Friday, August 30, 2013

Lost Souls

I just completed reading the initial Frankenstein trilogy of author Dean Koontz (Prodigal Son, City of Night, Dead and Alive). These books represent a modern extension of the original story of Dr. Frankenstein and his mad delusion of daring to think himself a god. In Koontz's adaptation, Dr. Frankenstein has taken on the guise of Victor Helios, a billionaire living in New Orleans. His goal is much the same as days of old, to create a new race of beings that will wipe out and replace the inferior old race. At the end of Dead and Alive, two New Orleans homicide detectives, Michael Maddison and Carson O'Connor, along with Frankenstein's first creation, Deucalion, have worked to foil his considered plans. Yet although they watch the villian die at their hands, he proved clever and insightful enough to have left a way for his schemes and his soul to continue on.

Koontz dove back into this world with the fourth entry in his Frankenstein series, Lost Souls. After only two years, the new Frankenstein creation has not only survived, but thrived. Working with the backing of his supporters from around the world, the new Victor Frankenstein has taken up residence in an old cold war missile silo in the isolated town of Rainbow Falls, Montana. He has developed a new race of creatures. Yet his approach has undergone a complete paradigm shift. These creations may look like everyone else walking around the town, but they are now more machine than biology. His plan of global Armageddon has already been unleashed. With swift, cold-blooded efficiency, after even just a few days since he gave the command to start the war, mankind is in grave danger. First, Rainbow Falls must be taken over and from there the demise of mankind will take place with swift efficiency in ever-widening circles. However, Michael, Carson, and Deucalion are once again present to do what needs to be done. There are, in addition, small cadres of folks who have come to understand that something unholy is afoot and have taken a stand to the death if necessary.

A fun read that engrossed me. Certainly this is not the greatest novel ever written, not even close. However, after reading the trilogy and enjoying it, I was fully invested in the story and the characters. Now onto the final book in the series, The Dead Town.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Trouble With New

> ls -al

drwxr-xr-x 2 user 4096 Aug 7 10:31 .
drwxr-xr-x 4 user 4096 Aug 7 10:31 ..
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 6177 Apr 21 12:01
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 6831 Apr 24 16:51 file.new_1
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 6910 Apr 25 08:43 file.new_1~
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 7122 May 10 10:56 file.new_2*
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 7179 May 19 18:12
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 8475 Jun 01 09:16
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 8475 Jun 15 10:36
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 8651 Jul 26 07:30
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 8653 Jul 27 11:47 file.newer.1
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 9058 Aug 05 08:15 file.newer_new~
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 9059 Aug 07 12:22 file.new_newer.2
-rw-r--r-- 1 user 9605 Aug 08 11:59 file.newer_newer

The trouble with new, with latest, with most, with best is that it never lasts. Something newer, later, most-er, and better very soon comes along to surpass it. The title of the world's tallest building is broken every few years. Who wants to lay claim to the world's second tallest building? How about the world's biggest yacht? The world's richest man? The world's biggest company? The fastest car? When will it all end? What are we striving for? Who are we trying to impress? Why can't we just appreciate what we have instead of everything turning into some pointless and inane competition of one-upsmanship?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Observations 30

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.
  • My opinion of you as a driver is completely correlated with my state of mind. When I am in a foul mood when I drive, I decry those around me as idiots and losers. When I am feeling O.K., I much more easily go with the flow and withhold judgment.
  • Soylent Green is people! It's people!
  • At the place where I work, there is a guy who has a regulation Romulan haircut. I am not certain that he is aware of this.
  • Too often I pass folks driving their cars out on the actual highways and byways of these here United States of America with the manufacturer's new car specification sheets still stuck to the side windows of their car. They may be trying to boast that they are driving a new car, but isn't this mode of advertising an accident waiting to happen?
  • In this-is-a-crazy-world story, a report on CNN followed a woman who was panhandling so that she could get enough money to get breast implants. Wow.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Finding God

My online friend Bill (who posts at Cycleguy's Spin) asked me to review a book for him that he wanted to give to a relative who struggles with squaring away Christian arguments with theories from modern science. The book is entitled Finding God in the Questions by physician, journalist, and theologian Timothy Johnson. If you look at the book's cover, you might recognize Dr. Johnson, who for some time has been a frequent on-air "medical expert" for ABC news. The book begins with the following statement:

"For many people, religion provides answers to the big questions of life. For others, the absolute claims of religion raise more questions than they answer."

The book was written as Dr. Johnson looked back over his lifetime. He had been a Christian his whole life, but was amazed at how his Christian life and his secular life were so separate, so compartmentalized. Euler circles that did not seem to overlap. It was this realization along with considerations of what he had done with his life that led him to write this book.

"I want to discover what I really do believe and then decide honestly what it means for how I live the rest of my life."

In his approach, Dr. Johnson is very much like me. Sometimes you don't sit down and think about something in depth until you sit down and think about it in depth. With his longing to explore his faith and how it had been reflected in how he lived his life, Dr. Johnson wrote the manuscript that ultimately became this book. The only true connection with "modern science" in this work is really just that the author is a highly educated man, a reasoned observer, with more than a passing understanding of modern scientific theories in fields like cosmology, biology, and particle physics. He also completed seminary. As such he has an interesting perspective for many folks who wonder how an obvious member of the intelligensia can congruously hold his secular wisdom and his Christian beliefs in balance, especially given the bold claims regarding God and Jesus in the Bible.

"In my experience, find God in the questions does not mean finding complete answers. In fact, you may discover that along the path of faith, you pick up more questions than you started with. But you might also discover that you need fewer answers, and those you do find are enough to live on."

A humble and reasoned work that touches on many of the big questions that folks wrestle with, whether they are Christians or not. I should think that this book might help folks to gain some measure of perspective about the many unanswerable questions and how to make peace with them.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Grind My Gears 34

Mid-level administrators cheese me off. They grind my gears to unprecedented levels. As they have far too much time on their hands, they don't do anything except sit around and pass ill-considered edicts that serve only to annoy. They are the gnats of the management hierarchy. I mean, high-level administrators feel that they are too highly paid to actually do any work. As
they are at the top of the food chain, they don't even feel that they need to show up before noon because they still have all afternoon to arbitrarily fire people and cut benefits. Because of their absolute power, they are untouchable. The low level administrators are easily ignored and shunned. They are the cockroaches of the management chain and flee when exposed to the light. As such they are irrelevant. But mid-level administrators feel that they need to do something, ..., anything to justify their existence. So they love to make a big deal about enacting the most inane and short-sighted rules and policies that not only serve to generate waste and inefficiency, but they actually serve to make the workplace less safe. For example, at my work site, they have set up a firm "no passing" rule on the roadways. It is bad enough if you get stuck behind some cretin cruising along at 5 mph in one of our golf carts, but the other day I was stuck behind some real bed-wetter on a leisurely stroll on his old-timey bicycle. I would have gone right around him, leaving only a threatening 1 inch gap between his thin layer of gabardine and my right-front bumper, just so he would be nervous enough to stain his shorts. However, directly behind him was a golf cart of these rule-enacting goons, happy to kill 30 minutes of their pathetic day to get between one building and the next.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dead and Alive

The finale of the Frankenstein trilogy by Dean Koontz is entitled Dead and Alive. The story picks up right after the end of the second book, City of Night. This tale is a modern addition to Mary Shelley's tale with Dr. Victor Frankenstein living in New Orleans under the guise of billionaire businessman Victor Helios. However, behind the scenes he is slowly and patiently working out his plan to take over the world. This is not the standard shtick of your everyday megalomaniac. Victor has been playing god, building his own ilk of soulless minions. In his time, he will unleash his powerful armies to scourge the Earth of the old race with his fully obedient new race. Victor is well on his way. However, unbeknownst to him, his creations, which look and act like any ordinary folks, are breaking down in alarming numbers. Some are losing their minds, some are going rogue and not staying true to their original programming, and some seem to be developing something like a conscience. Feelings like hope, compassion, and love. Yet Victor seems to have blinded himself to the reality of what is going on. He is far too quick to explain away the failures that he sees as singularities instead of the pandemic that it is.

Our protagonist trio consisting of two New Orleans homicide detectives Michael Maddison and Carson O'Connor, along with Dr. Frankenstein's first creation, the powerful and otherworldly entity Deucalion, are slowing working out a scheme to stop the seemingly unstoppable scheme that seems so close to becoming a reality. As they close the noose on Frankenstein, Koontz cleverly builds in enough plot elements along the way to set up other story paths that are ripe for mining in future books. In this end to his original trilogy, he wraps the story up in a nice bow after neatly tying up loose ends. The good guys vanquish their enemy and stop his scheme. They put the proverbial dagger through his heart, but the clever Frankenstein will live on, somehow.

Now onto the next part of the story, an extension of the original trilogy, in Lost Souls.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Role Reversal

My daughter has been plagued throughout her young life with throat pain caused by issues associated with her tonsils. She has been to the doctor countless times to deal with various complications that have arisen. To date they have treated her symptoms with various pain killers and antibiotics, however, nothing has worked. Over the years she has done her best to find a way to live with her condition, but recently she decided with her doctor's full consent to undergo a tonsillectomy. When she told me about her decision, I tried my best to be supportive and positive. I realize that this type of surgery is considered "minor" and "low risk", but to me I tend to focus on the word "risk". Try as I might, I am certain that my worry and anxiety were not masked in the least to my daughter who can read me pretty well.

In the long-ago days when she was still a youngling, she used to cling to me as her rock. Somehow if I told her things were going to be alright, that was enough for her. Just holding her tightly was enough to calm her and assuage her feelings of fear, to somehow transmit to her without the need for words that she was going to be just fine. Now she is old enough to make big decisions about her life on her own. I am not so much consulted or sought out for comfort as I am just "given the news". It seems to me that where I used to be the one to calm her, she has grown to the point where she is the one to help calm me. In such times, I can clearly see that she is not a little girl any more, but somehow a part of her will always be just that to me, ..., for better or for worse.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Quick Hits 3

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

Watching politicians on C-SPAN or listening to them on the Sunday morning talk shows, it really does seem to me that when the camera is on, it is all about theatrics. The discussion isn't intelligent or respectful or considered, it is pure mind-numbing pablum. Often the most senior and tenured senators seem to be the most bloated with their vindictive rhetoric. What am I missing?

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

My pastor recommended the book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. Cymbala is the pastor of the sizable congregation of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, an inner city church that had nearly collapsed due to apathy some 30 years ago. As a young man with no church leadership background and no specialized theological training, he found himself reluctantly taking over a church in its death throes. Since that time, he and his wife have overseen what amounts to an impressive revival in that place. Now with over 10,000 members and multiple campuses around the world, the Brooklyn Tabernacle is a notable success story. In this book, Cymbala, in his humble and measured approach, shares with the enthusiastic and empassioned spirit of a man who has come out of the other side of the tunnel of testing with a deep and fully refined faith. There is no evidence of jaded behavior, of going through the motions, of a "Groundhog Day" sameness to his daily mission.

In Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, subtitled "What happens when God's Spirit invades the hearts of his people", the author shares his convictions that God wants to renew the spirit of his people. He desires nothing more than to call us back from our rote approach to a tepid and lifeless form of worship. Whether we trudge to a boring sermon that passes without hearing a word, whether we jump from church to church to re-energize our need for new-ness, or whether we have found a church that we go to because they put on a great show, those living with a lukewarm faith are missing out on a rich and fulfilling life with our Savior. He makes us see what we have become and embraced, and how it is a pale shadow of what a life devoted to God should be and could be. A nice book to accompany your daily devotional time.

Monday, August 19, 2013


A few months ago I wrote a post entitled Ravishing Ronald about how I had hoped to deal with my feelings of hurt when a friend of mine did not show up for a coffee meeting that we had planned. Likely for most folks, they hang around often enough with their friends, that one missed get together would not even register as something to get the least bit worked up over. However, for me, I really struggle to make friends, and getting together socially with someone is such a rare event in my life, that it tends to get elevated to a place well above where, perhaps, it should be.

In writing my Ravishing Ronald post, I was trying to talk my way through my response to this event. I did not want to respond in weakness, as my natural tendency when faced with such a negative experience is to deal with my hurt by withdrawing back into my self. Usually something like this would make me less willing to try again in the future. In spite of this, I was hoping instead that I could respond in strength, namely, trusting my friend and scheduling another meeting as soon as possible.

However, while I know for certain that my friend was upset with himself for losing track of time and missing our meeting, I think he felt a bit awkward about approaching me to set up another time. Yet even though it took a few months, we eventually had our coffee time and got to spend a few hours relaxing and building our relationship. We talked about dozens of different topics and had a few laughs. When I was heading home after our time together, I had a good feeling inside, a feeling that made me want to reach out instead of withdraw. I followed this meeting up just a few days later with a coffee meeting with another friend. Wow, look at me stepping out. Crusher, you are on notice.

Friday, August 16, 2013

City of Night

The second book in Dean Koontz's Frankenstein series is entitled, City of Night. It was co-authored by Koontz and Ed Gorman. The story picks up immediately after the end of the first book, Prodigal Son. There we learned about what the 240+ year old Dr. Frankenstein, aka respected New Orleans business man Victor Helios, has been up to in his laboratory. The good doctor has been developing, apparently with great success, a race of life forms who appear and act like normal members of society. However, these creations of the new race are superior to God's old race in terms of strength, intellect, reflexes, healing powers, longevity, and immunity to pain and disease. They have been bred as slaves and placed throughout the New Orleans community in positions of government, the police force, the church, and a host of various other jobs. They are all waiting until their numbers are sufficient for Dr. Frankenstein to give the command to eliminate the old in favor of the new, with Frankenstein as their god and ultimate authority.

The trouble is that though these creations were genetically engineered to live for a millennium, greater and greater numbers of them are losing their way. Though they were not designed to feel love or hope or to seek a purpose other than to fulfill their roles, many are suddenly breaking down. Somehow they have developed acute mental symptoms stemming from their soulless nature. Others seem to suddenly go insane, lose their minds, or forget their purpose. Some self-destruct, others suddenly desire nothing but to destroy everyone they see. While Frankenstein seems to be fiddling, his Rome, unbeknownst to him, is beginning to burn.

With this backdrop, New Orleans detectives Carson O'Connor and Michael Maddison have come to understand what they are up against. With a pair of Frankenstein's assassins on their heels, they are trying to develop a plan to stay alive long enough to put an end to Frankenstein and his army of nearly unstoppable mutants. Their only ally is Deucalion, Frankenstein's first creation, who has powers that his creator did not intend and does not understand. Yet Deucalion's programming will not allow him to harm his creator. The situation in New Orleans has reached the boiling point. Worse, we have just learned that Frankenstein has constructed two new high capacity farms for creating his armies that are nearly ready to go online. The situation seems hopeless. Now onto the next part of the story, Dead and Alive.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


A friend and I were discussing the advice that blogging professionals often give on how to build up the number of followers on your blog. A frequent thing that you will hear is to stick to one topic, otherwise folks will get confused on your message and they won't hang around for very long. If you want a blog site to develop around the riveting topic of folk-style basket weaving or Mojave Indian death dirges, consistently stay on point. After considering this sage wisdom from folks who have successfully developed sites with a following that is comically large, I can only say, no thanks. I am happy with the freedom that I have to bounce all over the map like an over-caffeinated gerbil. Consider my topics for the past two months:
  1. Discussion - 1 post
  2. Book review - 16 posts
  3. Self-reflection - 4 posts
  4. Life lesson - 14 posts
  5. Anecdote - 3 posts
  6. Silliness - 4 posts
  7. Music review - 2 posts
  8. Religion - 4 posts
  9. Random - 5 posts
  10. Lament - 5 posts
  11. Holiday - 2 posts
Some of my posts are serious, some somber, some sweet, and some humorous. I have the freedom to talk about what topic crosses my mind in any format or style that inspires me. Looking at my blog page, there is a display that shows I have 34 followers. Most of these are folks who clicked on the "follow" button, but have long since moved on. That is O.K.. I am not deluded enough to believe that my point of view is for everyone. However, I am thankful for the folks who stop by and exchange a word or two with me on a regular basis.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Observations 29

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 of the most annoying drivers are those that block up the road puttering along driving the speed limit.
  • Here's a completely nonsensical court sentence. Life + 1000 years. What does that even mean? After you die they plan to keep your body locked up in its cell for a full millenium?
  • A hippy-type eclectic gift store in town had a sign in its window saying that they now sell swords. If they stay on this time line, they will begin to stock muskets in another 50 years or so.
  • In a telling quote from ex-President Richard Nixon after the Watergate affair had led to his impeachment, "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."
  • A colleague was supposed to attend a meeting with me in a new Building on site that he had never been in before. He came to me a bit before the meeting and said, "When it comes time for the meeting, get me to go with you." I replied, "What should I do if you really don't want to go?"

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Letters from a Skeptic

The book Letters from a Skeptic came highly recommended by my pastor. It contains a series of 29 back and forth correspondences between father Edward Boyd and his son Greg Boyd. Greg is a pastor who regularly participates in discussions debating the "proof" of God's existence. This book contains the exchanges of the questions asked by the father that resulted in his skepticism about Christianity and the son's answers to them. Ultimately after 3 years of letters, the dad accepted God. This book describes the father as a serious skeptic, bordering on atheist. The book then is sold as something of a course on how to convert the unbelievers, tackling head on some of the most prickly and difficult questions regarding Christian faith, God, Jesus, and the Bible.

Some of the questions that are asked include:
  • Why has Christianity done so much harm?
  • Why did God create Satan?
  • Why trust the Gospel accounts?
  • Why does God make believing in Him so difficult?
  • How can I be sure it's all true?
The son's stated approach through this book is to work from the known to the unknown as he addresses his father's questions. One thing he makes clear is that in these important questions, we must adhere closely to what the Bible tells us. This all sounds great. But, the pastor and debator son goes astray often. I will raise a few of my impressions:
  • The son is an intellectual powerhouse compared to his dad and introduces lots of high flung concepts that addle his father into accepting weak premises with equally weak proof.
  • The son when faced with questions that paint God as unloving and mean-spirited, too often makes up answers that have nothing to do with the Bible. His version of God is not so much omnipotent as impotent.
  • Here is an all too typical exchange. Dad: Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but there are just too many questions for me to believe in this story. Son: Trust me, the evidence is strong. Dad: Son, that is a strong argument; I'm now fully convinced.
  • Books such as this with tough questions answered by deep-sounding by trite answers actually can do more harm than good when they can't give solid answers that are clear, consistent, and logical.
  • I was reading the one-star reviews of this book on Amazon and felt that they really captured the issues that I had with this book.
So far, everything that I have said regarding my impressions of this book have been negative, yet it wasn't a complete dud. There were several of the exchanges where you could feel the pain and frustration in the question, and the tenderness in the reply. In some of these cases the answer was complete, convincing, and written from a fresh perspective. However, too many of the son's replies were just completely full of holes or questionable theology and too often the father accepted very weak sauce without question. I just don't see how these answers could ever change the mind of a true skeptic with the ability to think for themselves. That said, I enjoyed my time with this book because it helped sharpen my own reasons for believing. This would be a good book for a small group to debate and discuss.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Quick Hits 2

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

Driving everyday on the busy roadways in my neck of the woods, it seems that nobody uses their turn signals. People are always jamming on their brakes and making a turn without warning or aggressively and wrecklessly cutting me off. I can't come to any other conclusion that this is a mark of both rudeness and selfishness. I believe that your level of compassion for other human beings is directly correlated with the fraction of the time that you use your turn signal when you make a turn or lane change in your vehicle.

What do you think?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Prodigal Son

The first book in the Frankenstein series by Dean Koontz is entitled Prodigal Son (co-authored with Kevin Anderson). Having just had my first exposure to Koontz through his wonderful Odd Thomas series, I thought I would continue with another dose of Koontz. Prodigal Son was dark and disturbing, centering on a man who believes that he is a god. In fact, he believes that his creation, his new race, is far superior in every way than the weak and pitiable old race that plagues our planet. Folks, meet Dr. Frankenstein, aka respected New Orleans business man Victor Helios, who has amassed multiple fortunes in his 240+ years of life. He has also learned how to create life, life that is genetically engineered to his exacting specifications. Life that has taken him many years to perfect. He has slowly been sprinkling his progeny out into the population. His plan, when he has seeded an appropriate critical mass of his clones, is to take out the old race.

The story introduces us to two New Orleans police detectives, Carson O'Connor and Michael Maddison, as they pursue a serial killer known as "The Surgeon". This madman is butchering people around the city. Body parts are being harvested, reminiscent of the lingering images of a certain madman in the Transylvanian highlands. Yet this crude butchery is not the work of Dr. Frankenstein. It seems that it is due to an apparently stately man who is collecting parts and pieces for his ideal woman. Lips, hands, eyes, feet. Yet there is more going on here. In fact, it seems like there are two serial killers on the loose, but with very different intentions.

The story has multiple arcs that build and entwine throughout. The meglomaniacal Frankenstein, whose madness is that he believes that he knows better than God what this world needs, the relationship between detectives O'Connor and Maddison, the transformation of Frankenstein's first creation named Deucalion, and the percolating humanity and development of souls in Frankenstein's soulless creations. Many folks are playing very dangerous games. A great adventure to be sure. Now, onto the second book in the series City of Night.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Money Changers

There are several stories in the Bible of Jesus burning with righteous anger. One of these is detailed in Mark 11:15-16:

"On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts."

In this story Jesus arrives at the temple to worship and finds that it is overflowing with those seeking to line their own pockets. Looking at this scene from the point of view of the merchants, they would have strenuously argued that they had every right to be there. After all, they were providing an essential service to the worshippers. Yet while furnishing suitable animals for sacrifice according to the law and making available the proper currency with which to pay the temple tax, they really only cared about their own profit margins. Their presence in the temple courtyard did not serve in any way to bring glory to God.

I was reminded of that ancient story by a recent event involving the Catholic pope who was visiting Brazil. He had been scheduled to give his closing mass in the working-class suburb of Guaratiba, outside of Rio de Janeiro. However, due to torrential rains that led to significant flooding, the meeting venue had to be changed at the last minute. This was a serious blow to the many locals who had spent their life savings stocking up on wares that they had planned to hawk to the sea of pilgrims set to descend on their town. With the changing of the venue, all of their profit-minded dreams came to ruin. These very poor people spent not only their entire life's savings, but also borrowed heavily, setting themselves up for a lifetime of debt. They became so focussed on the dollar signs bouncing before their eyes and the huge profits to be made, that they lost sight of being about the Lord's business.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


My last church transformed before my eyes into the modern definition of a mega-church. What was once reasonably sized and had an intimate feel, almost overnight became completely overrun. In viewing the affect this rampant growth had on the lead pastor of the church, it seemed to me that he began to think of himself as a sort of celebrity. In my last few months as a member of that church, I remember a story he told about the lengths he took to avoid hearing negative feedback from members of the congregration. One step that he took was to have his secretary or assistant screen his mail and cull anything that contained criticism. Sure he tried to put a positive-sounding, Christian spin on this behavior. His argument went along the lines that he could not focus fully on doing God's business when he was distracted by negative thoughts.

However, I think this is a very dangerous attitude that is quite the slippery slope. If the only feedback that is received is completely filtered to include only that which is laudatory, I'm afraid that this will inevitably lead to a completely skewed perspective of oneself. ... "Given all these positive comments, I must be doing a great job!" ... "These people absolutely love me!" ... "This isn't God's kingdom, it's mine!". I fear that this type of attitude can cause these folks to become disconnected from reality and potentially lead their flocks to pastures where they were never meant to go. It can be a dangerous form of self-delusion.

This type of approach parallels celebrities or corporate leaders who fully surround themselves with "yes" men. A posse that only is present to stroke the ego of its sheriff. Any contrary opinions are taken as personal attacks and those who stand up with any voice of dissention are quickly replaced with someone else. It's scary how far once decent, well-intentioned, and principled leaders can be removed from what they once stood for. There is a quote by pastor Mark Batterson in his book SoulPrint, where he states, "However, if we really want to serve people and care about them, we'll need to stop caring so much about what they think. This is the key to serving with integrity." While I appreciate what Batterson is trying to say, i.e. the truth can hurt but it must be told regardless of the consequences, this type of belief can also be the downfall of once very effective leaders.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Pilgrim's Regress

I have had the book The Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis on my "to read" list for quite some time. I finally got around to getting a copy and working my way through it. I should say that this book was initially published in 1933 and represents Lewis' first work of (published) fiction. The story is an allegory that follows the character John on his journey through the philosophical and theological landscape of the early 20th century as he becomes a Christian. The book is clearly Lewis' personalization of John Bunyan's 17th century novel, The Pilgrim's Progress. As a disclaimer, I should say that I have not read Bunyan's book, but I have read a comment by the late pastor Charles Spurgeon who stated, "Next to the Bible, the book I value most is John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress." I have also read a number of reviews that put Lewis' re-wrapped version on the same shelf with its original inspiration.

The story begins with John as a young boy. As he starts to taste life and experience different things, he begins asking questions. These questions lead him to examine himself and what he believes. It is interesting how Lewis deftly shows how we go from only believing what our parent's tell us to forming our own personal view of the world around us. Well, John ultimately gets to the point that he moves beyond rote belief in his parent's philosophy, to a point that he is compelled to figure out what he believes and to get his own questions answered. This leads John on a long journey that takes him far from his hometown. Along the way he meets up with a menagerie of characters who represent different world views, different systems of theology, and different schools of thought. John learns from each of these interactions and slowly comes to his own understanding.

I enjoyed my time with this book. There were several sections that were a bit of a tough slog because the philosophies that Lewis was writing about have long since gone the way of the dodo. Without any knowledge of the system that he was discussing, I could not fully appreciate the interaction. However, this was a worthwhile read for any Lewis fan. I might even tackle the Bunyan original at some point on my own literary journey.

Monday, August 5, 2013


William Ernest Henley wrote the poem now known as Invictus after he had part of his leg amputated due to complications associated with tuberculosis. William was only 17 years old, but by all accounts, his surgery was bloody and torturous. Yet his spirit and his defiance inspired him to write the following verse:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of change
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menance of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

These words are stirring, even today. Invictus in Latin means unconquerable. Yet I don't feel that these words were written with any measure of haughtiness of spirit or ink-stained pride. Too often though, I fall into believing that the good things that have come my way in life are due fully to my own efforts. Though, I am getting better with age, from time to time I still find I have a touch of ego. Yet my hope is that whatever circumstances I find myself in, I will turn to God first and be fully satisfied with what I find in Him.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Husband

I have gotten to know author Dean Koontz through his Odd Thomas Series. Recently, I stumbled across his 2006 novel The Husband and spent a few evenings working my way through it. The story begins in a scene with the protagonist, Mitch Rafferty. Mitch is the owner of a small-time landscaping business in California. He loves his work and has dreams about starting a family with his wife Holly, but he is presently just making enough to pay the bills. Mitch is a decent, hard-working man who, despite a tough childhood, was able to escape his past and find happiness with the woman of his dreams. While in the middle of a job, he gets a call on his cell phone from a man who tells him that he has kidnapped Holly and is ransoming her for 2 million dollars. Mitch is blown away. His life has never been stained by any sort of criminal incursion. He is completely taken by surprise and tries to reason with Holly's kidnapper that he is just a struggling landscaper with no more than a few grand in the bank. The caller tells him that he has 60 hours to come up with the money and if he doesn't deliver they will kill Holly.

The twist is that they tell Mitch that if he goes to the authorities with what he knows, they will kill Holly. To bring their point home, they tell Mitch to look across the street as a man walking a dog along the sidewalk is gunned down. Later he finds out that his conversations with the police were being monitored. In a panic, he struggles to maintain his reason and to figure out how to proceed. At several points along his timeline, he encounters Sandy Taggert a police detective. Taggert is written in the Columbo mold. When he senses something is awry, he has a way of wheedling his way to the truth with a seemingly innocent set of questions meant to subtly disarm you.

Ultimately, Mitch is lead by the kidnappers to approach his brother Anson for the ransom money. Mitch has no idea what this is about as he is certain that Anson doesn't have much more money that he does. But he quickly finds out that Anson is not the loving brother that he thought he knew, and that Anson is connected to the kidnappers after having ripped them off in a deal gone bad. As the story unfolds, Mitch has just enough strength to get through each situation that he is faced with. We also slowly get to know a bit more about Holly and how she endures her captors. Not a bad work to spend to few nights with. Certainly a cookie-cutter molded suspense novel, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Observations 28

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.
  • A sign outside a cubicle at work, "Dogs welcome. People tolerated."
  • I was sautéing some onions in a skillet the other evening for my dinner, when I decided to sprinkle on some onion powder. You know, to give them some of that oniony flavor.
  • The new manufacturer of Twinkies cakes claims that their shelf life is 45 days. I thought that these things could last through the next ice age and still be unaffected.
  • A younger person involved with my group at work died recently. When the secretary was making the rounds with a sympathy card for the man's father, who also works with my group, she asked the guy across the hallway from me if he wanted to sign the card. He said, "No thanks". That is the antithesis of a sympathetic gesture.
  • It really stinks when you have been insulted by someone, but you don't realize it until much later.