Friday, January 31, 2014

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass by author Philip Pullman is the first tale in what is called His Dark Materials trilogy. I had heard a bit of buzz about this series and it got on my radar, and when I happened to see the books in my local library, I decided to dive in. The story takes place in a world similar to our own but with some interesting differences, including an intelligent race of warrior bears, witches, ghosts, and personal benevolent creatures called daemons which are intimately linked to each human. The main protagonist in the story is a 12 year old girl named Lyra Belacqua. She is believed to be an orphan of noble birth who has been left in the care of the master and scholars of Jordan College in England. Her larger-than-life uncle, Lord Asriel, arrives to address the college elders and Lyra sneaks into the meeting. There she learns of a secret and mysterious struggle that is taking place in the frozen lands of the north that somehow is expected to have an impact on the very fabric of humanity. When Lord Asriel leaves with plans to go to the north, Lyra is captivated by a longing sense of adventure and exploration and she yearns to attend her uncle. However, he will have no part of it and heads out on his way.

After Lord Asriel leaves, Lyra is smitten with a visitor to Jordan college, a young woman of style, of substance, and of adventure named Marisa Coulter. Mrs. Coulter invites Lyra to be her assistant and takes her back to London. During Lyra's stay in London, she comes to sense that Mrs. Coulter is not who she claims to be. There is something dark, something hidden in her aspect that continues to bubble to the surface. At the same time, we find that children are disappearing all across England, kidnappings attributed to a group called the "Gobblers". Soon Lyra gets wind that Mrs. Coulture is associated with the Gobblers and she sneaks away and meets up with a group of gypsies who know who she is and who her parents really are. They also tell Lyra that she has been destined for bigger things than roaming the halls of Jordan College, that she is fated for something of a much bigger design.

Ultimately, Lyra follows her heart when she begins a trek north with the gypsies to search for the lost children, to rescue Lord Asriel who has been imprisoned, and to understand what is so special about the north and the talk of some magical dust and alternate worlds in which humanity's destiny seems ensconsed. A fun tale with an inspiring and spunky hero. Now, onto the second story in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Observations 44

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 was trying to dish a bowl of ice cream for my daughter the other day. As the ice cream was hard, I got down close to the carton and really put some pressure on the scoop. The metal handle broke suddenly and I then proceeded to do a face plant into the ice cream. I quickly disposed of the tell-tale evidence on my cheek.
  • There is a car dealer who is advertising locally and making a big deal that their used car warranties are the best in the business. Two years, 200,000 miles (whichever comes first). Who could drive this far in two years?
  • I recently got an unsolicited email from a dating site inviting me to Telluride Gay Ski Week. Shortly thereafter I got a second email apologizing for the invitation as being sent by mistake. How do they know that I don't like moguling in the nude?
  • I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned recently. As the hygienist was putting the suction hose and other unnecessary paraphernalia into my mouth, she told me, "Raise your hand if you want me to stop. However, I may ignore you and just keep going."
  • There was a scene in the old Mary Tyler Moore show where Mr. Grant says that one of the reasons that he hired Mary is that she apologized to a piece of furniture when she bumped into it by accident. I do the same thing.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Jesus was approaching the walled-city of Jerusalem from the northeast. On his approach to the entrance known as Herod's Gate, He walked past a pool or bath known as Bethesda. This pool was believed by the locals to have healing powers. In and around its porticos, many of the city's forgotten citizens afflicted with blindness, lameness, and other various maladies would linger, especially during special feast times hoping for a miracle of healing. It was believed that at such times the waters would be stirred, attributed to various Greek or Roman gods or even an angel of mercy, and that the first person to enter the water after this stirring, would be healed of their affliction. As Jesus approached, he came up to a man who had been visiting Bethesda regularly for nearly 40 years, hoping for his opportunity to enter the healing waters. Jesus asked the man, "Do you want to get well?" (John 5:6).

This seems like an inane question for Jesus to ask. This man has been an invalid likely for his whole life. A burden on his family and on society. He has sought healing for so long and come away empty each time, he has given up hoping for a cure. The man laments to Jesus in his response, "Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." Yet we know that Jesus does not ask foolish questions. I think that in our own personal states of affliction, too often we do not want to be healed. Our suffering and helplessness sometimes give us the attention of others, and sometimes they just become our identity or security in that we know what to expect. Sometimes we even feel that we deserve what we have gotten ourselves into and our condition is fit punishment.

Do we want to get well? What seems like an insulting or stupid question, in some cases gets a firm "no" for an answer because we become so entwined with our suffering. A single man that I know has struggled for years with loneliness. I have heard him time and again lament the hole in his life due to the lack of any close relationships. Recently he was asked out by a very nice lady, but was strongly considering turning her down because he had planned to spend some time finishing up a book that he was in the middle of reading. So, do you want to get well?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Life of Pi

In 2012 the movie The Life of Pi was a major international release and won several Academy Awards. I never saw the movie, but the commericials piqued my interest. However, my interest was not so much based on any understanding of what the movie was about, but from the crisp images and the vivid colors. After some time passed, all I remembered was a story that involved a boy and a huge tiger. I made a note that I would add the original book, The Life of Pi, to my reading list.

The story involves a young teenage boy named Piscine "Pi" Molitor Patel, an Indian boy living with his family in SE India in the town of Pondicherry. Pi's family owns a local zoo and Pi is fascinated with the different animals, their behaviors, their interactions, and how they assume their roles in the heirarchy of their habitats. Pi is a thoughtful and impressionable boy. Ultimately in his quest to just know God, he associates himself as a Christian, a Hindu, and a Muslim. After a time, Pi's father decides that the shifting political and economic landscape of India will not allow his family to rise to a higher level, so he decides to sell the zoo and move to Canada. He books passage for his brood on a freighter crossing the Pacific. A few days out of the Phillipines, something goes terribly wrong and the ship sinks quickly. Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, and an zebra that were being distributed from his family's zoo to various zoos in Canada. An uneasy equilibrium exists for a few days before the notably nervous hyena attacks and kills the zebra and the orangutan. Shortly thereafter we find the source of the hyena's distress, another passenger on the liferaft who had been hidden from view beneath the shelter of a tarpaulin, was a 450 lb Bengal tiger. In time the tiger kills the hyena and Pi figures that his time is marked.

As the days turn into weeks, we see Pi working to put his knowledge of animal psychology toward establishing himself as the alpha leader of the lifeboat. This molding of behavior is not something that happens quickly, but one small step at a time. Encounter by encounter. Interaction by interaction. Pi is not only clever and resourceful, but also spirited and respectful. Ultimately he is adrift in the lifeboat for 227 days before he washes up on the shores of Mexico. As he tells his tale, nobody believes a word of it. His story is so bizarre, the colorful imagination of a mind addled by exposure and grief. Yet even through his lowest lows, Pi never loses his faith and his loving spirit. He bends but never breaks. This was a fantastic read with an original premise. I very much enjoyed this one. It was an uplifting example of the beauty possible in the human spirit.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Less Than White Board

One of the things that I like to include on my blog are reviews of the books that I read. Over the years I have gotten suggestions for books from several of my online friends that have taken me on some absolutely wonderful and memorable adventures. It always seems that these suggestions come along just when I have run out of ideas of which way to turn. As a result of this, I decided that giving feedback on the books that I stumble across might give some suggestions to other folks who might be searching for what to read next. If I can provide some help every now and then, then I consider this all worthwhile.

Sometimes, however, I get several suggestions at once that lead to a veritable fountain of books that bubble up and catch my attention. As I noted in a blog post from a couple of years ago (Book List), I keep a running tally of my current and planned reading on my white board at work. I list the title, the number of pages in the book, and the number of pages that I have read. I also tally up the total number of pages that are in my list of "active" books and how many pages are remaining to be read. I don't know why I keep track like this, perhaps it makes a bit of a game out of this. Just the other day I had only two books listed, and today I find myself overwhelmed with a host of new books that fills up one whole side of my white board with ink. Those who gave me all of these great suggestions are clearly to blame, and you know who you are.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Widows of Eastwick

The Widows of Eastwick is the sequel to John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick. This book was written in 2008, some 24 years after the first book. Per Updike's usual M.O. when he writes a sequel, the characters all age accordingly. As such we meet up with the three witches all in their mid-to-late 60s. Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie have gone their separate ways and lived their separate lives. However, just before their parted, they used their witchcraft to fashion new mates. Yet now each has taken on the new label of widow.

The husbands whom the three Godforsaken women had by their dark arts concocted for themselves did not prove durable. Wicked methods make weak products.

As if somehow sensing the pain and loneliness of the others, the three witches begin to travel together and to reconnect. Eventually they make the decision to spent the summer back in Eastwick. They each want to see what has become of their old town, left so long ago. However, even beyond this curiosity, they dream to return to where they were at the height of their powers, both as witches and as women. In Eastwick they find that some things have changed and some things never do. The coven comes face to face with many of the troubles that they created in the past and now they are on the receiving end of some else's dark powers. Yet those that return to whence they came carry with them improved perspective and a new spirit for living.

I read an interview that Updike gave many years ago when he talked about why he liked to write sequels. He stated that he loved the challenge of testing his own cleverness. Could he create a compelling narrative that stayed true to the characters that he had brought to life? Could he successfully develop a way to connect the past to the present and to evolve lives through the years? This sequel was quite interesting and pleased me with the redemptive aspects of the story.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I have heard it said time and again that people absolutely hate being around others who are constantly thinking negative thoughts and giving off negative vibes. Negative people so quickly sap your strength and joy, they destroy your positive mood with their pessimism, anxiety, and judgmental attitude. In short, negative people are killjoys. While I hate to admit it, the fact is that far too often the dark cloud that floats above my head labels me as one of the killjoys. I think the reason for this is that I don't believe the truths that I experience first hand. I have become a modern-day Philistine.

In the Old Testament of the Bible the tribes of the Israelites were associated with the "believers" and the people known as the Philistines (or uncircumsized) were associated with the "non-believers". Over many years the Israelites and the Philistines clashed through skirmishes, battles, and wars. The Philistines stood as witnesses to the powerful hand of God but never turned from their worship of the idols of Baal, Astarte, and Dagon. Their hearts had become hardened against the truths that they encountered every day. I have come to behave in the same way.
  • An acquaintance tells me that he likes spending time with me.
  • A person tells me that I have a lot to offer.
  • I read that I am a child of the most high God.
  • The Bible clearly states that Jesus knows me and loves me without question.
I experience truths such as these every day, but I purposefully dismiss them because I have let myself believe that I do not deserve love and friendship because I have messed up and fallen short so many times that I am worthless. Just like the Philistines who did not see the truth even when it was laid out in all its splendor right before their eyes, I too find a way to overlook or recast the truth through my own twisted and myopic lens of brokenness, hurt, pride, and self-doubt.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Quick Hits 12

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.

Many companies and organizations today are struggling financially. New hires are not made and the workforce is reduced. As a result there is a lot of slack to be picked up by everyone else. However, there are always a few folks who still take every last second of vacation time they are allowed, won't work a minute over 40 hours per week, and balk at taking on any additional work. What are your feelings regarding such folks? What are their responsibilities to the company, to their fellow workers, and to their families?

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Standard Protocol

I just lived through one of the worst experiences of my life. A day of sheer hell whose boundary conditions were defined not by reason, compassion, or respect. Instead they were just a sign of the times, dismissed with the flip justification of "standard protocol".

The laboratory where I work is nearing the end of a major facility upgrade. To complete this work, staffing levels were ramped up. Now that things are nearly done, we need to return to the original workforce numbers. While laying people off is never a pleasant exercise, it is a simple fact that what goes up with a temporary budget increase must come back down. Yet the issue is now the why but the how.

Lab leadership indicated that roughly 45 positions would be eliminated, but provided no details. We only knew the date, Jan. 15. When I arrived that morning, the place was crawling with extra security. Starting from 8:00 a.m., the division directors selected a name from their list and set out a member of the security detail to find the worker. They were then escorted back to their office and given a few moments to clean out their possessions, before they were forced to leave the site immediately. Most of the folks that were fired had worked at the lab for many years and each was publicly humiliated and treated like a criminal, shadowed but a brusque security officer who forced them to comply and get off the lab property. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I tried not to pay attention to the horrors that I knew were taking place around the site, yet several times I saw the security detail walk through my lab to take another person away. At lunch time I passed a senior scientists from my group being escorted to the exit. If this man was not safe, nobody was, including me. I was overcome with anxiety and panic, wondering when management's angels of death would come to tap me on the shoulder without warning. It wasn't until 6:00 p.m. that the lab director sent out a brief, impersonal email that the culling work was done. To be left hanging on the very edge until the last moment is a despicable and abhorrent way to treat anyone. Even worse was how they treated those who they fired. Yet our leadership feebly claimed afterwards that they just followed the "standard protocol" for such exercises.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday whose origins are steeped in politics and mollifying a minority portion of the U.S population, moreso than honoring a man who ended up giving his life to represent the cause of his people. Was Dr. King a saint, a perfect man? History shows that he certainly had a number of weaknesses and shortcomings. However, the same can be said for each and every one of us. Was Dr. King a tireless crusader who fought with everything he had to defend the humanity of each citizen? Most certainly. We all could learn a lot about what it means to have vision, to have faith, and to put our money where our mouth is by looking at the example that he lived out. While race relations in the United States are still an issue and we all still have a long way to go, due to the efforts that Dr. King made, we are most certainly a more unified and accepting people.

P.S. Living in Virginia, I have always been astounded at how deeply seated the biases of the power brokers are in this former bastion of the southern Confederacy. After Congress had passed into law the MLKJ holiday, Virginian leadership was more than unhappy. From 1984 to 2000, Virginia did not celebrate MLKJ Day, but what was termed "Lee-Jackson-King Day". Here Lee and Jackson are Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson! Ultimately the plantation-style legislature of the Commonwealth was forced to begrudgingly admit that celebrating a holiday honoring the confederacy alongside a civil rights leader was a bit incongruous. You don't say.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Witches of Eastwick

The Witches of Eastwick was written by John Updike in 1984 and is the story of a coven of three witches living in the small town of Eastwick, Rhode Island, during the period of the Vietnam War. We are introduced to Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie, three divorced women in their early to mid 30's, witches created by the very act of leaving and being leaved by their husbands. Each woman has developed certain artistic leanings. Alexandra sculpts small figurines, Jane plays the cello, and Sukie is a writer for a local flyer. In their regular meetings, the women consolidate their powers through small spells, acid gossip about the townsfolks, and comparing notes regarding their unending affairs with the unhappily married men in their town. Their existence is more rooted in bored maliciousness than overt or purposed evil.

Their outlooks and ambitions change when a man named Darryl Van Horne moves to town after buying a shuttered mansion. There are rumors that he is a wealthy scientist and inventor. Subtly and with purpose he seduces each of the witches, leading them to strengthen their gifts. Before the women even realize it, they have fallen under the dark spell of this Svengali. Visits of the coven to his mansion become a nightly orgy of sex, drugs, and debauchery. Soon the witches take it upon themselves to cast deadly spells on the women of the town who they feel have gotten in their way. One such victim is survived by her 20-something children Jenny and Christopher. Sukie invites the seemingly innocent children to one of the coven's gatherings at the mansion and before anyone realizes it, Jenny has taken Darryl's attention and royally mucked up their gatherings. The witches then cast a deadly spell on Jenny and we learn that Darryl is not who he led folks to believe he was.

The story is not necessarily a story with a particular agenda or a deep message. It was written during a time when women were struggling to achieve equality with men and, in fact, were beginning to make some marked progress. As such, this novel was notable as the first Updike work so dominated by female characters. The makeup of each of the women was quite well developed, including their humanity, spirit, worries, eccentricities, muses, and, of course, their wicked streaks. The story continues with the 2008 sequel, The Widows of Eastwick, which I will read next.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Observations 43

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.
  • In western civilization I would guess that more productivity is lost as folks concentrate on using their wireless gadgets for texting than through any other single activity. So many words floating around with so little actually being said.
  • There is a gas station/convenience store in my area that has had the same sign out front for more than a decade, "Best livers and gizzards in town". Hmmm, perhaps because nobody else would sell such clearly fictional animal parts.
  • I pass a church in town whose name seems designed to confuse the heck out of both Jew and Gentile, Temple Baptist Church.
  • Lately I seem to have lost my ability to crack an egg into a bowl without also including numerous bits of shell. This has been going on for some time and has me concerned.
  • Don't you think it is a bit creepy when an adult gives you a picture of themselves for a gift?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


When you were on the pursuit as a younger man, the strong, verile, alpha beast on the hunt for a mate, what were you hoping for? Did you set out with an image of the perfect woman locked in the center of your mind, rejecting all others who fell short of your childhood paradigm of perfection?

I think we all start out with a taste palette for the opposite sex that is featureless. We take in the world around us as we mature and those who have left any sort of imprint on our minds and hearts, help us to take our first tentative steps toward understanding ourselves and what we find pleasing. Our dream woman, nothing more than a child's scribble.

Slowly our tastes develop and come into focus. Refined, molded, and shaped over many years. Eventually a fully formed creature becomes our measure of perfection. The one we hold locked away just for ourselves, who is happy to fulfill our fantasies with little more than a wink, regardless of who we are and what we ask.

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to other eyes as mine see it.”

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set her free.”


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Calico Joe

My friend Brian who posts at waystationone recommended to me Calico Joe by author John Grisham. This past year I read my first two Grisham books, both of the legal thriller genre that he has built his reputation on. This book goes down an entirely different path, namely that of a troubled family, a deeply flawed patriarch, and the summer pastime of baseball, where so many kids find their heroes to root for.

The story actually tells the tale of two families, the Traceys and the Castles, families whose fortunes are initially independent, but then come together in a way that impacts both permanently. The patriarch of the Tracey clan is Warren, a journeyman major league pitcher whose abilities have never matched up to his own self-image, who blames everyone else but himself for his troubles in life. He is in his mid-30s and barely clinging to the end of the rotation for the New York Mets. He is a drunk, a womanizer, and an abuser of anyone who gets in his way or doesn't measure up to his standards, including his wife and his young son Paul. When Paul was a child, his father was larger than life, but soon enough Paul came to see him for who and what he was.

In July of 1973, a rookie player was called up by the Chicago Cubs, an Arkansas product from Calico Rock named Joe Castle. Calico Joe quickly took the country by storm with his bat speed, his power, and his approach to the game. He was a special player who every kid, including Paul, quickly came to idolize. When Warren found out that Joe held a place in his son's heart that he felt should have been his, he made up his mind to show this rookie a thing or two. Warren got his chance in an August game against the Cubs. A fastball to the face and Joe was carted off the field, clinging to life. By the time Joe was released from the hospital, Warren had been released by the Mets. One moment that led to the end of the careers of two men.

As the years and decades went by each man followed his own path but each was still dealing with the effects of that August night. Joe suffering mild paralysis and brain damage, lived with his family back in Calico Rock, hidden from the world. Warren with his fifth wife, a bitter, hateful, jerk. When Paul learns that his estranged father is dying of cancer and has little time left, he develops a plan to bring Joe and Warren together, to give his father one last chance before he dies to seek forgiveness from at least one person whose life he hurt. This story is a gem and shows how hearts can be changed even when it looks like it is far too late and how forgiveness can heal the deepest wounds.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Personal Flaws

We are all deeply flawed individuals. Each of us is marked by assorted episodes of the seven deadly sins, wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Yet somehow, we all seem to have come to a sort of acceptance of ourselves. We argue that we are just wired a certain way or that we are a product of our environment. Our flaws and limitations, no matter how much they are a part of us, are usually missed or overlooked in their entirety when we gaze into a mirror. The reflection that we see is nothing like what others take in. Sometimes our self-blindness can be revealed in trumpet blares to everyone around us, yet we never suspect a thing about ourselves. We just go about oblivious, holding as truth a poor caricature of reality.

Some years ago I worked with a man from Romania. He was a colorful fellow and quite bright. However, he was not, well, how should I say, an example of humanity that anyone would want to see walking the runways of Milan or Paris. He was about 5 foot tall, weighed over 300 pounds, and his face was creased and pock-marked. I remember a conversation that we had one day where he was talking about his wife, who I knew as she also worked in my group. He told me that he did not marry his wife for her looks but for her brains. While she was rather plain looking, she was certainly in shape and quite engaging. I found it sadly amusing how this man, given what he looked like, could judge another so harshly, especially the person who should be the most important in his world. Yet he never considered that what he was saying was the least bit out of line. Actually, the same scenario plays out with me far too often. I judge others in areas where I am just as guilty or lacking. I am as blind toward myself as anyone else.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dying Declaration

The second novel that I have read by author Randy Singer, entitled Dying Declaration, is another entry in the same genre as Directed Verdict. A legal thriller in the Christian fiction category. However, I think that this book was a more complete and carefully crafted story. It begins with a family of religious fundamentalists, Thomas and Theresa Hammonds, and their three young children. Poor, minimally educated, but loving and principled. They are also strict fundamentalists who are trying to follow their beliefs as their 2 year old son battles for his life with an acute case of appendicitis. Little Joshie is rushed to the hospital at the last minute, but ends up dying after the emergency room doctor battles with his pride in the decision of whether to treat the patient or transfer him to a nearby children's hospital. The doctor's indecision plays a role in the death of the child.

Shortly after Joshie dies, the Hammonds' are arrested for the negligent homicide of their child and their other two young children are marked for foster care until the trial. However, Nikki Moreno, a special children's advocate for the court agrees to care for the children. Something that she senses in the parents, some deep loving bond, affects her heart. Before she can convince herself that she should just mind her own business, she seeks out a law professor with a passion for God to represent the Hammonds. Charles Arnold is not a practicing lawyer and at first tells Nikki that he is not interested. However, after some reflection of why he got into law in the first place, to help those who would get turned out by the system, he eventually agrees.

The courtroom drama is thick, as Charles battles with an aggressive commonwealth attorney whose overzealous prosecution strategy is driven by her career advancement plans. A shark who will manipulate the evidence and the witnesses until everything sings her tune. The main story arc of the Hammonds trial is linked to the affair of the commonwealth attorney and the doctor who treated Joshie and the growing bond of friendship and love between Charles and Nikki. Ultimately we see how people can change and transform, even those whose lives are deeply stained. A tale that weighs judgment versus mercy. An enjoyable read.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Quick Hits 11

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.

I have known some people who professed to be athiests who were truly lovely people. Generous with their time and money, kind to all, humble, and wonderful to be around. But according to many Christian authors, they should never be considered as truly moral. Can an athiest ever truly be considered a moral soul?

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

iTunes Latest - 16

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.
  • Almost Hear You Sigh - Rolling Stones (1989) - A ballad off their Steel Wheels album that sounds in many ways like a prototypical Stones song. This song came out when I was in graduate school and its painful, soulful longing has always affected me and pulled me in.
  • M.I.N.E (End this Way) - Five Finger Death Punch (2013) - I have been searching for some new music lately and heard a song by "5FDP" on the radio. Now heavy metal music is normally not my thing, in fact I consider it mostly senseless noise. Yet, there is something different with this song. There is an undercurrent of passion, pain, desperation, and, well, artistry, that has gotten its hooks into me on this one. I really like it.
  • Wrong Side of Heaven - Five Finger Death Punch (2013) - After my first foray into 5FDP, I poked about their catalog and I resonated with this song as well. From their first of two releases in 2013. I'm on the wrong side of heaven, and the righteous side of hell.
  • In the Light - DC Talk (1995) - My pastor recommended this song to me (after he had already given me a list of notable duds) from one of his favorite bands (Christian or otherwise) of all time. One listen and I was hooked. This song is delightful in its lyrics, its complexity, its musicianship. A true gem. I am the king of excuses
    I've got one for every selfish thing I do.

  • Consume Me - DC Talk (1998) - If In the Light scores a 10, this song is definitely several notches down. Not bad, but definitely overproduced with too many layers of pointless synthesizer noise that drowns out any note of underlying artistry. It will be good for a few listens.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Joyful Christian

My latest C.S. Lewis read was The Joyful Christian. This book was first published in 1977, some 14 years after the author's death, and includes a selection of 127 "readings" covering the gamut of topics related to Christianity. The various selections ranged in length from a paragraph to several pages. Even though I had already read essentially all of these entries in their original works, this book was still a treat to work through and wrestle with. For those who have read any of Lewis' apologetics works, you will appreciate how in one breath his writing can be so open, so approachable, and so relatable. However, in the next breath the writing can be so obtuse and so impenetrable. Thus second and third passes through his works are entirely appropriate to catch another glimpse of truth and beauty, or to give a piece another go as it were.

In this book, you will note multiple selections from Lewis' great work, including The Four Loves, Letters to Malcolm, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and The Problem of Pain. Topics include Lewis's thoughts on outer space, other religions, the case for monotheism, joy, the nature of God, miracles, prayer, Christian virtues, morality, death, love, heaven, and hell. The different readings included are organized so as to have a natural flow, but each is self-contained. Each shows the depth and wonder of Lewis' thoughts. This book was just a great tour through the mind of one of the great writers of the last century. Sometimes in our modern, skeptical world, it is easy to lose sight of who our God is and what he has done for us. Spending time in a book like this can serve to restore and sharpen your faith.

Monday, January 6, 2014


If you stare at a glacier for just a few moments, you will never come to understand how much this structure evolves with time. Yet studied over centuries, glaciers are one of the main mechanisms of terraforming, including the formation of the tallest mountains, the deepest valleys, and the broadest plains. The same qualitative observations can be made with our children. Being with them on the day-to-day, we lose sight of the fact that they evolve and grow. When my own daughter was born, I could easily support her entire body on my forearm. Today, she is nearly as tall as I am. Though the movements are glacial, they are definite and assured.

Sometimes we catch a glimpse along the way of how far they have come. For me I took notice when I tossed an empty bottle of my daughter's mouth rinse into the recycle bin. It was then that I noticed the "kids" demarkation on the label. It occurred to me that this was the last association of her with her childhood. In days past she would get excited by products designed just for her. They always seems to bring a smile and a dose of excitement. I loved buying her shampoos and soaps for her bathroom that featured Barbie or Spongebob or, my favorite, Winnie the Pooh. Those days are long past now, but not so distant that their echos have died out completely.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Time to Kill

I am fairly new to the John Grisham train, having read only two of his books to date (The Brethren and The Last Juror). Several folks indicated to me that Grisham's best works were his early ones. I decided to take this advice and selected as my next Grisham read, his first book from 1989, A Time to Kill. The story takes place in Ford County, a backwoods corner of Mississippi still battling with many of the same issues and racial divides from the 1960s and 1970s. It begins as two rednecks, drunk and doped up, decide to amuse themselves by taking captive a 10-year black girl. They rape her repeatedly, beat her, and try to hang her before leaving her for dead. However, the child is found and relays enough information for the sheriff to round up the rednecks and arrest them. After the arraignment, the victim's father Carl Lee Hailey, waited in a closet with an M-16. When the two criminals came within range, he gunned them down. Carl Lee's act had been carefully planned out and discussed with those closest to him. It was something that he would rather not do, but to him, he had no choice as a man or as a father.

Carl Lee was arrested for the double homicide of the two men who raped his daughter. The state was seeking the death penalty and there was no doubt as to the who, what, when, where, and why. The case quickly generated major publicity and the press descended upon Ford County to cover the trial. The state was represented by the D.A. who had long held political aspirations, including a run for governor. He was determined to revel in the spotlight, preening and strutting about the stage for all to see. The defendent was represented by Jake Brigance, a man whose motives are not fully pure either. He sees this case as an opportunity to increase his reputation, but there is something that grounds him a bit. Perhaps it is the fact that he has a young daughter and if anything happened to her, he would not hesitate to act as judge, jury, and executioner. As the trial goes on, Ford County is swarmed by thousands of blacks who support Carl Lee and a polluting seed of the KKK who are using everything in their power to bribe, to extort, and to get a conviction.

As the first published novel by an author, this one was not bad. However, I think that the character of Jake Brigance needed to be developed further to enable us to understand his actions and choices. What were his morals and his convictions? Also, I felt that the courtroom scenes during the trial of Carl Lee were more than a bit lacking. The lawyers lost their cools within moments of the trial starting, and both fell prey to lawyering 101 tactics from the other side. Still, the questions of whether or not vigilante justice is ever appropriate were worth considering. Despite some flaws, I still found this book an enjoyable read.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Observations 42

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 was checking out of the drugstore the other day. After the cashier handed me my receipt he said, "Thank you for shopping here and please be well." I liked that.
  • My pastor is always saying that we shouldn't judge others. However, at church recently, the lady next to me started to vigorously floss her teeth right in the middle of the sermon. I think that if you pull a stunt like that in public, you actually deserve a little bit of righteous condemnation to come your way.
  • I received my yearly AAA bill the other day. On the envelope it stated in a daring, bold font, "Open Immediately!" I calmly set the bill aside until the next day.
  • I walked into my bathroom the other morning and came face to face with a mutant cricket. I could have sworn that it looked me in the eye and said, "You eye'n me boy?". Needless to say I made an audible yip and ran to get the vacuum with the reeeeaaaaally long handle.
  • I communicated by email to a friend of mine some details on a recipe. In their reply message to say thanks, I noticed that I had typed, "season with salt and paper." Hmmm.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014

Today marks the fact that another year has gone by in our lives. For some this will bring forth a dreary, depressing, and melancholy tune ... ♫ You load 16 tons and what do you get, another year old and deeper in debt ...

For others the New Year calls forth more dulcet notes. Maybe you graduated from high school or college, got a big promotion, got married, had a baby, went on your dream vacation, or bought a new house. Hopefully as you look back and look ahead you are pleased where you are and where you are going. I think that such a position is the best anyone can hope for.

As for me, I find myself most definitely betwixt and between. However, I still have a fire in my belly to give a strong effort to grab the old brass ring if I should espy it on my loop around this year-long merry-go-round. However, today I am off to a great start. I will be celebrating the 16th birthday of my beautiful daughter. I am so proud of her and so blessed by her presence in my life. Happy birthday angel face.

To my readers, I wish you a most awesome new year. Blessings to each and everyone.