread. It causes me great discomfort when strangers come bounding up to me and try to touch me or engage with me. The whole experience makes me miserable and I just want to run for the exit to make my escape. Over time I have noticed that my level of dread, anxiety, and fear in this type of moment has escalated dramatically. It has risen from the level of shyness or minor personal discomfort to nearly a full on anxiety attack. Now I try to energize my protective force field by sitting in my chair and closing my eyes. I silently plead with the band leader to call an end to it. Even though it only lasts for a minute, in the middle of it, the whole experience seems interminable.

Recently, during one of these called for mingling times, I assumed my usual position of hiding, when an older woman walked over to me and started to talk. The longer she talked the more I just closed her out. I tried to scream out in my mind, hoping to overpower her presence. She was asking me questions, that much I understood, but my mind was completely withdrawn and I did not even attempt to comprehend her words. As I was battling this onslaught, a young couple came over to my other side and said hello and smiled, but would not go away without acknowledgement. Just when my misery reached a crescendo, the band leader finally called for everyone to take their seats. The young couple went back to their place and the older woman stormed away, shaking her head and voicing her disgust with me. If only she knew how hard this whole thing was for me.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Letters to Malcolm

I have had the book Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis on my book list for some time now and finally got around to reading it. The book was published in 1964, a year after Lewis' death. According to what I found online, it seems that this book is generally considered to be a lower tier work compared to others that he wrote on Christianity. One wonders if Lewis had ever planned to release it for publication or if it was still in a draft form.

However, my opinion is that this book is very typically Lewis. It contains his unmistakeable imprint. His style. His deeply probing questions. His thoughtful and logical considerations. I suspect that the real issue is the style and format of the book. This work is laid out as a series of letters between Lewis and an imaginary friend and colleague, Malcolm. The approach is that we are seeing one half of an ongoing dialog between the two men where they regularly write back and forth on the topic of Christian prayer and other areas of concern for those who are dealing with issues of faith. The difference is that in this, albeit more casual style of a personal letter, Lewis often asks questions that he doesn't fully lay out answers to. It is also the case that he leaves open many things for interpretation and exposes himself to questions regarding certain approaches to prayer and church that were being debated at the time.

Yet I do not think this approach a weakness. In fact, it makes you think and consider. It gives you room to voice your own opinions and form your own arguments. This framework allows you to be part of the dialog and discussion. I very much enjoyed my time with this short work.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Drop Like Stars

I have always hated saying goodbye. I know from experience that when people that I have grown close to move away, the relationship is effectively over. Sure some folks stay in communication for a time afterwards through the usual social media outlets, but usually over a period of a few months, the frequency of such contacts becomes less and less, until one day they stop altogether. It seems to me that when folks no longer have face to face contact, the intimacy level falls below the threshold level necessary for a viable and sustainable relationship. With everything else in our lives that demands our attention and our time, out of sight means out of mind. It is the chirping bird that gets the relational worm.

Interestingly, I have found in the nearly 6 years that I have been blogging, that I have developed several relationships with folks that I have never met. I regularly visit their sites and they regularly visit mine. You can definitely get the measure of a person, their breadth and depth, by interacting and exchanging ideas one paragraph at a time. However, whether the time frame is six months or ten years, folks seem to run out of steam and their blogging stars wink out. Eventually, we all will run out of anecdotes to relate or stories to tell. Usually you can see the tell-tale signs of the end game pretty clearly. Folks who used to post regularly, suddenly lose their rhythm. They begin to go days between posts and those that do show up are hastily prepared and flat. For them, the countdown has commenced. You can just about hear them grinding their wheels trying to decide if they have the desire to keep at it.

In the end a cost-benefit analysis needs to be considered. When the hassle of writing, posting, and interacting becomes more of a chore than a pleasure, it is time to stop. I can image that walking away from something like this, especially when you have worked hard at it, kind of leaves you feeling uneasy and a bit melancholy. From the folks who I have gotten to know who have moved onto other things, I notice your absence and hate having to say another goodbye.

This post is dedicated to those I encountered along the way, Paul, Kevin, Brian, and Bill, among others.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I recently read C.S. Lewis' book Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer and came across a paragraph that sang a symphony to me. Curiously, however, the effect was not immediate. After a short session of reading, I stopped to do some chores. It was perhaps an hour or so later, when I was engaged in my work, when the importance of what I read suddenly became resonant within me. I felt compelled to stop what I was doing and to go back to my earlier reading. After scanning through the pages of the book that I had completed, I found what had suddenly come alive to me. I read the paragraph several times through and just savored in the truth and the wonderful clarity and elegance in its deliverance. I felt that I should share this passage here with you.

"Is it still God speaking when a liar or blasphemer speaks? In one sense, almost yes. Apart from God he could not speak at all; there are no words not derived from the Word; no acts not derived from Him who is Actus purus. And indeed the only way in which I can make real to myself what theology teaches about the heinousness of sin is to remember that every sin is the distortion of an energy breathed into us - an energy which, if not thus distorted, would have blossomed into one of those holy acts whereof "God did it" and "I did it" are both true descriptions. We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege."

My full review of Letters to Malcolm will post on Friday.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Flavors of Wrong II

I don't know about you, but in my lifetime, I have been wrong just about every way that a person can be wrong. It seems that my vision is 20/20 when spotting les faux pas of others, but all too often I am completely myopic in this regard when it comes to myself. In this brief two-part series, I want to relate two recent anecdotes where folks missed their most blatant of mistakes. I term these the "flavors of wrong". I have fallen prey to very similar circumstances. I shared the first story yesterday. Let me now tell you the second story.

At the end of a recent day at work, I got into my car and started the drive home. To exit the site, I have to wait at a traffic light in order to turn onto the main road. The light stays green for its cycle and then there is a cycle where it presents an arrow to allow for right turns. Those on the main road also have a green allow that allows them to turn into my work site or make a U-turn to go back on the main road in the other direction. However, there is a large road sign directed at those on the main road that states in bold letters, "U-turn yield to right turn". In other words, when I have the green arrow, I have the right-of-way to turn onto the main road. Anyone executing a U-turn must yield.

However, when I came to the green arrow and proceeded to make my right turn, a pickup truck pulled up and wanted to make a U-turn and they had no intention of yielding. I kept going, which forced them to hit their brakes abruptly. The pickup truck then pulled up next to me and the three men in the cab all gave me the finger and began shouting obscenities at me. They broke the law, were clearly in the wrong, yet all three of them thought that I was a bad driver who deserved their rebuke. All of them were completely clueless about their flavor of wrong.

Why is it that we have eyes to clearly see things in others that we cannot detect about ourselves?

(Note that both of the stories that I highlighted in this series occurred on the same day. I had been thinking about a way to write about this concept of being wrong when these kind of dropped into my lap more or less together. Ultimately I couldn't choose between the two.)

(Part 2 of 2)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Flavors of Wrong I

I don't know about you, but in my lifetime, I have been wrong just about every way that a person can be wrong. It seems that my vision is 20/20 when spotting les faux pas of others, but all too often I am completely myopic in this regard when it comes to myself. In this brief two-part series, I want to relate two recent anecdotes where folks missed their most blatant of mistakes. I term these the "flavors of wrong". I have fallen prey to very similar circumstances. Let me tell you the first story.

I was sitting in a group meeting at work the other day. It turned out to have a higher attendance than usual as my boss had invited some of the technical teams to attend. The occasion was to celebrate a successful review on a major project to which many had contributed. My boss had planned to start the meeting off with some mingling over coffee and assorted cookies, tarts, and cakes. However, his plans suffered a bit of a hiccup when the treats had not yet arrived at the start of the meeting. It turned out that my boss' wife, who also happens to be the manager of the project that we were acknowledging, was responsible for picking up the goodies. She ended up arriving about 20 minutes late and in a harried fashion set things out before breathlessly taking her seat. You could tell from her demeanor and expression that she was a bit frustrated and riled up with whatever had caused her delay. At that moment my boss, in an attempt at humor and light-hearted banter, told his wife to get up and start serving the food. When she gave him a curious look, he said, "What kind of project manager are you?" He then went on addressing the room in his usual manner, completely oblivious to how disrespectful his remarks were toward his wife. I looked over at her and could see her features harden and a hurt, defeated look washed over her. Multiple folks around the room just cringed at this very awkward exchange. Yet my boss was completely clueless on his flavor of wrong.

(Part 1 of 2)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Singing the Dogstar Blues

Earlier this year I read two novels by Alison Goodman (Eon and Eona) that I absolutely loved. The imagery, the complete construction of a vivid world and narrative, and the character development, just resonanted with me. Based on this, I decided to read her first published novel entitled Singing the Dogstar Blues. The online reviews painted a picture of a light and quirky book. In addition, the book won several awards in both the young adult and science fiction categories. Based on this, I decided to dive into this one.

Indeed the story is a bit quirky. It involves the deepening friendship between an 18 year old girl named Joss Aaronson and an alien named Mavkel from the planet Choria. The first contact between the two planets is fairly new, and the governments of the two peoples feel that a good way to build relationships between the two cultures is through an exchange of technology. Specifically, the pairing of Joss and Mavkel at the Center of Neo-Historical Studies at the University of Australia where the world's first time machine institute has been established. Joss and Mavkel are made partners and are set to go through the training courses together. The conflicts in the story center around the purported scientist behind the discovery, Daniel Sunawa-Harrod, and the Director of the center, Joseph Harrod-Stone, the relationship between the "normal" students on campus and those who have been genetically engineered, and between Joss and her detached mother.

The mental and physical state of Mavkel is uncertain as his birth twin died some time ago. Chorian society is based on their transgendered adults. When a mating occurs, both parents give birth to a child. The children form a bonded pair whose ESP and mind connections sustain them both throughout their lives. Usually when one of the pair dies, the other passes soon after. Without Mavkel's birth partner, he finds himself cut off from the mental bonds of his people. Yet there is something about Joss that Mavkel mind connects with, and that point is developed within the story.

So, is the story quirky? You bet. Worthy of significant awards? No. There is nothing that makes this one stand out. But it was a fun, quick read. However, what really astounded me after reading this book is how much Goodman has developed as a story teller between her first book published in 1998 and her masterful Eon/a tales written a decade later.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Errors of Stoicism

Stoicism was a philosophy that arose in the early third century BC. Those who aligned themselves with this way of life believed that people should be free of passion. The paragon of moral and intellectual perfection would be one who had completely subjected his emotions to his will. Blaise Pascal was a fascinating man who lived in the mid-1600s. He is remembered primarily for his contributions to physics and mathematics. However, over the latter part of his life he became a devout Christian and directed his efforts to Christian apologetics. One of his areas of focus was to denounce what he termed "errors of stoicism". One of the main issues that Pascal had with Stoicism and other derivative philosophies was that they caused people to act against their very natures. He believed the key error of Stoicism is in thinking that we can do always what we can do sometimes.

I think this point is one that we would do well do consider in many areas of our lives.
  • How often have we beaten ourselves up over periods where we are physically and intellectually unmotivated? Why can't we get up off the couch today? Why can't we come up with any creative ideas?
  • How often have we tried to develop spiritual disciplines of reading the Bible, setting aside a certain period of time each day for prayer and reflection, only to come down hard on ourselves when we have seasons where we are distracted or overly busy and neglect our faith?
  • How often have we had trouble in relationships where we have instances in which we lack in attentiveness or focus? We can so easy get down on ourselves in such times.
  • How often have we felt incredible guilt over a purchase that we made that was not within our budget? It doesn't matter how well we have been keeping our eye on our finances or how well our debt is being paid off. One splurge in a moment of weakness and we kick ourselves again and again.
  • How often have been kept control of our lust and done well guarding our eyes and our thoughts, only to wreck ourselves over a momentary lapse of control?
I think that we need to keep our attention on the fact that maintaining unwavering constancy regarding a certain behavioral pattern is not a part of our human nature. Instead of ruining ourselves with self-hate and intense guilt over the occasional indiscretion, perhaps we should try to ease up on ourselves. Maybe the best solution is to just get back up on that horse that we fell from and continue on our way as best we can.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Observations 21

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 have always found that watching cooking shows on T.V. provides a certain calming influence over me. However, there is a growing trend of programs on both Food Network and Cooking Channel that show far too many close-up scenes of people cramming food into their mouth. I find this to be both nauseating and disgusting.
  • If you are in a hurry, carrots are an amazingly annoying food to have to eat. You just keep chewing and chewing and chewing.
  • A headline on CNN the other day read "Magic Johnson Reveals Son is Gay". My initial questions are whether his son sanctioned this release of information and, if so, why didn't he do it himself? As follow-up questions, who thinks this is headline news and who gives a rat's behind?
  • I never understood why old people like to sit around with a blanket across their lap until I sat outside in my porch as a chill crept into the air. It was then that may daughter put a blanket
    across my lap. Ahhhh.
  • In today's cultured Western society, there is an obvious bit of personal etiquette that should be tacitly understood and honored by everyone over the age of two. Vigorously picking your nose in public is taboo. Some people seem to have missed or have simply disregarded this fundamental tenet.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I was reading a news story the other day where the writer referred to a person that he had encountered as a "hero". I shook my head in disbelief because he was writing about what seemed to me an ordinary person doing an ordinary thing. It made me think back to a show that I watched from time to time with my daughter when she was much younger. It was an animated series called Higglytown Heroes that took place in an ordinary community. In each episode a group of kids encountered someone in the town, be it a librarian, a baker, a shop owner, and they learned what the person did. At the end of the show, the kids always declared that the person they had just met was a hero. Even now the words of the villain Syndrome from The Incredibles runs through my head, "When everyone's super, no one will be."

Let me make it clear what the notion of a hero is in my mind. My dictionary defines a hero as someone who is distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility, or fortitude. To this I would add that I term a hero as someone who puts themselves at great risk in the service of others when then do not have to. In a moment of crisis, a hero is someone who steps up and puts others before themselves. Thus the casual use of the word hero, handed out to every Tom, Dick, and Harry, when one ought to say something else quite different, such as "that person is a decent, hard-working individual", seems to be doing an utter dis-service to those who truly go above and beyond.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hermit Hole

My daughter and I like to play an online billiards game from time to time. Her favorite option to select is eight ball. She always goes first and executes the break. Her rule is that she get to repeat this step until at least one solid ball is pocketed. She always chooses solids. If any striped ball goes in on the break, it doesn't count, and she clicks the reset button. Her approach is always to play a power game. She pulls the cue back and hits every shot with full force. I tend to play a much more subtle and cerebral style, marked by finesse and touch.

It is not a rare occurrence when, in mid game, she will change the rules of the contest. For instance, the other day she declared the lower corner pocket hers and hers alone. It was off limits to me. She kept calling it her "hermit hole". I don't know where in her imagination this notion came from. The more balls that she put into that pocket, the more she giggled. She told me that I could not put any of my stripes in her hermit hole as that was where she liked to hide and keep people out. I could only nod knowingly.

Throughout my life I have always had my own personal hermit hole. Whether it was my bedroom when I was a kid, my office at the university when I was a student, or even now, my car at lunch time, I have always felt the need to have a place where I could escape from everyone and be by myself. In some seasons of my life my hermit hole has been a healthy place from which I could emerge stronger, more focussed, and more at peace. I could weigh important decisions or think on a topic without interruption. In other seasons, I ran to it like a coward to escape personal conflicts. Ultimately, I learned that this approach was to my great detriment. Sometimes resolving conflicts is necessary for relationships to increase in trust and depth. Those who flee to safety at the first sign of rising tensions may soon find that those relationships either become entirely shallow or disappear altogether.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Disappointment with God

I have been in a questioning mood over the past five or six months regarding my faith. In truth, I guess that this mood has been a part of me at varying levels ever since I became a Christian. I expressed a bit of my frustration with God in a series of posts that I wrote back in the fall of 2011 entitled "Subtle" (see Subtle - 1 and Subtle - 2).

As I have enjoyed the perspective and style of author Philip Yancey with several of his books that I have read in the past few months, I was eager to dive into a book he wrote nearly 25 years ago entitled Disappointment with God. The book poses three main questions:
  • Is God unfair?
  • Is God silent?
  • Is God hidden?
For me, the first third of the book was set up with remarkable effectiveness. His focussed on several Christians whose once joyous lives had suddenly become train wrecks. Death, disease, ill fortune. One painful ordeal after another. These individuals had two things in common, first they prayed unceasingly for relief. Second, none of their prayers for deliverance were answered. At this point Yancey then turned his attention to the classic biblical saga of Job, a prosperous and Godly man who became part of a wager between God and Satan. God let Satan take Job's 10 children, his vast wealth, and his health and left him broken. This was the point in the book where he had built up to a roaring crescendo. It was here where I had expected Yancey would then help us to see things from a different perspective by planting some seeds of hope and encouragement to strengthen our faith and our resolve. Instead, all he delivered was the usual Christianese pablum regarding God's "mysterious" ways. The result was dishearteningly frustrating.

In my world I would indeed say that God is decidedly hidden and silent. A God that is hidden and silent may therefore not be seen so much as unfair, but as absent, impotent, uncaring, or non-existent. The frustrating thing for me is that the more absent He seems in my life, the more my disappointment grows, and the more my stuttering faith weakens. I don't think any of us necessarily needs a Red Sea parting miracle to be strengthened when life tears us down, just an unmistakeable stirring from the Spirit every once in a while to remind us of who we are.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

iTunes Latest - 11

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 Marlene - Duran Duran (1988) - In the early 1980s, Duran Duran was probably my favorite band. I think their image and style made as much an impression on me as their dance-able music. By the late 1980s, the shine on their star had faded noticeably. This song was from their Big Thing album. This ballad was one that I enjoyed back in the day. Based on that, I added it to my playlist.
  • Drug (It's Just a State of Mind) - Duran Duran (1988) - Another song from Big Thing. I'm not sure the song has aged well, as I remember liking it much more when I played it 25 years ago.
  • Today - Dokken (2012) - There are some songs by Dokken that I absolutely love. As Mr. Dokken has lived the rock 'n roll lifestyle and has had some serious recent throat problems, he doesn't rock like he used to. However, this recent ballad is both haunting and lovely.
  • I Want You Back - NSYNC (1996) - I was always a bigger fan of Backstreet Boys back when they were going head-to-head with NSYNC. However, this song has a style and flair to it that I have really embraced. It is a perfect song to listen to when I exercise.
  • Awake My Soul - Chris Tomlin (2013) - My friend Stephen who leads the worship music at my church, introduced me to this one. I like Stephen's straightforward version of this song better than the original, but I still thought this would be good for a few plays.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Back in the late 1970s, I used to enjoy watching The Muppet Show on T.V.. It was filled with delicious inanity that gave me lots of laughs. I think my favorite bits involved the two crotchety old men up in the balcony, Statler and Waldorf. Often the camera would pan up to allow us to overhear their conversation after viewing a skit the other muppets had just put on. They had reached that age where they felt no internal reservation about voicing their thoughts.

WALDORF: They aren't half bad.
STATLER: Nope, they're ALL bad!

STATLER: Well, that was different.
WALDORF: Yep. Lousy ...
BOTH: ... but different!

It is a bit ironic that over the years I have found that I have become far too much like them for my own tastes. Specifically I have found that I channel their dialog as I sit in church and critique the actions of the people around me, the folks up on the stage, and the video clips that are played. It seems that my first reaction always seems to be to look to find fault. I don't think that I have noticed my attitude until recently because I tend to pick out faults but point it out to my daughter using sarcasm or with an amusing form of put down. Yet my words and thoughts are decidedly negative in nature far too often. I don't think that I used to always be this way, especially when I was sitting down with the rest of the audience on the main floor. As I got older and moved myself to the balcony, somehow my point of view became skewed. I think it is time to find my way back downstairs.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Death by Carrots

Vegetables are nasty, on that we all agree. The citizens of ancient Rome found these plant growths so objectionable, that they used to carry them by the armful to the Colosseum to launch at the ne'er-do-wells down in the fighting pits. If that doesn't tell you all you need to know, then perhaps you are just not a fan of the res publica. Anyway, where was I? ... Oh yes, the vileness of the common vegetable. I will reluctantly and begrudgingly admit that most "scientific"-type research seems to indicate, however, that vegetables are good for you. Something about riboflavinoids and phytochemicals. Doesn't that sound like a delicious taste treat? To be forthcoming, I will at least come clean and say that there have been a couple of times when I was starving or trying to impress a date when I did willingly eat a vegetable. Of course, it was swimming in butter and wrapped in bacon, but do not miss my point, which is, vegetables are trouble. I can tell you that the moment that you let your guard down, POW!, right in the kisser. Let me share with you a chilling cautionary tale.

I was eating a small container of carrots the other day at lunch when I was viciously assailed. A partially munched mouthful purposefully took a wrong turn on its way to its intended destination, my stomach. This caused me to cough with such violent force that this carrot wad shot up into my sinus cavity. As I lay on the ground hacking and twitching, I could find no relief. My only hope in this agony was that I wouldn't succomb in that moment. "Death by Carrots" would be an utterly pathetic etching on my tombstone.

Monday, April 1, 2013


The other evening something inside my exercise machine broke that could not easily be repaired. After seven years of heavy use, it was time to go and buy a replacement. After doing my research online, I located a store in the downtown portion of my city that had what I wanted and at a reasonable price. This downtown area is not a place that I travel to very often. In fact, it has been years since I had any business there. As I set out from my neighborhood and started into my drive, it was just 20 minutes later that I turned off the highway into a different world. The inner city. Rampant poverty just stewed in the air. Tenament buildings. Trash lining the sidewalks in piles. More establishments boarded up than open. Graffitti on every wall. I thought to myself how I wouldn't want to be caught anywhere near this part of town after dark. There seemed to be a host of sketchy looking people just milling about everywhere I turned.

Something inside of me recoiled at my own thoughts. Those "sketchy" looking people are no different than me. Most of them are hard working folks, who do their best to support their families, and make the most of the lives that they have. In large part, what separates them from me is the opportunities that I have had in my life and the size of my paycheck. When measured against them, there is nothing so special about me that gives me any more intrinsic worth or value. Come to think of it, what specifically about them made me so uneasy? The clear answer is that they weren't caucasian and weren't wealthy. I find it chilling to realize how much of a racist and how much of an elitist that I can be when left to my own thoughts.

I find that I spend the majority of my time around folks just like me. An ilk that is privileged, affluent, highly educated, and cultured. In such an environment it is so easy to become jaded, snobbish, and haughty, to press to isolate myself from the lower class masses. My patrician to their plebian. It is only when I leave my safe, secure, and sheltered world do I get a glimpse into what, for the majority of people on this planet, is the real world. My trip downtown opened my eyes a bit and reminded me of how fortunate I am to get to do what I do. More than that though, it reminded me that we are all God's children. All equally loved. All equally valuable.