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Monday, December 31, 2012

I Wish You Joy

As 2012 becomes 2013, I thought I'd dust off some international good wishes...

"Salud, amor, y pesetas, y tiempo para gastarlas" - health, love, and money, and the time to enjoy them, from Spain.

"Hals und beinbruch!" - may you break your neck and legs, from Germany...thorough people, the Germans..."break a leg" wasn't enough, so they threw in the neck, as well.
Maybe we'd best stop with that one.

Personally, I wish you good health, happiness in all of your relationships, and financial prosperity.

I hope that you have the opportunity to exercise compassion.

I hope you have the chance to get involved in your community.

I hope that you are called to stand for your principles.

And I hope that, as long as they don't include world domination, that all of your dreams come true!

Entertaining For The Faith

I recently saw a "Christian" movie that, while theologically correct, approached its core values with such wooden reverence that it begged a question that seems vital:

Are Christian movies and books being made for the edification and entertainment of the faithful, or are they in the evangelical service of the Great Commission?

There's nothing wrong with playing to the committed Christian audience, and indeed even the faith of the most ardent Christian can need bolstering.

But there is a potential beyond that, which is only rarely being tapped - the movie aimed specifically at the non-Christian, which extends a hand of welcome and hope, without being judgemental.

Examples do exist in film, but they aren't quite what one might expect. "Blood Diamond" has a lovely exposition of God's unconditional love for us, mirrored in the feelings of one of the characters for his son.

"The Hurt Locker" is billed as being about the statement that 'war is a drug', but its shrewd heart models "greater love hath no man, than he who is willing to lay down his life for his fellows".

Both of these movies would presuppose a knowledge of the New Testament to be effective evangelical tools, but that's not bad; there are a lot of churchgoers whose faith only goes as far as Christmas Trees and Easter Eggs.

The trick is to follow up the movie message with one that firmly anchors the viewer's mind on the scriptural message.

Any ideas, out there?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Year The Mayans Didn't Expect

According to the Mayans, we shouldn't be looking forward to celebrating the arrival of 2013.

But of course, there aren't any Mayans around to celebrate it with us. That is probably significant.

But 2013 is almost here, like it or not, and it's ours to do the best we can with it.

Part of the 'best' is not making Resolutions that we'll be able to keep for a few days before we decide to nibble them to death with exceptions. It's looking at what you've done in the past year, looking at what's working and why, and what's not working...and why.

For a lot of what we do, this kind of simple assessment is enough. Maybe you want to lose weight...look back to January 1 2012. What did you weigh? Are you close?

If you are, you're doing it mostly right. That is a very good thing. You can fine-tune the good to make it a bit better.

Conversely, if you've gained weight when you wanted to lose it, look at 'why'. Did you change from an active to a sedentary job? Quit smoking? Were you ill, and did you never get back into the exercise routine you had?

It's not about blame-fixing, and shifting responsibility by saying that external circumstances controlled you. They didn't control you, but they did influence you.

And it's important to recognize that, because the other side of the blame coin is taking all the responsibility yourself. You didn't control it all. If you take the wrong-end-of-the-telescope view that your weight gain was solely your lack of self-control, not only are you being inaccurate, you're being cruel. To yourself.

If your child was on the way to school with a science project and a bully waylaid her and destroyed her work...and her teacher gave her an 'F'...would you blame the child?

Not hardly.

Walk that middle road into 2013. You may not exit it a wealthy supermodel, but you'll have a passable chance of exiting it happy with the way things went. And with yourself.

Consistency, not newness, is the key to success in this life.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Week God Came Calling

Digging two graves in a 48-hour time period sucks.

And that's where I was this afternoon, after a second one of our dogs died. On Boxing Day, we lost Tulip, a fairly ancient Pit mix, who alternated between ferocious and clownish, and who once helped me through malarial chills by lying on top of me to keep me war,

This afternoon Trevor, our deerhound, died. Tulip's death had been expected; Trevor began to feel a bit off on Christmas Eve, shook off what seemed to be an allergic episode, and then suddenly fell into a coma last night. He died without regaining consciousness. He was somewhere between ten and twelve, by our estimate. (It's probable that he had a heart attack with atypical symptoms.)

He turned up one day in 2005, standing outside Tulip's run. Tulip got our attention by barking, and then kept Trev from running off until we could get there by inviting him to play at the fence. They kept up a good relationship from that point forward.

My wife thinks that Tulip didn't want to make the Long Journey alone; I tend to agree with her. Or perhaps Trev simply died of a broken heart.

Not the holiday week we'd expected.

But a holiday is just a date, if that's all we can think of. The whole point behind belief in God - from a Christian viewpoint, or any viewpoint, is that the sorrows we face are a transitory thing, and that somewhere beyond this "grey rain curtain" is a "new green country, under a swift sunrise". (Thanks, Gandalf!)

The world into which we're born will break our heart, if we let it,

So don't let it. Think, instead, on the beauty and love that we experience, and the notion that these things are a part of the Creator, and that they're not destroyed - as He is not destroyed.

Think of the thousands of anecdotal experiences of life after death, of encounters with angels, and of Heaven...and realize that if only one of those is true, the whole package is true.

In this case the exception is not the rule; the exception is the necessary and sufficient condition for truth.

As I dug Trevor's grave, I found comfort in that.

Necessary and sufficient comfort.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Breaking Hearts

We're losing another one. Trevor, a deerhound who turned up as a stray, slipped into a coma last night. He's about twelve, getting up there for that breed.

He was a friend of Tulip's. When Trev showed up, Tulip barked to get our attention, and then kept Trev engaged so he would wait for us to get him to safety.

They shared side by side runs for years, and always stayed best buddies.

I think Trev's dying of a broken heart.

I can understand that.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Goodbye, My Friend

Tulip died tonight, and was buried at midnight, under a starry sky and a full moon. He would have liked that.

He was a good dog. A mixture of foxhound and pit bull, he came to us through rather irregular means, after having been badly abused (his collar was stapled to his neck). I suppose he was eighteen months old when he arrived, and nearly sixteen when he died. Not bad.

He had a bit of a red-zone personality, but the most outstanding thing about him was clownishness. He'd jump onto the vanity in a bathroom, and admire himself in the mirror, tilting his head this way and that, while sitting in the sink.

He participated in the great canine wine-tasting party with a couple of his friends...I dropped a bag full of wine bottles, and while I was trying to clean up the broken glass the dogs drank the wine. Tulip's pal Hallie backed herself into a corner and couldn't figure out how to get out, and she stood there, barking madly. Tulip himself jumped onto my desk, knocked everything onto the floor, and fell asleep.

And then there was the lizard game. One day he found a very dead alligator lizard (about a foot long, with bright blue innards exposed), and brought it to me - a gift, I suppose. I tried to throw it over the back fence, but it fell short, and he brought it back. A new game!

I threw it again, harder...only it slipped out of my hand and went over the side-fence, into the neighbor's yard. More precisely, into the neighbour's pool. During a pool party.

Tulip was horrified by the loss of his toy, and he leaped onto the board fence. He couldn't get over it, but he could see into the yard, and he let loose with a despairing howl.

I've been told that having me for a neighbor can be surreal. If that's so... I had help!

From my dear friend Tulip, whom I will miss. A lot.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Don't Try This At Home

In the movies it's easy. Cut the red wire, or the blue one?

In real life the terrs have used a collapsing circuit, so if you cut either one, you're dead.

In real life, you'll never see a bomb, never hear one. You'll never experience the brilliant, pulsating light, the impossible noise - always much sharper than Hollywood would have you believe - the gut-punch of the pressure wave.

You won't feel the searing heat, or the wall of flying debris that changes your face and your life forever.

And you'll never hear, as your ears begin to recover, the piteous cries of those who were closer, and who were spared death, and condemned to life.

Not everyone is as lucky as you. For some people, from Mexico to Manila, from Tel Aviv to Tikrit, the prospect of sudden violent death at the hands of an explosive-planting terrorist is a fact of life.

And some individuals will go forth tomorrow to pit their skills against the bombmakers, to defuse the killing machines. Bombs, you see, aren't designed just to kill the unwary passerby...they're typically fitted with antihandling and antitampering devices that will detonate them to kill the bomb tech. It doesn't get much more personal than that. And bombs do not often travel alone...they're associated with secondary, and sometimes tertiary devices.

When the bomb techs win, a bomb rendered safe tells a story of where its components came from, how it was made...and often are marked with the 'signature' of the maker, in the materials and methods used. Evidence that can close the law's noose, and make one more small corner of the world a little safer.

And then they get to do it again.

When they lose, they most probably die. The bomb suit isn't designed to save the life of a tech working on a device of any size...it may keep the body parts in the same place, but that's about it. It provides a bit of protection on the approach, the Long Walk up.

Today, Boxing Day, you may be on your way to the mall to find bargains, or to exchange gifts for which you don't have a use, or a desire.

You'll contend with crowds of other shoppers, mostly ill-tempered.

There are worse things.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Presence

They can't deny it. Oh, they can deny the day, and the year, and even the time of year.

But Jesus Christ was born. About 2000 years ago. Several contemporary accounts, written by men who are regarded as true commentators, place Him on this earth, at about that time, in that place.

He started alone, and at the time of His death had twelve close friends, and several tens of followers.

With these, He changed a world. His message of love and hope took hold, spreading across the Middle East and Europe, traveling east to India and Asia, and eventually coming to dominate the Americas.

People chose to accept death, in the process of delivering that message. They were crucified and stoned, filled with arrows and devoured by lions. This didn't happen in the flush of enthusiasm, with His commanding presence looming large over their lives...rather, it often happened decades after He'd gone.

All this points to one thing...He is Real.

So is His message.

He was born among farm animals, and because of that...

...you will not die.

Merry Christmas!

That Special Season

I feel sorry for Christmas. Everyone wants it to be something that suits their needs...

A symbol of corporate greed and consumerism...

...a transmogrified pagan winter holiday...

...a foreshadowing of Christ's bloody death...

...,a rallying cry for socialism...

Ach, you get the picture, eh?

This year I'm going to try to just let it BE. I'm going to try not to let any meaningful thoughts come to mind. At all.

I'll try to sing along with Charlie Brown and not feel guilty,
laugh with Shrek and not patronize,
pray during a televised Midnight Mass and not feel superior.

It may even work.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Flee For Your Love

I guess this may be the last entry for this blog...if the Mayans are right.

12-21-12 is the World's Last Day. 'Bye.

Oh. Still here? Me too. (But where are the Mayans?)

It's curious that so many people put at least semi-serious stock into the possibility that the Mayans may have been right, and that their cosmological model accurately predicted the demise of...well, everything.

And if it had been the Fulani, or the Ainu, or the Huk, we would have equally pricked up our ears and taken notice.

For everyone, except us. It's the assumption that somehow these folks know better, know something that's hidden to us,  because they're not like us.

Why is that? Why would we discount the words of, say, the Greeks, Romans, or for that matter the Israelites, and then pay attention to peoples with whom we share virtually no common background?

Is it that mystery is seductive, and the mere fact that we can't really ask a Mayan what was meant makes our hearts give credence?

Or does familiarity breed contempt, and we assume that 'we' can't really do anything right?

The latter argument's pretty plausible. A lot of 'us' don't want to be us. Many, many people would give a lot to be able to prove that they have Native American blood, or that some great-grandparent was a slave, preferably working for Thomas Jefferson?

We've been conditioned to feel guilty, and, literally, to begin to hate ourselves. So, if we can escape into the arms of a minority group (particularly one whom our forebears oppressed)...

We can learn to love ourselves, this synthetic new 'we', once more.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where Have All The Christians Gone?

It's so nice to meet a Christian.

It's also very rare.

Two thousand years ago, a dozen of His followers changed a world. Today, a couple billion of them would be hard-pressed to change a flat tire. (Yes, I include myself in the latter group.)

The problem is really one of the ease of lip servie - we can claim allegiance, sing songs and make impassioned statements about how we'll embrace the Cross, and follow Our Lord to His death, without even trying to do what He's asked us to do.

We deride Peter for denying Jesus...and we'd probably be part of the mocking crowd. I mean, we mock Jesus every day.

"A Christian Isn't Perfect - Just Forgiven." It's a nice bumper sticker, and very convenient to hide behind when we find Christ tiresome. We just confess with the mouth that He's Lord, right? Then we can gossip with the mouth, covet with the mouth, actively deny forgiveness with the mouth...and it's cool because we've got a free pass!

We've got Jesus fooled!

Forgiveness is probably the worst. Jesus was pretty explicit about it - before going to worship, a man was to find his brother and forgive him. Whatever offense he cherished in his heart, as fuel for righteous anger...he was to let it go.

Do we do that? I don't. I've only met a couple of people who do. Most carry their unforgiveness with them like melting ice-cream cones, running sticky down their hands. Not very inspiring.

And in this Christmas season, we'll be coveting away like mad - even to the point of coveting the experiences of our neighbors who seem happier than we do, when the house fills with relatives and chaos comes to call.

We cry at Crusades, feeling in our hearts the sorrow of having to think of Jesus' progress down the Via Dolorosa. But so many of those tears are like the phylactaries and breast-beating of the Sanhedrin. They are designed for the people sitting around us, and they response they elicit from our companions are our reward.

Billy Graham liked to talk about a lost and dying world.

We, as Christians, have not helped. We have talked about the Good News, and have lived as hypocrites, rejecting the joy and freedom Christ would give us in return for the filth we cling to.

We are not the solution. We are the problem.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Baby, It's Cold Outside

When we moved to New Mexico, I thought I was moving to a desert full of scorpions and snakes and roadrunners under a sky perpetually screaming with savage dry heat. I thought I was moving to heaven.

Oh. It's a high desert, is it?


Yes, snow, virtually every winter, and sometimes it stays for a few days. It any event, it does get cold, with that kind of thin, penetrating cold that cuts through clothing with fiendish glee.

Clothing...hmmm. My legs were burned several years ago. I usually wear shorts. (Didn't this bozo think more than fifteen seconds ahead in his entire life?)

Well, okay. We're not moving any time soon, and my legs - and the rest of me - have had to make our peace with the cold.

The funny thing is, it wasn't that hard. I realized that if I go outside with an attitude of "it's cold, I'm going to suffer!" I hunch up, draw my elbows in, and feel cold. It's miserable.

When I just step out the door with my arms loose, and focus on the brilliant stars in the night sky (or the views of the mountains by day), and make and effort to breathe deeply, drawing the crisp air fully into my lungs...I don't feel the cold.

As much.

And I enjoy the process a whole lot more.

Why Are We Surprised?

Twenty children murdered in a New England school. It's a big deal - a shock to the national psyche.

But I wonder if the wrong question is being asked - "Who could do such a thing?"

The answer's heartbreaking. Lots of people. Except that they're sane, more or less, and do it for political reasons. And we even negotiate with some of them.

The Taliban routinely murder kids who interact with Allied forces - like, playing soccer with Western soldiers. They also kill kids who go to school.

In the 2009 film, "The Hurt Locker", there is the depiction of a child who sells DVDs to Americans, and who is later killed, and his body turned into a bomb. A movie, yes, but these things really happened.

Chechen rebels took over 1000 hostages at a school, both students and teachers - and eventually 332 were killed.

In 1974 three members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine took 115 hostages at a school in Ma'alot, Israel. When Israelis security forces stormed the school the terrorists killed 25 hostages, including 22 children.

And if you want chilling, read Chris Hunter's "Extreme Risk". As a young officer in the British Army, he was stationed as part of the Bosnia peacekeeping operation. One day he decided to give his men a day off, swimming at a lake near a small town.

The town was deserted, except for one elderly woman. It had been a Muslim town, and days before Croatian Christian forces had come...and killed nearly everyone there. Men, women, and children. When she heard that Lt. Hunter's men were swimming in the lake, she almost fainted.

Some young mothers had heard of the impeding arrival of the killers, and, knowing they had no chance to flee, had taken their children in their arms, tied car batteries around there necks, and waded into the lake.

Where Lt. Hunter's men were now swimming.

Are you still with me?


Sunday, December 16, 2012


Diligence is good, but sometimes, you have to know when to stop, and go do something else.

I have two day jobs, writing and welding, and there are distinct signs, for both, when something in me says, enough for now - go vary your work!

For welding, I get a tense, almost itchy feeling, like it's almost impossible to sit still. (The welding's for airplane parts, which are made of the thinnest material possible, and so it can be pretty delicate work.) My respiration will quicken, and I have a distinct urge to step away, throw back my goggles, and stretch out my arms.

When that happens I'll complete what's immediately before me, and do something else - prepare a new part, go do some paperwork, or some organization - I usually hit the wall at about 90 minutes, and need 15 minutes to refocus.

In writing, two things can happen. The process can become very labored, and I'll be searching for words, and for where to go next. When that happens it becomes like trying to keep a conversation alive that should have already ended.

The other sign is loquacity - I'll get onto a roll that becomes completely tangential to what I really want to say, and that will eventually have to be edited out. This is harder to recognize, sine it feels like I'm being really productive.

What about you? What are your warning signs that say, enough?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where You Were

I think that a lot of us will remember where we were yesterday, when we heard the news about the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

These killings are something so far outside our experience as to be stunning, in the worst possible way.

Where do we turn, to understand, to compare?

How about the Bible? What about King Herod, having the babies killed, for fear of the Baby Jesus?

You can argue that Herod's decision was political, but don't bother. To kill, or order the killing of the most innocent among us is to set oneslef so far apart, so bereft of humanity, that there is no road back.

It's no comfort at all, and yet it us. Because even if we haven't seen this before, God has.

And He understands.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Major Decision

What should I major in?

Most kids on their way to college, or already students, will at some time or another ask this question.

What it really asks is "What do I want my life to mean?"

As a parent, you've got a very privileged place in the decision-making loop. You know your child better than they know themselves; you've seen their personalities and interests change from the cradle to the cap and gown that end high school.

But with this knowledge comes the ability to do incalculable harm. Knowledge is power, and power corrupts. Corruption can take several forms, from the "I know what's best for my child" to "I'm paying the bills, and as long as that's the case you WILL study engineering".

The balance between being passively disinterested, to being smotheringly dominant, to being a wise and honest counselor, is not easy to achieve. But here are some suggestions:
  • Remember that your child is not you. No matter how much he seems a "chip off the ol' block", he isn't. He is an individual, with a unique point of view
  • You can't relive your life through someone else. The life you have is your own, whatever decisions - good or bad - brought you to Now. A child is not a do-over. If you coerce your child into what you should have done, could have done, you won't see your lost future validated - instead you have the potential for making a person you're supposed to love very unhappy
  • You don't know best. How many life decisions did you really screw up? Enough said. You may know a lot, but the chances that you always know better are quite low.
  • Your child's education is not an investment vehicle. She's not a walking, talking 401k. If you are supporting your child through college, no one forced you. You can set time limits, and monetary limits, and you don't have to finance frat parties - but just remember that she's your child, not your employee...or worse.
  • Ask questions! You can ask guiding questions, when she shows an interest in something. Ask what she finds interesting, ask her to explain something. If she thinks she wants to bne a physicist, ask her what a working physicist might do (not how much they make, nor what the chances of getting a job really are). Questions sharpen the focus.
  • Put down the cold-water bucket. Even if his choice seems stupid (like medieval history), resist the urge to say so. A happy teacher of Chaucer in a Midwestern community college is far better off than a software designer in California who is terrified of falling behind in knowledge of the technology.
  • Encourage, realistically! Anyone can accomplish anything, but a "c" student isn't going to get into medical school. Be enthusiastic, be encouraging, but don't support what are clearly pipe dreams. Just make sure that they are indeed pipe dreams, and that you're not exercising your own prejudices.
You can do so much good, in supporting your child's college decisions. All you really need to do is to keep your ego out of the way.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Fifth of The First, Please

The most important things you ever say are the ones that never leave your mouth.

In the 'liberal West', we've been conditioned to the right to free speech, formally codified in the United States' Bill of Rights. The normal interpretation of the First Amendment is that we are free to say whatever we like, whenever we like, with a few very distinct exceptions (like shouting "Fire! in a public place).

It's a very important part of what made this country great, and was created so that political dissent could never be stifled (not that there haven't been attempts, like the Alien and Sedition Act!).

The unspoken assumption behind this right is the presence of a degree of civility, such that the speech that's protected will have a place in both public and private discourse and intercourse.

It worked pretty well...until a few decades ago. Civility became a "drag", and a "hang-up". "Expressing yourself" became the highest good, and a true expression of your feelings was equivalent to absolute truth.

Think about that. Feelings, that can change with the speed of a swallow chasing mosquitoes, are suddenly elevated to natural law.

This is pretty awful, but worse follows - that these feelings should be expressed. Not to tell people "how you feel" will give you mental constipation.

An apt metaphor, and one that can be brought to mind when someone "expresses himself" and verbally craps all over you.

Words are a powerful weapon - and like arrows or bullets, they can't be recalled, once sent out.

And, like a projectile tearing through flesh, words can tear through a person's soul, and irrevocably change a life. Whether the intent to harm was there or not - once the words are there, the damage they do can never be repaired. It can be plastered over, but a hurtful sentence, once delivered, can change a relationship forever.

Say your husband tells you, "You never were much of a cook."

Maybe he was just frustrated at work, and didn't enjoy dinner tonight. Maybe he truly wants to help you improve your cooking, and has the sensitivity of an ox.

Will you ever feel the same way about cooking again? Will you ever be able to accept a compliment about your culinary skill, without feeling you're being patronized?

The Freedom of Speech is great.

But perhaps the Right to Remain Silent is even better.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Was My Name Again?

You have a name. So do I. I hope you like yours, because you're pretty well stuck with it.

Last week my wife drove a new Chevrolet, the Cruze. This model replaces the Cobalt, which is a metal and a lovely deep shade of blue.

But what's a Cruze?

Some names are pretty straightforward, and place-names are among the most popular. You can take your Yukon to the Yukon, drive a Sonoma through California's wine country, or hope the shocks in your Sorrento are up to the cobbled streets of that Italian town.

The power of the animal kingdom has always had a draw. The quickness of the Mustang, the Gazelle, and the Impala are invoked, as well as the aggressiveness of the Viper and Cobra. The good-natured Pinto, alas, tended to immolate its drivers.

We might also metaphorically raise our eyes, and behold the Cirrus and the Stratus...or even higher, the Galaxie and the Nova (which was a tough sell in Spanish-speaking countries, as its name translates as "won't go").

Then there are the names which are somewhat hard to understand. The Edsel was named after Henry Ford's son...but with its clunky looks and toilet-seat shaped radiator grille, one wonders just what the boy had done to offend old Henry.

Perhaps a lack of originality is better. Was the Chrysler 300 the company's 300th design? No matter, because the 200 just came out. Perhaps they're counting backwards, though...

Or maybe they're past caring. The same problem and challenge plagues aviation, and has resulted in some memorable names (the Spitfire) and some howlers (Boeing's embarrassing new Dreamliner). But the prize for indifference has to go to England's Blackburn company, which in the 1930s produced a biplane of surpassing ugliness. In a shrug of the corporate shoulders, the called it the Blackburn Blackburn.

And, finally, some names find their own level. The General Dynamics F-16 received, with much fanfare, the stupefyingly silly name, "Fighting Falcon".

Everyone knows it's really the Viper.

But for a while, after a string of crashes in the 1980s, it had a different name.

The General Dynamics Lawn Dart.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Read The Instructions

Recently, my wife and I were watching a movie on TV, when we heard the line, "It's too bad new families don't come with an owner's manual".

I said, "That's not true."

"Did we?" Barbara asked, rhetorically.

I held up a Bible. "Gotcha."


"Bet you didn't expect to hear that from me."

"No, not really." If I'm recognized for anything religious, it's my loathing of Bible study.

But the point here really isn't Bible study, i.e., the line-by-line and word-by-word "unpacking" of meanings and hidden meanings and meanings within meanings. It isn't really religious at all.

The Bible is a very good read, and nothing if not an epic. It has a degree of internal consistency that would be tough for a single author to maintain, let alone the many that actually did produce it over hundreds of year. It has memorable characters, interwoven plots, and literary devices like foreshadowing are skilfully used.

Even for the non-religious (or irreligious), the Bible's worth a look.

And, like any good epic, it says a lot about its characters, but more about the people who are reading it.

Want to shag an employee's wife? Read about David and Bathsheba.

Jealous of your annoying "golden boy" younger brother? ("Why can't you be more like him?") Read about Joseph and his brothers.

Whatever you can think of, it's there. And as a potential owner's manual for a marriage, or a life, well, you could do worse.

Yes, I know that there are things with which you may not agree. The Bible's not particularly easy on homosexuality, for one thing. It also has some definite ideas about a woman's role.

Very true. But it is the "property" of the author, as it were...you write a book, you have the right to say what you want.

And please note that I said, "you could do worse".

I'm just not at all sure you could do better.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Weepy Preachers

I really don't understand some preachers.

Most nights, I have trouble sleeping, and when I'm awake but too tired to write or read, I watch Christian television. On the whole, it's good, solid stuff, albeit with a slight anti-Catholic bias.

But some of these guys...they can't get through a sentence without bursting into tears.

I understand that the message they are delivering is loaded with emotion, and that some of them feel that their surrender to Christ has saved them from a long spell of hot weather. Really, I get it.

But these guys are professionals. Their job is execute the Great Commission, and to provide support for the existing Christian community. It's not to wallow in the emotion of their own experiences (or to wallow in the experiences of others).

At its heart the Christian experience is nothing if not emotional, but in the part of their job that covers the Great Commission, that sort of display is simply not appropriate.

To be harsh, it makes Christianity look weak. One might say that these guys (most of the emoters are male) are showing that a real man can wear his heart, or more properly the Heart of Christ, on his sleeve, and that it's therefore a display of strength.

I think not, because the people we hope to reach are typically not involved in Christ to anywhere near that degree. They're looking for some form of proof, for a reason to believe.

A weepy pastor just looks like a crybaby. I'm sorry, but that's how I see it. I mean, would you want to join an organization that promises to lower your self-control to the point where you'll break down in public?

To be fair, there are those who find these open displays of feeling attractive, who find that they touch a wellspring of emotion, unreleased within their own breast.

But I think there are far more, especially among Americans, who find it silly and distasteful. I know, for I was one.

The whole point of Christianity is the Good News. It's the hope that we have been redeemed to eternal life. That's the hook, to get them in the church doors.

And when the hook is set, and they know that the price for Heaven is to face the Hell within you...why then, it's time to weep.

But not for long. Because how can you be weeping while you dance for joy?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

And God Rolled His Eyes...

Recently a TV preacher made the breathless announcement that gold melts at 1948 degrees Fahrenheit, and that the Jews got their own state in 1948 after the "refiner's fire" of the Holocaust, and that anyone who is into prophecy should pay attention.

The object, of course, is to "prove" the imminence of the Second Coming.

This is embarrassing. To start with, there are a number of ways to measure temperature...the Fahrenheit scale is only one of them, and one that's not particularly useful except out of habit.

Second, to imply that there was anything positive about the Holocaust is a few miles past insulting. It takes a multitude of individual human tragedies - the catastrophes that destroyed six million individual lives - and lumps them together into a tool that can be used to prove a point.

Third, Jesus Himself said that God alone knew the hour of Jesus' return. That implies that any attempts to "decode" the Bible or current events to predict it are simply inappropriate. The Return is God's business. Until it happens, our business is the Great Commission.

After all, what are we going to do - get our tickets early so we'll get a good seat?

This is the sort of thing that makes Christians laughingstocks in society. That's not too harsh a word. A lot of people find Christianity somewhat hokey, because of exactly this sort of thing.

It's not that our faith is something that's only dead serious. It's not that we can't wonder about what's happening, and is it really the beginning of the End. It isn't even that we can't try to identify predicted events as they seem to happen.

But it is our responsibility to treat God with the respect He deserves. And that means not second-guessing Him, assuming He's turned the Bible into a Word-Search, or that He's planted clues like Easter Eggs, so that we really could predict an event He's made unpredictable.

And it's our responsibility not to embarrass Him. Even though He loves us anyway.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor And Your Marriage

Today is the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A tactical victory for Japan, it launched that island nation into a war that saw its cities burned to ash, and in two cases, radioactive slag...all within less than four years.

The main touchstone for the raid was the fact that it was delivered without a formal declaration of war - a 'sneak attack'. That alone (and it was unintended on the Japanese side) raised the level of righteous anger in the United States to a flood. Admiral Yamamoto Isoruku, the reluctant architect of the plan, remarked the "all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant, and fill him with a terrible resolve".

Prescient words, and within seventeen months Yamamoto himself was dead.

It's interesting that the 'sneak attack' label has lasted through the decades, with such negative coloration.

Because it's often exactly what we do to our spouses.

Consider the following scenario...your husband or wife is away at work, or playing golf, or shopping, and you find something, or think of something, that's either an error of omission or comission.

Maybe the garbage wasn't taken out, or the fish fed...or maybe it's a receipt you found for a new $300 putter.

And you wait for the sound of the car in the driveway, rehearsing in your mind what you're going to say.

The guilty party comes through the door, with a greeting. And you wait for the right moment, when your statement will have the maximum impact.

And then you let them have it, when their guard is down and you're most likely to win your point.

All couples fight like this, at some point in their marriage. And even if the point's a valid one, the end result will be bitterness, and mistrust.

Mistrust, because home is supposed to be safe. You're not supposed to "win" at home.

What to do, instead? The solution's blessedly simple, if we choose to use it.

"Honey, do you have a minute? There's something I'd like to talk to you about."

It's fair warning, and a soft transition into a situation that has to be resolved.

Because marriage is not a conflict that has to be won.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Simian Sacraments

There are a lot of goofy religions in the world. Taking pride of place is (drum roll) Evolution.

For most Darwinists, evolution is an article of faith. They believe with an almost Pentecostal passion that man must be descended from some sort of monkey. The thought that they might be wrong sets them into a head-butting fury.

And most of them are simply hopeless when it comes to defending their position. They can't offer a cogent explanation of exactly what it is they do believe, let alone defeat even the most basic arguments against evolution.

On the face of it, looking at evolution from Darwin's time, it looks reasonable. The beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Rationalism seemed to require God's dismissal, so what would be better than to show by induction that Man had to be descended from 'lesser' primates?

Reasonable, perhaps, but when you look closely at what evolution requires to work in a robust and internally consistent manner, it breaks down like a poorly-maintained Yugo.

First, and very first, life had to start somewhere. So, let's start with a "primordial soup" of organic molecules. We need to kick-start life, though, so let's throw in a lightning bolt. Or a cosmic ray.

This has been done in the laboratory. Scientists turned organic molucules into different organic molecules. Yee-ha.

Well, say the Big Heads, this process has to happen very many times to really get anywhere. And, of course, all of the changes would have to be beneficial.

All of them. And in the proper order. And there could be no changes allowed that would retard evolution.

Statistically, this is less likely than my being mistaken for Sandra Bullock. But for the evolutionists, it is an article of faith. This statistically impossible daisy chain is never questioned.

Not questioned, but sometimes modified. It's been seriously suggested that life on Earth was introduced by aliens. (And where did they come from?)

We have to have literally billions of changes in the root DNA to go from the Ooze to the Us. Carl Sagan thought cosmic ray mutation was responsible.

But, you might ask, aren't most mutations detrimental, and don't many of them result in sterility?

Yes, Sagan said, but in this case everything worked perfectly. The changes were neutral or beneficial, and the species-killing mutations never happened.

If we sweep that under the rug, and fast-forward to Man and Monkeys, we also run into some problems. Sure, the DNA is almost identical...but so is the DNA of a Chihuahua and a Great Dane. A Great Dane is not a Chihuahua. Period.

Also, there is absolutely no sign that any of the primates have developed an organized society, much less any sort of spiritual outlook. We communicate with each other, and try to communicate with animals...but it doesn't go the other way.They don't try to meet us. No animal does.

We are, for better or worse, unique. We came from somewhere, and the only reasonable assumption is that we were designed.

And design needs a designer. Not a Monkey's Uncle.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Let Me Introduce You To Your Spouse

The other day my wife shocked me. (She does that from time to time, but on this occasion she used words, not jumper cables...)

She said that while she did not doubt that I love her, she didn't know whether or not I'd mourn her, if she died.

My protestations died a-borning, because I realized that it was the me that she saw, and of whose existence she was convinved as the result of ten years of marriage. A few words would not change that.

I felt, helplessly, "You don't know me!"


Even though the ideal of courtship holds that we'll know our spouse better in a few love-drancehed hours than we'll ever know anyone, it's simply not true. Our beloved is a human being, interesting sometimes, boring sometimes. Someone who mirrors our heart, yet the next moment is as foreign as a Mongolian warlord.

Early in a relationship, we want to know the person we're with, so we study them (except stuff which we'd prefer not to know, which we are very good at ignoring...until later). But after we've shared a bathroom for a year, after we know that he'll forget to take out the trash, or that she'll almost never bake a pie, we leave school.

Study is replaced by assumptions, or predictions based on past behavior. The real person sharing the bed is replaced by a cardboard cutout, that is on;y allowed to think what we let 'it' think.

Our marriages are THE most important relationships we'll have in this life. So, how do we stay in the present, with the person we love?
  1. Listen! When you have a conversation, actually take the time to listen to what your spouse is saying. Don't be busy phrasing your reply; let that wait till he's finished. Sure, the converastion will take longer, but did you get married to get things done more quickly?
  2. Observe! What's important to him? What draws his attention?What does he read? Don't be flippant here, or dismissive. Maybe he reads comic book, maybe he reads "Playboy" (I hope not!). Try to understand what speaks to him.
  3. Share! Watch movies together, and let him choose. Yes, that means you may need to spend a couple of hours on a pleasant weekend with Arnold, Sylvester, or Clint. But here's the good part...you don't have to watch the movie. Watch your husband. Where does he sit forward, paying more attention? What do those scenes mean? Do they speak to loyalty, or laughter?
  4. Ask! Ask your spouse what's important, and how he feels about things. When you were courting he was probably only too happy to tell you...and after the honeymoon you probably couldn't pry it out with threats of torture. It will take time, and it's important.
Getting to know a real person to replace the animated shell that inhabited your heart and mind is not going to be quick, or easy. It may not even be fun, because you might have to face some values that have changed, or traits that you ignored before.

No matter. Now is where you are.

Even if it's a bit scary, try to remember that a few years or decades ago, you made a decision to be here, with this person. And you're still here.

It wasn't all that bad a choice.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Once In Royal David's City

If you had visited Bethlehem in the 1960 or 70s, you would have found a poor but charming town, largely Christian but welcoming of all faiths, and acutely conscious as the origin for the most momentous Life in history.

If you had visited in the 80s or 90s, you would have found a poor but charming town, and (SNAP!)...oh, yes, that was a bullet, but he's not a very good shot...what was I saying? Yes, put on the body armor, by all means...yes, this is the origin for the most momentous Life in history.

Today, if you visit Bethlehem, you will visit a town ruled by Hamas, which gained political power in Israel through armed conflict with the Fatah organization (whose members you would also not be likely to invite to your Sunday brunch). Hamas has used suicide bombing and indiscriminate rocket attacks to get its point across, and avows that the Holocaust didn't happen (but gleefully says that if they have anything to say about things, it will!).

There is now a wall around Bethlehem. Perhaps it's a good thing.

Often you'll hear people saying how good things were in the past, how the moral values of the young have really gone downhill, how their music's too loud (I mean, they listen to that Michael Buble guy!), and how their hair is too...something.

But when you look at Bethlehem, you can't really avoid that the problem isn't with the young. It's with us.

It's we of 1970s and 80s voting age who elected leaders who have allowed organizations like Hamas to flourish. We grew up under the shadow of Viet Nam, and under the 'care' of Benjamin Spock. Those chickens have come home to roost, with a vengeance.

We elected leaders who looked attractive, who had good punch lines but whose moral compass was seriously adrift.

We didn't keep up with the news, thinking you couldn't tell the players without a scorecard.

Having the right to elect the leadership of the most powerful nation on Earth, we had the obligation to find the scorecard, and learn how to use it.

Instead we watched while our country emasculated itself, morally and then practically, in the cause of Globalism.

And remember, when you decide not to visit Bethlehem, that you helped build that wall.

(A disclaimer...I do feel that the Israelis and Palestinians have to learn to live in peace, and that the majority of Jews and Palestinians would love to just be able to live on the same block, and tune out the rhetoric. I'm as opposed to Hamas as I would be to a revitalized Stern Gang or Irgun rising within Israel. Enough bullets have gone downrange.)

Monday, December 3, 2012


We all have stories, the events, traditions, and occasions that make up our lives. And part of having these stories is a desire to share them, to hold our places in the world by letting others know, "Hey, I'm here, and I did something of note, something of value!"

This is what society's all about, really; it's the provision of a forum by which our stories can be exchanged, giving us a frame of reference as to where we belong, and identify those whom we will have as friends, people whose stories resonate with our own.

But what if there's no one to listen?

Recently I met a chap who had lived a long, active life, but whose activities, in recent years, were curtailed by his wife's illness. Life moved on, and left him becalmed.

We share the same interest in antique airplane resotration, and I accepted an invitation to his shop, a large, well-equipped Aladdin's Cave of aeronautical treasures.

As he showed me around, he talked about what he had done, who he had known, where he had gone. He gave life and context to the metal and wood in his shop, and created a world of the past, evanescent and lovely as a soap bubble.

When the visit was over, I realized something - he had asked me no questions about the work and airplanes and people I'd known. Not one.

It was an interesting feeling - my ego wanted to jump up and down and say, "I want to talk TOO!", but there was a deeper lesson there that was worth learning, and to learn it I had to drop something large and heavy on my ego, to get it to shut up, at least for a while.

And the lesson did come out of the mist, and took form. It's a pretty simple one.

The best stories we will ever tell are the ones in which we don't say a word.

The world's filled with talkers. But listeners, good listeners, are a terribly rare breed, because to be able to listen effectively, you have to be able to put your ego in a box, and keep it there.

Not just make it wait its turn. It's not a matter of waiting for someone else to finish and shut up so you can jump in and talk - it's a matter of just listening, and making that the purpose of your being there.

It's not an easy thing to do, but it's one of the most liberating - to realize that you can lay down your own tales, be secure in your knowledge of their worth, and give others the audience they crave, and truly need.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Late Blooms

Dating after 40. There are few three-word combinations that contain such stark dread.

It's something that a large segment of our population has to face. With about half of all first marriages ending in divorce, even if you don't end up as a 'later dater', someone you know will.

The truth is, though, that it's not all bad. It's just different, and on the positive side, there are some later-life events you won't necessarily have to face alone if you have a significant other. Like, colonoscopies...you and your date could schedule yours for the same time, make it a bonding experience.

No? Well, it was a thought.

Anyway, here are a few of the factors that tend to change the rules, and how to make them work to your advantage.
  • Changed expectations - when you're twenty, you probably felt that the right person would change your life forever, sweep your heart away to a place of perpetual happiness. That this isn't true is far and away the major underlying cause of divorce. Now, twenty years on, you know that life doesn't get drastically better through any 'external'. You know, at some level, that it's up to you, and that finding the right heart companion isn't the be-all-end-all to joy. And when you release this expectation...you make it possible for a relationship to carry you far further up the mountain of happiness!
  • Physical changes - in a word, hormones. Men reach the peak of hormonal intensity around the age of 20, and begin a sharp drop soon thereafter. Since a twenty-year-old male is interested in pretty much just one thing, this carries the good news and hope that 'aging's speed bump' can actually allow what's truly interesting in a man's personality to come through. For women, 'baby hunger' diminishes as the end of fertility approaches, and men can begin to lay aside the fear that, at least on some level, they're primarily being seen as a provider and sperm donor.
  • Spiritual maturity - relationships hopefully include God, and getting past the impetuousness of youth can bring a person to a place where a stable relationship with the Almighty can begin to form. Our kinship with God is always a work-in-progress, and the more miles we've walked with God increases the chance that we can find someone of a similar heart, so that you can walk the future years together.
It would be easy to get 'jokey' about this subject, but that only obscures the issue - that it's not that daunting, and that there are some opportunities in a relationship that mature and come available, with maturity.

Of course, these changes are not measured on a rigid yardstick, and some of them tend to drag people kicking and screaming into their own future.

Why, yes, I was talking about the 'testesterone drop' that men go through. However did you know?

These are flowers that bloom late, and grow in their time. But what a bouquet they can become, if nurtured.

Perhaps even a wedding bouquet.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Skinned Alive For Spiritual Growth

Just finished watching Charles Stanley's "In Touch" TV program. He was talking about the role of adversity in our lives, and he exercised the thesis that God either sends or allows adversity to help us grow, and to bring us closer to Him. He illustrated the talk with many examples from Paul's Epistles, to make the point that adversity can be a bridge, rather than an obstacle.

It's a good thought, but I was struck by a possibly unfair thought - this is a message for the suburban church.

A Christian with a strong and resilient faith can certainly face many of the 'usual' and 'expected' trials of modern life with the acceptance that they are sent or allowed for our own good. Loss of a job can lead one to be more sympathetic to the unemployed, and can lead one to develop new skills that lead to undreamed-of work and ministry.

Same thing with illness. Even something as horrific as the more deadly cancers can be seen as an opportunity for spiritual growth, I think because they also form part of the common experience of our world. We know people who have had cancer, and there's a significant chance that we will have it one day.

But what of situations that are so ghastly, so far out of sync with what we hope and expect the world to be that they seem to be the work of the Devil?

The Taliban, skinning people alive and sending the videos to Al-Jazeera.

The inevitable Christmas-Tree fires that result in children having third-degree burns that kill them slowly.

And even World War Two, the "Good War"...a rose-tinted euphemism that blithely sweeps away the ruined lives, the shattered hopes that were the price demanded for the free, and often frivolous world in which we live today. There is no Good War, save in its outcome. All battle is slaughter, and glory is as distant as the Moons of Mars.

These few examples embrace pain and fear that are unimaginable to anyone who hasn't been there, and to claim any edification from these is, from a non-initiate, the height of effrontery.

And to think of a God who would deliver up a child to the flames, or a teenage soldier to the knives of tormenters, is terrifying.

I don't have any answers, but what has helped me is seeing God as being there, arms outstretched, to catch and make whole again my shattered remains. A God who hates these situations with the strength that only Divine wrath can achieve, Who is determined to somehow bring something of value from a world in which He alloiwed free will, and thus the suffering we face.