Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Grave Robber

Pastor Mark Batterson's latest book is entitled The Grave Robber. This devotional focuses on the seven miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John. Each of the seven chapters of the book introduces one of the miracles:
  • turning water into wine
  • healing the royal official's son from a distance
  • healing the invalid at the pool of Bethesda
  • feeding of the 5000
  • walking on water
  • giving sight to the man born blind
  • raising Lazarus from the dead
Batterson expands on issues of faith, perseverance, trust, love, and patience associated with each. He introduces anecdotes from his own life and others, both contemporary and historical, that help us to understand Jesus and his purposes better. The discussions not only serve to make it clear what purposes Jesus had in mind during his earthly ministry 2000 years ago, but also how his work then should impact our lives today. When I told my pastor that I was reading this book, he asked my opinion of it. I told him:

It still has that Batterson style, but with each new release his books get a little slicker a little bit more over-produced. I prefer his earlier books to his later books. However, I am still enjoying the read.

I think that sums things up for me. To be clear though, I would definitely recommend this book to folks looking for something to read during their devotional time. Each section is broken up into page-long, subsections, each of which can serve as a stand-alone devotional, even though its theme fits well within the overall section to which it belongs. I also worked my way through the teaching and expository video series that is available for free as part of this book. Mark's lessons are taught on location in and around Israel. They were very well done.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Phony Baloney

I have known a few folks over the years who put too much effort into sucking up to their superiors. However, their shameless behavior was far from smooth and miles from natural. Fake smiles, exaggerated chortles, over-the-top compliments. 100% saccharin. It is astounding how quickly they denigrate others they see who attempt to suck-up to their bosses using the same approach. Are they incensed so because they are blind to their own actions or because they were beaten to the punch? Witnessing their awkward pantomime and cloying affectations makes me wonder if their bosses recognize this phony baloney act and try their best to endure it or if they ever actually fall for that juicy worm left bobbing on the surface of the water.

I have a number of simple suggestions to impress my bosses with my behavior:
  • Show up to work each day and give my best effort.
  • Take responsibility for my work assignments.
  • Be honest and forthright in my interactions with others.
  • Step up and do my part.
  • Take my work seriously and carefully review what I do to ensure it can stand up to scrutiny.
  • Work hard whether anyone can see me or not.
Some might think this a radical approach, all that "honest work for a day's pay" rubbish. It amazes me how some folks can have any self-respect when they exert so much energy trying to look busy rather than actually working and trying to fool folks into thinking they are indispensable when they most often fall short or exist only on the fringes of hard work and useful input. I hope that when I retire, folks who work in and around me will say that I was a good worker, that I wasn't a counterfeit seasoned sausage made of finely ground meat, usually beef and pork, that has been cooked and smoked.

Friday, September 26, 2014


The genre of post-apocalyptic fiction is by now well populated by a host of novels. It is definitely a popular niche. The novel Flood by Stephen Baxter is another in this category. It was a chilling tale that got under my skin and left me with a lingering sense of anxiety and a sense of mourning. A story that slowly and methodically built to a deafening crescendo of suffering and loss until there was only silence. Chilling, haunting, and impactful would be appropriate labels.

The story begins in 2016 where a group of American and British hostages is liberated from a five-year captivity by rogue anti-government agents operating in Spain. As a result of their shared experience, the group vows to stay in contact and support each other as they go back to their lives. However, they quickly find that the world that they have returned to is battling some rather strange and unexplained climatic events that have caused water levels world-wide to rise to unprecedented levels. The former captives were actually in Spain in the first place to support investigations of anomalous weather patterns. Continuing their work, they bounce around the world investigating and trying to develop predictive models. Ultimately they come to the conclusion that the water-level rise is on an exponential curve, and members of their team believe that they understand why. A long-standing theory in some terrestrial models held that vast oceans were trapped beneath the Earth's crust during its formation. The volume of water contained in these voids could potentially enclose a volume significantly larger than the world's oceans. If tectonic shifts occurred such that this volume was released, then humanity could be in trouble.

The story follows the development of the flood up until the year 2052 when the waters finally cover all of the land. Humanity struggled at times valiantly and courageously, but more often selfishly and murderously as the incessant rise of the waters overran every trace of human history, leaving nothing behind. Baxter paces his story in such a manner that you can feel the noose constricting about humanity's neck. Finally, humanity has reached a point where we are all equal, red, yellow, back, and white, poor or rich, educated or ignorant, the water drowns us all without regard, without favoritism. All that remains are a few rag-tag bands of individuals floating about on raft-based habitats gamely trying to exist and hold on. There are also rumors of a small remnant of survivors who left for the stars to spread humanity's seed to a new world. That is the focus of the second part of this saga in Ark.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Observations 67

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 reporters on ESPN's SportsCenter seem to regularly declare that some highlight from the day's slate of games is the best play ever. Sounds less like expert commentary every time I watch and more like a couple of guys sitting around drinking a few while watching the tube.
  • At the book exchange that we have at work, which contains 4 shelves of assorted books for folks to borrow, I saw the title "Wealth Without Risk". I guess the previous owner struck it rich and was passing on the secret to unchecked money to the next lucky soul.
  • I was in the kitchen fixing a snack for my daughter while she was in the living room watching a cartoon on T.V.. The following dialog hit me upside the head, "So what do you like to do? ... oh eat poop with a bee on it ... cool." What a deliciously random line.
  • There was a story in the news about a man who was shot by police. The incensed locals set out to protest and voice their anger, yet it ultimately turned into a scene of people destroying, burning, and looting local businesses. Seems to me the moment they turned to criminal behavior, they lost their legitimacy and their purpose ... and my sympathy.
  • It seems to me the fairest way for two folks to divide a pie is for one person to cut it and the other to select what piece they want. Oh, and I am not really talking about pie.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


In a recent moment of pique regarding the actions of a colleague, I rashly labeled them as a fool. If I had taken half a beat to filter my thoughts before I uttered them, I would have said something different, less emotionally charged. I think when most of us toss around the word fool, we use it as a synonym for idiot. As I found a quiet place to cool down after this incident, I began to think about the term "fool" and its different meanings, and I realized that not all of them have such negative connotations. In this series of posts, I wanted to explore the different senses of the word fool.

Fool #4 - Someone who has been tricked into appearing or acting silly or stupid.

Perhaps the most unfair label of fool is one who is cheated out of their time, money, or possessions through the trickery or deceipt of another. Sometimes we may be naive, too trusting, or overrun by an unexpected blow. Through no true fault of our own, what was once ours has been taken from us in such a manner that others pity us, think us gullible, brand us with a scarlet F.

Scripture tells us a thing or two about fools, but worse yet than being deceived, is not to learn from our experience.

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence. Like a lame man's legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Proverbs 26:3-12

(Part 4 of 4)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Classic Christianity

I just finished reading what may be termed a "classic" book, the best-selling devotional Classic Christianity by Bob George. In fact, the front cover of the book declares that it has sold over 600,000 copies. Numbers like this actually made me a bit edgy about reading it because my mind immediately wanted to dissect the book analytically, to critically examine its every nook and cranny. It was almost a challenge for me to approach my reading with a critical eye to see if this book was as worthy as it claimed. I had the same mindset when I read A Purpose-Drive Life by Rick Warren which claimed to have sold more than 30 million copies.

The subtitle of George's book really fits well to his main message, "Life's Too Short to Miss the Real Thing". Christians tend to fall into traps of routine, of false doctrine, of being led by folks of dubious intent, of legalism. If they can just get a whiff of what entering into a relationship with Jesus is really supposed to be all about, they might just begin to understand that their empty, patterned, rote religion, has something much better to offer.

This book is based on very sound exegesis and George's reasoned and sensible approach helps to provide comfort, reassurance, and insight into God's word. I would not say that this book particularly stands out among the dozens and dozens of other similar books in this genre. In fact, why this book should sell more copies than others of its ilk is likely due to the fact that George hosts a nationally syndicated radio call-in program. That is not meant to be a criticism, in fact, spreading the word about the Word is all that really matters and if this book helps then that is good thing. This book provided me an enjoyable daily devotional.

Monday, September 22, 2014


A paradox is defined as a statement that seems to contradict itself and yet still might be true. As one approaches a paradox from the outside and begins to ponder its complexities and subtleties, one can sometimes find a path to reason whether it is true or false, plausible or unlikely. However, typically, the unraveled paradox can still provide insight into something that had not been clear before its consideration.

Poking about online I came across a number of sites that have assembled a collection of paradoxes. Some use words that you might claim to be fictional:

Cole's paradox: Even a tiny fecundity advantage of one additional offspring would favor the evolution of semelparity.

Some will get you to wondering how such a thing is possible:

Potato paradox: If you let potatoes consisting of 99% water dry so that they are 98% water, they lose 50% of their weight.

Some will give you a smile of recognition:

Hedgehog's dilemma: Despite goodwill, human intimacy cannot occur without substantial mutual harm.

Some will make you curious:

Faraday paradox: Diluted nitric acid will corrode steel, while concentrated nitric acid doesn't.

Some will make you think about anthropomorphism:

Crocodile dilemma: If a crocodile steals a child and promises its return if the father can correctly guess exactly what the crocodile will do, how should the crocodile respond in the case that the father correctly guesses that the child will not be returned?

Finally, some will be seen as easily dismissible by most, except those who have been hurt by those closest to them:

Loneliness paradox: A close and loving family is a blessing. But the more people we love and the more deeply we love them, the more vulnerable we are to loss and grief and loneliness.

Friday, September 19, 2014


The final novel in Orson Scott Card's Homecoming saga is entitled Earthborn and takes up several hundreds of years after the end of Earthfall. There we had traveled with Volemak and his clan as they return humanity back to Earth after 40 million years. Their journey brought about by contact with the Oversoul, an eye in the sky system set up above the planet Harmony to protect humanity from destroying itself as had happened on Earth. The Oversoul system, knowing that it had survived well beyond its design lifetime, recognized that it was being called back to Earth for repairs and reprogramming. However, Volemak's clan split into a side that followed the Oversoul's plan (the Nafari) and a side that rebelled against the Oversoul at every turn (the Elemaki).

In Earthborn we are brought back to Earth several hundred years later as generations of descendants had evolved and reformed civilization. The peoples of the land were divided along the lines of the original Nafari/Elemaki split. However, even within the Nafari, the cracks of rebellion were showing. Grabs for power, skirmishes for position, all sown within a tapestry of pride, bigotry, and selfishness. We also begin to learn a bit about what it was that brought the Oversoul back to Earth and what the plans are for humanity throughout the galaxy.

Card uses this culmination of his sprawling saga to develop a beautiful allegory that shows how even in our worst seasons of rebellion against God, He is still there loving us and patiently waiting for us to work out our salvation, mourning when we die separated from Him or jubilantly rejoicing when we see past ourselves and find Him. From a literary standpoint, the conclusion of this work leaves several important plot points not fully addressed and perhaps a bit at odds with what he had introduced back in the previous volumes. I almost got the sense that he didn't have a fully developed plan as he started this series and kind of let his muse take him where it would for each work. Even though this series wasn't crisply woven together from start to finish, at times kind of falling flat and losing its way, I still found it enjoyable and worthwile.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Observations 66

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've heard pastors mention that in the days of yore, many people routinely memorized the entire Old Testament. I can only cry "bovine pucky". In my Bible, the Old Testament contains more than 700 pages in a rather small font.
  • There is a Chinese guy in my group at work whose lunch looks just like the stuff that you see served at any old Chinese restaurant in the U.S.. Who knew that the restaurant food was reasonably authentic ... or perhaps my colleague has had his palate corrupted by the west?
  • In a comment thread on CNN the other day, someone was trying to sound erudite by using foreign phraseology and used the word "bookoo" to mean "a lot". This made me laugh.
  • Talent is God-given, be humble;

    Fame is man-given, be thankful;

    Conceit is self-given, be careful. (John Wooden)

  • You know the targeted ads they put all over your social media pages? Why oh why have my pages been tiled with ads for bridesmaid dresses?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


In a recent moment of pique regarding the actions of a colleague, I rashly labeled them as a fool. If I had taken half a beat to filter my thoughts before I uttered them, I would have said something different, less emotionally charged. I think when most of us toss around the word fool, we use it as a synonym for idiot. As I found a quiet place to cool down after this incident, I began to think about the term "fool" and its different meanings, and I realized that not all of them have such negative connotations. In this series of posts, I wanted to explore the different senses of the word fool.

Fool #3 - Someone who acts outside of who they normally are due to overwhelming positive emotions; an ardent enthusiast who cannot resist to indulge in enthusiasm.

Normally, I would ascribe such a description to a person who has recently fallen in love, fully and completely overwhelmed by those giddy feelings of attraction. Ahhh, that glorious avalanche of being overcome with passion and energy and anxiousness. In such a condition nothing else in one's life can pull our focus away from that intense longing of being with our beloved. Oh to be labeled as a fool of this sort.

There is a wonderful love story in the Old Testament about such a fool. Jacob was sent by his father Isaac to go out and find a wife from a relative's family. Upon arriving, Jacob met Rachel and fell head over heels in love. Jacob asked Rachel's underhanded father Laban for his daughter's hand in marriage. Laban consented, but with the condition that Jacob work for him for seven years.

"So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days." Genesis 29:20

(Part 3 of 4)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


The fourth volume in Orson Scott Card's Homecoming series is entitled Earthfall and picks up shortly after the previous novel The Ships of Earth ended. The clan of Volemak and his wife Rasa had just found the 40 million old space port on the Earth colony planet of Harmony and under the direction of the controlling Oversoul computer system, they had refurbished one of the original colony ships and left for Earth. The family has divided into two warring factions, one led by Volemak's oldest son Elemak and the other by Volemak's teenage son Nafai. Elemak is filled with rage and jealousy because Nafai has been put in charge of the ship and the mission by the Oversoul. Elemak has always felt entitled by his birthright that he should command. Nafai is humble and trusting, a reasonable man, but no matter what he does, he always seems to cause Elemak to bubble over with hatred. Elemak and Nafai are in conflict on the 10-year voyage to Earth, but Nafai with help from the Oversoul is clever enough to force everyone on the ship to pledge and oath to let Volemak be in charge.

Finally the clan arrives at Earth and begins to establish the first human colony since the human colonists set out for space all of the millions of years ago. Over the period of several decades Elemak rises up and is put down again and again. Eventually he decides to bide his time and wait for Volemak to die before he establishes himself as supreme overlord of Earth. The planet is now inhabited by two sentient beings known as the angels and the diggers. Even though these creatures, which have evolved from bats and moles, are natural enemies, boundaries and relationships have been established to keep them in an uneasy but workable equilibrium. Somehow, these creatures knew about the existence of the humans and had long expected their return to Earth. However, when they arrived, they were viewed as gods. While Volemak's people had tried to carefully integrate themselves into this relationship with care, Elemak secretly worked with the diggers to become their leader to give himself an army to crush all of those in his clan that opposed him.

The story is really kind of drifts and in some ways I view as a disappointment, mainly because the entire purpose for the Oversoul connecting with the humans back on Harmony was to be brought to Earth for repairs in order to return to Harmony with the ability to efficiently fulfill its function to keep the humans from destroying each other. Instead, once the crew arrives at Earth this goal seems to have been forgotten about entirely. The story is all about the angels and the diggers and the humans, their conflicts, and the division between those who support Elemak vs. those who support Nafai. Writing multi-book series is very much in line with Card's style. However, too often it seems that his series have an interesting concept and start out strong, but he then either runs out of steam or doesn't have a grand storyline mapped out from the start. He can leave me wondering how he could have gotten so far off the tracks. The last part of this series is entitled Earthborn and focuses on the descendents of Volemak's clan many generations later. I look forward to find out if Card can wrap this series up in a satisfying fashion.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Quick Hits 27

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.

Recently there was a movement going around to raise money and awareness for Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS). The social media phenomenon raised more money to support research into this affliction in a few weeks than had been raised in the previous five years combined. The Catholic diocese in Ohio urged their members not to take part in donating money. Their reason was that the group that was benefitting from the funds supported stem cell research. I wonder if anyone in this church group would turn down a cure from such a group if they had a loved one slowly dying from this condition.

What do you think?

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Ships of Earth

The third volume of Orson Scott Card's Homecoming series is entitled The Ships of Earth and picks up just after the previous novel, The Call of Earth, ended. On the planet Harmony humanity has existed for nearly 40 million years. Life here is all that is left of man after those on Earth destroyed themselves in conflict and war. Life on Harmony has survived for so long without suffering the same fate as Earth due to the presence of a mind control system set up by the scientists of the first colony. This system, called the Oversoul, was set up to protect humanity from its own instincts, it own base desires for power and control. However, the system, even as advanced as it was, slowly became affected by both hardware and software problems. This self-aware Oversoul system then connected with a family from the city of Basilica and instructed them to give assistance to bring it back to Earth for repairs.

The obedience of the family was rooted in their belief that this Oversoul was a god. Even though some of them understood that this behavioral guidance system was based on human technology, they could not easily separate their heart from their mind. However, the family of Volemak and Rasa, through a number of circumstances, ultimately were forced to leave Basilica and head out into the surrounding desert. This clan was the very picture of human drama - jealousy, hatred, suspicion, anger, and murderous schemes. Some in the group were well connected to the promptings of the Oversoul and others were not. Even when peace and unity seemed to have settled on the group, the wicked schemes of those with selfish desires were always present, simmering just below the surface.

This story takes place over 10 years as the family clan wandered the desert as the Oversoul led them toward the old spaceport where the first colonists had arrived. Even after 40 million years, the starships stand like sentries waiting to fulfill their mission to bring people out into the stars. However, in order to ready a ship for travel after so many years, the clan must be of one mind and one goal. Power struggles and selfish grasps for position threaten to derail the work. Meanwhile, the loss of control of the Oversoul over the population of Harmony leaves it on a pathway of annihilation eerily similar to that suffered by Earth.

An interesting, character driven story that I enjoyed. I now move onto the fourth book in the series, Earthfall.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


One of the technicians in my group is the type of guy who makes most folks who don't know him noticeably nervous. The sort of guy who has that stereotypical sketchy gang member demeanor. Big, muscled, quiet, and self-assured. Without his speaking a word you would guess that he has a criminal record, a shady and checkered past. However, I have worked with this man quite closely over the past 10 years and have been fortunate to see past the surface layer that he projects consciously or unconsciously to the outside world. I know him as a man with a kind heart and a good sense of humor. Although he is coarse and rough-cut around the edges, he is someone who has always looked out for me and consistently did a great job in whatever he was tasked to do.

A few weeks ago he did not report to work and his boss did not receive a call. This was more than a little uncharacteristic of him. Even if he partied a little too hard the night before, he always managed to get into work the next morning. His co-workers tried to contact him without success and became quite nervous after a couple of days as the shadow of his absence grew into something bigger. Finally, after seven days without reporting into work, he was terminated from his job following standard protocols. Eventually, we got word that he was locked down in a federal prison, arrested on drug trafficking and weapons charges. In speaking to his closest friends, they had not been able to get in contact with him because of prison phone rules. Nobody can even visit him because his cell block is quarantined due to the outbreak of some sort of highly contagious disease.

Even though my friend may have spent some time in his past in a prison cell, this has to be an unimaginably painful time in his life as he worries about his future and comes to understand how quickly his world has come undone. Of course, most who have heard the rumors probably have assumed he was busted doing something stupid and will dismiss him with a callous joke. Not me. I know this man and his heart and the great potential that he has. I will notice his absence and miss him, regardless of whether he is guilty of the charges against him or not.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


In a recent moment of pique regarding the actions of a colleague, I rashly labeled them as a fool. If I had taken half a beat to filter my thoughts before I uttered them, I would have said something different, less emotionally charged. I think when most of us toss around the word fool, we use it as a synonym for idiot. As I found a quiet place to cool down after this incident, I began to think about the term "fool" and its different meanings, and I realized that not all of them have such negative connotations. In this series of posts, I wanted to explore the different senses of the word fool.

Fool #2 - Someone who damages their reputation by regulary acting like a clown.

Like it or not, when we are not mindful of our tongue or our behavior, we can easily be labeled as a fool. Speaking harshly, dismissively, or disrespectfully to those around us will set up a field around us that repels rather than attracts. Acting like a child around your colleagues or your family will not strengthen your image in their eyes. The trouble is that when you get a reputation as a clown, iit is exceedingly difficult for you to ever escape from that label.

A relevant verse from scripture tells us:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32

(Part 2 of 4)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Call of Earth

The second volume of Orson Scott Card's Homecoming series is entitled The Call of Earth and picks up just after the end of the first book, The Memory of Earth. There we were introduced to life on the planet Harmony, a human colony that was formed just as wars were about to destroy life on Earth. Harmony was set up with a behavioral control system that prevented its population from developing technology that could lead to large scale aggression. This system's design had successfully allowed Harmony to thrive over a period 5000 times longer than the recorded history of humanity on Earth. However, the system of satellites that were part of the control system and its controlling computer system, known as the Oversoul, had slowly started to fail due to an accumulation of both hardware and software problems. The problems had gotten to the point that the Oversoul recognized its lack of ability to perform its control functions and understood the danger to Harmony. As control was lost, life on Harmony began to follow humanity's usual path of power, control, violence, and bloodshed.

As the Oversoul recognized that the failures of the control system were beyond its ability for self-repair, it moved to contact a family that was particularly sensitive to its calling. In The Memory of Earth, the Oversoul had revealed itself to certain members of the family and gave them dreams of the fate of Harmony in order to get their attention. In this story, the Oversoul revealed in more detail its grand plan, namely to send a contingent back to Earth in order to go to the source of rebirth for the control system of Harmony. However, even within the chosen family, there is strife, bitterness, jealousy, and in-fighting. Yet the Oversoul is still directing the people and shaping their future, even when they think they have control over their own choices and their own rebellion.

This work of science fiction is an allegory for the underpinnings of the Mormon religion and some reviewers that I have come across have not been able to get beyond this. However, I know nothing about Mormonism and simply approached this book as a work of fiction. I found that the story was tightly woven together. Card did a great job in continuing to develop and craft the characters, their interactions, and their relationships. Some people when faced with hard choices choose to look toward the greater good of others. Some look to see what will benefit them the most. Yet we are all connected to the lives of those around us. Sometimes, however, the sacrifices of a few can outshine the selfishness of many. A very enjoyable story. Now, onto the third book in the series, The Ships of Earth.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Observations 65

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.
  • There is a real law firm in my area called "Allen, Allen, Allen, and Allen". I wonder if the partners fought for position in the naming ranks.
  • Leaving the grocery store the other day I saw a sign pushed into the ground by the exit advertising a "Math and Reading Camp". I wonder if they have gotten a single person to sign up.
  • I am convinced that my church places volunteers about the sanctuary whose job it is to try to rouse up energy in the congregation during the music time by clapping as loudly as they possibly can. Judging by those that are always standing behind me, one of the qualifications for this position is a complete lack of rhythm.
  • This may sound crazy, but as I was driving to work the other day, I became certain that the mound that I saw on the side of the road ahead of me was a large owl. As I passed by the mound, it turned out to be a lost throw pillow. Has this ever happened to you?
  • My work place just spent a huge amount of effort (i.e. money) to "train" folks how to respond to a terrorist attack on the site. Here are your options, you can 1). run, 2). hide, or 3). fight. Now wasn't that worth all the effort?

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Memory of Earth

The first book in Orson Scott Card's Homecoming Saga is entitled The Memory of Earth. It tells the story of a colony 10's of millions of years old that was settled on the planet Harmony after humanity had destroyed itself on Earth. While Earth's human civilization lasted some 8000 years before it did itself in, life on Harmony has thrived due to intelligent design. A network of artificial intelligence satellites was put in place above the planet to curb human thought away from excessive aggressiveness. The system worked in concert with the genetic manipulation of the inhabitants. Over the millenia, the controlling "Oversoul" fell to the level of dismissible myth or arcane object of worship. The Oversoul had operated well past its design lifetime, and slowly its performance began to falter. Without sufficient control over the population, issues arose and some individuals began to rise up in power and to develop technology to oppress those around them. The Oversoul realized in order to keep the people of Harmony safe from themselves that it needed to connect closely with certain individuals on Harmony who could help to correct the system problems.

In this story we meet a rather well-to-do family and their children. Volemak is a well-respected, senior member of his clan with significant influence in the community. After receiving a vision from the legendary Oversoul of coming destruction and strife, he relates the warning to the clan council. However, the leader of the council, a power-hungry and morally derelict man, fears that Volemak will undermine his authority with his seemingly irrational ramblings. He then makes a plan to kill Volemak. Meanwhile, Volemak's 14 year old son Nafai has been singled out by the Oversoul because he is especially receptive to hearing the now weakened protector of the planet. When Nafai claims to have also heard from the Oversoul, his older brothers seek to murder him because they believe that it will further encourage their father, who seems intent on squandering their inheritance in his demented pursuit. Nafai's older brothers conspire with the clan leader to betray their father. Slowly, the family begins to understand what is at stake on Harmony and what is being asked of them.

This was a fantastic story and masterfully delivered. Online reviewers point out that this story has much in common with the story of the Mormon religion (Card is a devout Mormon), however I cannot speak to that due to my ignorance in this area. I move on now to the second part of the story, The Call of Earth. My experience with Card is that he has written several series that started strong and with great promise, but then kind of ran out of steam and fell flat before he reached the climax. Hopefully he can keep this one together. If you are a Card fan and you read this book, you will recognize several elements in this story that have commonality with his Ender series and with his later Pathfinder series.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


In a recent moment of pique regarding the actions of a colleague, I rashly labeled them as a fool. If I had taken half a beat to filter my thoughts before I uttered them, I would have said something different, less emotionally charged. I think when most of us toss around the word fool, we use it as a synonym for idiot. As I found a quiet place to cool down after this incident, I began to think about the term "fool" and its different meanings, and I realized that not all of them have such negative connotations. In this series of posts, I wanted to explore the different senses of the word fool.

Fool #1 - Someone whose life is marked by a series of unwise decisions.

I think that we all could provide a list of folks in our lives who we would label as a fool by their consistently bad choices. Typically their lives are marked by a pattern of decisions and actions that lack judgment or sense. Whether they regularly drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, remain in deep debt by unwise spending choices on items that they can't afford and they don't need, jump from bed to bed sleeping with one sexual partner after another, or whether they live their lives as hypocrites, they can be marked as a fool.

Scripture gives us wise insight regarding such a person,

He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. Proverbs 13:20

This clearly tells us that getting too close to such a fool can have a long-lasting negative impact on our own lives. Allowing such a person too close to our own lives should cause us to throw up big red flags of DANGER!, lest we allow them to take us down with them.

(Part 1 of 4)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Inside Man

Author Jeff Abbott has now written four stories in his best-selling Sam Capra series. The first three, Adrenaline, The Last Minute, and Downfall related the thrilling adventures of Sam Capra, a mid-20s man who once worked for the CIA until his wife, also a fellow agent, betrayed him. Due to the suspicion that he was in league with his rogue wife, Sam was forced out of the CIA. However, he had been working in Europe as part of a group that infiltrated various networks of drug smugglers, human traffickers, and weapons runners. For the first two novels in the series, Sam was trying to get back his child, who had been taken by some shadowy group that was associated with his wife. For a while he was their puppet, doing as he was told in order to get back his precious son. Then Sam was recruited by a clandestine group known as the Round Table, a very well-funded and well-connected group, who employed a series of agents presumably with noble intentions, stepping in and making a difference for the good of mankind. In the third novel, Sam took up a cause that was dropped in his lap outside one of the bars he managed as part of his involvement with the Round Table.

Now, in the just released fourth installment, Inside Man, a friend from Sam's past that had once saved his life is murdered out in front of one of his bars. Once again, Sam dives into the fray without thinking things through and find himself neck deep in the intrigue of a very wealthy family who owns a legitimate air freight company that serves as a cover for a much more lucrative smuggling operation. The family is one made up of a once strong patriarch who has become frail and suffers from dementia, and his four children, each of which has lived a tumultous life caught between loyalty to their father and living with the reality of his shady past. If Sam is not dodging bullets then he is involved in one physical altercation after another, driven initially by avenging his murdered friend but then seeing his adventure through.

To me, this novel was the first in the series that seemed formulatic and contrived to a level that I found distracting. Sam Capra took the risks that he had in the past in order to save his son, yet after his rescue, Sam seems to be anywhere but with him. He was also hired by the Round Table to be their operative. Yet in the last two novels, though his every move has been against the wishes of his new bosses, they pour huge amounts of money into supporting him. In fact, the more he learns of the secretive group that he works for, the more he learns that they are not the cowboys wearing the white hats. Other than a kind of thrilling romp, this story did not particularly evolve any of the main characters. Predictably the end of the novel paved the way for the next book in the series.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In the News 3

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 series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

Goodbye to James Garner - Growing up in the 1970s, Friday evenings were always the big must-see T.V. night of the week. During this time one humble, hard-working, and slightly awkward P.I. named James Rockford stood above them all. For six seasons he was part of my world. Somehow back in the days before hundreds of T.V. channels, individual programs and their characters were more iconic, more singular. The Rockford Files has a strong association in my heart to this day, even though I have not seen an episode in more than 30 years. Of course, those who may not have been a fan of Garner as Rockford, may have enjoyed him as Bret Maverick in the 1950s or in similar endearing roles in later years. James died July 19 at the age of 86 from natural causes.

Congratulations to Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux - When I was a kid growing up in Rhode Island I became a big Boston Red Sox fan and loved watching the games on T.V. When I began graduate school in Indiana in 1988, the only games that were available to watch were broadcast by the two superstations, WGN (Chicago Cubs) and TBS (Atlanta Braves). I began following the Braves mainly because I preferred the Braves announcers over the Cubs announcers. In the 1990s, the Braves were blessed to have two very good pitchers who were consistently good over a very long stretch, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. For essentially the whole decade of the 90s, I watched as many Braves games as I could. This time became my sanctuary. Tom and Greg were a big reason for that and they became sports heroes of mine. On July 27 it was fitting that they were inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame together. Tom retired with a career record of 305-203 and two Cy Young awards and Greg with a record of 355-227 and four Cy Young awards.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day 2014

All last week I heard people talking together as they walked down the hallway outside my office. Animated voices, building excitement, high expectations. It seems that more than a few folks were looking forward to today. A day off from work is always appreciated, but more so when it is a day that marks the end of summer and gives folks an opportunity to celebrate with friends and good food. So, to all who have planned a day of relaxation and fun, I wish you all the best and hope that your day is bright. To those who still have to work today, hopefully you too can find a moment to appreciate what you have and celebrate a bit as well. Happy Labor Day folks.