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Friday, May 31, 2013

Travels With The Better Half

Too often, we have great plans, for a vacation with our spouse...and the reality just plain doesn't measure up to what we hoped.

Why? What goes wrong, what trips us up to make our best efforts a cardboard mockup of what we'd hoped to achieve?

There are any number of factors, and dissecting them really serves no purpose. Instead, let's focus on some things we can do to make things go well.

  1. Make a plan - write down, on paper, exactly what you want to achieve. Sometimes we think we're doing one thing, and we end up chasing ghosts down blind alleys. For a trip, look at the resources available where you're going, and decide which ones are the most important. If you're into museums, plot them on a map, and try to set a timeline for visiting the ones that are within reach. Chicago's a good example - the Museum of Science and Industry is a half-hour train ride from the Museum of Art, but both are close to the subway, and you can visit them in a long afternoon. Check out transportation - can you find parking, or should you plan on taking a bus or subway from your hotel? On what schedule do the trains run? Again, write it all down, take your 'battle plan' with you, and stick to it. If you decide to spend more time at one museum, make sure your mate is on board with that decision, and alter the time you'll spend at your subsequent stops accordingly.
  2. Allow for problems - identify the potential upsets, and, yes, write down what you'll do if they arise. What if the weather turns sour? Museums are fine, but the boat ride might be iffy. What's your fallback? If you have one, you can immediately shift to Plan B. Making up Plan B on the fly can take more time than you have, and you can wind up in a McDonald's burning away your time by looking at maps and guidebooks, and eventually going nowhere. Other problems are unexpected closures, or the simple, painful matter of sore feet. If all you've planned requires walking, you can quickly be out of luck - and out of fun.
  3. Nurture anticipation - a vacation with your mate is a big deal, so treat it accordingly. Talk about what you'd like to do, and how you'd like ti to feel. If you want to have romantic moments, make that clear - springing romance as a surprise for a wife who's looking forward to hiking the Grand Canyon, rim-to-rim, isn't very kind. There's usually room for both, but make sure that the time allowed is flexible enough to allow both.
  4. Plan meals - this may sound almost silly, but it's even sillier to spend time looking for a Burger King sign when you're supposed to be having a good time in Exotic Chicago (well, I LIKE Chicago!). Choose where you'll have dinner each night, and make reservations if needed. Have a list of eateries close to your destination for breakfast and lunch. A relaxed meal is a great way to relive some of the fun you've been having, and to look ahead to the Fun to Come.
  5. Be patient - if your spouse is chronically late, allow for that in your timetable, instead of making an issue of it while on the trip. Why put your spouse on the defensive? Just build in the slack.
  6. Don't overpack - take enough clothing, and other necessities, but remember that in many places you can buy extras you may need. 
  7. Bring a camera - don't depend on your cell phone camera. Make the trip a special occasion, and get some good pictures.
  8. Limit check-in calls - you may need to call babysitters or elderly parent or business partners, but limit the calls in duration and scope. Let your callers know that you expect them to deal with problems while you're away, as in  away on holiday.
  9. Get souvenirs - when traveling alone, I usually buy a book or two, that will remind me of the trip. It doesn't have to be trip-connected, just something you know you got 'there'. It's a nice nudge to the memory.
  10. Scrapbook it - within a few days of getting home - no later - start building a scrapbook of your trip. Facebook is great for this. If you do it while it's fresh you can keep all the details you will gradually forget - the details that you may have enjoyed the most.
Traveling with your mate can be one of the most rewarding things you can do in your marriage. You'll learn things about a new place, and you'll learn things about each other.

What do you do, to make a trip special?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Not Going to Hell

Combat infantrymen are not going to hell.

They've already been there, and if double jeopardy applies in life, then it surely applies in death.

The combat infantrymen has suffered for our sins. He's faced privation, pain degradation, danger, death,, contempt, and cruelty on a level that no one in civilian life can comprehend. It's not like saying, "I'm a warrior" because you make it through some kind of beer-swilling 'warrior games' on your feet, or because you feel 'called to moral battle' by God.

And our sins?  We didn't care enough to take government into our hands, the way it was supposed to be. We left it in the hands of professional politicians to whom the job became a way of life and a sinecure. We wanted moral ascendancy and cheap goods. We wanted revenge for terrorist attacks, while we went to the mall and found everything we wanted, with no shortages.

And we sent our proxies into Hell.

Can you understand what is burned into the soul of a combat infantryman? No. Nothing in your life can help you understand. You can't identify with him. You can't empathize. You don't feel his pain.

It doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Watch the first fifteen minutes of Saving Private Ryan, and you'll have a sanitized visual taste.

But you can't smell the smells, and you can't appreciate the discomfort - the queasy bowels, the soaked clothing, the literally deafening noise. You can't feel the confusion, and the heartbreaking knowledge that you are, after all, just a cipher. Your death is meaningless, except when added up to see Who Won.

Siegfried Sassoon said it well -

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

So, no, I don't believe that there is any combat infantryman in Hell. No American, no Englishman, No German or Russian or Japanese. A just and loving God will take these men into His strong arms, and shield them forevermore. The doctrine won't matter. Healing the hurt will.

They've paid their dues, and ours, and the last word can go to an unknown poet, a Marine veteran of Guadalcanal -

And when he gets to Heaven
to St. Peter he will tell -
"One more Marine reporting, Sir,
I've served my hitch in Hell."


Sorry I was away. Pain, shock, unconsciousness. Not much fun.

My wife had to be away, to help her parents, and asked my best friend to stay with me while she was gone - he graciously agreed, even though it was a holiday weekend, and he has a family.

Suffice to say that I'm forever grateful. It's impossible to repay friendship like that - except by accepting it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Just for Fun

Instead of my usual running-off-at-the-mouth post, I'll let a picture say a few words, and hope that you get a laugh.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Healing Miracles

The Bible promises healing. No equivocation there.

A lot of people pray for healing, and don't get it. No contesting that, either.

What's the disconnect? Why don't we get the healing for which we ask, when we ask for it?

There is a category of religious folk who would say that it's a matter of too little faith. If you pray with a seed of doubt, rather than the perfect faith of the mustard seed, of course you won't get healed.

What they overlook is that we're not seeds. We were created differently, and doubt is part of human nature. If you want proof, look at Jesus' words in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the Cross. His human side...despaired. Doubted. Felt abandoned.

So that's probably not it. God would not, I think, promise healing if and only if we can become something he didn't design us to be.

There are others who say you need the anointing. And if you don't have it, there are certain preachers who do, and their healing services will soon set you right. You'll be healed, so to speak, on the updraft.

The services are spectacular - limping people don't limp, deaf people can suddenly hear, crutches are thrown away. Unfortunately, most of the healings are very hard to verify. No one with a severed spine steps up from a wheelchair, and severed limbs don't regrow. The adrenaline rush attendant to these occasions is considerable, and can make it easy to believe that the arthritis that was crippling is now gone. But, alas, it usually isn't.

(The argument against the 'verification' is that it's a symbol of doubt, and therefore cancels the healing. Does this sound absurd to you?)

Another argument against emotion-fueled services is that Jesus did a lot of healing, and he did it pretty casually. Spit in the eye, mixed with dirt, that sort of thing.

But healings do happen. People with cancer suddenly 'lose' it, and that's medically verified. Blindness lifts, and even the Mayo Clinic can't say why.

This, perhaps, is thew 'why'. The healing has to fit in with God's overall plan, and we are simply not told what that plan is, concerning ourselves, or anyone else. If we take it on that basis, we can accept the healings that happen, and accept the fact that sometimes the answer is 'no'.

This begs the question, why ask at all? If the healing is part of the plan, won't it happen anyway? We don't know the answer to that, but we do know that some people prefer to be sick. It gets them attention and pity, and relieves them from the requirement to do some kinds of work. It's the kind of choice - like robbing a liquor store - that's certainly against God's plan, but one He accepts if we choose it. We have to accept the consequences, though.

We demand free will, but we have to allow God free will, as well. And His trumps ours.

And after all, Jesus, in the Garden, did say..."Not My will, but Thine be done."

Monday, May 20, 2013


We all get vulnerable. Through illness, misfortune, loneliness, or simple fatigue, there are times when we feel the need for reassurance.

And then we go fishing.

Fishing for compliments is usually seen as a social no-no, but it's something that almost everyone does regularly. Anything from "how do you like my new car" to "how do you like my book" is most decidedly not said in search of an honest answer.

It's saying, "I need to be reassured that I'm okay".

The only thing wrong with it is taking a haughty attitude that it's really demeaning, and instead of offering the needed support, delivering an honest answer in the negative. Or sometimes a dishonest answer in the negative, simply to express disapproval of the whole exercise.

In other words, a verbal sucker-punch.

If the hairstyle's hideous or the book's a bore, do you lie?

Okay, YES. If you're being asked for an honest opinion, you generally have enough history in the relationship to know it, and to deliver it without too much hurt. If you aren't sure, and you are being honest out of preserving your own intellectual integrity, then the biggest part of your response is an exercise of your own pride.

Can lying to spare feelings get you into trouble? Sure. You may have the glacial sequel to the molasses-like unpublished first novel foisted on you, or you might be treated to an extended version of Junior's violin solo (that which caused the bikers next door to decamp for a monastery).

But trouble's part of life, dealing with onerous social obligation is a part of civilization, so suck it up. At some time not long past, your boring hours were another's burden...and you probably didn't even know.

Pay that forward.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Most Dangerous Sport in the World

Football? For wimps.

Rugby? Sissy city.

Ice Hockey? Well, maybe...I don't want to offend any Canadians.

Seriously, the most dangerous sport - ever - is the pursuit of the world speed record on water. It's been said to be 85% fatal.

Probably the best-documented death was that of Donald Campbell, son of the land-and-water record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell (whose high-speed car Bluebird brought fame, and eventually a really big race track, to Daytona, Florida). Malcolm tried to steer his son away from record-seeking, saying that Donald would be killed in the process.

Donald agreed - for awhile. But when his father died, the American millionaire Henry Kaiser decided to finance a run on the record, and take it from Britain.

Donald wasn't going to have it, and he enlisted the aid of his father's faithful mechanic, Leo Villa, to ensure that this wouldn't happen.

Villa advised Donald to think about what he was doing, and then not do it. It'll consume you, Villa said.

Before his death, Donald admitted it had. Life became speed, and today's record was never enough.

In 1967, the quest claim to its inevitable end, on Conniston Water, in the sleek jet-powered Bluebird K7. Click here.

Why is all this so terrible dangerous? Basically, it's because water is unpredictable. Small wavelets, or floating debris, can impart huge forces on a vehicle traveling on the surface at 300 mph. If a wave bounces the nose a bit higher than expected, air gets under the hull, and the boat will pitch up, completely out of control, often doing a complete loop. Very rarely, the loop will be perfect, and boat will be floating, carrying a stunned and prayerful driver. But usually the thing just comes apart, gears and body parts going everywhere.

The same problem afflicts racing hydroplanes today, but their cockpits are designed like that of an F-16. The driver is strapped in tightly, and his 'capsule' is sealed, along with carrying an oxygen supply. But a racing hydroplane doesn't approach record speeds. In comparison, they're like the Mike Fink Keelboat Ride at Disneyland.

But in any event Bluebird K7 had no such safety features, and Campbell was doomed when the nose lifted. The wreck was raised in 2001, and is being rebuilt to run again - but never at record speeds.

The question remains, what kind of person would do this? What kind of personality's needed? Is it psychosis, or a sort of Pollyannish faith that one simply can't be killed? Is it a faith that's so sublime that death is irrelevant, or is it a nihilism so vast that life is irrelevant?

I don't know, but when I broached this subject to my wife, she said that's something she could see be doing, if I had the opportunity. Of that, she had no doubt.

And she was not smiling when she said it.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Wrong Stuff

Yesterday we looked at being who we want to be, and using both external 'props' like clothing, and behaviour to achieve that goal.

And then there are posers...or more properly, poseurs.

These are the folks who dress the part they've never played.

Being involved in aviation for most of my life, I've seen quite a few. Aviation posers tend to affect the same stylized 'look', a blend of Top Gun and The Right Stuff.

First, sunglasses. The distinctive wire-rimmed Ray-Ban 'Aviator' glasses are useful, comfortable, and have 'the look'.

Next, the flying jacket. It can be the leather A-2, or a knockoff. Some prefer the nylon version. Few go whole hog and buy an Irvine jacket, the fleece-lined marvel that was issued to the Royal Air Force (the Irvine jacket is both expensive and hot, which may account for its rarity). Some add flight suits - overalls with a lot of zippered pockets.

Watches! No Top Gun Aviator with The Right Stuff is complete without a huge wristwatch...sorry, chronometer. It has to have a lot of functions. It doesn't matter if you don't know what they are.

Finally, patches. No jacket is complete without patches, right? Preferably, bloodthirsty regalia that testifies to the wearer's martial prowess. One step beyond patches is artwork - paintings on the back of the jacket, often mimicking aircraft nose art (the individualizing artwork painted on the noses of warplanes - the most familiar example is the 'shark-mouth' of the American Volunteer Group in World War Two - the 'Flying Tigers').

Put it all together on a serving military pilot, past or present, and it's right. Put it together n a civilian, pilot or not, and it's posing.

The issue is really one of propriety. The accouterments mentioned are typically earned - even the sunglasses, which military pilots buy after their first solo. These are not badges of rank - they're badges of honor, of belonging to a group of individuals who are set apart by skill, courage, and commitment.

Commitment is the important part. A military pilot has taken an oath to protect the country, at life's risk. You can't buy that in a store.

This applies equally to the current pilots of restored warplanes, at least in my accounting. Yes, they've done posterity a service by spending literal fortunes to keep our aviation history alive and flying. And yes, there is some justification for 'dressing the part' at airshows, so that the people of Now might know what the Heroes of Then looked like.

But it's not 'stuff' to 'strut'. You can't buy that right.

What do you think?

Friday, May 17, 2013

How We See Ourselves

Sometimes it seems as if life in the beginning of the 21st century is an endless job of self-definition.

To a large degree, it's fueled by commercial interests. Everything from the car you drive to the toothpaste you use is part of that package called 'you', and using the right ones will make you smarter, better-looking, more popular, and more successful at everything from business to sex.

Beyond that, there are deeper and more fundamental assignments that we place upon ourselves. Some choose a warrior's identity, some that of a sage.

A writer of my acquaintance calls herself a wise elder; another is happy to consider herself a crone.

This process has been going on for a long time - probably as long as there have been people. But it does beg the question - why do we fight so hard for a definition?

Why can't we just be? (Why, yes, I AM from the 60s. Why do you ask?)

'Just be-ing' might be defined as letting our actions do the talking, and accepting the character definitions placed on us from without.

We might not like what we get. The warrior's heart might be masked, and stigmatized, by a bookish exterior. Wisdom might be obscured by a West Texas accent. How can anyone who says "y'all" be smart?

On the other hand, what if, as an adjunct to 'just be-ing', we tell the rest of the world where they can put their definitions and pigeonholes?

Sounds tempting, and liberating, but we do have to interact with the rest of the world, and a perpetually upraised middle finger is not really the most salubrious greeting. (I know - I've tried.)

Is there a middle ground, where we choose our persona but elect not to flaunt it, instead tailoring both our appearance and our actions to our desire, but refraining from talking about what we hope we are? Opera non verba - deeds not words?

What do you think?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Gluten-Free Life

Several years ago I had 150% of my blood replaced - yes, one and a half times my total volume. A priest gave me Last Rites.


To add insult to injury...it was the result of a botched operation...to repair piles. (And ironically, the PhD dissertation I'd completed several years before had the title "The Inelastic Seismic Response of Reinforced Concrete Piles and Pile Shafts".)

I digress. All that blood kept me alive, but it also gave me a sensitivity to wheat, oat, and barley gluten. No more bread, no more beer. The issue is called celiac disease.

At the time, there wasn't a lot of 'stuff' out there for the gluten-free life. A few bread mixes (some of which were and are delicious), some cake mixes (which have been improved over time), and cookies mixes (also improving).

But it became a life of scanning ingredients, for any sign of wheat and its friends. Did you know that licorice candy typically has wheat? And Milky Way bars? (But not the dark chocolate ones!)

It made going out to eat quite dull. At the time, asking for a gluten-free menu was like asking for a menu in Tagalog.

So much has changed! Even Wal-Mart has a gluten-free shelf, and most restaurants have special gluten-free menus with dishes that are delicious (Olive Garden and Outback stand out here.)

There are websites - www.glutenfreeliving.com and www.livingwithout.com are particularly informative.

The most important thing, though, is that this small part of society that was left on the outside, looking in, has now been invited to the table.

It feels good, and gives me hope for all of us.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


What do you do when the medication you used to hold off savage, crushing pain from a crook pancreas doesn't work any more?

This isn't a rhetorical question - I really need to know, and quick!

The other arrow in my quiver - cheap cigars - has gradually been losing effectiveness as well. The nicotine that was acting as an anesthetic is now making me puke.

There are no other medicines to try. We've been through the lot.

The last resort would seem to be meditation. There are a lot of Christians who'll throw up their hands and decry its Eastern roots, but right now the specificity of centering prayer - its Christian analogue - makes it ineffective. Yes, I know, this is more a mark of my weak faith than any deficiency in centering prayer as a technique and tool of faith, but this isn't the time to develop anything. I need results, fast.

Because right now - literally, I'm swooning. I like that word. The world is starting to sway and sweep, swinging sideways in a swoon that will pitch me into the keyboard.

For the tough guys reading this, I'm grinding gears. The pain's like something rotary, just below the diaphragm on the right side. 'Grinding' is a good word to describe it.

And for youse who may be bored silly by now, I'm done.

Any suggestions, need 'em.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Zero Sum

I wear $2 t-shirts. They're not very colourfast, they're not cut well, and they are as flattering to the male figure as a sack.

But they're cotton.

I've been told that my choice of clothing reflects what I think of myself, and that I deserve something better.

Nope. I'm fine with what I've got.

It's not a matter of self-image or fashion consciousness, or even feeling deserving. It's not humility, either - none of this "Friend, why are you in the lowest place? Come, go higher at the table."

It's a statement of purpose. As long as there are people starving to death in Africa, yeah, I'll dress cheap.

Really, it's more symbolism than anything else. The world doesn't operate on a zero-sum economy at the practical level. There's more than enough food to let everyone live; a large part of the problem is that there are governments in some areas that would prefer population control by famine, and their warehouses full of UN food are considered part of the presidential wealth.

But I'm not sure that there isn't something of a moral zero-sum. When we enjoy luxury, do we condemn others to agony?

Certainly not practically. But at some level, do we use our luxuries to insulate and distance ourselves from our less fortunate brethren? Does a $40 shirt feel so good and look so fine that we just don't want to think about Eritrea?

Yes. I think so. I think the dichotomy is too great for our minds to comfortably handle, and we slide the image of the swollen-bellied man off to the side. We'll deal with it later, after we've enjoyed the now.

But later there's the vacation at the 5-star resort. We could bring an Oxfam publication to brunch, but let's look at it...later.

A lot later.

I'm not saying that we should all dress in burlap and quit using soap. I'm not even saying that if you want to vacation at Yosemite, you should really visit Camden, New Jersey instead.

What I am saying is - ration your luxuries. Keep the ones that mean something to you on a spiritual level, that speak to your heart. And let the rest go, as an offering to those less fortunate, given through God.

Because if the world doesn't operate on a zero-sum economy - God very well might.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Choosing Not To Speak

Sometimes the most important thing you can say is...nothing.

We've all been there. A conversation suddenly goes south, and a person we trust takes an opportunity to launch a 'zinger', covered by their own feeling of rectitude.

It came out of left field, and it stung. And you want to hit back.

Usually, we do. We'll launch an attack of our own, but the response is ill-prepared, and has the tone of "oh, yeah? Says who? Your mother wears army boots!"

To make up for its ineffectiveness, you deliver it with vigor and hostility, and things go from bad to worse.

Enough of these, and conversational trust is leached away. You're on guard, now and forever, for the hurt that may be lurking behind the next paragraph.

There's a better way (and no, it's not a more effective riposte).

The better way is to stop, take a breath, and move on, ignoring the hurtful statement. Yes, you were the target, and he was bringing the words from a place that contained resentment, but this isn't the time to explore it.

As an example, I recently had to wrap a friend's hand with an Ace bandage. I only have partial use of my right hand, and was a bit slow, but many years ago I was an EMT.

My friend was impatient, and chose to say, "You really don't have any idea how to do this, do you?"

The temptation was to stop and say, "Fine. Finish it yourself."

I was also tempted to go back later to say that I found the remark insulting, and suggest that such comments be avoided in the future.

Neither course of action was worthwhile. Leaving the job in mid-wrap would have been ethically wrong. Whining about hurt feelings would have been...whining. This individual is prone to quick judgments and a quicker tongue, and almost never apologizes, choosing instead to hold ground and verbally tussle. I don't have the time or the interest in doing that.

And I didn't feel it would do any good. I could have, at best, extracted a growled, insincere "All RIGHT, I'm SORRY." There's a limit to the training an adult will accept.

Let it go.

On the other hand...this may be a self-serving form of cowardice, avoiding a confrontation that's necessary for the relationship, choosing instead to accept unpleasant behavior without correction or reproof. It may have been a disservice to my friend, missing an opportunity to provide gentle guidance that this isn't the way to talk to someone who's helping you.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Desert Rain


Everyone else is doing a Mother's Day post, so I think I'll pass!

Instead, think of rain on the desert. Have you ever seen it?

It starts with a few cumulus clouds in an otherwise clear sky, bellies a warm gray, tops shining white. They drift slowly down the wind, and usually, out over the horizon.

But sometimes, they slow and foregather, like friends meeting along a small-town street. They reach out arms to touch one another, and in their quiet solidarity the sun loses, quite suddenly, much of its strength, and the air goes from bright hardness to a soft, thoughtful grey.

And then, the dance. Instead of moving off on their individual travels, together but separate, the clouds link arms and circle, their boot-shod countryman's feet sounding a bass tattoo of distant thunder. They circle and swirl, tossing their heads, and then bending down to peer at the ground below.

It's a male dance. Not a war dance, but not peaceful.

The first raindrops come, as the clouds arrived, very individually, aloof from one another. A drop here, and a drop there.

They sizzle through the air, racing one another to the ground, and make distinct craters in the sand.

More drops, and they begin to drop their reserve, falling in groups and associations. Some here, and others there, with stubborn loners pocking the sand between.

And then the plunge, as the clouds pull lighting from their cloaks, white-heat cooled by hardworking drops. The ground rises and shimmers under their arrival, and the sage rattles happily.

The dance moves off down the lane, and a few drops linger, to make sure that the sand and sage won't feel lonely, too quickly.

The sun, now allowed back, promising to be mellow, gives a yellow glow to a transformed world. The sage glows, and the sand has the fresh smell, an a look of powdered sugar, brown and white mixed.

Lightning flashes in the distance. Farewell, friends, for now.

I like rain in the desert

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Least of These

Michele Ule's wonderful blog, "Finding God's Fingerprints", had a particularly interesting entry today - POWs, Horror, and Hope. You can find it here

The POW experience is one that most people would prefer to ignore, save looking at its comedic versions (Hogan's Heroes) or action-adventure possibilities (the movie version of The Great Escape).

Also, our vision is pretty well defined by the experience of Allied POWs in German camps. Michelle writes about Civil War camps in her post, and references some descriptions of the horrific Viet Nam experience.
German, Italian, and Japanese prisoners during WW2.

Some are still here. By choice. No American POW has returned to live in Germany, much less Japan, North Korea, or Viet Nam.

And that says it all.

I wish I could stop here, but the shadow of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib has partially obscured our good record. In these places, insurgents were held, interrogated - and tortured.

In our name.

The argument can be persuasive - it was vital to get current information on upcoming terrorist attacks. Who wouldn't use 'any means necessary' if their loved ones were at risk?

The first flaw in this thinking is a practical one. Information gained under torture is rarely useful, as a man will say anything to get it to stop.

The second flaw is that it's wrong. Simply wrong, to use the power of the state to inflict pain on a bound captive.

Jesus didn't address the issue of POWs, but He did say that if we visited someone in prison, we visited Him.

I doubt He's very happy with us.

Driving the Flock Over the Cliff

Recently a prominent pastor made some comments on his TV show that, while they drew a lot of applause, would be absolutely guaranteed to thin out the ranks of the newly evangelized, and make folks who are feeling drawn to Christ pitch their tents somewhere else.

Anywhere else.

In referring to 9/11, this chap intimated that God was showing His displeasure with current American immorality by 'removing the hedge of protection', thus allowing the terrorists to attack as a punishment, and a warning of worse to come unless we repent.

He claimed that in the 20th century the US won two wars that it shouldn't have been able to win, thus showing that we had God's favor - this, in trying to contrast the present situation of losing His favor.

In general, and at first glance, it sounds pretty straightforward. We're all concerned about the direction that the US is heading, and one would assume that God is, as well.

However - when you start zooming in, it becomes a message of unspeakable cruelty, based on doctrine that is questionable at best.

Doctrine first - there's no reference to the US in Scripture. None. There are certainly passages that can be interpreted as referring to the US, but this kind of model-building takes on a life of its own. It's a hypothesis, but enough people repeat it to say that it's real. And it is not. It's a theory.

The comment about 'winning two wars that we should not have won' is ludicrous. We didn't 'win' the First World War. We arrived in 1917, and contributed to the ultimate victory, but the Germans and their allies were already in a losing situation, and they knew it. We helped the French and British, who'd borne the brunt of the fighting and the losses. We didn't win it. 

Concerning World War Two, the comment beggars belief. The only way the Axis could have won was by keeping us out of the conflict. The existence of the US manufacturing and manpower resources, largely untouchable by either the Germans or the Japanese, made eventual victory inevitable. There was no way the Axis could have won, after December 7, 1941.

The other side of the argument can be viewed by looking at some of the pictures that were burned into the national memory after 9/11 - the pictures of office workers leaping to their deaths rather than burn.

If one of these unfortunates were my wife, and a preacher would tell me that it was God's punishment on America, or worse, just a warning, I would never darken the door of a church. A God who would summarily consign these people, beloved of someone, to a terrifying and fatal fall simply to make a point about gay marriage and low church attendance (both of which Preacher X mentioned) would be something on the order of Baal.

Not something that Jesus would do.

I realize that there's a need to pull for the moral high ground, and that sometimes a shock is needed to get folks to wake up to what';s going on around them, but using questionable Scriptural interpretation, incorrect history, and a dash of viciousness isn't the way to do it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Life With The Apostles

It must have been like herding cats.

Jesus picked the twelve apostles presumably as mankind's current best and brightest (well, except for one of them). There must have been times that He wondered if they could collectively power a night-light.

The argument over primacy. "I'm the leader!"

"No, I am!"

"Wanna take this outside?"

Jesus, sighing. "Guys, the leader of all is the one who serves all."

Haven't I made that clear YET?

In the boat. "Don't you care that we're all going to drown?"

Sigh. That's why I was asleep, so I wouldn't hear you COMPLAINING about it. "Peace, be still."


Peter, on the water. "Ohmyohmyohmy, SAVE ME!"

You get out of the boat, walk on the water, and then suddenly, what? You switched brains with a cat, or something?


What do I look like, a flotation device? "Here, take My hand. Why did you doubt?" You thought maybe I was standing on a turtle?

Peter, again. "I'll stand by you to the end!"

To the end of your courage, dear friend, but that's all I ask.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


We all face many Goliaths in our lives, towering forces that laugh at us while gleefully planning the best way to bring us to our knees, or just flat out drive us below the level of the mud.

They have to be faced, one way or another. Running away from Goliath wouldn't have done David a lot of good, as the giant's legs were a lot longer, and while David could have done some dodging he would have felt the blunt end of Goliath's club, sooner or later.

What David did was a good template for dealing with our giants. He correctly assessed Goliath's strengths and weaknesses, and then assessed his own. He realized that meeting Goliath force-on-force, wearing Saul's armor and swinging Saul's sword, would have been a noisy version of suicide.

CLANG! That's David's sword-thrust, parried by Goliath.

THWACK! That's Goliath's sword, removing David's head.

Squelch-squish-thlump! That's David's head, bouncing back into the Israelite camp.

David chose a different tack, which emphasized his speed, and his skill with a slingshot, along with the knowledge that a slung stone could stun the giant (even hitting the helmet) long enough for David to slip in and administer a messy coup-de-grace.

What if Goliath had charged! What if the monster had looked at David, and giving a shout, run right at him?

I'd like to think that David would have stood his ground, and them deftly stepped aside at the last minute, tossing his sling to wrap around Goliath's legs, tripping him up with a dust-raising thump.

And then, David would have brought matters to a head.

So to speak.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I don't like to write a lot of personal stuff here. For one thing, it's to easy for a blog to become more of an ego trip than it already is.

For another thing, and please don't take offense, I'd rather that you, the reader, know as little as possible about me. Not because I don't like you, or trust you - it's just that I'm not that interesting, and if you find out how ordinary I really am you won't want to read the stuff I write!

But I'll break that rule, for today.

The last two years have been tough. My academic career came to an abrupt, and undesired end in 2011. The story's not important, but picking up the threads again is not possible. I've forgiven those responsible. This was hard, but necessary, because anger was consuming me, and destroying my soul.

Added to that, my health has deteriorated to the point where death itself is a constant companion. I can feel its hand, from time to time, as the perceived world fades, and something else begins to form in my vision. I'll learn the answer to the mysteries soon, I guess.

But in the process, writing and doing freelance welding and metalwork as I'm able, I've lived a strange life. I'm alone most of the time, with very little contact with 'the world'. There are no co-workers, there's no conversation in the lunch room, and even email 'conversations' have become few and far between.

It's been a kind of hermitage, a chance to look at life from a very different perspective, taking time to sit on the bank of time's river. The world has swirled past, its pleasure-barges and war-canoes, its houseboats and keelboats and flotsam.

It's a weird world, when you're no longer a part of it.

You can carry the accumulated wisdom of the world at your fingertips, in a phone connected to the Internet. You can communicate, instantly, with anyone, anywhere. Most people use this ability to look at pictures of cats, and tell whoever's listening what they had for breakfast.

Trucks are sold to suburbanites who fancy themselves construction workers, in desperate need of a vehicle that will haul boulders up muddy hills. While, in the back seat, their children watch Barney the Purple Dinosaur on a DVD player.

My last truck didn't have a back seat. It had a fuel tank that would cheerfully immolate me in an accident.

We watch Reality TV that describes life that's as unreal as marriage rites on Mars. Who, among you, would have anything to discuss with the 'cast' of 'Honey Boo Boo'?

During this time I've fed my heart and soul on Stephen Ambrose's world, and the counterpoint has been sharp and telling. I can understand, I think, the ethos of an old world at war.

I'm an alien in a modern world at peace.

Yes, I'm writing this on a computer, and will soon post it through the Internet. But these are tools. I don't feel defined by using them, much less defined by my sharing 2013 with their ascendancy.

When I return to the world of today, I think I will keep one foot firmly planted in the past. 'American Idol' will pass me by, and I'll never carry a 4G or 5G phone. G's are what you pull when looping an airplane, anyway.

And I'll maintain the readiness for War, with its requirement to keep sane values against a background of madness as a bulwark against becoming the madness.

Peace, as I see it today, sucks.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Manners for Mongo

Recently I met one of my wife's co-workers. She asked if we really ran a Pit Bull sanctuary.

"Yes, ma'am," I said.

She staggered a little bit, and put her hand to her throat. Not because she thought a Pit Bull would leap out from under my jacket, though.

Because I said "ma'am". And I'm older than she is.

I guess it was striking, because not too many people do that these days. Why not?

Is it because we've taken "American Casual" to a degree where formal courtesy is really unnecessary? Are we assumed to be so immediately at home with one another that we can dispense with introductions, and give hugs?

Or is the reason darker - we don't extend courtesy because we secretly believe that other people don't really rate it? That it takes something from us to be polite? That somehow we're taking a subservient role?

I hope that's not the case, but, looking at our society as reflected in popular culture, I suspect it is. In comedies, most laughs come from sarcastic put-downs, and some characters are designed expressly as foils - they are set up to be 'hurt'.

Where's the physical comedy that made Lucile Ball a national treasure?

Investigative reporters corner their subjects, and administer an Inquisition of 'probing' and 'hard-boiled' questions. It doesn't matter if the subject's 'guilty' or not - they're Tried By Geraldo, found guilty, and sentenced to scorn.

If it was all a mistake, nothing is said in later correction, and reputations are still wrecked.

It's bad manners. And for myself, I'm not going to hold with that.

Yes, I'm a Neanderthal, and I want to bring back a more civilized past.

A Neanderthal who says sir and ma'am and please and thank you.

Time to come out of the cave.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Revolution Starts Here

When in the course of human events...

Things have been going wrong in this country, for far too long. It's time for a revolution.

Not an overthrow of our system of government. It's the best in the world, bar none, and gives us the opportunity to right the wrongs we see. Look back at the past fifty years, and you can see many 'course changes' - all achieved through the ballot box.

The revolution I'm talking about is one of values. We've lost our moral compass, and it's not the government's fault.


We have accepted the teachings of moral pygmies, and adopted them as our own. We've allowed cruelty into our homes, under the guise of entertainment. Look at the TV shows you and your children watch - have you watched 'Survivor'? 'Shark Tank'? 'Hell's Kitchen'? 'The Simpsons'?

Yes, they're entertaining. They're also about bullying, and amusement gained from the discomfort of others

We accept pornography. Have you seen 'Sex in the City'? 'NYPD Blue'? There's nothing wrong with romance, but there is something wrong with the graphic depiction of extramarital sex and adultery.

We accept pornographic violence. A couple of years ago, one of the 'CSI' programs showed the aftermath of a car bomb - including a burned body. All very gross, very horrifying, and very entertaining.

A thrill of horror. But it doesn't capture the smell, and the sense of sorrowful desolation, and without those...it was entertainment, and pornography.

We allow our view of the world to go grey. Heroes have feet of clay, and people who are truly evil have redeeming,qualities, and their acts are understandable because they were 'misunderstood'. Decency's quaintly obsolete, and crudeness - in language and demeanor - are cool.

We accept rampant consumerism, and allow commercial interests to inculcate 'needs' in our lives that separate us from real, human relationships.

Does your cell phone have Internet access? At lunch, do you talk with your co-workers...or surf the Web? Do you turn your back on real people to communicate on Facebook?

I'm not saying Facebook friends aren't 'real'. I am saying there's a time and place for everything - and when you're with people you owe then a share in your humanity, and your life. "Love your neighbor as yourself."

My revolution is going to bring back front porch summer evenings, pickup baseball games, and bowling leagues.

It'll bring back cheesy Westerns where the good guys - who may be Comanches! - always win, and are always fundamentally decent.

It'll bring back pony rides at birthday parties.

You walk down a wrong road, the sooner you turn back, the further you actually go.

In the right direction.

We're not done.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


John Lennon was a talented singer and songwriter. As a philosopher, he left something to be desried.

"Imagine" is undoubtedly the song for which he's best remembered. It has a lilting melody, and what seems to be a wistful, hopeful message - can't we all live as one in the world?

It would be nice, but one of his parameters that defines the achievement of unity is the last thing that would help achieve it.

"Imagine there's no heaven...above us only sky...imagine all the people, living for today."

The rest of Lennon's suggestions - no countries, no possessions - fall in line with Christ's teachings. But then he dropkicks Jesus out of the stadium. Christianity without Christ is a description often applied to 'ideal' Communism.

Living for today is exactly what got us into this whole sorry mess. "Ooooh, look, Adam, wanna bite of apple?"

When we discount any thought of a life beyond this one, any hope for a path beyond death, and resign ourselves to living for the moment, we remove every restriction on our behaviour, beyond those which will be forced upon us to preserve some semblance of order.

Here's one example.

Want to have sex? If the immediate consequences for compelling a 'partner' are too onerous, then lie, beguile, manipulate...and walk away in the knowledge that if you've broken a heart or crushed a spirit, at least you got what you wanted.

Come to think of it, that sounds like the dating scene today, doesn't it?

The only thing that keeps us from falling into the abyss of a life devoted to self-interest is the faith - and hope - that there's something beyond this fragile existence, that makes it all worthwhile and can redeem our mistakes and casual cruelties.

Without that, we're lost, as the wreckage of Communist societies have so deftly proven.

It is something that the government should consider when endeavouring to separate church from state in a strict and non-contextual interpretation of the Establishment Clause. If you completely exclude religion from public life you're engaging in anti-religious propaganda.

Telling kids they can't pray in schools tells them they really shouldn't pray at home. That's how the Soviets did it.

And they got a society without consequences, and without compassion.

Do we want that? No thanks, Mr. Lennon.

Please stick to the yellow submarines.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Lens

It is in dying that we move to eternal life.

Like most people, I paid lip service to that phrase for most of my life. "Sure," I said. "Makes sense. Have to be reborn, you know, to understand everything. Uh-huh."

I took pride and pleasure in my own strength, and in my own rude health, and thought that sun would never set.

And I thought that if id did set, well, I'd somehow magically get it.

It's dark now. And I somehow, magically, got it.

Ten years ago a surgery gone wrong set loose a chain of events that have led to this day, when something inside my gut is slowly killing me, to the accompaniment of pain that I would never have believed anyone, much less me, could have endured.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It made my faith complete.

I know God cares. I hope He'll heal me, but that depends on whether or not it lies within His purpose. Since I don't know His purpose, I don't know what'll happen.

Hasn't happened yet - but every day He's given me the strength, and comfort to go on. It would be easy to give up, mentally - to just say, "It's over. Nothing to aim at, because obviously, there's no time."

Forget the dreams you had when you were healthy.

But I didn't. And I don't. I'm generally a pretty grim person, when you get to know me, and not a Mary-Poppins-Sunshine-on-my-Shoulders-Everything-is-Beautiful sort of guy. I studied war for years, and it studied me.

I haven't given up, and I'm so surprised! It's God, of course.

There's a good chance that I'll be unable to get pain medication in the near future. new laws require expensive blood tests every three months - and not having insurance, there's just no way.

But God will provide the strength to get through that, too.

I wouldn't have been able to see, and live all of this, if my health had stayed intact.

Thank God it didn't.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Dread Epiphany

It's time to pull together.

There has been a lot of airplay in Christian media about attacks on Christianity - and it's true. Christians are being harassed for their faith, with the government's blessing.

If you're a college student at a public university, you can be publicly ridiculed for your faith - by your professors. Will they be reprimanded?

No chance. They'll use the stories for laughs at the Faculty Club. (I used to be a professor, and this is something I know.)

The Pentagon is drafting plans to court-martial members of the armed forces who share their faith. Political appointees are doing this in consultation with Mikey Weinstein, a prominent atheist activist.

Why? Is it because Barak Obama is actually Muslim?

No, it's not. I'm not sure what he is, but I'm pretty certain he';s not Muslim.

The reason is a lot more sinister. Religious faith sets a higher standard for behavior, and the government doesn't want that.

The way to control a population is to desensitize them, and make morally demeaning products easily available. Pornography's a good case in point - it's been protected time and again, by government edict, and it's one of the most corrosive elements in our society today. It demeans women. destroys families, and eventually obsesses the men who view it.

Which keeps them from putting effort and interest into the more serious problems that we're facing. They'll turn past the news to get to XXX.

Faith, and upright behavior that we owe a Higher Power, stands in the way.

I doubted this for a long time. I thought that the government's anti-religious bias came from too great a concentration on the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

But the recent behavior at the Pentagon changed my mind, because taking faith out of uniform takes away comfort for the maimed and the dying - at the behest of a bunch of civilian political appointees - and that's beyond wrong.

It's time to stand together. Protestants and Catholics, evangelicals and charismatics. Lutherans and Mormons and Methodists. For God's sake - literally -


Thursday, May 2, 2013

So Sorry, Please, So Sorry!

Somewhere in the last thirty years or so, it became something akin to a crime to hurt someone's feelings. Wish that had been the case when I was in grade school. I'd be rich.

The latest and greatest is that military personnel can be court-martialed if they talk to a comrade about their faith. The political appointees in the Department of Defense are working with a prominent atheist group to draft the guidelines.

Apparently, atheists get offended when someone mentions God. They feel left out, they can't work, and it affects how they feel about themselves.

This follows efforts to get all of the crosses in military cemeteries changed to non-religious symbols. That's a lot of crosses. But it will preserve the atheists' self-esteem, so we should have a warm feeling of doing good, when we do what they tell us to do.

Stars of David seem to be exempt.

And then there are those criminal Marines at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, who had the gangsterish notion of actually erecting crosses on a hill, as a memorial to fallen comrades.

I could go on, but I won't.

I will say this. I don't care about the atheists' feelings. I don't care about their self=-, and I don't care if their children are teased at school.

I don't care if they feel marginalized.

It's time that we returned to the philosophy - that guided this country quite well for decades - that you can't please everyone, and you don't have to try. You want change, vote for it.

If you lose, shut up and deal with it.