Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Scary Close

It has been more than three years since Donald Miller published his last book and I was jazzed when his most recent, Scary Close, came out. Each of Miller's previous books have been absolute treasures to me, filled with wisdom and truth that have consistently served to inspire me and to lift me up. Miller has a droll point of view, never taking himself too seriously, but able to relate to me as if we were sitting across from each other talking over coffee. His writings have helped me to learn more about how I want to live my life, how to be a good friend, and how to move away from the negative things that have sunk their talons into my flesh. In Scary Close we witness first-hand how Miller learned how his approach to relationships was designed to attract the multitudes for adulation while eschewing the intimacy of close relationships. As he grew frustrated with his approach to life that left him alone and isolated, he intentionally worked with counselors and close friends to understand how his personal defense mechanisms were actually putting up roadblocks that kept people from getting close to him. He was finally able to learn to be willing to impress fewer people to honestly connect with more.

Scary Close follows Miller in his courtship with his girlfriend as he worked to set aside his old false persona that was all bluster and self-defense. He learned how to develop intimacy with others such that he came to be the same person on the outside that he was on the inside. He learned how to allow others to feel safe in his presence by finally allowing himself to be honest with others. This taming of the Miller as it were, results in a noticeably more domesticated point of view compared to his more free-wheeling guy persona on display in his past books. Now Miller is more sensitive and measured as opposed to shoot-from-the-hip. More touchy-feely and less dive in and see what happens. More refined and less raw. More arugula salad and less grilled meat. However, he still has a way of presenting an approach to living that is inspiring and worthy of consideration. I enjoyed my time with this book.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Looking at the photograph accompanying this post, if you have a sufficiently sophisticated and refined palate, you will undoubtedly recognize the wonderful slice of heaven known as a Mozartkugel. If you were to carefully pull back the fancy foil wrapping, you would find inside a particularly delectable confection made of marzipan, nougat, and dark chocolate. The picture on the outer wrapping is of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who is depicted because he was a chocolatier of quite some renown. A man feted for his technique with banishing the bitterness of the seeds of the cacao tree and for developing cutting edge procedures for proper fermenting of the beans encased within the seed pods. His secretive processes for drying, cleaning, and roasting these beans are unparalleled to this day. Ask any chocolatier and they will tell you that the fever surrounding Mozart's cacao nibs has never been duplicated. Mozart was well ahead of his time in lauding the healthful properties of chocolate, from its fantastic flavanol antioxidants, to its amazing alkaloids, to its soothing serotonin.

It is clear that when you have a passion for something, that one thing can become your legacy and your identity. ... Mozart? ... As he is depicted on fancy confections, must have been famous for discovering them. Right? ... Well, wrong. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart knew nothing about chocolate. He was a classical composer who lived in the mid-to-late 1700s. He composed over 600 pieces in the genre of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music, many of which are considered by experts to be among the finest in these different categories. I wonder if Mozart would be frustrated to learn that some folks know nothing about his music and simply assume that he was only some candy maven. I don't know about you, but I would be more than a little frustrated if the impression that I left with people that I interacted with was completely opposite to who I am or what I would claim to be. However, sometimes we might think we are a fine composer, but everyone really only sees us as a candy maker. It could be that their impressions and opinions of us are completely wrong and ill-informed. However, it could also be that what they see is a much accurate reflection of who we really are. They might just have a much clearer perspective of us than we do.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Words of Radiance

The second sweeping epic in Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive is entitled Words of Radiance and picks up where the first part of the tale, The Way of Kings, ended. Kingdoms are under attack both from within and without. Forces on the outside control a deadly assassin, who has been tasked with killing the leaders of the lands. The Assassin in White is a being with mastery of the forces of the universe who appears to be unstoppable. From the inside, the highprinces of the land squabble and plot to fill their treasuries and to consolidate their power.

In The Way of Kings we met two men of principle and honor. Highprince Dalinar, the uncle of the Alethi king, has been receiving prophetic visions warning of the end of the age. Without truly understanding the details of what he has been given, rumors are swirling that the once mighty warrior is a craven who is losing his mind. Slowly he becomes convinced that his visions are true signs of what is to come and he works against those who would destroy him to try to save the kingdom and the people of the land. The other man that we have met is Kaladin, a man who was betrayed after saving his highprince and sent into slavery. Eventually he was forced into a troop of men who carry bridges out onto the Shattered Plains to allow access for the armies to cross between the different mesas. Using powers that he doesn't understand, he eventually saves the lives of Dalinar and his son. He and his bridgemen are then chosen to be the personal bodyguards of the king and Dalinar, along with their families.

The regular battles with the Parshendi, the race of warriors who live across the Shattered Plains, continue. They had claimed responsibility for sending the Assassin in White and the highprinces bonded together to defeat them. However, their thrist for revenge finally gave way to petty lusts for power and riches. The Parshendi eventually saw their numbers declining and in a last desperate attempt to defeat the humans, delved into the old magic to call forth a storm to destroy them. Relying on ancient prophesies, ultimately the Alethi people find passage into the long abandoned city of the protectors known as the Knight Radiant. The secrets of this city and the disappearance of the protectors of humanity must be learned if people are to survive.

The next part of story set for release in the first part of 2016 is tentatively entitled Stones Unhallowed. I definitely look forward to diving in the moment it is published.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

In the News 10

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the online news headlines 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.

Little League Baseball - Last summer there was a feel-good story in the news about a plucky group of youngsters from Chicago that came out on top of the official Little League World Series. This team was not just your regular generic group of 8 to 12 year olds, but was a group of African-American kids from Chicago that were the great symbol that might ultimately stem the tide of decreasing numbers of black folks in baseball. Several months after the celebrations died down, it was found that the coaches had subversively stocked the team with ringers from areas well outside their jurisdiction. In a league with a long history of cheating and scandal, it is abundantly clear that the problem with youth sports is not the kids, but the adults. The team was stripped of its title on Feb. 11, 2015.

Jerry Tarkanian - The UNLV Runnin' Rebels were a force in Division I men's basketball in the 1980s. Year after year the teams were absolutely stacked with talent and they played a style saturated with showmanship and attitude. In direct contrast to the young guns out on the floor, their coach was a ringer for Uncle Festus on the Addams Family. He had a nervous habit of kneeling on the floor in front of his bench munching on a towel. Jerry Tarkanian was definitely the face of the team, a skilled coach, and more than a bit of an instigator, especially when dealing with the leadership of the NCAA. Jerry died on Feb. 11, 2015, the only person cut from the cloth that he came from.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Observations 84

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.
  • Who are these people who walk into your office, see that you are engaged on the telephone, and still try to have a conversation with you? Ahem, ..., wait your freakin' turn pal!
  • In an online ESPN story the following appeared, "... texted that he would "smack TF out of" her, with "TF" interpreted to mean "the f---"." Does this clear it up for you?
  • I came across a sweet story on the news where the parents of a newborn girl with a bright red birthmark got tattoos to match the birthmark of their child. This made me smile.
  • The official creed of the United States Post Office is, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." However, both times that we had snow this winter, the mail delivery stopped. Hmmm, and snow was the first thing listed in their creed. I would hate to see how quickly they give up when the rain, heat, and gloom comes.
  • I just heard a radio spot for the U.S. Air Force focused on a list of American heroes. One of the heroes they listed was Lance Armstrong. Maybe the fine folks at the U.S.A.F. have not listened to the news for the past several years.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


I am regularly amazed about how quickly "bad news" turns into just plain-old "news". On Monday mornings my group at work has a regularly scheduled meeting. The agenda includes announcements, reports of accomplishments and issues for the previous week, and overviews of project schedules. My group includes about 30 scientists and about 5 minutes before the start of the meeting, people begin to wander into the assigned room. As most of us have worked together for many years, there is quite a bit of comraderie and discussions of happenings from the weekend. This week's meeting started off with news that a technician from our group was found dead in his apartment. After a minute or so the available information was relayed and our group leader moved into the regular agenda for the meeting. From that point forward things proceeded along the regular same-old, same-old course. There were reports and discussions and laughter and business as usual. I was amazed that there was absolutely no remnant of the death announcement, no pall of sadness or loss over the proceedings.

As for me, I was left impacted by the loss. Michael worked in the lab space right below mine and I had to pass through his area to get to the stairs leading up to my area. I would say hello to him on my way and would regularly borrow tools from him. On Friday he came up to my area to look at some work that I had completed and we talked about my new process and we had an extended dialog about the work. When we were done he headed back off to his responsibilities and the last words that I said to him were, "Have a good weekend."

As of now, there has has been no news of the cause of death. However, I heard from one of the guys that worked more closely with him that he had been complaining of circulation problems recently. It is suspected that maybe he suffered a heart attack. When I went out to my lab after the meeting I lingered for a moment at his desk. Hanging on the wall were his reading glasses and a few personal items that brought him comfort. It was strangely quiet in that space and I felt uneasy about disturbing anything. His area was laid out as it always was, just waiting for him to come back. Goodbye Michael.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Cursed Burrito

Woe unto me. Alas, I am undone, undone by a breakfast burrito. Yet I implore you not to feel pity for me as my troubles were, each and all, self-inflicted. Let me tell you my chilling, cautionary tale. Last Saturday morning I awoke early and got my shower. The warm water spraying down on me helped not only to cleanse me, but also to invigorate my spirit. By the time that I hung my cotton towel back on the rack, I was eager to face the new day. However, before I could climb that mountain or tote that bale, I first needed a nutritious breakfast. But in my frame of mind, a bowl of bland flakes or benign puffs would not do. I decided that I would endulge myself with a couple of scrambled eggs mixed with ham and cheese, wrapped in a gently steamed wheat tortilla.

About halfway through my burrito, I suddenly started to feel a bit full, so I willed myself to consume no more and I went about my day. Several hours later, after I had completed a number of chores and errands, it was past lunch time. However, I felt so completely glutted I was nearly compelled to swoon. However, I clung to my manly toughness and pressed on. At 5:00 p.m. my internal chronometer told me in no uncertain terms that it was time for dinner, but I still felt stuffed like the proverbial Christmas goose. By 7:30 p.m. I was growing concerned that my state of over-satedness would never ebb. I was frantic, beside myself with fright. Furthermore, I was getting kind of ticked off with my tummy's lack of ability to take care of business.

By 8:00 p.m. there was little change in my condition and I began muttering audibly to myself, gesturing wildly at my stomach. In a fit of pique I decided that vigorous exercise was called for, so I began fast-walking in a loop throughout my house. I continued for about 20 minutes until I felt like a fool. However, my tummy felt better. I was finally able to have a small snack before bed time. At that point I figured that I was once again master of my domain.

When I woke up the next morning my calf muscles were tighter than a gnat's arse spread over a jam jar. I have never been in such a condition. The pain was exquisite. I could not get my muscles to stretch out. When I walked I resembled a pirate swabbie comically hobbling around on two peg legs. Now several days later, my condition has not improved. I have become an object of ridicule and the brunt of jokes of the local school children. Next week I am definitely going to sleep in.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson has truly become one of my favorite authors. His creativity, his passion, and his unique vision for laying out sweeping fantasy tales put him in truly rarefied air. I just finished the first entry in his planned Stormlight Archive series, a book entitled The Way of Kings. I daresay that the heft of this tome alone, my copy checked in at over 1000 pages, might be enough to scare away the casual reader. However, for someone who likes to be fully ensconced in an epic adventure and to become a part of a brilliant narrative that just takes you away from your own reality, this story was outstanding.

Millenia ago the members of the Knights Radiant used their power and their magic to protect the people and their lands from the continued onslaughts of the outsiders. Then one day the legends say that they just walked away, leaving the future in the hands of destiny. In the last few centuries, humanity survived under the control of local kings and warlords. It wasn't until Gavilar united them into a single kingdom that Alethkar finally found stability. When Gavilar signed the peace treaty with the Parshendi, warlike tribes in the surrounding hills, the promise of peace was in the air. The evening of the treaty signing, an assassin under Parshendi control was sent to kill Gavilar. Several years later, the kingdom is still under a single king, Gavilar's son Elhokar. All of the highprinces of Alethkar now are stationed with their men in huge war camps in the Shattered Plains fighting the Parshendi in a war that has carried on for more than 6 years. What was once a conflict birthed from the pain of avenging their fallen king, has become little more than a game to the highprinces, who are more content to posture and pose to win favor and to fill their own treasuries.

This story is told very much in the same fashion and with the same feel as George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones books. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different major character. Two of the most prominent are the king's uncle, Dalinar, and a gifted warrior named Kaladin who was betrayed after saving a highprince. Both Dalinar and Kaladin are men of honor and principle. Dalinar is working to unite his people and protect his king among the battles of the ongoing war and the posturing of the highprinces and their traitorous schemes. He is also struggling with prophetic visions about the past and future that have him convinced that he is losing his mind. Kaladin has been branded as a slave and forced to be little more than fodder to take arrows to protect the real soldiers.

Sanderson has woven a gem here that kept me fully invested from start to finish. Watching how men of honor at the top of the royal line and at the bottom of the slave ranks went about conducting their lives also provided an fascinating contrast. As the story ended, both Dalinar and Kaladin had survived multiple betrayals and attempts on their lives, and have become united in purpose both to save humanity and to bring peace to the land. Now, onto the next part of the story in Words of Radiance.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Off at the Knees

I work at a U.S. National Laboratory, a facility funded by the Department of Energy. This laboratory is not like what you remember from your high school physical science class, where a group of folks was packed into a small room of wooden benches outfitted with balance beams, a handful of yardsticks, and a few beakers. This facility is a world-class operation that has an annual budget of over $200,000,000 and employs roughly 800 people. The state-of-the-art experiments that we carry out typically take about 10 years to complete, from their inception to the publication of the results. At the current time we are working to finish a major $350,000,000 upgrade of the entire facility.

Anyone who has ever managed a multi-faceted project that takes any amount of time, will appreciate that over the course of the project you can expect to see schedule shifts (as work always takes longer than what is planned) and cost overruns (as things always end up costing more than you expect). Our facility upgrade is no different. The budgets for major projects such as this always include a sizable allowance for schedule slip (called float) and budget uncertainties (called contingency). However, for a fixed-cost project, things always get a bit tight near the end of the work.

In our case, a recent project review by the Department of Energy expressed a level of nervousness about our project's cost and schedule, and that certain "adjustments" were called for in our management team. Several folks at the top were removed from their roles. Folks who had given their heart and soul to this project suddenly found themselves on the outside looking in, cut off at the knees. The shock of being unexpectedly severed from leadership roles of work that they were fully vested in clearly left these people shell-shocked and left to take the blame for problems that were mostly outside of their control. What made it even worse for these folks is that the project is so close to the finish line.

As only a couple of individuals at the laboratory were impacted by the changes, most workers just went about business as usual. These changes were not given a second thought. However, as I worked closely with the affected folks and understand exactly how much they gave of themselves, I felt their pain personally. I so hurt for them. I think that our level of empathy toward the problems of others is directly correlated with how well we can put ourselves in their shoes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Grocery 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 noticed on a recent trip to the grocery store.
  • Have you noticed these people who think that it is perfectly O.K. to block the entrance to the parking lot with their vehicles so that they can wait for someone to leave one of the spots near the store entrance? Hey lard butt, how about you let the rest of us in because we have other things to do besides being trapped behind you?
  • How are shoppers supposed to get to the Lucky Charms cereal when others find a way to block the entire aisle with their shopping carts? They carry out this task in such an efficient manner, I can only think that they are doing this on purpose. Why don't they want me to have Lucky Charms for breakfast?
  • What gives at the deli? The line is long, there is only one worker assigned to wait on the customers, and he moves at a pace such that Gary the snail would leave him in the dust. Then what to my wondering eyes should appear, but this joker wanders off to strike up a conversation with a buddy of his who swings by to say hello.
  • I am convinced that there needs to be legislation to prohibit people from using more than 1 or 2 coupons at the checkout. Who are these people who go to the grocery store at their busiest times and then pull out a file folder bulging with coupons? It doesn't occur to them to have their stuff organized and ready to go. No, they have to painstakingly leaf through each and every one they have while the rest of us are trapped. If this isn't bad enough, half of their coupons are expired or for different products than what they picked up. Instead of accepting these facts, they feel compelled to call the store manager over so that they can argue and plead.
  • Here's a great shopping tip. If you are going to write a check to pay for your purchases, how about you fill out the dang thing before the checker finishes bagging your groceries?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Living the Psalms

I spent the last few weeks working my way through Charles Swindoll's devotional Living the Psalms and found my time in this book relaxing and uplifting. This work takes an in-depth look at selected chapters of the Old Testament book of Psalms to help us to know God better and to provide encouragement for our daily living. The 26 different Psalms that were selected from the 150 in the book of Psalms were chosen specifically to cover a broad array of different areas of our lives where we might struggle. From discouragement, to uncertainty, to fear, to aimlessness, to arrogance, to depression, each Psalm was broken down into five separate readings that served to provide context into the meaning of the words and to make their message applicable for us today.

Swindoll's deft touch was apparent as he provided encouragement, comfort, and wisdom to face the problems that we all do in life, but also to help us to see and appreciate God's presence in our lives through it all. This theme of providing encouragement for the daily grind is one that is a hallmark of many of his works. He is most certainly gifted in this area. Each evening I found myself looking forward to sitting down to work my way through several of the readings and found that more often than not, the troubles of my day melted away and I was able to find some peace. In a companion book to this one, Living the Proverbs, Swindoll approaches the Old Testament book of Proverbs for further encouragement from the daily grind. I will add that to my reading list and dive in soon.

Monday, March 16, 2015

10 years on

We travel down any number of roads in our lives that have served to bring us to where we presently are and to form us into what we have become. Yet there is most certainly not a single unique path from point A to point B, from a given moment in the past to a given moment in the future. A dozen different decisions could have been made at any instant and we likely would have ended up far from where we find ourselves. Consider what would have happened if you chose a different college, or a different company, or a different spouse.

Sometimes the available options at any given moment turn out to be fairly benign, each leading to an outcome with more or less the same parameters. Sometimes a different decision would lead us to a different location, with a different group of friends, but that really only amounts to changing the scenery on our sets. The actors and their dialog would remain very much the same. However, for most of us, there are certain critical decision points or branch nodes along our timeline where a different choice would lead us to a completely different and distinct existence.

For me the node points in my past that give me pause are each connected with relationships. My choice of vocation, the town that I live in, the stuff that I have purchased, none of that matters to me. I have made my choices and I comfortably live with what I have without any energy wasted on could haves, should haves, would haves. It is the relational decisions that I tend to beat myself up over where I lost someone close to me due to arrogance, laziness, cowardice, insecurity, naiveté, pride, frustration, or cluelessness.

Ten years ago my wife made the decision to end our marriage, a decision that has impacted every day of my life since that time. In that moment I was caught by complete surprise as my own manufactured existence was light years from the reality that we lived in. I wonder now where we would be and how I would view my life if things had gone differently. This kind of thought game is of course an utterly foolish one to engage in as it can only lead to defeatist thoughts. Yet I still play on.

Take me back in time maybe I can forget
Turn a different corner and we never would have met ...
George Michael

Friday, March 13, 2015

Saint Odd

Odd Thomas is a character created by author Dean Koontz that has left an impact on me. Through six full-length novels and two novellas, I have followed Odd as he gives of himself with honor, humility, and humor. Odd has the ability to see the lingering dead, those who do not move on to the next life after they die, either due to fear, or because they seek venegence, or because they have some unfinished business. In several stories in this series, Odd has used his psychic powers to thwart the plans of a group of satanists. A group that has been around for centuries and is powerful and well funded. In the latest release in this series, Saint Odd, Odd has received a prophetic dream about the destruction of his hometown Pico Mundo. Odd left home after a group of these satanists attached the local mall killing 19 people, including his beloved, Stormy Llewellyn. To escape his pain, he had to get away. He planned, ultimately, to come back on his own terms, but the dream overrode his timeline.

No sooner than Odd had arrived back in town, he was in the gunsights of the satanists. A web of maniacal killers had spread out all over the town laying the groundwork for their plan of absolute destruction. Sometimes Odd's dreams about the future are more easily interpreted than at other times. Odd's nightvision showed him his hometown wiped out by a flood of epic proportions and he feared the town dam would be targeted. However, as he approached what he had received from different angles, he slowly came to realize that his warning was more symbolic than literal. With a selfless heart and approach, Odd boldly strives to end the grip of the cultists before they can carry out their sophisticated operation. Yet he has precious little time and the battle has brought him nearly to his knees.

This story was the end of the Odd Thomas series and I will miss him and miss the opportunity to read another of his adventures, but as he said, "The promise that mattered has been kept, and I have found work that, believe it or not, I enjoy even a great deal more than being a fry cook at the Pico Mundo Grille. I will miss you terribly until I see you."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Together Forever

The Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz has been thoroughly enjoyable for me at each step along the way. To date, Koontz has released seven books in the series about a young man who has the ability to interact with the deceased who have not passed onto the other side. Those who linger are looking for justice or closure to their earthly lives. While Odd cannot talk with these spirits, he can communicate with them. Odd is resourceful, humble, sweet, determined, quirky, and quite amusing. The last book in the Odd Thomas series, Saint Odd was released in mid-January. However, Koontz released a short novella entitled You Are Destined to be Together Forever to whet our appetites leading up to the final entry in the series.

This story takes us back a few years into an episode involving Odd and his girlfriend Stormy. They are on their way to a local carnival when Odd encounters a man who has just been murdered. Odd and Stormy follow the distraught victim to a house deep in the woods to learn how he met his fate. After they help bring the crisis to resolution, Odd and Stormy continue to the carnival and we finally see in its entirety the scene at the gypsy fortuneteller where Odd and Stormy receive some insight into their future, You are destined to be together forever. The fortune, printed on a paper stub, has been part of every entry in this story. Finally, we see the full narrative presented. If you are a fan of this series, this short read will definitely be worthwhile to you.

This novella was definitely a fun "snack" to gear me up for my reading of Saint Odd.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Duke of Yosemite

There is a Merrie Melodies cartoon from 1960 starring Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam called From Hare to Heir. In this one, Sam plays the Duke of Yosemite, the royal nephew of the king of England. When he learns that the king has cut him off from the royal fortune, he characteristically blows his top and goes storming about his castle taking out his displeasure on his household servants. At that point Bugs shows up and offers Sam one million pounds if he can rein in his temper. As a penalty, every time Sam has an episode, Bugs deducts some money from the one million pounds. Throughout the short, Bugs continues to provoke and enrage Sam, which causes the Duke to try harder to rid himself of his Leporidae bane. Of course Sam's traps and stunts fail, causing his anger fits to grow in intensity and frequency.

At the end, Sam finally learns how to stay calm in any and all situations and bear whatever comes his way. It is only at this moment that Bugs looks into the camera and the cartoon ends as he tells the audience, "I haven't got the heart to tell him that he's used up all the money."

This cartoon is one that resonates with me as a father of a now 17 year old child. The other day my daughter mentioned to me that she has been doing some research to select a college. That brief conversation made me feel like old Sam, having finally figured some things out about parenting and raising a daughter, only to learn that her childhood is pretty much over. This realization is one that I have been trying to come to grips with for a while, but the more I try to make peace with this fact, the more I feel like I wish I had more time with my daughter before she moves on. More time to be silly and let go. Less time to grumble and worry. More time to laugh and pretend. Less time to be serious and anxious. More time to give and less time to take.

Nearly five years ago, I wrote a post entitled Tape Balls and Other Lessons, where I talked about some of these same issues of being in the moment and living life with my daughter to the fullest. As I look back over the intervening years that feel like so long ago, I somehow feel like I fell woefully short of my goals. Sometimes I am haunted with regret that I missed out on so much of this most precious time in our lives because of circumstances and my own burdens, concerns, and choices. This is where Bugs looks into the camera and says, "I haven't got the heart to tell him that he's used up all his time."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What If ...

I just finished reading the devotional What If ... (subtitled How to Kill Worry and Anxiety Before They Kill You) by Caleb Suko. This devotional was written to describe the problem of worry and how it points to a lack of trust in God, to identify its sources and its paths, and then to suggest practical advice on how to overcome its affects on our lives. However, in truth, I am left with mixed opinions on this work and believe that it is deeply flawed in two important areas.

First, Suko plainly states that worry of any sort is categorically a sin. However, as soon as he wrote those words I immediately called to mind a picture of Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane, so worried and riddled with anxiety over his path that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Suko then tried to split hairs and draw distinctions between worry and concern, pushing himself down a very dangerous path that I felt that he was not able to recover from. In my mind, some worry can certainly be unhealthy as I know from my own personal experiences. However, some worry can spur us out of inaction into thinking through our predicaments and devising a path forward. Worries of this latter type are actually quite beneficial and can bring us closer to our God if our approach is based on his truths and a reliance on prayer.

Second, Suko's seriously dances around the Christianese pablum of telling us to just "give all our worries to God". Suko states that if we just believe in Jesus (a little harder) all our worries will be left behind. Really? When I am overcome with worry and it runs away unchecked, this kind of "advice" is the antithesis of helpful. He then suggests that memorizing a few Bible verses will be enough to gain control over our worry. Too often his solution to eliminate worry for our lives is the Christian equivalent of sitting around the campfire singing kumbaya until we are free from worry and anxiety. I have one word for this type of banality, rubbish. Suko would have been much better served by developing an approach to move us away from reliance on ourselves, bringing us up alongside of a pastor or trusted mentor to more effectively bring about lasting changes in our approach. As our way of falling into worry is a response that has been developed over a lifetime, there will be no magic, instantaneous "cure" based on trite Christianese exercises or a reliance on self. Only a path that will need to be developed, honed, and approached over an extended period of time that most certainly will involve pulling alongside others.

Those of us who battle with worry often find progress comes in the form of one step forward, three steps back. To heap more of a burden on folks by falsely labeling worry as a sin does no good for anyone. I personally believe our God is well pleased when we keep at it and continually seek him despite our shortcomings and our tendencies to worry.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Observations 83

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 made time-critical decisions based on a watch that had stopped a-tickin' due to battery issues? Who wants to groan along with me?
  • One of my colleagues came to work wearing a trench coat. That made me think, who would wear something so cumbersome whilst crawling around in a trench? Perhaps this is one of them there oxymorons.
  • Have you ever come across a telecast on TV of a non-standard sport like cricket, soccer, curling, or tile grouting and listened to the announcers? Is it almost comical the passion that they exude for an activity that nobody really cares about with people that nobody has ever heard of before.
  • I was working a crossword puzzle and got stuck on the clue "historical sewer". I racked my brain and kept coming up blank until I realized that "sewer" did not refer to a conveyance for water and waste but to a person who sews with needle and thread.
  • For me, I would count my life as officially over if I ever, of my own free will, bought a pair of wingtip dress shoes.

Friday, March 6, 2015


The first novel by author Brandon Sanderson is entitled Elantris and I have been looking forward to diving into this one for some time. Firstly because I am a big fan of his plot lines, his characters, and his technique. Secondly because I wanted to see his growth as a fantasy writer given that I have read more of his recent works. Elantris is the story of a fabled city whose inhabitants were once ordinary men and women from the surrounding areas who without rhyme or reason went through the Shaod, a sudden transformation that rendered them into godlike beings with special powers and abilities. Their pasts may have been noblemen or farmers, but those lucky enough to be affected immediately became citizens of Elantris, set apart and hallowed. However, one day something changed with the magic of the Shaod. The selected few who began the Shaod didn't emerge as expected, but instead morphed into hideous, lifeless mutants. The citizens of the surrounding towns in their fear and their long-held jealousies of living among the chosen, rose up and wiped out the Elantrians. The once beautiful, gleaming city became a rotting cesspool and was sealed off from the surrounding world. The few people in the land taken by the Shaod were thrown into Elantris to fend for themselves.

Ten years after the overthrow of Elantris, the seat of power of the land resides in the nearby city of Kae. In Kae, rank and prestige are based on wealth. The system is set up so that the king remains in power by oppressing and taxing his citizens to ensure his treasuries and storehouses are fuller than his nobles. The king's son, Raoden, is wise and well-respected in the land, and publicly opposes his father's rule. The king is only too pleased when his son is suddenly taken by the Shaod and quietly banished into the walled city. Shortly afterward Raoden's fiancée Sarene from a nearby kingdom arrives meet her future husband, only to learn that her betrothed has died from a sudden illness. The story follows the paths of Raoden and Sarene as these two clever and honorable souls rise up to lead and protect their people.

The story was an interesting one that kept me locked in with the problems and battles inside both Elantris and Kae. Raoden as the mutant ultimately meets his bride Sarene when she visits Elantris, but he does not tell her who he is or who he was. However, ultimately Sarene falls in love with him not knowing, and the fact that she sees through his ugly exterior to his beautiful heart is touching. The transformation of their relationship from something harsh and ugly into something wonderous is reflected in the transformation of Elantris back into its grandeur due to their efforts. The novel does not quite earn my highest marks because the climax of the story was written in a notably choppy and prosaic manner that stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the well-developed and imaginative narrative. Still, I would rate this book as a worthwhile and enjoyable read.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Embracing the Nasty

There is a quote that I have stumbled upon a number of times by Christian apologist C.S. Lewis regarding a particular oddity in humans related to the curious things that they
cling to so dearly,

"It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy if offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

I have found that these words pop into my mind from time to time when I find myself clutching desperately to my own mudpies when there are opportunities to claim that wonderful holiday. Often though I am so myopic, so set in my ways, that I won't give up wallowing in that staining, cloying, filthiness without a fight. It seems that nothing short of having my treasures or my routine ripped from my grubby fingers will give me some perspective and some sensibility.

I have carried the same coffee travel mug about with me for more than ten years. Black plastic with stainless steel trim. I remember that it came free with a long since discarded coffee machine that I had purchased. Since the very beginning, this mug has constantly given me something to grumble on about as its plastic walls only kept my coffee hot for about 20 minutes. Furthermore, the mug was quite impossible to clean. The opening and closing mechanism in the lid of the cup always seems to be caked with coffee ground deposits and other curious solids no matter how hard I scrubbed it each evening. Lately, my grumbling has been compounded as my mug has seemingly developed a leak. Sometimes when I pick it up there is a pool of coffee about the base. I have also noticed that the seal at the top seems to have degraded such that it has become something of a dribble glass that has resulted in stains on my clothes, my kitchen floor, and my carpet. When my mug makes it through the day without incident, I find ways to talk myself into thinking that it will be just fine for a while longer and I utter things like, "See, everything is O.K. here. I likely just filled it too full or perhaps I didn't screw the lid on tight enough." Then I find new stains down my nice shirt while I drink my tepid, room temperature brew. I just go on making my mudpies instead of setting aside my old compromises, my old issues, my old regrets, and claiming that which is superior.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

God's Skeletons II

I have been warned many times from the pulpit to beware of new interpretations of the Bible or interpretations that go against common wisdom. But what is common wisdom? Much of what passes for pulpit wisdom regarding the Bible is based on the instruction that preachers were given in their seminary courses. Oftentimes lore handed down from teacher to student across the centuries and repeated in rote without careful and considered thought and investigation.

People like to quote scripture out of context and claim that their interpretation depicts God's truth or God's promises. They also like to quote scriptures taken from allegory or apocalyptic symbolism as literal truths. All of this can so easily lead to misinterpretation of what the Bible says. Yet this is a very dangerous thing to do and the risks are high that scripture will be misapplied. In
such cases God and Jesus become caricatures of who they really are and people rightly turn away from such fare.

Time and time again I have come across respected Bible scholars who fall into this trap and make strong claims about what scripture states. With a little bit of thought, a little bit of reasoning, and with an unbiased agenda, it is not difficult to see that they are (or could be) misinterpreting what is written or misapplying what is stated. If you would like to read a carefully considered and reasoned approach to what the Bible does say and what is doesn't, I highly recommend the book The Skeleton's in God's Closet (subtitled The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War) by Joshua Ryan Butler. This is not the usual Christian-lite pablum churned out for a quick profit by some well-coiffed mega-church preacher. In fact, I would bet that after reading this book, even if you don't agree with all of his conclusions, you will come away at least realizing that when we suspect that God's approach is unfair, heavy-handed, or unreasonable, the problem most likely is not with God, but with our understanding of the situation and our understanding of God.

(Part 2 of 2)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

God's Skeletons I

Over the years I have come across the opinions of a great number of folks who did not believe in the Christian God. When asked why they do not believe in the creator of the universe as detailed in the Bible, it is not uncommon to hear responses such as:
  • Only a truly evil being could order the extermination of entire nations of men, women, and children.
  • What kind of sadistic madman would torture those that he did not judge worthy by consigning them to agonize for all eternity in a lake of fire?
One of the central tenets of Christianity is that God is love. Without this truth, this religion quickly crumbles to worthless dust. If this point should fall, there is nothing salvageable or beautiful in the Bible. But the Bible seemingly does talk about God ordering his chosen people to eradicate the Canaanites whose land they are apparently invading:

However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Deuteronomy 20:16

Also, the Bible seemingly talks about God casting all unbelievers into an agonizing torture chamber for all eternity:

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15

If God is love as he claims and which is a cornerstone of Christianity, then something doesn't seem to make sense. Is God a sadistic torturer? Coldhearted judge? Geocidal maniac? What perfect creature of light would order the cold-blooded murder of every man, woman, and child in an entire city? What being would take every single person who never knew him or heard of him and subject them to roasting in a fire pit, taking pleasure in their endless horror? If this is true, then God is not who Christians claim him to be. If true, then God has a few skeleton's hiding in his closet. However, what if it turns out that these verses and others like them do not say what it seems at first glance like they do? These questions are pondered in the book The Skeletons in God's Closet by Joshua Ryan Butler.

(Part 1 of 2)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Observations 82

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.
  • An NBA player with a 4-year college degree from Syracuse said the following during a recent interview, "I ain't really care what nobody say. It ain't affect me." The value of that fancy diploma just speaks for itself.
  • A growing number of men around my workplace have been spotted wearing berets. I am growing suspicious.
  • My pastor noted an essential truth to me, "You will never have intimacy with someone if they don't feel safe in your presence." For those who endlessly nag their spouses about a lack of intimacy in their relationship, could it be that they don't feel safe with you?
  • I find it amusing that when the snow is falling, folks are all spellbound at its beauty. However, the next morning when they have to shovel their driveways and excavate their vehicles, there will be some mild curses issued.
  • This whole "hydration" craze has gotten out of hand. Too many adults carrying around water bottles that they continually lap at like nursing bovines. The other day in church, a lady actually had brought in a gallon jug of water that she made a production of swilling from every minute during the service. Dang, enough already!