Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Observations 109

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.
  • Don't you hate it when you are absolutely head over heels exhausted, when you can't stop yawning, when your eyelids feel like lead weights, and yet your body still won't let you fall asleep?
  • I recently went to a show featuring comedian Brian Regan. Dang it felt great to laugh and let the problems of the world melt away for a little while.
  • I woke up on a recent Saturday to a downpour. Checking the forecast made it clear that the rest of the day would show continued moistness. Pooh, that means that I wouldn't be able to mow the grass and do all of my other yard work.
  • Saturday morning 8:00 a.m.. I drive past the chiropractor's office near my office and the parking lot is packed. What the heck happened last night that so many people threw their backs out?
  • I may have recently lost a staring contest with a Canadian goose.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lessons from the Deli

There is a brand of cold cuts called Boar's Head. They make a broad array of deli meats and cheeses that are definitely a couple of notches above anything else that I have come across. A bit more expensive than the usual mass market brands, but after a few nibbles, you will quickly appreciate what you are paying extra for. As Boar's Head was not sold in my regular supermarket, for many years I made do with a different brand that was just "O.K.". However, every once in a while I would stop off at a different store, a bit farther from my house, that did carry Boar's Head. I would get a bit of this and a bit of that and it was amazing how it transformed my lunch time for a few days. Instead of gobbling down my regular sandwich without a second thought, lunch became something that I would look forward to well in advance. A sandwich became something to savor and linger over.

Recently, my supermarket changed locations. It moved from its old, cramped, dated building to a newly remodeled and expanded store front. As part of the remodel, they upgraded their deli department with a broad selection of Boar's Heads products. I thought that this was the greatest thing since, well, sliced bread. I would now have regular access to my favorite deli selections. However, it didn't take long before I was back to choking down my lunches without a second thought. What was once a special treat that I allowed myself a couple of times a year, became just another sandwich when it became the usual.

Like so many things in my life, I quickly tend to lose appreciation for the blessings that I have. When things are readily at hand they lose their vibrancy and quickly fade into the backgroud. This happens not just with things and possessions, it has also happened with people and relationships. It is only when things and people suddenly disappear from my life that I truly realize what I had.

Monday, September 28, 2015

iTunes Latest - 29

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.
  • Crucified - The Fixx (1991) - My first real taste of this band was their 1983 release "Reach the Beach". This song screams out from the sudden awareness of dupliticity as a relationship has abruptly ended. A tune alive with emotion and frenzy.
  • Black Money - Sniff 'n' the Tears (2011) - Many call this band the epitome of a "one hit wonder" with their smash hit "Driver's Seat". In fact after a commercial in Britain used that song, a groundswell of fans clamored for new music from the band. This song about the taint of ill-gotten gains was part of their 2011 release and represents a great song with their trademark sound.
  • The Game's Up - Sniff 'n' the Tears (1980) - I actually had this song on vinyl back when I in college. I bought the record at a used record sale on campus. This song about the bitterness and frustation of loss when the game's up and not a thing can be done holds up even after 35 years.
  • I Think We'd Feel Good Together - Rob Thomas (2015) - I have always wanted to like Rob Thomas. He is charismatic, good-looking, has a great voice and oozes rock star, but I just never found anything of his that resonated with me. There was was exception, however, when he took the lead on "Smooth" for Santana. This song, although a bit overproduced, has that same sing-along-with-me vibe that is infectious.
  • Pieces - Rob Thomas (2015) - A slow, calculated, and paced song about our inevitable breakdown when we give too much to the world. Somehow this one from his new album spoke to me and left me nodding.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Dragon Reborn

The third entry in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time epic saga is entitled, The Dragon Reborn, and follows on just a short while after the end of the previous story, The Great Hunt. We have followed the once innocent troop of rustics from the small village of Two Rivers as the ever-turning wheel of time has propelled them hither and yon at breakneck pace. Three young men, Rand, Mat, and Perrin, have found that they are somehow key players in the destiny of the world, the battle of light against dark, with Rand the child of prophesy who is fated to face the Dark One in the final battle. Each is marked with his own part to play, but to them their safe and secure worlds have unraveled so quickly they cannot seem to catch their breath. One moment they were happy to dream their small dreams and live their rural lives, and the next they are battling tooth and nail against creatures previously limited only to their nightmares. As well, two young women are caught up in the flow of fate that is pinned to the boys, Nynaeve and Egwene, who were celebrated in Two Rivers for their ability to channel powers of healing and nature. With their eyes opened as to what they can do with proper training, they have gone to become powerful sorceresses known as Aes Sedai.

However, even though the boys and the girls are separated geographically at the start of the story dealing with their own issues, they are still inexorably linked via the turning wheel of time. Rand has found that he has a powerful ability to channel, a power that history has shown leads to madness in men in short order. As he fights against the threat of this madness on the one hand, and against the prophesies that paint him as the Dragon on the other, he decides to force the hand of fate and prove to himself whether or not he is the Dragon or just a pawn of the Aes Sedai. He decides to travel to the great city of Tear where the prophesies claim that the one true Dragon is the only one who can claim the great crystal sword Callandor. Pulled in Rand's wake, Mat and Perrin separately take a circuituous and adventurous path to Tear.

The girls, who the Aes Sedai realize are closely linked to Rand, are given a secret mission to investigate a plot by a renegade group of their number controlled by the Dark One, also follow a trail to Tear. Ultimately Rand, Mat, Perrin, Nynaeve, and Egwene battle one of the Dark One's most powerful minions, believing initially that their efforts had, in fact, defeated the Dark One himself. It is only when they are drained of every last ounce of strength and mental reserve, that they begin to see how long and how perilious their true journey ahead will be. I now move eargerly onto the next part of the tale, The Shadow Rising.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Quick Hits 43

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.

There was an episode of the old Star Trek series where a race of people with white on one side of their face and black on the other, tried to oppress a race of people that were identical but with the white side and black side of their faces reversed. This proved to show how arbitrary and absurd we are with our discrimination and prejudice. So why is it that guys with hair on top of their heads and missing on the sides (labeled as a mohawk) are accepted as tough and virile, while guys with hair on the sides of their heads and missing on the top (labeled as bald) are marginalized as wimpy and uncool?

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Observations 108

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.
  • You would think that the definition of a "catch" in football would be a pretty easy thing to determine. However, after watching clips of obvious "catches" that were ruled "not catches", it has become apparent that I know absolutely nothing.
  • The first thing to learn about eating and enjoying wasabi-covered peanuts is not to rub one's eyes after handling said legumes. Trust me on this.
  • Would I label myself in your eyes as a weenie if I told you that I couldn't make it past 8:30 p.m. the other night?
  • People are so vain. A woman in the doctor's office stripped down to her undies before getting on the scale so that her recorded weight would be as small as possible.
  • If you are looking for a good excuse to grumble loudly to yourself, try dropping a new roll of paper towels into a sink full of water ... I'll wait while you try it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Summer's End

I always grow more than a bit melacholy when I can no longer ignore the fact that summer is coming to an end. The darkness is now present when I awaken, when there used to be a glorious brightness urging me to carpe diem with its energizing promise. Then, after dinner, I have less and less time to sit outside and enjoy the evening before the sun sets, allowing a slight chill breeze to creep in. Even looking across my lawn I can see a growing accumulation of sere leaves. What once was vibrant and verdant and glowing with life, is now turning toward the reds and golds of autumn.

Although summer is my favorite season, this time around it carried with it more than a bit of a foul taint. As my daughter was suffering from a thorn in her flesh, we were kept apart. While she struggled I was left to the whims of frustration and worry without the ability or opportunity to make any positive contributions. Left to my own, there were no adventures, far too little laughter and exchange, and far too much of routine. My mind kept focusing on what was missing instead of what I had.

I truly understand the feelings of a woman approaching middle age who desperately wants to have a child only to have the sounds of her tears drowned out by the ticking of her biological clock. For me as a father, this summer might just have been the last of my allotment with my daughter as she will likely be going off to college next year. What has always been a time of late nights, special times of interacting, and sharing lots of great food and goodies, has been none of the above this year. I feel the loss so deeply in my bones that I feel absolutely drained of life. Why does the summer have to go when I wish it would stay, just a bit longer?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Macho Man

It was coming up on 10:00 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning and I was standing next to my car filling it up with gasoline. The station was one of those expansive layouts with row upon row of pumps. From my vantage point, I had a clear view of the whole place. In the shadow of the pumps I could see folks going about their business. Some entering onto the lot to head into the building to make a purchase. Some just cutting across the pavement to save a few minutes on their journey. However, one young man caught my attention. When he thought nobody was looking, he would carry himself loosely and walk with an even stride. But whenever he thought someone was looking his way, he would immediately start into a tough-guy swagger. As he did this his eyes would narrow and he would spit between his teeth. As soon as he saw the eyes of the watchers move back to their own activity, he would revert back to his normal walk and his normal pace.

Man this must be an exhausting way to live. Exhausting physically. Exhausting mentally. This whole scene is actually quite sad to me. What kind of society do we live in that so deeply ingrains into a young person's mind that they have to act like a street tough to be taken seriously, to be considered a real man? Looking at this person crossing the parking lot, my mind filled in some details based on what I saw. This was not some rich or middle class kid dressed in expensive clothes trying to come across as cool. This was likely someone from a lower-class upbringing who has seen more than his share of trouble, more than his share of fighting, more than his share of crime. Yet I cannot help but think that if he made the same effort toward making something valuable of himself as he did in posturing and trying to fit into some dark image, that he could make a real difference in his world.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Great Hunt

The second entry in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series is entitled The Great Hunt. This portion of the tale follows just a short while after the end of the first part of the story, The Eye of the World. Here, the three boys from the small farming village of Two Rivers, Rand, Mat, and Perrin, are quickly understanding that their simple rural existence and the paths that they had seen for the lives are long gone. Each is somehow affecting the development of schemes and plans far beyond their comprehension. Yet of the three, Rand has come to sense that his destiny lies down an entirely different path. His fears are brought to a peak when the head of the mystical and powerful Aes Sedai names him as the Dragon Reborn. The Dragon is a man proclaimed from prophesy to be the hope of mankind against the forces of darkness. Yet in representing the side of light, those same prophesies proclaim that the Dragon will be responsible for breaking the world. For Rand, too much seems to be happening to him too fast. His destiny has been forced upon him without warning and he is suddenly burdened with responsibilities that he never asked for and never wanted. Yet his destiny pulls him along willing or no and he never can find a moment of peace.

Rand is gifted with the same powers as the Aes Sedai, although it is believed that all men who can channel such forces will go mad and destroy all within their reach. In order to distract himself from such thoughts and to distance himself from the control of the Aes Sedai, Rand goes out in search of the legendary Horn of Valere, known as The Great Hunt. The legendary instrument is believed to be used by the Dragon at the final battle to call upon the heroes of the ages in their fight against the forces of darkness.

The other major story arc follows two women of Two Rivers that are also somehow caught up in the unfolding prophesy centered on Rand. Nynaeve and Egwene have parted from Rand and the others to begin their training as Aes Sedai at Tar Valon. It is there where the minions of the Dark One trick them into believing that Rand is in danger and needs their help. Trusting one who set out to guide them has suddenly thrust them into life-threatening peril. Without Rand to help them, they must save themselves, but the hand of prophesy still guides the paths of those that are part of its working.

Another wonderful, rich tapestry of artistry in the fantasy genre. Now onto the third part of the story in The Dragon Reborn.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Quick Hits 42

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.

Most often politicians who are considered seriously as presidential material have been shaped and smoothed by teams of handlers. Can a maverick, shoot-from-the-hip, sometimes politically incorrect candidate ever be taken seriously over the long term?

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Observations 107

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.
  • This morning I decided to choose Life ... and then I poured a glass of OJ to go with it.
  • I just saw a T.V. ad for the dumbest kid's toy ever. A line of dolls that are each half monster half horse. What really put this crapola over the top was the jazzy theme song that accompanied the commercial. I guess that I should be careful throwing stones. When I was a kid we spent hours playing "pong".
  • Sometimes being at home alone in a rain storm can make one feel lonely, depressed, and isolated from the world.
  • I hate it when a company suddenly makes drastic changes to a product that I enjoy. Usually these "improvements" result in a considerably inferior product to what I had gotten used to.
  • Nerds tend to tell jokes that are only understood by other nerds who work in the same negligibly small niche area that they work in. Therefore such jokes told in front of a full meeting room will typically only elicit a chuckle from at most one other person.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


A central tenet of the Bible is that we are to be givers. If it were left at that, I could understand that there might be some misunderstandings, some misinterpretations. But the scriptures are clear that we are to give of what we have with a generous attitude, with a joyous heart, and not because we should expect adulation or even recognition.

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which he has given you. Deuteronomy 16:17

He that gives to the poor shall not lack: but he that hides his eyes shall have many a curse. Proverbs 28:27

Give to every man that asks of you; and of him that takes away your goods ask them not again. Luke 6:30

I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35

But this I say, He which sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which sows bountifully shall reap also bountifully. 2 Corinthians 9:6

But the truth is that I often hate giving. My mind focuses on the fact that I have worked exceedingly hard to make something of myself. The career that I have pursued has not been given to me. I have worked crazy hours for nearly 30 years to get where I am today. When others were out living it up, socializing, and relaxing, I was at my desk or in my lab. When others were goofing around and blowing off their responsibilites, I had my nose to the grindstone. Now that I have accumulated some wealth, why should I reward the lazy who got what they deserved?

But ... what about those who are innocent victims who have had bad luck upon bad luck through no fault of their own? What about the children of poverty who came into this world to hunger and pain? What about those who have no possibility of opportunity given their culture and their lot? What about the fact that I have been blessed with talents and abilities that have allowed me to pursue my dreams and to be successful at them?

How can I say no when I understand the truth. How can I clutch so tightly to my horde when the Lord has worked so hard to pry my fingers free one by one? Today, when I look back to the miser that I once was, I really do have to smile at how far I have come. Yet I am still far from where I need to be and that is something that continues to push me.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Green Giant

The Jolly Green Giant may lament being ridiculously tall and a verdant green, but no matter how much he stresses over this, he will always be tall and he will always be green. He can exercise until his muscles burn and he will not shrink an inch. He can go through vats of skin care products and he will always have an unmistakably greenish hue. The bottom line is that a tree has no business fretting over being a tree, that's just what it is and what it was designed to be. However, for many of us, there are areas of our life where we actually have the power to make substantive changes but we never seem to make a dent. We fret and we worry, yet we are absolutely blind to the fact that we either are too weak to affect changes or are too inured in our paths to do more than grumble and moan.
  • A friend of mine is always complaining about his weight and the fact that nothing he does seems to make any difference. He maintains a very active presence on social media and with every post there seems to be a buffet of junk food surrounding him. Soda, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, chips, grease, fat.
  • A man I know constantly bemoans his unhappy marriage. He prattles on about how he has done everything he can think of to make things better, yet every single time he mentions his wife it is with nastiness and harsh words. He never speaks of her with fondness or pride or respect.
  • A colleague at work recently had a quintuple heart bypass. His major contributing factors were that he was severely overweight and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Six months after his surgery, he has made no changes in his lifestyle.
  • A junior co-worker of mine is worried about getting a permanent position in his field. Yet he seems to arrive late and leave early every day and seems completely unengaged when he is at work.
Mr. J.G. Giant may fret and fluster over being tall and green, but there is nothing he can do to ever change those characteristics. For many of us, there are things about ourselves that cause us to worry and to wail, yet so often we have the ability to take charge and make a real difference in the outcomes, yet we can't seem to make progress. Sometimes the answers are difficult. Sometimes they are not.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Legion: Skin Deep

Earlier this year I read the novella Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson. The story involved one Steven Leeds a sane and clever man whose life slowly became focused on solving some rather curious mysteries. I chose the descriptor "sane" in the previous sentence, but Steven has a rather serious case of schizophrenia, where he imagines and interacts with other "aspects" as he calls them. These aspects are actually fully fleshed out people that live with him and are part of his life. They each have a special skill that Steven relies on as he investigates and works through whatever case he is involved with.

For a time, Steven charged exhorbitant sums to the myriad research groups that hounded him. As a result he became a very wealthy man. He was heading down a path of jaded self-destruction, but in time he came to embrace his condition and slowly his natural curiousity and aim to solve puzzles and mysteries took over. The sum of all of the legion of personalities that comprise him makes for a very entertaining and complex man, with an IQ that defines him as a genious.

In this story, a biotech hot-shot desperately seeks Steven to take on a case involving the missing body of one of their recently deceased scientists. The odd angle of this case is that the scientist was leading the effort on some advanced research that allowed the cells of the human body to become, in effect, a computer system of unlimited capability. The scientist had stored the keys to this research in his own body and it is believed that a rival firm has used their spies and their connections to steal the body in their attempt to learn the secrets of the research. As Steven works to figure out who might be involved and how to access the key that will unlock the data stored in the scientist's body, he meets with a deadly foe that knows him better than he could have guessed. Can Steven survive this adventure and solve the case cut off from his most valuable aspects? A fun read that I much enjoyed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


When I was younger the word "gay" was kind of a whimsical word that you stumbled upon in poetry or old-timey songs. The standard definitions included:
  • having or showing a merry, lively mood
  • bright or showy
  • given to or abounding in social or other pleasures
There were no undercurrents in the word. No reasons for snickers, for second looks, for disapproving glances. The word was even prominently used in the Flintstones cartoon theme song ♫ "... You'll have a gay old time."

Now fast forward some 40 years and the word gay is everywhere. In fact the above definitions are still listed in the dictionary but are down at the bottom of the page under "older usage" or "archaic". The original definitions have been relegated to obscurity in favor of its present definition of a homosexual man. For the past twenty years gay men kept to themselves and most certainly tried to hide their lifestyle from the rest of the world. Being gay in the larger world was extremely dangerous. It set one up for ridicule, for slanderous gossip, for discrimination, and in many cases, for extreme threats and in far too many situations, for beatings and intimidation. However, somewhere along the way, that all changed and gay men are now being hailed as heroes, as pioneers, as just another way to exist. People are now labeled as baker, as journalist, as gay, and the term gay gives rise to no more of a pause than the other two.

Reading through CNN over the past few years it is amazing how the term gay has proliferated. Many politicians were voted out of office for not being "gay friendly" and many more were voted in that supported equal rights for gays. Every other week it seemed like a different state in our union began allowing and recognizing gay marriages. Today not a week goes by when someone doesn't identify themselves as gay and they are celebrated as the first openly gay baker or banker or ballplayer or bartender. Each "first" being painted as a courageous hero. I wonder what happened to all of those haters from 20 years ago? Did they change their point of view toward gays or are their voices just not heard any longer?

I have read a number of pieces on the stages from birth to death of the great empires of the world. One of the biggest signs of decline is typically listed as the rise of sexual immorality among the populace. Sexual immorality including diminished views of traditional marriage, multiple sexual partners, and a rise in homosexuality. I wonder if any of the rush to embrace our sexual immorality means anything or will we just march ahead and continue having a gay old time?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Observations 106

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 restaurant in my town that has recently put up a new sign over its main entrance that they thought would attract customers, "Scratch Kitchen." To me this evokes images of a kitchen staffed with rash-covered workers.
  • Two guys were talking about star athletes on sports radio the other day and how they should view themselves. After one of the guys had made a series of solid and sensible points, the other guy responded in a bit of a lather with, "That's the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard." He then countered with 5 minutes of absolute tripe and nonsense. Ironically, that was the most ridiculous thing that I had ever heard.
  • There is another restaurant in my town called "Steve's Steak House". However, underneath the restaurant's name it says, "Established by Artie and Tony." So, who the heck is Steve?
  • A headline on CNN began, "Eatsa is a new quinoa-only automated vegetarian restaurant ..." I immediately stopped reading and went to google and looked up some pictures of meat to
    calm my shattered nerves.
  • Another headline on CNN began, "Chelsea Clinton: The lurking threat to babies". I knew there was something evil about that one. She probably kicks puppies too!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Thriving in Babylon

In roughly 600 BC Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon whose seat was in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), sought to take full control of the Middle East. In his eye the ultimate prize was
the conquest of Egypt. Egypt had been a storied kingdom for millenia, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted to control that story and etch his name in the history books as the most powerful king who ever lived. However, caught between Babylon and Egypt, lay the kingdom of Judah. Judah was a thorn in Nebuchadnezzar's slide that proved elusive to control. Finally, Nebuchadnezzar defeated Judah in 586 BC and took many of its most prominent citizens back home with him as prizes. Nebuchadnezzar is most often painted as a depraved megalomanic who truly thought himself a god. He was a vicious tyrant who had no regard for human life. As goes the reputation of the leader, so goes the reputation of his subjects. Thus existing in Babylon is akin to living in the land of the pagans.

I just finished reading the devotional Thriving in Babylon by Larry Osborne. This work is about how we as Christians should live in our modern Babylon. Note that Osborne's title is "thriving in Babylon", not "existing in Babylon", not "getting by in Babylon", or even "suffering through in Babylon". Osborne's subtitle is "Why Hope, Humility, and Wisdom Matter in a Godless Culture." Osborne uses as his example the Old Testament Hebrew Daniel, who was captured during the seige of Jerusalem and brought back to Babylon. There he was trained to be a servant to Nebuchadnezzar. However, even though he was in the very heart of Babylon, he kept his focus on God. Though he served the king of the pagans and by all accounts served him well and honorably, he never bended his knee to him. Ultimately Daniel's convictions and his spirit brought healing to his own people in exile, but also to the Babylonians.

Osborne's approach is to use David as an example of how we should go about making a difference in our ever increasingly pagan world. It is foolish to think that we can stick our heads in the sand and interact only with other Christians. It is even more foolish to argue and rant with non-Christians about their path to hell. It is about living with hope, humility, and wisdom in a Godless culture, making what gains we can, picking what battles are most sensible, and never losing our focus on our God. A well prepared work to spend some time with. Thanks to my pastor Rob Shepherd for the recommendation.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day 2015

Blessings to all of my online friends as you take a day to appreciate first that you have a job and second that you are making a valuable contribution. Whether you have to work today or whether you get the day off, I hope that you find time to be thankful for what you have.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Eye of the World

The first book written in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is entitled, The Eye of the World.
If you are a fan of fantasy fiction, this book represents, in my opinion, the epitome of the genre. Well written, artfully crafted, chock full of compelling characters, and possessed of well balanced story arcs. I was absolutely impressed from start to finish. In the prequel story, New Spring, we were introduced to the sorceress Moiraine as she became a member of the Aes Sedai order. Separately we were introduced to Lan Mandragoran, the anointed ruler of a kingdom that was overrun by the minions of evil. Slowly the paths of Moiraine and Lan became entwined until they ultimately became bound one to the other.

In The Eye of the World, Moiraine has now come fully into her powers. She and Lan are in search of a child of prophesy who is the key to defeating the Dark One. Once imprisoned in a gaol thought to be inescapable, the Dark One is slowly weakening its hold on him and he is slowly extending his reach. The child, however, has access to the power to defeat the Dark One, although he is fully ignorant of his destiny. In fact, he can only fulfill the prophesy with proper training under the tutelage of the Aes Sedai. The Dark One has sent his forces to destroy the boy before he can be brought up by the powers of light. Moiraine and Lan arrive in the small rural community of Two Rivers as its inhabitants prepare to celebrate the festival of Bel Tine. On the eve of the great celebration, the town is overrun by a wave of troll-like creatures controlled by the Dark One. Ultimately, Moiraine helps three special young men to escape the onslaught and sets out to bring them to the far-away city of Tar Valon, where they can be trained to use their gifts. Along the way they must battle the consistent offensives and ever more powerful pull of the Dark One.

Three boys who had never set foot outside of their small, isolated region of the world, and who had figured their future was as apprentices to their fathers, are suddenly forced to face the fact that there is something special about them and that the Dark One wants only to possess their souls. They are forced to face challenges and to travel to places that only days earlier were the stuff of a gleeman's fancy. A great tale that has fully enwrapped me. I cannot wait to move to the second book in the series, The Great Hunt.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


In the current season of my life I have come to rely on books as a friend to keep me company. In good times and bad times my stories are always there to welcome me and envelop me in one great adventure or another. Whether I am sitting out on my porch during the summer or laid out in front of my fireplace in the winter, I can seamlessly enter lands beyond my imagination. Deep space exploits, adventures in sorcery, breathtaking worlds beyond worlds. All are to be found in the pages of my books. Of course today many younger folks tend to hold the notion of a book only as an electronic doo-dad. To actually think that when I say "book", I mean an object consisting of printed sheets of paper bound together, would either result in uncertain looks or mutters held under the level of hearing. However, I am a lover of books. I like the smell, the feel of the pages under my fingers, and the trophies they make in my own personal library. A big game hunter puts the heads of his magnificient quarries up on his walls. He does not store images in a database that he keeps in his pocket.

However, for reasons of practicality, I have been forced to admit that when I travel, taking along physical books is a burden. Not only do they take up significant space in my briefcase and my suitcase, but the bindings can easily get torn and the pages wrinkled as I try to cram them back into their assigned spots and corners. This realization has led me to purchase an "e-reader". Plastic case, glass screen, and menus have taken the place of my usual, my comfortable. I wonder if the lands that I travel to in my leisure will suddenly seem just a little less real? Will my picturesque vistas degenerate into washed-out, pixelated 8-bit scenes? I worry that the characters will come across as more two-dimensional. Will my peace and respite from staring at electronica all day long be taken from me? Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Observations 105

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 following was written in Matthew Henry's diary the night he was robbed: "Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed."
  • I ran across a quote by Larry Osbourne that resonated with me, "God draws straight lines with crooked sticks."
  • I purchased a laundry stick in part recently because it said on the top in a jaunty font, "Stain-grabbing nubs." That notion quickly inserted an inane picture into my head that I couldn't walk away from.
  • Steve Sarkisian, head football coach at USC, recently made a complete fool of himself at a booster's meeting. He was drunk and mouthed off at the podium, creating quite a scene. When asked later if he had a drinking problem, he said he wasn't sure and that he was going to get tested. To this reply, I can only say, "what?".
  • In a major "oh crap" moment, a Taiwanese school boy on a field trip to an art museum with his class stumbled as he was walking. As he reached to steady himself, he put his hand right through a painting valued at $1.5M.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Dropping Your Guard

In the early 1980s Charles Swindoll wrote a series of books that he regarded as a trilogy, Improving Your Serve about working to think more of others and less of ourselves, Strengthening Your Grip about devising strategies to better cope in this hectic world, and finally Dropping Your Guard. Having worked my way through the first two books, I felt it was appropriate to take some time to work through the third book of the group. In a nutshell, this book explores and exposes our tendency to protect ourselves in most of our relationships and social interactions. We protect ourselves from feeling awkward, we protect ourselves from getting hurt emotionally, we protect ourselves due to our suspicious natures. We protect ourselves by building up such impenetrable fortresses around ourselves that we do not allow anyone to get to know the real us, much less even catch a glimpse of the true us.

Swindoll urges us to see that before we can begin to appreciate how important it is to make deep connections with each other, we need to understand just how much our isolationist tendencies are actually wounding us. Without forging at least a few deep and trusting and open relationships in our lives, our mental and physical health will suffer. Furthermore, we will slowly and steadily lose our humanity. As we move further and further away from others, we move further and further away from who God made us to be. It is also the case that the label of isolationist is pretty much the antithesis of what God has made his followers to be. Jesus called for the "church" to be all about fellowship, all about upholding and strengthening each other, all about forming a network where we can move away from being merely spectators to life and move toward sharing of ourselves with our brothers and sisters in the world. All of us could improve ourselves by dropping our guard. Another solid work by Swindoll in his timeless, solid, biblical, manner.