Thursday, July 31, 2014

Observations 61

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.
  • Have you ever tried to be sullen and brooding when something suddenly makes you laugh? That can really mess up a good sullen brooding.
  • The other day I was stung by a wasp and since then I have had wasp-like powers. I flutter around people making them nervous until they swat at me.
  • Have you ever gotten into a battle with a piece of Saran Wrap and lost? I have known the bitter taste of such defeat.
  • I passed by my local Chik-fil-A fast-food restaurant the other day when it was about 100 degrees (F) outside. They had a guy out front waving at traffic in one of those ridiculous cow costumes. How did this person not collapse and die after 10 minutes?
  • After one of those recent World Cup soccer matches ended with a 1-0 score, one of my friends from Italy actually described the game as a complete blowout. No wonder Americans yawned through this whole episode.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


One of my daily prayers is to ask God to keep me ever mindful of the needs of others. However, I too often speak well in advance of a properly considered and fair response. Just over the past several weeks several examples perfect for illustration came from somewhere within me.

Example #1: When addressing an engineer at a recent group meeting. "Wow, that's pretty naive thinking."

The truth is that the engineer was simply trying to better understand why I was stressing a certain point of the system design. My response was disrespectful and showed a lack of patience.

Example #2: When discussing the designs of a detector group in a planning meeting. "Those people are clowns, they have no idea what they're doing."

The truth is that I disagreed with the basic approach of the detector group, especially when they did not consult with me. My response was flip and I should have acted to better understand their thinking and their constraints.

Example #3: When talking to a colleague about some management decision. "They continue to follow a path of incompetence all the while congratulating themselves for their brilliance."

The truth is that I really did not understand the pressures faced by the management group and what limitations were placed upon the decisions that they were likely forced to make. Without full information my opinion was designed to inflate my own ego.

It's amazing how I can pray in one breath to be mindful of others and in the next how I can take swings at their reputations. Working on my own shortcomings often seems to take longer than I would care to admit to realize even the slightest, fleeting improvement. It seems the insults and knives are tossed out before I even realize that I have fired a salvo. Then after a moment I recognize that I have fallen short again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Red Prophet

The second part of the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card is entitled Red Prophet. This story is essentially a parallel novel to the first book in the series, Seventh Son. However, about a third of the way into the story the timelines and story arcs align to where Seventh Son ended up. We are reintroduced to the Alvin Miller, the seventh son of a seventh son, a 10 year old boy living with his family on the frontier of a young America back in the early 1800s. It was foretold upon his birth that he was destined to be a maker, although Alvin has no idea what this actually means. What he does know is that he has been gifted with a knack of knowing how to affect matter, whether that is healing himself or others, or coaxing a millstone from a cliff face.

The main story arc deals with the conflicts between the native Indians who are being forced off of their ancestral lands by the European settlers. In rapid order the white man has swept from the eastern coast to the Ohio valley laying claim to whatever they desired. The Indians tribes are caught between two powerful leaders, the brothers Ta-kumsaw, who is trying to rally an overwhelming force to push the white man back into the sea by whatever means necessary, and Lolla-Wossiky, a prophet who values all men and wishes to broker peace and compromise. The new Americans along the frontier are being directed by one Bill Harrison (a fictionalized version of William Henry Harrison, 9th U.S. president) who will use whatever sleazy means he can to rouse the white population up against the Indians. Caught in the middle of this is one Alvin Miller who uses his nascent powers to help out as best he can given his morality, his conscience, and his loyalties.

The story was enjoyable overall, but did tend to get bogged down and drawn out several times. In some ways it wasn't as crisply and tidily written as Seventh Son, but given some of the undercurrents that Card built into this narrative that weren't fully developed or used as a focus of the story, it is clear that he is building up to something that will require patience. I move onto the third novel in the series, Prentice Alvin.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Quick Hits 23

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.

How much damage will you inflict on someone's car before you report yourself? I find major scrapes and dings on my doors all the time. There is no way people don't realize what they have done.

What do you think?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Seventh Son

Several folks have recommended Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series to me over the past year and so I added it to my reading queue. A stack of six novels has been sitting in my library for a while now, just waiting for me to start in. However, before I could pick up the first book, I had to journey back to the genesis of this whole work, the long-style narrative poem Prentice Alvin and the No-Good Plow. A story about a young blacksmith apprentice who makes a golden plow that comes from his soul. He journeys to a far-away land, searching for just the right spot where the plow was destined to cut deep into the rich, black earth to bring life. Card had no intention to let this poem be the nexus for a long series, but his muse took over. Now a string of works stretches back some 20 years about this gifted young maker.

The first novel, Seventh Son, tells of a once prominent New England family of the early 1800s that fell on hard times. Alvin Miller took his pregnant wife Faith and his growing brood and headed west to leave their disappointment behind and to start afresh. When they were in the Ohio valley, they were set to cross a lifeless creek when a murderous storm arose out of nowhere. Faith went into labor just as the creek overran its banks and threatened to wipe out the family. That very evening, after being rescued by a group of locals, Faith gave birth to Alvin Jr., the seventh son of a seventh son. From the moment of his birth, Alvin Jr. was destined to be a creation with a special gift. However, with such a gift, come powers of darkness that seek to claim him for their own. The story follows Alvin as he grows into a fine young man and just begins to realize who he is and what his gift requires of him.

A fine story of frontier life in a young and vibrant America. The power of Card's work here is giving a sense of how special Alvin is and what is poised to slay him, without giving too much away or being heavy handed. Of course this book is not the usual science fiction or thriller fare that Card is most known for. However, a skilled writer understands his craft and the art of story and character development. Now onto the second novel in the series, Red Prophet.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In the News 2

I read through the news headlines on CNN the other morning as I usually do while eating my breakfast. Click ... scan ... click ... scan ... I stumbled across the following items:
  • Ebola epidemic is out of control
  • 20 kennel dogs die in baking heat
  • Jogger finds stolen baby in bushes
  • U.S. Navy sailor dies in parachute jump
  • Hospital delays are killing America's war veterans
One might say that news stories of this sort are about as everyday common as could be. Every day the headlines are composed of a litany of woe, suffering, war, destruction, famine, cruelty, death, injury, crime, and darkness. Yet over time we all seem to have become inured to such reports. What might have sparked outrage or empathy in the past, now merits nothing more than a shake of the head, a half-hearted utterance of "Such a shame", before we let our eyes dance down to the sports headlines or the latest celebrity news. Yet each click tells the story of someone's tragedy, someone's pain. Families losing mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. Financial ruin. Untold suffering. Tears and hurt that will take months or years to get over or get past. Me, I seem to be more concerned with finishing up my cereal while finding something just to pass the time. Click ... scan ... click ... scan ...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Observations 60

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.
  • When someone tries to intimidate you and make it clear that they are right and you are wrong merely because they are older than you, beware. This is the tactic of a bully and likely someone who's "truth" and "facts" are misguided.
  • After all these years, I finally found an answer online to one of my questions about Powerpoint controls. I am stunned.
  • I try to keep an open mind with my colleagues (scientists), but every once in a while a new student appears at one of our workshops with a mohawk or other avant-garde type of hair style. Not only do they stand out in this type of conservative crowd, but they just come across as so unprofessional (regardless of what they have to say), that it is hard to take them seriously.
  • I checked out my local weather forecast online the other day. Normally there are several places on the page where paid ads are located. However, on this occasion the web site indicated "error, no ads to display". Perhaps you heard my heart breaking?
  • The other day I saw one of those flatbed-style tow trucks pulling along a Smart Car. The scale of the truck to the "car" was completely out of proportion, almost comical. I was wondering why the driver didn't just pick up the car and toss it onto the back of his truck.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Worthing Saga

I just finished my reading of the Orson Scott Card work The Worthing Saga. I would say that this book is a brilliant, sprawling, hodgepodge, spawned from the mind of a writer struggling to learn his craft and to put his vision on the page. Yet somehow he is not yet certain what to include and what to leave behind. But this book has all of the elements - narrative, vision, character development, and attention to detail - that are the hallmarks of Card's novels. This book is, in fact, actually a collection of short stories, some of which were initially published in Card's books Capitol and Hot Sleep. The short stories were initially published over a few years as part of a serialized novel, which is likely part of the reason that they don't form a fully cohesive and crisp work. However, the storylines contained in this saga are compelling, interesting, and absorbing.

Once upon a time on the world of Capitol, a miracle drug was created that put people in statis, so that they could extend their lives almost indefinitely. However, this expensive drug divided society into the haves and the have-nots - those who lived their 100 years and died, and those who slept away the decades, skipping over the intervening years. While this drug allowed for space travel and the seeding of people about the galaxy, it nearly destroyed humanity. However, this aspect of the story, merely amounts to one arc of several. On Capitol, we meet a young man named Jason Worthing. Jason has a unique genetic marker that gives him the ability to read people's minds. However, such an ability puts Jason's life at great risk. He decides that his best option is to become a starship pilot and leave on a colony ship to a distant world. However, just as his ship reaches this new planet, it is attacked and most of the colonists in statis are lost. Those that survived can only be woken with blank minds, like fully grown babies. So Jason can only bring a few out at a time, where he can raise them to be self-sufficient. Slowly, over the span of many years, he establishes a colony on his planet. Over the course of countless generations, the colony rises up to be something beautiful at times, before its people ultimately destroy themselves.

Many thousands of years later, Jason opens his entire life up to a young scribe, so that everything that he has witnessed and every lesson that he has learned can be recorded. The tales of the people and their successes, their failures, their gifts, and their undoings, need to be told without whitewashing or altering the truth so that humanity will come to see who they are supposed to be and how quickly they can lose themselves to greed, to apathy, to pride, and to conflict. This is definitely a story worth diving into.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Quick Hits 22

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.

It is believed that of folks who identify themselves as Christians, only about 10% have actually read the entire Bible. I find this number disturbing.

What do you think?

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Summons

I just finished reading the 2002 novel The Summons by John Grisham. This novel is set mainly in Ford County, MS, as were his works A Time to Kill and Ford County. The story begins when Ray Atlee, a University of Virginia law professor, gets a formal summons from his dying father in Ford County, Judge Rueben Atlee. Ray assumes that this will be a meeting to review his father's estate and his last wishes. The Judge served more than 30 years on the bench until he was voted out of office. He then hid away from the rest of the world, bitter that he was cast out of his seat of power.

Ray and his father have a very strained relationship. As a result he was dreading this unexpected trip back home. To make matters more uncomfortable for Ray, he will have to see his brother Forrest, the black sheep of the family, a con artist who has struggled with every possible addiction his whole life. When Ray arrives at his father's house at the appointed time, he finds him dead in his study, and Forrest is nowhere to be found. Ray finds a new version of his father's will sitting out on his desk, claiming only $6,000 in the bank and the house as his only assets. Yet Ray discovers boxes and boxes of hundred dollar bills in the couch behind where his father lies, an unaccountable sum of 3 million dollars. Ray decides to hide the money until he can figure out what to do with it. The Judge may have been many things including hard-nosed, domineering, and abrasive, but he was definitely not dirty. Where could this money have come from?

The story follows Ray as he quickly becomes a target of someone who knows about the money and wants Ray to turn it over. Ray makes a list of possible suspects and one by one he crosses them off his list. Finally, as he is going through his father's files, he comes to figure out the source of the money. But when the only person who could have known about the money is killed, Ray still finds that he is being followed and his life threatened. As the story ends, Ray has come to better understand what he values and what he is willing to fight for in his life. He also better understands who he can trust. This is definitely a professional, crisp effort from start to finish, written by an author who knows how to develop settings, to write with even pacing, to build suspense, and to craft true to life characters who actually deliver believable dialog.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Management Training

There is a sort of evolution at most companies where, over time, lower-level employees can rise up through the ranks and eventually become part of the management team. It turns out that many folks who are considered management never actually receive formal training, they are just left to figure things out on their own. However, I have consistently seen two common principles that most in management seem to employ:

1). Those sitting closest to the boss's office will be given the most assignments. What seems to happen is that the boss has a task that needs to be done and goes out in search of someone whose lap it can be dumped in. The first office where the boss finds a worker sitting at their desk is given the job. The bottom line is that if you are sure to stay away from your office, either by taking extra long lunches, arriving to work late or leaving early, you increase your chances of not getting assigned extra work.

2). If you complain about something or raise an objection, then you can be sure that the boss will ask you to head up a committee to look into it. The bottom line is that if you don't want to be stuck with extra work, keep your objections to yourself, no matter how reasonable they are.

It's funny how often the rank-and-file workers complain about how management is so unreasonable, so ineffective, so illogical and random, and then when those same workers are promoted into management, they quickly adopt the exact same approaches.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Literary Stock Characters

I have read hundreds of novels over the past few years and although I have enjoyed my time with the vast majority of them, it seems that I keep stumbling across the same characters time and time again. Oh, they may have different names and live in different time periods, but apart from these details, they come across as plug and play literary stock characters. It is amazing how many "best seller" authors do not truly understand how to develop realistic dialog, so their cast of characters regulary spews trite, hackneyed, pablum. I sometimes grow frustrated when they put scant effort into the development of secondary characters so that they are utterly forgettable, completely two dimensional. Most novelists tend to introduce 10 to 15 characters that we need to keep track of. Sometimes without detailed notes, it is easy to loose track of one cardboard cutout from another. Every once in a while I stumble across an author who brings in 25 to 30 characters. Those reads can be tough slogging unless the author is quite skilled. Of course character development, whether it is the protagonists or the antagonists, is the key that separates enjoyable but ultimately forgettable fare, from those few-and-far-between 5-star efforts.

Over the past year, I have been making a list of the most common literary stock characters that I have come across. These include:
  • Former Special Ops soldiers - It seems like every writer has to include a Rambo-type tough guy. This way they don't actually have to work to develop the characters they introduce and can rely on us to fill in the details using what we saw in the movies.
  • The reluctant hero - Think Bruce Willis in Die Hard. I'll do it, but I won't be happy about it. The tough man with a heart so tender it only needs a little bit of A-1.
  • The Ice Queen - Over the top Malificent, evil step-mother type. Enough already.
  • The magnate of dubious intelligence - The leader of the bad guys who is rich beyond measure, has scores of unquestioning minions, and who has risen to the brink of taking over the world, yet has the IQ of a bowl of Grape Nuts.
  • The Snidely Whiplash - The over-the-top, hand-wringing, ham of a bad guy, replete with the evil laugh and the ever-twistable mustache.
  • The Red-shirter - An omage to the red-shirt wearing Star Trek crewman who everyone knew wasn't coming back from the mission. Little dialog, space filler, amounting to no more than background noise to move the story along in a rather pedestrian manner.
  • The overly lucid druggie pixie girl - I have read several stories of the runaway girl who has been into the drug scene for years, but who is amazingly clear-thinking, deft, and clever at all the key points in the narrative.
  • The uber-powerful syndicate leader - Head of the secret society who seems to micromanage every iota of his world-wide empire. How does this guy find the time to do all the things that he supposedly does? How does he have the energy for so much monologuing?
When you come across an author who doesn't use such stock characters like a crutch, those are the pieces that often stand the test of time, that you remember, that you want to go back to.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mystery of God's Will

Folks who keep up with my book reviews will know that one of my favorite authors of Christian devotionals is Charles Swindoll. Over the past 10 years I have read dozens and dozens of his books. I appreciate that he never tries to be hip, trendy, or flashy. He just tackles each topic with a straightforward, approachable manner. If you have ever heard his Insight for Living radio program, his writing style follows very closely to his folksy preaching style. His goal has always been focused on expository teaching based on the bible. I find that his books are very much like comfort food to me, something to savor, enjoy, and bring me peace. It has been a few years since I have picked up one of his books and so I decided to dive into The Mystery of God's Will.

Discerning God's will for our lives is a tricky subject. For Christians trying to understand what God would have us do when it comes to making the major decisions in our life, whether in relationships, career, or planning for our future, is a difficult topic. Certainly the bible has nothing to tell us about who specifically we should marry or whether we should take the job in Dallas or New York City. However, Swindoll argues that while God's will is mysterious, it is not opaque. Regardless of what happens to us, for better or for worse, we can build a strong foundation for our lives on the truth that God loves us, is with us, and will never abandon us. In the darkest of nights and in those periods of uncertainty about which direction we should move in, Swindoll exhorts us to
  • Wait and persevere with a confident faith
  • Face all trials with a submissive humility with a constant focus on prayer
  • Find rest in our sovereign God and trust in His plan
  • Remember that we are being conformed to the image of Christ through our trials.
If we can just develop a firm trust that God is in control and knows what he is doing, we can have faith that all things will work out for his good and his glory, even if we don't come to understand the how or the why. Of this truth, we all need to be given regular reminders.

Monday, July 14, 2014

In the News 1

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the news headlines online each day. There is always something that catches my attention, whether it involves human conflict, a human interest piece, the sports wrap, or just the usual absurdities. In this new series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

Goodbye to Tony Gwynn - Tony Gwynn played 20 seasons as the right fielder for the San Diego Padres. He was a notably skillful baseball player. I remember at one point late in his career, someone told me that he could play a full season, not get a single hit, and his lifetime batting average would still be above 0.300. For many years, from my late teens until my mid-30s, I watched countless of his highlights on SportsCenter. That kind of regular presence over such an extended period, built up strong associations that kind of linked him with that time of my life. Also, somehow, it always seems to give you pause to reflect when the sports stars that you grew up with pass on. Tony died due from cancer on June 16.

Goodbye to Casey Kasem - Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s one of my usual Saturday morning rituals was to listen to Casey Kasem's radio program, American Top 40. In the 70s Casey's velvety smooth voice penetrated through the tinny speaker of my small AM transistor radio. In the 80s, Casey transitioned over to the FM dial. I can close my eyes and still hear his backup singers belting out "Casey's coast to coast" between the countdown songs, the stories, and the long-distance dedications. His program was a very happy memory from my childhood. Of course, the fact that Casey Kasem also was the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo, one of my favorite cartoons of all time, just increases my fondness for him. Casey died from complications of Parkinson's Disease on June 15.

Friday, July 11, 2014


The second book in Orson Scott Card's Pathfinder series is entitled Ruins. This story picks up just after the first novel in the series, Pathfinder, ends. There we met a young teenage boy named Rigg who grew up on an Earth colony planet called Garden as a simple fur trapper with a man he thought was his father. However, Rigg's father gave his son a very broad education in science, history, language, and politics. When Rigg's father died, he left his son a bag of jewels that brought his old existence to an end the moment that he tried to sell one. Rigg found out that he was actually the prince of a deposed monarchy. Rigg, his traveling companion Umbo, and his sister Param, make a daring escape from their colony just a hair's breadth ahead of their mother's scheme to kill them and to reclaim her position as queen. Rigg, Umbo, and Param each also have a very special ability to manipulate time. As they work with each other, they slowly begin to understand and to control their nascent abilities as time travelers.

Pathfinder ended with Rigg and his small band of compatriots having come to understand that their planet was intended as Earth's first colony. However, due to an anomaly created during the jump to light speed, 19 copies of the spaceship were created that ended up arriving some 11,000 years before they even left Earth! Furthermore, they learn that Garden is divided into 19 separate colonies whose inhabitants have been kept fully isolated from the knowledge that the other colonies even exist. Those in control are actually advanced machines that arrived on the original ships. Rigg, Umbo, and Param learn that they were born with very special genetic manipulations to enhance their natural abilities. From the beginning their destiny is to save the planet of Garden from apparent destruction by warships of Earth. What nobody seems to understand is why. Using their time jumping abilities, Rigg, Umbo, and Param, try to avert the end of their world while trying to stay alive long enough to deal with all of the layers of intrigue and lies told to them by the colonists and the machines. A fun read that will keep you turning the pages. Now I await the next book in the series set for release this fall, Visitors.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Observations 59

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.
  • The other day I passed a colleague by in the hallway at work and related to them an amusing anecdote. The moment that I finished, raucous laughter burst forth from a nearby office. It was immediately clear this was in response to my story. Shouldn't eavesdroppers be more careful not to reveal the fact that they are listening in?
  • If I see one more commercial where they use the words "ginormous" or "epic" or "legendary" in their attempt to be "hip" and "with it", I might just have to start wearing bell-bottom pants in protest.
  • In a lane full of cars stopped at a red light, those closest to the front always seem to be the last to actually recognize that the light has changed to green.
  • The other day I was in stop and go traffic behind a pickup truck. In the bed sat a man who would not stop making eye contact with me. It was very awkward as I am kind of forced to look straight ahead when driving.
  • I wonder how many times in a given day you have to pass by someone in the hallway at work before you can stop saying hello.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Giving Generously III

Why is giving such a difficult and sometimes uncomfortable topic? I have already shared part of this discussion in yesterday's post (see Giving Generously II). To be clear, I am certainty not perfect when it comes to giving. I could likely do more than I have, but at the same time, I do make an effort. Does the money that I give to church and charity cause me to have to tighten my belt, to go without, to sacrifice any part of my way of life? No, not in any way. Does that mean that I am not being generous with my money? Honestly, I am not sure, but I do know that I don't feel guilty about not doing more. One thing is for certain when it comes to my giving, namely, it is my business what I give. When I give I do not do it for the approval of others.

I was thinking about the notion of generous giving when I stumbled upon the following bit in the book Alvin Journeyman by Orson Scott Card:

He could afford to be generous, since he didn't have to pay for it himself. Most virtues were like that. People could take pride in how virtuous they were, but the fact was that as soon as virtue got expensive or inconvenient, it was amazing how fast it gave way to practical concerns.

In that sense, I have indeed learned that what I do give is a priority to me. If I were to suffer a financial set back of some sort, my giving would not be the first thing that I cut back on. That is something that I have come face to face with on occasion when times have gotten tight. Plus I have learned to be sensitive to urgings from the Holy Spirit when I believe I am being called upon
to increase my giving. Through it all, I let the words of 2 Corinthians 9:7 be my guide:

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

That is the spirit behind giving generously.

(Part 3 of 3)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Giving Generously II

When it comes to giving generously, the Bible makes it clear that this is a must (see my post from yesterday in Giving Generously I). Yet this idea of generosity is a notion that I struggle with for several reasons:
  1. Many of those in need got where they are because they are lazy and driven by addictions. Why should I, who have worked with diligence year after year, cut these folks a slice of my pie? They have reaped what they have sown.
  2. I am uncomfortable being around the needy, the elderly, and the sick. I reason that I give to my church with the expectation that they will be a source for the distribution of collections, giving to trusted organizations using some sort of cohesive plan. However, this justification leaves me feeling like I am just trying to not get my hands dirty.
  3. I take the opportunities that I am aware of to support organizations whose mission I find compelling or that I can sympathize with. For example, the Back to School supply drives for the needy or Toys for Tots. Perhaps because I have a child, I can truly support the purpose behind these efforts. But if I cannot make a connection with the cause in some personal way, it somehow becomes background noise in the world or local news.
  4. I do not think it sound to work to support life in the inhospitable portions of our planet. But this is precisely where the most desperate segments of the world population live. There is no food, no water, no natural resources, yet these populations continue to breed unchecked. Sending them food and water is not a viable solution to their problems. In fact I believe that these short-term benefits actually lead to longer-term problems.
  5. It seems that everybody has their hand out trying to get something out of you. The requests for my money at times become cloying. I can feel overwhelmed to the point where I just ignore everything. Plus when I do make a choice to give, these outfits that run them seem to sell your name to everyone and their brother. Their greed and heavy handed approaches often make me regret my initial generosity.
So, how do I live up to the calling for generosity that is given to me in Scripture? I will conclude my thoughts in part 3 of this series tomorrow.

(Part 2 of 3)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Giving Generously I

A theme that I have heard regularly from the pulpit over the years is that we are called to give generously to those in need. A quick internet search turns up page after page of pertinent verses from the Bible:

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 - If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.

Luke 12:33 - Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.

Proverbs 21:13 - Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.

1 John 3:17 - But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?

Acts 20:35 - In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Some might feel convicted by these bits from scripture, where the term "convicted" is Christian-ese for feeling guilty for not doing better at something. But for me, the notion of giving generously to those in need is something that I have always struggled with. I struggle not because I feel guilty, but because I feel like there are some issues and principles involved. Also, who gets to decide what is meant by "generously" when it comes to giving?

Stay tuned for a continuation of this topic tomorrow.

(Part 1 of 3)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day 2014

This is the first year in my life that I will be out of the United States on July 4. However, I wanted to post an entry today to recognize Independence Day for my native land. It is interesting that when I am traveling abroad, I find folks tend to wear their national heritage with a bit more pride on a day to day basis. Americans only seem to get fired up about being American in times of conflict with external foes. I am pretty much the same way I guess. Perhaps this is because I tend to focus on what is wrong with my country and this all too often overshadows the positives in our approach, in our politics, in our freedoms. So today I intentionally give thanks. I hope that all of my fellow countrymen find a few moments of quiet to recognize and to appreciate what we have.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

When Nature Calls

O.K., I will admit it. That shrill girlish scream that you just heard, ..., well that was likely me. But I will state in all forthrightness in my defense, it was the bird's fault. Likely you too, put in the same situation, would not have handled yourself with as much aplomb and, dare I say, grace, as I did. I mean, I only peed myself just a little. It was hardly even noticeable. As evidence, I would submit that I didn't even crack the glass in the door as I slammed it shut. Perhaps I should just lay out the full story and let you decide.

I had just finished my dinner and cleaned up the kitchen. It was about 6:30 p.m. and I wanted to go outside on my porch and read for a little while before the sun started to set. I gathered up my book and my beverage, and then began to head outside. I turned the lock on the french doors leading to my deck, swung the door open in a rather carefree manner, and was just about to step outside, when my eye befell a deranged blackbird right in front of me. It was most assuredly giving me the eye and its mouth was in its full upright and locked position. I'm no ornithologist, but this feathered beastie should have been certified as non compos mentis. If I had continued with my normal stride, my foot would have come down right on top of this foul avian. It might have been rendered an unbird but for my quick, cat-like reflexes. I did not utter a girlish, heady scream in panic, it was merely a call to the creature to flee back to its nest. My slamming of the door was not an act of yellow-streaked cowdarice, but an alert to this blackbird's brethen, aka turdus merula, to come swiftly to his aid.

This critter remained frozen in position with its mouth wide open for 15 minutes. It was then that I decided to boldly take steps to reclaim my dominant position as alpha male on my property. So, I snuck around through the side door to access my porch. I only took this circuituous route and gave my confused friend a wide berth so as not to cause him further duress. I assure you it was not because my heart was still thumping like a bunny. After another 15 minutes, the birdy took a couple of awkward hops to the edge of the deck and disappeared from sight. As the dust started to settle from this harrowing ordeal, I realized that I had sucked down every last drop of my tea and that I needed to head right back inside as nature was calling.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Foreign Observations

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 week on my trip to Italy.
  • Americans are so arrogant that we still huff and complain about them dang foreigners even when we have traveled to another country and we, by definition, are the foreigner.
  • It is so easy to think that people in other countries are quite different from us because they speak a different language, drive different cars, and have some different customs, but beneath the surface we are pretty much the same.
  • The men's bathroom at the meeting venue where I was working was a nasty, dirty hole, reminiscent of a stereotypical service station men's room. However, when I walked past the women's bathroom, the door was propped open. This room was large, sparking clean, and had the feel of a sort of place where you could relax and come out renewed and refreshed, perhaps with a lingering scent of jasmine or potpourri.
  • I found the best strategy when someone speaks to you in a language that you do not understand is to shake your head side to side and say no. If they then seem perplexed or confused, then shake your head up and down and say yes.
  • It is O.K. to smile and say hello to people in a foreign land when you pass them on the street or in a shop. Regardless of whether they understand your language, they will definitely get your message.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


It seems like yesterday that I posted my 1599th blog entry. Ahhh memories. Actually, it turns out that it was yesterday, so today must be post number 1600 at my humble site. Experts say that it usually takes about 1600 posts for a blog to really find its groove, to understand its pace, to appreciate who and what it is. They further claim that it is at this point that blogs typically sweep the nation by storm, right into the dustbin ... Be that as it may, it is true that I do like to take a moment to make a brief to-do whenever the number of one of my blog posts ends in double naught (i.e. 00). I do this not because I actually give a flyin' rip, but because I like to take a moment every now and then to thank my regular readers for stopping by. Your presence is much appreciated. See you on down the road in another 100 posts.