Friday, May 31, 2013

Dancing Priest

I just finished reading the first novel by Glynn Young, entitled Dancing Priest. This book came highly recommended by my online friend Bill who blogs at Cycleguy's Spin. The story begins by introducing us to two lifelong mates, Michael Kent and Thomas McFarland, who are finishing their studies at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Michael is a fifth year theology student who is a star on the university cycling team. Tommy is a fifth year architecture student who is on the university swim team. The two students are witnessing the aftermath of a dormitory fire and Michael reaches out to a displaced student named David Hughes, who now suddenly needs a place to bunk. David is a British history major who has come over to Scotland from UCLA, part of an academic plan that has been in place for some time. Due to some family trouble, his sister Sarah decides to come with him and enroll in Edinburgh as well. Sarah, a very talented artist, immediately catches the eye of Michael. Michael asks Sarah out for coffee and she rudely turns him down as just another pickup attempt. However, shortly thereafter, their paths cross again, and Sarah feels an attraction as well. Soon they become inseparable. However, lingering in the background is the issue of faith. Michael will very soon be ordained in the Anglican church, where he is planning on developing his ministry in Africa. Sarah is not religious and the thought of marrying Michael and living in the third world is a deal breaker. Ultimately, she breaks off the relationship and heads back to the states.

During this time, Michael wins a spot on the British cycling team that is headed to the Olympics. Michael becomes not only a star at the Athens games, but also a hero as he saves the life of several riders during a rockslide triggered by an earthquake. Michael excels despite the pain that he is living with from his broken heart. Shortly after the Olympics, Michael is ordained and instead of being assigned to Africa, he is sent to work at a parish in San Francisco, not all that far from where Sarah lives. Eventually, Sarah accepts God and, well, you can guess the rest.

I very much enjoyed this plot and the characters that Young has developed. I would say that his style leans toward simple, stripped down story telling. His writing does not contain multiple layers and story arcs. He does not spend time developing rich or complex scenaries. Yet his development is emotional, sweet, heartfelt, and uplifting. I now will dive into the sequel to this story, entitled A Light Shining.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


I knew in all likelihood that I would end up here. I prayed as hard as I could, pleading with God for deliverance, for even the merest sliver of hope. I wasn't looking for a flash of necromancy, a perfectly wrapped gift to drop into my lap. I would have welcomed an opportunity to labor until my last breath just to prove myself. Yet, nothing ever came into my view. Nothing to somehow return fusion from fission. No chance to show my heart in ways that somehow I couldn't before. In that past I dotted and dashed on a telegraph whose lines surely were crossed. No message got through. All sound and fury that ultimately signified nothing. An investment whose principal was stolen away.

It is incomprehensible to me that as I sit here now, eight years have elapsed. Sometimes even now, scenes and emotions from those days still blanket me like a thick fog. How can they feel so fresh after all this time? Why do they still have such power over me? Often it seems like I could just close my eyes for a moment and open them to find out that it was all just some wickedly, cruel reverie. Yet the reality that I avoid now is all too solid, not a soft-edged cel. Where have the eight years gone? They have gone into defeat, into hopelessness, into a bottomless void. So I guess that I do know whence I have been.

Today, I just wanted to write to say the goodbye that I likely should have said long ago. A goodbye that I just didn't have in me. Perhaps this is just a post to mark the sign as I pass. It doesn't matter if you don't know the specifics of the road that I have traveled. We all have something that we struggle with. Peace.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Remote Control

As a single father whose child came without an instruction manual, I constantly struggle to figure out what I am supposed to do when it comes to raising my daughter. To be sure, I do not hang out with couples with children who can help to educate me on what steps to take and when to take them. I usually seem to act with a response that is several steps behind her developmental stage and to be far too trepidacious in my actions. However, just when I start to think that I am a complete wreck as a parent, my daughter's actions and behavior tell me in clear terms that she is turning out quite well.

One area of being a parent that I have not yet mastered, in fact far from it, is how to give up trying to control everything. I don't like surprises and I am most at peace when things play out according to my narrowly defined script. Somehow I only seem to be able to keep my emotions in check when things happen or develop within an expected set of boundary conditions. However, as you can imagine, children have a way of doing things their own way, with their own logic, and their own sensibilities. A combination of one free-spirited child and one control freak of a father is like so much oil and water. A cohesive amalgamation it is not. I cannot grasp the notion of "go with the flow." With this said though, I am still making some degree of forward progress, though glacial flow may lead to the next ice age before I make a recognizable breakthrough.

One thing that I have consciously done to let loose of the reins a bit is to give my daughter complete charge of the T.V. remote control. I let her decide what we will watch and leave it up to her to make the choice to change the channel in the middle of the show that we are watching. She even gets to keep the remote on her side of the couch tucked under her pillow, well out of my reach. You think it is crazy for a guy to make this step? Yeah, I guess. But it is, for me, at least one small step forward.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Brushing Teeth

Brushing our teeth. Can there be a more banal personal chore? Each morning as I resign myself to squeezing the paste from the tube, the plot of Groundhog Day flashes in my mind. The same thing over and over and over again. Yet I think we can gain some important insight into living our lives from this hygenic exercise.

How well we develop, manage, and nuture the important things in our lives, whether it is keeping a marriage fresh and alive, household upkeep and repairs, or approaching our vocations, can look a lot like how we approach brushing our teeth. Let me explain my point. For years I had slowly fallen into the trap of bad technique and general laziness when it came to brushing. Given the hassle of this rote activity, ultimately most mornings I would ram the brush around the inside my mouth for 15 to 20 seconds to get this task over with so that I could start my day. However, the American Dental Association recommends that we brush our teeth carefully and with proper instruments for sessions lasting two minutes. Not only did I barely get the inside of my mouth wet, I would rarely change out my worn and matted down brush. My poor oral hygiene and my poor attitude eventually led to a number of problems that I have been battling with for the past year. Loose teeth, painful swelling and bleeding of my gums, plaque and tartar buildup, and bacteria and decay problems spreading below the gumline.

I had convinced myself that things were just fine because, as I noted to my dentist, I brush my teeth everyday. True enough, I was indeed regularly brushing my teeth, but I put in the absolute minimum effort. If I had kept up what I was doing, within a few years my teeth would have begun falling out of my mouth. My attitude had really clouded my thinking. I was brushing, so I was doing what was needed. But doesn't this sort of attitude paint a swath over so many areas of our lives? How many marriages limp along because the spouses put in the absolute minimum effort, all the while thinking they are doing their part? How many of us are setting ourselves up for a rude awakening by putting off necessary home upkeep and repairs, thinking that because we do some little things that we have the bases covered? How many of us have stopped giving our all at work because our attitudes have been completely fogged over by allowing mediocrity and poor effort to define our equilibrium?

Sometimes, all it takes to turn things around is to recognize how far we have fallen from what we used to expect from ourselves. Sometimes this is enough of a shock to our pride that we can then formulate a plan to make improvements. Sometimes we might even be compelled to try and use the floss, ..., sometimes.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

Scenes like this fresh grave, photographed nearly 70 years ago, should affect us. They should jar us out of our family-cook-out-fogged reverie for just a moment. A few words of thanks. A recognition of the dear price that has been paid by so many. Blessings to all.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Rumors of Another World

I just completed reading the book Rumors of Another World by Christian author Philip Yancey. In this book he asks the central questions, i). "Is faith in an unseen world wishful thinking? and ii). "How should my faith in the invisible world affect day-to-day life in the visible world?". Yancey states up front that he has written this book for people on the "borderlands of belief", that place between doubt and faith, to give them help to see the hand of God in all aspects of their lives.

After reading this book, even though I enjoyed my sessions with it, nothing stuck in my mind as memorable, novel, or lasting. I realize that this statement seems pretty acidic. But I have come to find out that the message of some books stays with you over many years, and that of other books is only confined to our hearts and minds while we are reading through the pages. I think that both types of books can serve an important purpose. As for me, I know that I am a deeply flawed individual. My walk with God has been very erratic, with sometimes more negative than forward progress. I find that I need constant reminders and re-orientation to stay close to the path that I know that I should be on. So, even if Yancey's book did not have permanence in my life, at least it provided help locally on my journey. That too has important value.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Believe It or Not

One source of prime fodder for my blog is crazy stories about other people that I often stumble across. Specifically those stories where you are just left scratching your head, muttering to yourself incoherently, and perhaps even beginning to drool. What else are we capable of? Today I have two such stories to share that I heard on the news the other morning. Prepare to commence drooling.

Story #1 A booming niche business that has sprung up around Walt Disney World in Florida are outfits where you can rent a random handicapped person for the day. With a handicapped person in your group, you are allowed to cut to the front of the lines for the various attractions and rides. Imagine for a small fee you can ride all the rides as often as you like without all of that pesky waiting that the rest of the insipid masses must endure. If only they were as clever as you! I wonder if lugging handicapped people around after a time becomes as much a burden for these mollusks as that oversized stuffed giraffe that was won at skee-ball?

Story #2 A Chicago man on his honeymoon in Florida was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. It turns out that the ad that he answered was actually a part of an undercover police sting. When his panicked bride called police to file a missing persons report, she was given the news that her ever-lovin' man's man was riding the pine in the hoosegow.

Perhaps you noted that both of these stories occurred in Florida. Perhaps it is something in the water. Believe it or not.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Observations 23

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.
  • It frustrates me how often a driver will pull out in front of me, causing me to have to quickly apply my brakes, when there are absolutely no other cars on the road behind me. This speaks volumes regarding human nature.
  • One thing that aggravates me when driving is the fact that the majority of folks do not use their turn signals. What totally confounds me though are those drivers who use their blinkers
    intermittently. They signal for one turn and not for the next. What gives?
  • Parents love to mix gross stuff into food and serve it to their kids. When the kids complain, the parents then say, "Don't fret so little Mary, you won't taste it anyway." Well if you won't taste it, why the heck do you feel the need to add it in? It seems pretty simple logic, that if nobody can taste it and it makes the kids happy, just leave it out.
  • Sometimes innocent, small changes can turn love into hate. LOVE-DOVE-DOTE-DATE-HATE
  • Driving down the road the other day, I passed a lady out walking her three weiner dogs and her pig.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Car Smell

A few years ago my old car had come to the end of its life and it needed to be taken out and put down. This required me to play the "let me check with my manager" game at the local dealership. What fun! However, as a result of that exercise, I somehow ended up with a car that was reliable and didn't require me to fork over wads of cash each month to my mechanic to fix the latest problem du jour with my vehicle. Over the last six months that I owned my old car, I had to bring it in for repairs eight different times. The other thing that I ended up with besides a new car was the excitement of having to make monthly payments for the next 4 years. Oh, and by the term "excitement", I actually meant soul sucking dread. Car payments are the succubus of loan payments. Unlike a house that allegedly gains value with time, cars actually decay around you with a palpable odor until you make your last payment, upon which they tend to immediately disintegrate into a pile of snickering dust.

Recently, I made the final payment on my "new" car. A few days later, I received in the mail a piece of paper called the "title". This is a document, that once in the owner's hands, almost gives the car approval to spontaneously combust. Somehow, though, my car is still holding up. It starts when I turn the key in the ignition and it propels itself forward and backward when I move around the PRNDL stick. I don't know how much longer I have before my vehicle's ultimate demise, but just in case, I am looking to sell my blood and unnecessary internal organs to start collecting funds for the down payment of my next vehicle, which will probably be needed in the next week.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Today's blog centers on a very touchy subject, one that I can only discuss through my own personal experience that has been shaped by a life played out in six different decades. The subject involves racism, a very polarizing topic among and even within different ethnic groups. Racism in America affects all groups, whites, blacks, asians, jews, polish, etc, however, what I want to focus on today involves an issue that I have noticed several times in recent years, specifically limited among my black co-workers. It involves a defense shield that gets raised far too quickly, far too lightly, and without just and rational cause. This shield, when raised in such a manner, signals trouble. Let me explain.

The issue is that when some people in a minority group receive criticism, sometimes their first reaction is not to carefully consider what has been said about them or even the person making the criticism. Before even spending just a moment in thoughtful reflection and consideration, their first line of immediate action is to accuse those that have brought forth the criticism as racist. Note that a criticism does not signal in any way an attack. It is not calling someone out in front of others for the purpose of humilation or putting someone in their place. Racism is a very serious charge that some toss around as a kneejerk response, and it does them and their race a great disservice. Not only does this tend to strengthen existing stereotypes and throw up walls between the people involved, it also leads to a very distorted self image of the person. Their self-view can become completely out of whack with the reality that everyone else sees. It's not me, it's them. Never me. In effect, they come to view themselves as infallible, as bulletproof. It also weakens the true affects of racist attitudes and practices by consequently diluting the pool with unfounded and uncalled for charges of bigotry.

I am afraid that given how deeply rooted race issues are among people of all ethnicities, the only solution is to work toward consistently small changes that will allow for gradual improvements in attitudes and relations as the old generations die out and the new generations rise up. It seems that parents still pass on their hatred, their mistrust, and their bias to their children either overtly or in more subtle ways. Even if clashes are not in the forefront as they were in the past, the old bigotry and suspicion are still ever present. They still run deep.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Brothers Karamazov

I have stumbled across a number of listings of the greatest novels of all time. On nearly all of these lists, somewhere near the top you will find The Brothers Karamazov by Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I have found reading and reviewing books flagged as historical classics can be a bit daunting in that it places a certain amount of literary pressure on you to get in line with the mass opinion. Anyway, my mother gave me a copy of this book and it was certainly not a quick read. In fact, it took me nearly a month to work my way through this very dense saga. This is not a statement on my taste for this work, for you see a rich chocolate torte can be every bit as mouthwatering as a slice of spongecake.

The story is about the Karamazov family, led by the selfish and hedonistic Fyodor. A true buffoon whose mark is all the more pitiable in that he fully recognizes what he is and revels in his behavior. He has three sons from his two marriages, each cut from a very different cloth. Dmitri is unruly, hot-headed, and impatient. Ivan is sullen, brooding, and learned. Alexey is gentle, honest, and true. Fyodor essentially disowned his brood as infants and left them to find their own way in the world. The relationship between Fyodor and his three sons, and their relationships with each other drives much of the narrative of the novel. It is also rumored that Fyodor's servant Smerdyakov is his illegitamate son, fathered by the rape of a mute street wanderer. The central story arc involves a number of competing love triangles. Fyodor and Dmitri both ruthlessly compete for the affections of the local Jezebel, Grushenka. Dmitri is still connected with his fiance Katerina, who is being pursued by Ivan. Ultimately Fyodor is brutally murdered and all of the evidence points to Dmitri who has long made known his hatred of his father and his intent to do him in. Yet, sometimes the obvious suspect is not the true culprit.

My strongest impressions from reading this book were as follows:
  • Dostoyevsky could have made a much crisper novel by cutting out a number of lengthy asides that amount to opinions on government, ideology, and religion that do nothing but get in the way of the story.
  • The true strength of this work is the intricate development of the fully layered characters.
  • The story has a number of minor story arcs and a number of primary characters that are curious in that they really do not seem germain to the main plot. In my opinion the character of Ilusha, his family, and his death seem completely distracting and unnecessary.
  • The courtroom scene and arguments of the two lawyers was simply spectacular. Even though written in 1880, this scene has all of the rhetoric of any high publicity trial. The dialog in the scene seems cut straight out of any modern high stakes court case.
  • This story was originally supposed to be part of a much grander epic that Dostoyevsky had planned. Yet he died just months after its publication. It would have been quite interesting to see what he had in mind for his characters.
  • This work was a worthwhile read and I am happy that I tackled it, but I certainly would not rate it as one of the greatest novels ever written. Good, entertaining, rich in texture, but I have experienced better.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


You often hear reference to the seven deadly sins, sometimes also called the capital vices or cardinal sins. The entries that make this list are obviously those that underscore the fallen nature of humanity. They are the darkest, most serious sins on the Christian rankings of soul blackening darkness. This dubious roll includes: wrath, greed, sloth, lust, envy, gluttony, and pride. Today I want to focus on the final entry in this list, namely pride. Pride is something that I have battled with over the years. It is something that even today, I have not fully come to grips with. Before we can understand why this makes the honor roll of sins, we need to understand what pride is and what, in a sense, it is not. Let's consider two definitions of this term.

1). Pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself.

2). A high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing or conduct.

If you read these defintions carefully, you can see that they go down paths in two very different directions. On the one hand it is perfectly acceptable to feel pleasure and satisfaction at a job that you have completed and completed well after investing a large amount of energy, time, or money. This can be a project at work, a sizeable task that you have undertaken at home, raising your child, or keeping your marriage burning bright through the years. This sense of pride blossoms out of love and the satisfaction of guiding a sizeable effort through to fruition. It does not involve smugness or mean-spirited bragging or making a public spectacle of oneself. It is a pride that you share in love with family, friends, and in celebration with God.

The second type of pride is the problem. It involves self-promotion, it involves letting everyone know how superior we are, it involves building ourselves up for the sole purpose of squashing everyone down beneath our boot. It is about taking all of the credit for every aspect of the work without recognizing others that contributed or the true source of your skills or your money.

For years I have battled with the latter type of pride. So much of my self-worth was tied up in my ability to out-work and out-success my peers, that often I lost sight of why I wanted to do the work in the first place. It was all an attempt to get people to laud me and my skills and my cleverness. I have gotten better over the years as I have been able to put many things into perspective. Now I celebrate the first type of pride much more often than the second type. Now that is something to take a bit of pride in with some quiet celebration during my devotional time.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The other evening was laundry night and I needed to grab a couple of clothes hangers from my daughter's bedroom closet. Her school gym clothes were still a bit damp after I had finished washing them. Given that my daughter only lives with me part of the time and doesn't keep her clothes at my house, the only things hanging in her closet are the pajamas that she has outgrown over the years. For some reason, when I opened her closet something in my mind made me linger. Hanging in front of me were markers of specific periods spanning the full extent of my daughter's life. Instinctively I reached out and touched the fabric of her nightgowns as if that would allow me to reconnect with that bubbly child from years past. It made me miss those younger versions of my daughter where I was the center of her life and she looked to me for so many things. I then thought of all of those evenings where I would tuck her into bed in her PJs and spend time with her reading and gabbing and laughing, wringing every bit of joy and life out of our times together.

I have written on this topic before, so forgive me for revisiting the past in this paragraph. I have always felt that I was much better equipped to relate to the younger version of my daughter than the young woman she is today. My mind is geared to singing silly songs and having fun with make believe. Rolling a ball back and forth across the floor and making a big deal out of watching our favorite shows together. Relating to a girl in high school who is battling with her school lessons and figuring out more adult relationships, puberty and boys and fitting in. I know very little of such things.

There was a slogan for a children's clothing line I remember from years ago, "If they could just stay little til their Carter's wear out." Looking over my daughter's past as seen through a progression of her PJs, lined up left to right from her oldest to her most recent, I can relate to that slogan.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Bleating Sheep

I read a very interesting news article the other day that detailed the ouster of JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson. It seems that under the 18 months that Johnson helmed the company, sales at their stores had taken quite a nose dive. The finger of blame pointed straight at the embattled CEO who had institued a policy of "fair and square pricing" early on in his tenure. This policy was meant to put an end to the silly game of listing artificially high prices on all of the store's retail prices that were then put "on sale" to lure customers in with promises of deep discounts. This is a standard retail trick that amounts to blatant fabrication (where the word "fabrication" is equivalent to the word "lie") in the store's marketing and relationship with the public. Not a single item has ever been sold with the list price on the tags that are being marked down through these purported great sales.

If a store is being honest, a sale should be a temporary mark down of prices from the regularly listed price that the object normally sells for. This dishonest gimmick to trick consumers infuriated Johnson and he believed that all this gamesmanship was a thinly veiled charade that people could see right through. He thought it was an insult to the intelligence of the shopping public and that they would be better served with an honest listing of prices.

Now I grant you that Johnson's approach is wholly logical. But hold on a moment. You forget that we are all sheep. Bleating, grass chewing, insipid ovine creations. It turns out that studies have shown that customers don't really want honesty. What they really want is to think they are getting a great deal, whether they are getting one or not. We are all easily swayed by price, apparently even a list price that is comically inflated. It makes it so much easier to justify out pulling out the old plastic charge card.

"Oh Mabel, this tag says that this basic white Hanes t-shirt normally sells for one billion dollars, but it is marked down to $1.99 for this week only. I had better grab a whole stack of these priceless treasures before these suckers figure out what they have done."

Goodbye Mr. Johnson and your clearly insane ideology.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Pulling into the driveway of my empty house, I sigh uneasily as I turn off the ignition. Another evening of peace and quiet. Too much peace. Too much quiet. Yet before the negative thoughts can settle in and begin to take root, I notice my daughter's footprints on the dashboard of the car. An image pops into my head of the weekend that we just shared together. After I picked her up from school, she immediately took her shoes and socks off. She then began happily chattering away about her day as she pressed her toes into the dust that had settled under the windshield. Still smiling to myself, I walked up to the front door of my house and let myself in. Remembering her ballet that played out in my car, as I stepped over the threshold of the porch into my foyer, my mind was immediately saturated in other memories of our wonderful weekend together.
  • Her Scrabble board game left sitting on the hearth reminding me of the dozen games that we had played over laughter and conversation.
  • The cushions that she had arranged on her hammock out on the porch as we talked about all kinds of important things and enjoyed the weather outside.
  • The container from the new video game that I had bought for her sitting on the living room floor where she tossed it in her excitement.
  • Her afghan on the couch where we had relaxed together after we had run about town on our errands.
  • The empty donut box sitting on the counter. I can still see her eyes light up as I gave her permission to have one on the way home from the store just as it was getting close to lunch time.
  • Her flips flops sitting by the couch providing a reminder that she feels comfortable relaxing with me.
  • The take-out container from our favorite Mexican restaurant where we got lunch as a treat.
As I take in the scene in that one moment, the whole weekend replays through my mind. Laughter, fun, silliness, and time together just fill me with wonderful feelings. I don't see a mess to be cleaned up, but a wonderful memory that will get me through the evening in strength. The topper comes when I see the unopened box of brownies on the kitchen counter - her absolute favorite dessert. We just got too busy enjoying our time together to get around to making them.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Invisible God

I have been in a searching and questioning mood recently regarding my faith. When I was browsing in my local library for a book for my devotional times, I espied the Philip Yancey book Reaching for the Invisible God and I quickly grabbed it. So far I have read five of Yancey's books, two were very engaging and thoughtfully written gems (Where is God When When it Hurts?, Prayer - Does it Make any Difference?) and two were more pedestrian efforts (Disappointment with God, The Jesus I Never Knew). However, I can assure you that Searching was a very well written and enjoyable effort. The theme of the book was stated succinctly at the very beginning:

I am not a pastor, but a pilgrim septic with doubt ... I want to identify for myself how a relationship with God truly works, and how it is supposed to work.

Three quotes from the book provided markers along the journey that I appreciated:
  • "We both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour, which keeps believing nimble." Emily Dickenson
  • The only thing more difficult than having a relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship.
  • "Better a little faith clearly won than perish on the splendid plenty of the richest creeds." Henry Drummond
This book was not intended to provide a simple recipe to follow to solidify your faith or to make God show up in your life. It is intended to give you an understanding that you are not alone in your weakness and that periods and seasons of questioning can actually lead to a deeper trust in your relationship with God. I think Yancey is also quite effective in providing some sensible insight into why God interacts with his creation in the manner that He does.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Observations 22

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.
  • It seems that every time I get stuck in traffic, I am positioned behind some behemoth SUV vehicle with tinted windows. I hate not being able to see what is going on.
  • Why do some drivers lean so far over when they make a left turn that their head and shoulders actually stick out of the driver's side window?
  • Something just looks wrong when guys wear those tiny backpacks. I wonder if they feel it?
  • I wonder if folks who buy those "trendy" cars have buyer's remorse within a few weeks, especially realizing that they still have 4 years of payments left on that eyesore that was out of style only moments before they drove it off the lot.
  • My daughter and I were eating popsicles the other day, those 3 flavor jobs with cherry at the top, white lemon in the middle, and blue raspberry on the bottom. As I was eating mine, the whole cherry section broke off in my mouth. At this I started to complain. My daughter sweetly suggested that it probably broke off and jumped down my throat just to get away from my whining.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Evolution Theory

The theory of evolution, for reasons that I have never fully grasped, sits on a shelf of topics that many have labeled volatile. Its mention in whole or in part in public schools is verboten. The basic notion of this theory developed by Charles Darwin is that all living organisms are related and have descended from a common ancestor. Specifically, complex creatures slowly evolve from more simplistic ancestors over time due to naturally occuring random genetic mutations. It seems to me that certain aspects of this theory, which includes natural selection, is based on pretty solid evidence. As a Christian, I naturally hold to my own modified version of evolution theory, but to close our eyes and cover our ears in this area of organism development on this planet seems silly to me.

The other day I read the following quote from Frans de Waal, a primatologist from Emory University, who said, "We seem to be reaching the point at which science can wrest morality from the hands of philosphers." As this quote was cited in a book without any context of de Waal's original discussion, I framed my own thoughts about his statement. I thought about how many so-called deviant behaviors of people that are labeled as sin or human failings and weakness, behaviors such as homosexuality, addictions to drugs and alcohol, rape, murder, and a spectrum of behavioral disorders, seem one by one to be directly connected with some specific aspect of our genetic coding. Chastising a homosexual for being gay or an alcoholic for drinking is like becoming disgusted with a computer program for doing what it was designed to do. It then becomes harder and harder to separate clean cut issues and penalties associated with morality and human weakness from behaviors that are linked to the very fibers of our being.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I don't know if you saw the news headlines today when you woke up, but there is a story listed there that is hot like fire. Today my humble blog is celebrating its 1300th post (which I will happily convert for you to the metric system equivalent of 1300 posts). That is actually a pretty big number. I once knew a guy who kind of taunted me when I was first blogging that he was a blogging stud with nearly 500 posts on his site and that I would have to work a long time to get anywhere near his grand total. Today, his blog is frozen like the tundra on Lambeau field in mid-January, with no new posts in years. His final tally was just a few over 500. So, not only did I reach 500 years ago, but I have continued to stumble and bumble and rumble along. In truth, I am still having fun expressing myself and sharing with my limited audience. Thanks for all of my loyal and occasional visitors. Your presence warms me up inside and I appreciate you taking the time to support me. Blessings to you all, and see you on the way to 1400 posts.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Here's Johnny

I was trolling through the channels late the other night when I stumbled onto a special focussing on the life of Johnny Carson. I had meant to find something to fall asleep to, but instead was drawn down a road of memories from my past. When I was just a kid, I was not allowed to stay up late enough to watch The Tonight Show. I caught the occasional glimpse if I was up due to sickness. When I got a bit older and was in high school, I got to stay up late enough on Friday nights to catch the monologue and opening bit. I think somehow I connected being able to stay up late to watch Carson as one of those heady privileges of being a grown up. It wasn't until I went off to college that I had finally earned my stripes and could stay up late enough to watch whenever I wanted. For about 10 years I was a pretty regular viewer, even on those frequent occasions when Ed McMahon would announce, "The following is a Best of Carson". Watching Carson became a time for me to unwind from the stress of long days of hard work. The program ultimately developed into a trigger for me that caused the stress in my mind and body to loosen its grip. It became a time for me to come back to equilibrium.

Watching the special the other night, there were lots of images of Carson in his prime. Of course for me, I connect his prime to that wonderful downtown Burbank studio and a spry man with a quick wit and mostly white hair. It was the Mighty Carson Art Players, it was Joan Embery, it was stand up comics, and a litany of movie stars and other public figures. The clips and scenes that were shown on the special, many of which I remember, took me back to a simpler time when my whole life was ahead of me. Now that I am well past the halfway point of this ride, I look back with nostalgia and longing. When they showed Carson's sign-off from the final episode of The Tonight Show from May 22, 1992, I flashed back to the moment when I was sitting in my apartment on my bed with tears running unabated down my cheeks. Now as I watched him say goodbye again some 21 years later, those same emotions rolled back over me.

"And so it has come to this; I, uh ... am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. ... I bid you a very heartfelt good night."

Johnny, even though our time together has long since passed by, I miss the comforts that you brought.

Friday, May 3, 2013

robshep 2

In yesterday's post (see robshep 1), I provided a bit of the history and relational road that I have traveled over the past six years with my pastor Rob. Rob started blogging just about the same time that I did and we regularly visit each other's sites. Rob has told me that he really enjoys writing, not only as a way to express himself, but more to bring people to Jesus. As I have gotten to know Rob, I have found that he consistently lives the mission statement of his church (Next Level Church), which is to love Jesus, to love people, and to make a difference.

Today's post is a review of Rob's forthcoming book, Even if You Were Perfect Someone Would Crucify You. Before I tell you about the book, let me state that I have read a lot of books in the Christian self-help genre. Rob's book is better than many that I have encountered. Whether this would be the opinion of a random sample of people who don't know Rob, I can't say for certain. I can only say that because of my relationship with Rob and doing life with him, this book helped me to take stock of how far I have come in my relationship with Jesus due to his efforts, not only as my pastor but as my friend.

The seed for this book came after a sermon that Rob had preached one Sunday. He had heard from quite a few people after the service that his words were a blessing and he received positive feedback from lots of folks. Shortly afterwards, he received an anonymous letter by mail where the person ripped him apart. As the words of that unknown assailant rained down on Rob's head, he thought of Jesus who died on the cross for all of mankind. The son of God, perfect, sinless, and hung from a cross to pay for our sins. The words, "even if you were perfect, someone would crucify you" popped into his mind. This thought has become something of a mantra that has helped set Rob free from being a lifelong people pleaser. It helped him to find his identity in God instead of the opinions of others.

Many of the anecdotes that Rob shares in this book he has used as illustrations in his sermons. They form a perfect framework on which to share his love for God and how that relationship has been strengthened through his struggles and his joys. But far from being a book on the story of Rob, this book is permeated with encouragement for us all and seasoned with advice on how we can find our identify in Jesus.

Rob, I am proud of you for this accomplishment. But, just so you know, I found a typo on the first page of the Introduction. I hope that you don't let this ruin your day.

(Part 2 of 2)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

robshep 1

I have known my current pastor for nearly 6 years now. It is interesting how our relationship has grown and solidified during this time. Six years ago, Rob was serving as the emergency back-up pastor at a very dynamic and growing church led by one of those uber-hip pastor types with the mod glasses and the beatnik goatee. The lead pastor was a very engaging, humorous, and energetic leader. Whenever I would show up for church and find that Rob was slated to talk, I muttered to myself. I did not care for his style and approach. It felt like I was going to a show when at the last minute it is announced that the understudy would be filling in for the star that I had come to see. I remember that shortly after we had met, Rob asked me why I didn't like him. I think this amounts to a pretty rocky relational start.

However, over the next several years, Rob and I began to form a more personal bond. We got to know each other little by little through brief conversations in the hallway before service began and we also forged relational links through our blogs. It was during this time, almost when I wasn't looking, that Rob somehow became my pastor. His Sunday talks began to speak to me because I knew him and how he lived his life. With a growing personal connection between us, I think that caused me to listen more closely to his words. The more closely I listened, the more I took away. Ultimately, I came to look forward to the weeks when I knew that he would be filling in. Over the years I have leaned on Rob with some personal junk and he has consistently made time for me, listened well, spoke from his heart, and never judged me.

For the past year Rob has been the lead pastor of his own church plant. I have been with him from his very first service and am so pleased that God has brought us together. However, given truth in advertising regulations, I am contractually obligated to note the following things about Rob.
  • He recently said, "It literally blew my mind." Yet his head was still fully intact with no brain matter showing.
  • He does not, strictly speaking, use cuss words. Instead he uses terms like "jackhole" to skirt the church's decency rules.
  • He has introduced me to his own personal vernacular, including such gems as "gag nasty" and "fat clue".
Today's tribute to my friend and pastor Rob is just the first of a two-part series. Tomorrow I review his first book, set for world-wide release on August 1, 2013 entitled, Even If You Were Perfect, Someone Would Crucify You; Stop Trying to Please People. Start Pleasing God. Well that is a mouthful, perhaps he got paid by the word.

(Part 1 of 2)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Love What You Do

It seems like most folks absolutely abhor their jobs. If you can't tell just by looking at their performance, most have no trouble loosening up their tongues to moan and complain of how much their job or their bosses suck wind. Sometimes they are not the least bit bashful about firing off salvos of discontent loud enough for anyone around to hear. Whatever happened to being thankful for your job when so many are out of work? Whatever happened to taking pride in your reputation no matter what kind of work you do? For that matter, whatever happened to management training and supervising their work force to properly represent their business at all times? (This last question is probably the fodder for another post someday.)

I work as a scientist and have been immersed in this egg-headish, nerd-based culture for most of my life. It seems to me that most of my peers really enjoy what they do for a living. Their jobs are not only their vocations, but their avocations. They have a sustained curiousity about nature that drives them and excites them for their whole working career. From my distorted perch, I tend to believe that most folks working jobs of physical labor or minimum wage are naturally disgruntled. I can see how working long, hard hours for a small paycheck can wear on a person. Yet, I was reminded the other day quite by chance, how a positive attitude can make all the difference.

Recently I brought my car into the dealership for an oil change and my yearly inspection. When they were done with the work, a technician pulled my car around to the pick up area. While we were waiting for the paperwork to be processed, the technician struck up a conversation with me. Looking at him, he was the very stereotype of a garage mechanic grease monkey. His hands and face were smudged with debris. His work involved early mornings and late afternoons of hard work. He probably had every reason to bemoan his lot. Yet his face beamed as he talked about my car and how it was such a well-made model. He excitedly told me of what made it so special. He then thanked me for taking the service of my vehicle seriously. His words were not idle chit-chat, but came from his heart. Shaking his hand, I thanked him for working on my car and for taking the time to talk to me. That made his smile even bigger.