Friday, May 29, 2015

Killing Floor

I had heard some rumblings about a series of books by author Lee Child centering on a character named Jack Reacher. In fact, over the years, Child has released 20 books in this series. Given that I like a good action - adventure romp, I decided to dive in, starting at the beginning with the title Killing Floor. Jack Reacher is an ex-army MP officer who served 20 years and was discharged. He is a big, brooding sort of man who never for a moment even considered what would happen after his military career ended. So, Reacher has chosen to wander around America to find himself. Reacher is a man of few words, but deep in knowledge and able to use it in a pinch. He is not easily cowed or sent into a panic even when he seems to be in the most danger. His character falls into the Rambo mold, but mixed in with a pinch of MacGuyver and a dash of Columbo.

In this novel, Reacher is taking a bus from Florida with his only intent to head north. On a whim, he gets off the bus on the outskirts of Margrave, a small Georgia town. His brother had told him that an old blues singer that he liked had once spent some time there. Just a short while after getting off the bus, Reacher is dragged off to jail by the local police as a suspect in a recent grisly murder. Reacher is locked up in the nearby prison for the weekend while the police decide whether he is to be charged. Reacher is nearly killed and he reasons that he was set up. When he is returned to Margrave, Reacher bonds with the new police detective who seems to be an honest and reasonable man. Together they come to learn of some mighty strange happenings involving a major counterfeiting operating in the sleepy and wholly corrupt town of Margrave.

The novel itself was a bit of a tough slog for me. The narrative was completely implausible, contrived, based on impossible levels of coincidence, and absolutely paper thin. Each and every one of the characters was not much more than a limp caricature, and what passed for dialog was most often stilted and trite. However, given that the series has proven so long-lasting and popular, and given that this was the first novel by Child, I can only think that he had to have matured as writer. Based on this, I have decided to stay hopeful as I move onto the second novel in the series, Die Trying.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Observations 91

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 was a headline on CNN recently that read, "Tests show some beards are as dirty as toilets." Ewww.
  • I wonder if the attacker hiding in the shadows ever gave himself away by instinctively saying "Bless you" after his intended victim sneezed.
  • Whenever politicians, celebrities, and star athletes are caught in the press or in the courtroom in an obvious lie, the news outlets never use the word "lie". They always soften the language with descriptors like, "implausible", "alternative version", "different opinion". Seems to me a lie is a lie is a lie. Why call it something different?
  • Have your ever stood by and watched helplessly as the window in your car exploded? Yeah, me too.
  • Why are people who drive those honkin' big SUVs so cautious about driving over a little ol' speed bump? They are not scaling the Jungfrau!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Quick Hits 36

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.

If nearly all of the salaried employees in a given position work nearly 60 hours per week, it is fair to look down on the worker who only puts in his 40 hours and no more?

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Incongruous Parallelism

A literary device commonly employed in ancient Hebrew poetry is known as synonymous parallelism. This high-brow term describes a pair of successive lines in verse, known as a couplet, in which the second line repeats the main idea or content of the first, but using different terminology or images. One well known example comes from the Old Testament of the Bible,

"But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities."
, Isaiah 53:5

Another form of this same technique is called antithetical parallelism, and is based on a couplet where the first and second lines connect opposing ideas in marked contrast. Another Old Testament verse provides an example,

"The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
but the heart of the fool to the left."
, Ecclesiastes 10:2

However, I tend to eschew those commonly recognized forms of poetic parallelism and have adopted instead the form known as incongruous parallelism. This is a technique where I live my life in a way completely opposed to what I know in my heart is right and true. Using incongruous parallelism my actions can go wholly against my professed principles and what I would say are the foundations of my heart. Within this device, I can treat others with contempt and disdain while at the same time praying that God would keep me ever-mindful of the needs of others. I can also beg God for companionship while living life as a hermit. I could go on for pages detailing examples of this form from my own life, but I would guess that this form of poetry, although I can take credit for coining the term, is not one that I alone have mastered.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

A day off from work ... a day to relax with your family ... a day to toss back some brews and some brauts ... Sure these are all good things, things to be celebrated, things to take advantage of. But, do you know why you have the day off today and what this all means? ... Remember, if only for a moment.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fevre Dream

I just finished the novel Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin. If you thought for a moment that Martin was a one trick pony when it came to producing works like A Game of Thrones, then I would point you to this novel. This is a decidedly different genre altogether but it reveals master story telling, pacing, and character development from start to finish. What made this work even more impressive is that it is billed as Martin's take on the classic vampire novel, but if this is a seemingly dry well, Martin finds quite a bit more water in its depths.

The story tells the tale of Mississippi River steamer captain Abner Marsh, a gruff, irascible, hulk of a man who had a few years where his Fevre River Packet Company was doing alright for itself, thank you very much. He owned and operated half a dozen paddle-wheelers that moved tons of cargo and thousands of passengers in stops from New Orleans up to St. Louis. Then one brutal winter, the river iced up something fierce and crushed the hulls of his prize ladies, sending them to the bottom. The bigger hurt for Abner Marsh was not the loss of his fleet and the hard financial times that he began to face, but it was being labeled as a cursed man and having his friends turn from him. Just when he was reaching his nadir, he was approached by a curious man who wanted to partner with him to build the finest steamboat the Big River had ever seen. This Joshua York offered to fund the construction of the ship if Marsh organized everything else associated with running the business. The only stipulation was that York would do curious things from time to time and Marsh was not allowed to question what he saw. Something in Joshua's bearing convinced Marsh to take a chance and the glorious Fevre Dream was built and moved into service.

For a time, Joshua and Marsh got along well, and Marsh began to feel like his failures were behind him. The Fevre Dream was everything that he had ever wanted or dared to dream. However, Joshua's behavior steadily became more and more curious to the point that it was affecting profits and the company's reputation. Marsh confronted Joshua and learned an unbelievable truth about a race of creature wholly other than humanity. Vampire. The very word evokes a living nightmare of undead creatures that live forever and prey on the blood of innocents. Yet there is good and evil in everything. Does one judge a lion for taking prey that it needs for life? Yes Joshua is a creature of the night, but there is a nobleness to his actions and his approach that ultimately wins the lifelong respect and admiration from a riverman who thought that he had seen everything.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

In the News 12

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.

Tim Tebow - There are certain NFL quarterbacks who somehow seem to hang around despite physical flaws and clear deficiencies in their games. Tim Tebow would be part of this category, however his deficiencies were just too glaring. He is also very public about his faith and I think moreso that his problems throwing a football accurately, he is someone everyone seems to love to hate and bash. His failure to land a job in the NFL caused most folks to foam with joy. However, he continued to work toward his goal of getting back into the league to prove his doubters wrong, all while remaining humble and true to himself. Tim signed a 1-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles on April 20, 2015. I, for one, hope he makes the team.

David Letterman - In the 1980s there was an event marked on my calendar 5 nights a week, Late Night with David Letterman. Even now I can recall the sense of peace that would wash over me as I got home from studying in the library and got to spend a few minutes before bed unwinding with Dave. I almost think that back in those days watching Late Night was part of a college student's core ciriculum. Eventually Dave moved from his irreverant NBC post marked by hilarity, inanity, and Alka-Seltzer suits, to a more mature and staid CBS position and we eventually lost touch. However, he has a solid place in my heart. Dave hosted his final show on May 20, 2015.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Over the years my collection has grown, with pieces added sometimes due to circumstances and sometimes slipping in unnoticed or uninvited. Viewed in isolation, each entry seems almost two dimensional and incomplete. One might even label them as pathetic and small. Yet taken in together, they make up the me that I have become. Looking over the assembly, some of the most commonly held and distinctive include:
  • The scholar - My most confident persona, one that is both vocal and assured. It is the skin in which I feel most comfortable and at peace within myself.
  • The hermit - The suit I wear when I feel beat up and rejected by the world. Whenever I feel the need to escape to lick my wounds, to come back to equilibrium, or to shut out the sense of defeat and hopelessness, I slip into this one.
  • The judge - A presence that comes upon me in times of weakness when I want to feel better about myself. The judge is negative and fault-finding and nasty.
  • The juvenile - I do not always act with the mien of someone my age. I typically shun costumes woven with erudite threads in serious colors. Every once in a while I can be silly, loquacious, and playful.
  • The parent - All the way up through my mid-to-late 20s, I sensed that I would never have a family of my own. Now I am the father to a 17 year old daughter. My father role is definitely not without flaw and fault, but it is the one that I am most proud to have added.
There have been a few pieces that through the years that I have had to retire or expunge. At one point they were so familiar to my senses and so part of my routine that I could not image not stepping into them again. However, life evolves and changes, sometimes by our own actions and sometimes by the actions of others. As we go through different phases our strength or protection is provided by different attitudes or behaviors. Yet whether in season or out of season, each piece in our menagerie defines who we are at certain moments.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


If you are a casual watcher of ESPN or are even mildly in tune with current events, you most likely have heard the term "Deflate-gate" time and time again. Deflate-gate is a controversy involving the star quarterback of the New England Patriots who allegedly directed his equipment managers to take air out of the footballs used in the AFC championship game earlier this year. The "gated" scandal arose because the league has a mandated minimum air pressure for its game balls, and deflating them below this mark is cheating.

If you are feeling a bit melancholy that this story will disappear into the aether anytime soon, take heart, the scandal is set to continue percolating in the headlines for many months to come. After the allegations against one Tom Brady came to light, the league ordered an independent investigation to look into the matter. The investigation concluded that Brady pretty clearly directed his folks to take the game balls approved by the NFL officials and to deflate them. The point is that Brady wanted to gain a competitive advantage because he believes that softer footballs are easier to handle so he took a path to make sure that he got what he wanted.

At this point, pretty much everyone, you, me, the American people, believes that Tom Brady cheated and was caught red-handed. However, when the results of the independent investigation were released and the NFL handed down its punishment, immediately Brady and the management of his team began releasing a ton of propaganda to muddy the waters, to becloud the facts, and to deflect criticism from their star. They then began filing legal paperwork against the league and pretty much anyone who had ever cheered against their team. This whole chain of response with PR folks and lawyers is a rote reaction of everyone with money and power who has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Attack, counter-attack, spin, parry, dodge. It is such a tired, threadbare approach that is taken regardless of how guilty their clients are. The man is guilty of cheating, but with the antics, strategies, and schemes of an entire cadre of suits behind him, they will play their games, and millions of dollars will change hands, and the white noise of wasted energy will rise to a crescendo, and nothing worthwhile or the least bit productive will ever come from any of this nonsense. By the end of this whole pantomime you will likely even forget what this was all about in the first place.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Observations 90

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 grocery store that I shop at is changing locations in about 3 weeks. However, they made the decision to stop stocking the shelves at their current location. The place looks like some cold-war era Soviet market with aisle after aisle of nothing. When I got to the checkout with the last freakin' can of Who-hash, the perky checker asked, "Did you find everything alright?"
  • Why do I mow my lawn when it is just going to grow back?
  • How many times can you storm out of a meeting in a persnickety huff and have people take you seriously in the future? The answer is two. On the third instance, you are rightly branded as some kind of kook.
  • Have you ever met one of these co-workers who hijacks every meeting so that its focus is only on their area of interest no matter what the original purpose of the meeting was?
  • A good dinner at the end of the day can sometimes make all of the day's burdens melt away into the aether.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Legion is a novella written by Brandon Sanderson about Steven Leeds, a man with schizophrenia, or better yet, a poorly understood but advanced ability to generate a multitude of personae who co-exist in his world. He interacts with them and they interact with him. Steven does not "become" one of his personas, but can solicit their opinions or have them guide him in their expertise. They seem, for all intents and purposes, to be actual people but Steven and his personas fully understand that they are not real. The people that he conjures up are experts in languages, technology, weaponry and tactics, psychology, physics, and whatever else Steven requires in his existence.

What is interesting is that Steven relies on these people to work with him to unravel various cases and mysteries that come to his door. Steven's condition has allowed him to become a very wealthy man. When he really just wanted to be left alone, he was hounded by research groups that wanted to study him. The more he charged these people, the more money they threw at him. Steven is a man of contrasts. Jaded yet curious. Tired yet driven. Prideful yet humble.

In this story, Steven is approached about a mystery involving a camera that seemingly can take pictures of the past. The inventor of this technology has taken his prize and disappeared from the company that had backed his idea. The split occuring when the company saw only dollar signs while its inventor had a specific agenda. Sanderson poses some provocative questions about the use of such an invention that could bring absolute chaos to the world if it could be brought to bear to address certain questions. A highly enjoyable piece that is followed up with a full-length novel, Legion: Skin Deep that I have added to my reading list.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

iTunes Latest - 27

I have been a user of iTunes since 2011. This service has allowed me to bring music back into my world and to reconnect with so many great songs from my past and to find some great new recent stuff as well. One of the things that I really like about music is how it becomes part of the soundtrack of the different seasons of our lives. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my thoughts on each song.
  • So Many Tears - Regina Belle (1987) - Back when I was a high school senior this song came out and it spoke to relational pains and longings that I was carrying. Even though I had more of a pop music taste and an R&B/soul artist would normally not be my cup of tea, I could not escape the lure of this polished number.
  • It is Well - Kristine DiMarco (2014) - This song was recently introduced to me at my church. It is a swelling, haunting, wonderful piece about letting go of control and trusting no matter what may be attempting to overwhelm us.
  • Something Big - Shawn Mendes (2015) - Shawn is a very young artist who is apparently quite popular although I have never heard of him before. However, his latest album happened to be featured on iTunes and I was just kicking around when this infectious, bouncy number started playing. Definitely something to lift the spirits.
  • The River's Gonna Keep On Rolling - Amy Grant (2015) - Amy's recording of Thy Word is a wonderful gospel/worship piece that I have loved from the moment that I first heard it. She recently released a sort of greatest gospel hits album and I decided to check it out. This song is a stand out about perseverance and acceptance when life's troubles kick you in the stomach.
  • Punish the Monkey - Mark Knopfler (2007) - I admit that I have been on a bit of a Knopfler kick recently. This song has a groove, rhythm, and reflectivity to it that I couldn't help but stop and reflect upon. The theme focuses on the public outcry for justice and blood at all costs regardless of whether those responsible are actually brought down. Punish the monkey and let the organ grinder go.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It's a Boy!

My daughter is 17 years old and each and every time I am with her I am reminded of what a blessing she is and has been to my life. I can remember when my wife was pregnant and we spent several sessions compiling a list of preferred names if our child was a boy or if our child was a girl. I believe that we ended up with three finalists in each column. However, for whatever reason, I always just carried with me a sense that our child would be a girl. Indeed I kept an open mind to some extent, but in my heart, I had settled all indecision and removed all questions. Since her arrival in the world, I have given everything that I could to her. Together along the way we read thousands of stories, dreamed countless dreams, created scores of our own games, and laughed and giggled enough to make our own soundtrack to life. As much as I helped to shape who she has become since her birth, I think she has helped to shape me just as much. I am worthy of whatever balance the scales indicate because of her presence and influence. Over the years she has helped to chip away and diminish my hard edges and to enhance what makes me beautiful.

The other day I was chatting with a colleague of mine at work who was relating to me his escapades with his two sons from the previous weekend. This is not the first time he has shared with me stories of his wild weekends with his boys. Whether it is off-roading on their dirt bikes, setting new times down at the track with his home-built race car, or out on some other hair-raising adventure, he is clearly savoring every minute of their childhood and is having the time of his life. However, after our most recent conversation, he asked me if I had ever wished that I had a son to do "guy" things with instead of a daughter. That was actually the first time that I had ever taken a moment to consider this question. This lead me to start to consider how I would be different today if I had raised a boy instead of a girl, how that male relationship would have impacted me, what different roads I would have gone down ... I did not think on this topic all that long, as given the option of going back and finding out, I would definitely pass. Looking along the 17 year journey that I have been on with my daughter, with all of its twists and turns, hills and valleys, I would not change much, if anything.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Living the Proverbs

Living the Proverbs by Charles Swindoll is a companion devotional to his book Living the Psalms. Each work provides a daily reading plan to last 26 weeks, such that together they provide one year of lessons. For me I tended to read several day's worth of devotionals in one sitting and would often read a bit in the morning and then again in the evening. Swindoll's approach to the Proverbs was not to work his way in an exhaustive, pedantic manner through each and every chapter and verse of these bible passages. Instead he grouped together similar-themed verses from different chapters for each week's discussion. These discussions included topics covering a broad range of relevant behaviors and concerns of the human condition such as:
  • Shallowness
  • Disobedience
  • Worry
  • Lust
  • Laziness
  • Addiction
  • Revenge
  • Knowledge vs. wisdom
  • Financial responsibility
Several times in the past I have read through the book of Proverbs and always viewed it as sort of a collection of pithy Chinese fortune cookie-type fodder. However, Swindoll managed to weave together devotionals that transformed these verses from a loose collection of wisdom bits and pieces into something more complete and approachable. I certainly enjoyed my time in both of these books. They served as a great companion to my devotional times.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction", Proverbs 1:8

Monday, May 11, 2015

On the Other Hand 3

One of my greatest personal struggles is that I tend to view the world through a negative lens. I am exploring avenues that might help me to reprogram my mind toward seeing things from a more positive vantage point.

Topic: Bruce Jenner's admission that he believes that he is actually a woman.

First thought:
For many years I have viewed Jenner as an absolute train wreck of a person. Someone who had reached his peak as an Olympic champion had resorted to tabloid headline grabs to extend his celebrity. An inane, purposeless celebrity. An absolute media whore who relied on his appearances on some nonsensical reality show whose producers push the show's headliners to act in the most bizarre, inhuman ways possible to titilate and shock and pull in the viewers to see what could happen next.

On the other hand:
Jenner kept himself in the public spotlight for about 10 years after his Olympic medal, cashing in on the public acclaim that he earned. Ultimately we learned that even before his star had faded, Jenner began taking hormones in 1980 to attempt to give him a more feminine appearance. He was a cross-dresser and actually thought that he was a female trapped in a man's body. Sure he played up his odd lifestyle for the cameras in his reality show to boost ratings, but he clearly has deep-seated psychological issues and has had them nearly his whole life. People like Jenner who have never been able to feel comfortable in their own skin should be pitied. Some in this state find a way to soldier on and deal with their issues under the cover of anonymity. Others must go through this horrible awkward struggle under the bright glare of the stage lights.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Emperor's Soul

I just finished reading the multi-award winning novel (actually a novella) entitled The Emperor's Soul by author Brandson Sanderson. Right off the bat, let me just say that I give this piece my highest marks. Talk about a crisp narrative with amazing attention to detail and completeness of story! The book is part of Sanderson's world of Elantris, not in that it is a sequel or prequel or even refers to anything in that story, but in that it takes place in the same world, albeit in a very different location. Sanderson has stated that there are similarities in the some aspects of the system of magic. However, it really is a stand-alone work.

This book tells the story of a master forger named Wan ShaiLu ("Shai") who has been captured after breaking into the palace and attempting to steal the moon scepter, the kingdom's most revered relic. Shai is a forger, but her skill lies light years beyond someone who can simply reproduce another's signature on an official document. Shai is capable of rewriting the pasts of objects in order to change their present condition. It is almost as if she can reprogram the DNA of matter. Shai is thrown into the royal prisons and her execution date is set. However, the emperor's inner circle of councilors comes to her with a deal to save her life. The emperor has been greviously wounded in an assassination attempt that has left him alive but essentially brain dead. The council, fearing that they will lose their position if the condition of their emperor is found out, has tasked Shai with providing an expert forge for the emperor's soul, something that has never been attempted. Shai is not certain that she can even begin to pull this off, as she can only create the forgery if she understands the memories, attitudes, and relationships of the emperor in minute detail. Something like this could take years and years to produce even a poor facsimile, however Shai has only 100 days before the emperor must make a public appearance.

The council is made up of unscrupulous types who value their wealth and power more than the people that they preside over. Even though they each view Shai's abilities as evil and against natural law, and even though they would put to death all of those of her skills that they could round up, they turn to her as their only hope for salvation. However, Shai is much more than any of these elders had bargained for. She is clever, skilled, and learns to be genuine. I love how she comes to understand and ultimately respect the emperor, even though he is an enemy of her people, and even though she never gets to meet the real man. Just a great story from start to finish.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

In the News 11

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.

Leonard Nimoy - My introduction to Mr. Nimoy came in the mid-1970s when my dad would watch Star Trek reruns that came on T.V. on Sunday afternoons. As a young boy I found that show kind of stark, creepy, and a bit cheesy. A few years later Mr. Nimoy narrated a show called In Search Of about things paranormal, unexplained, and mysterious. It was kind of spooky and haunting, but I took to it a bit more. For the next 30 years Mr. Nimoy slowly came to embrace his inner Mr. Spock and became something of a cultural icon. Leonard Nimoy died on February 27, 2015 from lung disease at the age of 83.

James Best - In the early 80s the campy show The Dukes of Hazzard was big. On Friday nights you can be certain that I was planted in front of the T.V. set and ready to go. I loved the silliness and inanity, even though each show had pretty much the same plot. Some of my favorite scenes included Boss Hogg railing over Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. Poor old Roscoe was beaten down and corrupt, but he had his moments where his heart shone through and he did the right thing. I have not watched an episode in many years, but I hang on to those memories. James Best played the part of Roscoe and it was definitely his signature role, one for which he was perfectly cast. James Best died on April 6, 2015 at the age of 88.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Observations 89

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.
  • For the life of me, I just don't get the widespread appeal of "Hello Kitty".
  • In the supermarket I passed a display of 100% "recycled" toilet paper. To my surprise it was white in color.
  • "Certainly, in taking revenge a man is but even with his enemy, but in passing over it, he is superior, for it is a prince's part to pardon." Sir Francis Bacon.
  • I was recently struggling with a personal issue and I called my pastor. His phone went to voice mail, but he called me back just a bit later and listened, loved, and prayed. He consistently models for me a better way to live and I am thankful for him.
  • In the hospital the other day I came to a landing that overlooked one of the large parking lots. I smiled when I saw that it was mostly empty.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wonders of Armenia

A technician in my group at work is an older man from the former Soviet Union. He has been a visitor to my lab multiple times for long stretches. He is a gentle, humorous, and hardworking soul. His homeland is Armenia, a small mountainous country whose western side borders Turkey and whose southern edge meets Iran. For many years he trained to become a scientist, but as there were scant few positions available in his country, he eventually found his way to the States. As has happened to many of his colleagues from back home, they now work as technicians at different laboratories around the world. Yet this man never shows any bitterness or regret, and his positive "can-do" approach has always impressed me. I am also impressed with how he carries his homeland with him. He loves to talk about the history of his country, their arts, traditions, foods, and passions. If you spend a few days working with him, you will not have to guess where he is from or what he believes. Within a short time he will happily tell you of his past and share stories from his homeland. He is not bragging or pushing himself on anyone, it is more that he is overflowing with loyalty and pride for his country that he cannot contain his joy.

Recently after one of our discussions, he brought me a copy of an encyclopedia of his homeland called Wonders of Armenia (by Samvel Gasparian), which presented a comprehensive history of his country and its growth and development over the past millenia. Ancient times to the modern day. I found it interesting how the encyclopedia was written the same brimming passion and zeal as my colleague at work, not some dry "just the facts" tome.

My colleague's approach to sharing of his national pride comes so naturally to him. He is humble and engaging, and makes you want to learn more from him just by his attitude and his spirit. As a Christian, I have often lamented that my beliefs and passions are often too deeply buried for anyone to ever even recognize or be drawn to. How can I minister to anyone if I never even begin to share the wonders of my God and why I believe what I do?

Monday, May 4, 2015


From a certain perspective and with a bit of a critical eye I have been observing him. Avoiding deep considerations and moral ponderings, it is almost natural to track how he has changed over the years. I wonder if he is struggling with his faith, back-sliding, or just numb and jaded.
  • For years he volunteed after service to handle whatever jobs needed to be done. Now he slips from the back of the sanctuary before even the last echoes of the preacher's voice have died out.
  • He used to participate in after-hours bible studies once a week to get deeper into the word and to connect with others in Christian community. Now it seems that he is firmly against any sort of involvement in these meetings.
  • I used to see him clapping and smiling during the baptism services, celebrating with others who have gone public with their faith. Now he sits there staring at the floor with a wholly detached and distant demeanor.
  • He used to so enjoy the first 20 minutes of the service when the band played three or four songs. You could see him singing and swaying to the music. Now he almost seems like he is actively working to shut out each and every note.
  • Before the start of the service he used to take some measure of joy into talking with the few folks that he knew, exchanging pleasantries or a laugh. Now he actively avoids human interaction and seems that he would rather just be left alone.
From a certain perspective and with a bit of a critical eye I have been observing him ... each time that I look in the mirror.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Shattered Lens

The final published tale in Brandon Sanderson's "biography" of the 13 year old oculator Alcatraz Smedry is entitled Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens. In this tale, the wicked librarians, a cult of evil ne-er-do-wells, have beseiged the Freelands kingdom of Mokia and are using every trick up their sleeve to use their technology to take over the capital city of Tuki Tuki and enslave its inhabitants. Alcatraz is under the protection of the Knights of Crystallia who are under orders to keep him far away from Mokia and most of the Freelanders view Mokia as good as lost. However, Alcatraz finds a way to travel to Tuki Tuki and his sudden arrival gives the protectors of the city a ray of hope. However, that ray is quashed when their king and queen are taken captive by their foes. Then before you can say "Dewey Decimal System", Alcatraz, as the highest ranking person in the kingdom (being that he is a Smedry from the pure line), is appointed as acting king of the nation. What was once a sort of game, then suddenly takes on an entirely new perspective, where decisions now affect lives and freedom.

In this story, Alcatraz is forced to mature and to understand that his oculatory powers were not given to him to garner praise from the people, to amuse others with simple parlor tricks, or to match wits with low-level librarians thugs. His powers exist to protect and to serve his people. During the battle of Tuki Tuki, Alcatraz must face his arch enemy, who turns out to be his mother. He comes to see her and her agenda in a completely different light and he also comes to understand a bit more about what his recently long-lost father is up to.

This was a very enjoyable series to read through. I realize that these stories are in the category of "young adult" and that the adventures of Alcatraz were written in a tongue-in-cheek manner. However, as I have said before, a great story is a great story. The four novels in the series were published in the period from 2007 to 2010. There are reports that Sanderson will return to this series with another release in 2016. I eagerly await the next chapter in the life of Alcatraz Smedry.