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Friday, June 28, 2013

Fun with Jesus

Having fun is in danger of extinction.

We're so pressed by the demands we see in our world, that the prospect of actually enjoying life seems to recede further and further away, until the concept has lost all meaning.

We parcel out recreational time into manageable blocks, and woe betide us if we dally overlong, recreating, when we should be attending to something else.

And our kids...well, yours, we don't have any...they get blitzed from one after-school activity to another, in the hope that their lives will be enriched and that they'll be well-rounded.

And, ye Gods, it'll look good on their resume.

But are they enjoying that?

Are you enjoying, really having fun with all the activities you've got in your life?

One of the hallmarks of fun is unconciousness of self. When did you last do something that allowed you to forget yourself, forget what people watching you might think?

Another indicator is unconciousness of time. When was the last time that your internal clock was not ticking off the minutes? When was the last time you checked the time on your phone, or your watch?

When was the last time you went out without a timepiece, out into the world on your own time?

It really does boil down to those two things - forgetting ourselves, and forgetting the passage of time.

I suspect that Mary, sister of Martha and of Lazarus, felt that while listening to Jesus. She was in the moment, and her personality and ego didn't enter into the situation.

Because listening to Jesus is FUN.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Guiding Principles

Recently some of the feeds to which I subscribe of Facebook have related stories of unimaginable cruelty to animals.

Don't worry, I won't describe them.

But it does beg the question - where does one GO with this? With viciousness rampant - and posted by the perpetrators on Youtube - what does one DO?

And these individuals...they are not even a hairsbreadth away from doing these things to humans. They target animals - pets - because the penalties are small.

Jesus seemed to preach nonviolence, and forbearance - turning the other cheek, and telling Peter to drop the sword.lest he die by it.

But He didn't tell the centurion to leave the army, after He'd healed the guy's servant.

And He was quite specific on His feelings about those who would abuse the innocent. Better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck, and be tossed into the ocean, than what they've got waiting.

It's hard, in our society, to feel that we should answer viciousness with violence. We should be past that, right?

We should be able to talk to these people.

We should be able to forgive.


I think that one of the signs of a just and civilized person is knowing where, when, and how to apply violent acts to protect what's worth protecting. Yes, it calls for moral judgement.

But nonviolence on principle is a moral judgement as well. It's saying, "My moral position is more important than preventing unacceptable behavior. I hold myself above this, and will dispassionately watch the anguish caused by the behavior I chose not to prevent."

Think that's harsh?

Our government did it. In Rwanda, and Somalia, and Darfur. In Cambodia, and East Timor.

Our guiding principle was'self-determination'.

But it was a bit hard to hear over the screams.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Untouchables

No, not Elliot Ness and the FBI.

And not the caste in India

People here, in the richest country in history, living on the street.

Many have problems, yes. Drug problems, mental problems. Some are just very, very short of luck.

It's hard to look at them, so a lot of us don't.

Some will give them money. But if you look closely...the money's dropped from an outstretched hand into an upturned hand. There's no physical contact.

The homeless know their place.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

When In Despair

Sometimes, things don't go well. You can be the best, most devout Christian...but horrible things happen.
Your spouse leaves for work, and dies before the end of the day.

Your son or daughter deploys to Afghanistan...and dies on Afghanistan's plains.

You go to the doctor, feeling like you've got the flu, and several tests later, you're going to die. Painfully.

Where is God in all of this? Where is the love, the care, the plans for good, and not evil?

Some will say that you didn't pray hard enough. Some will say that you didn't have the formula for answered prayers. Your faith will save you, they say, but you doubted. And God turned His Face from your doubt.


Jesus doubted. He asked why God abandoned Him. He despaired, in agony.

And He died, His Blood running out to water.

We live to serve God, but when we do this we commit to His plans. We commit to what He has to do in a world gone horribly wrong. And in this we have to commit to the idea that He may use our pain and loss in a higher purpose - His purpose.

God's plans are not ours.

The promise we have is that He will never leave us, however dark the road. He will not leave us in our pain, and in our doubt.

We may be crucified, but He'll cradle our broken bodies in His arms, and breathe life into us again.

When you despair, remember than. What was good enough for Jesus is good enough for us.

And try to keep working. Keep moving.

If all you can do is lean forward, then just lean.

Monday, June 24, 2013

You'll Have to Try Harder than That

Went running this morning. Spat up blood all the way, used horrible language on every step, but made it around my promised route.

Promised once, did it twice.

Have to try harder than that, Death. I'm still on my f****** feet.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Faith Block

A lot of people have been writing about writer's block recently - but I've had another problem.

Faith block.

No, it's not that I've started to doubt God's existence.

I've started to doubt my own.

I was writing hard, and working hard, up until very recently - and then hit a wall. It wasn't that I couldn't write, or couldn't think of what to write.

It was just that what I was writing did not seem worth saying, or it didn't feel like I had the right be be saying it. Either crass or presumptuous, and I started avoiding the computer.

And I've been avoiding conversations, even with my wife. I just don't seem to have anything worth saying - she does, and I listen.

(To be fair - this has been happening during a time of illness, and withdrawal from pain medication that no longer helped control a situation that has been a bit challenging. But that is not an excuse.)

I'm not sure how to get through this. Some possibilities suggest themselves -

  1. Keep writing regardless - it is the advice I 'give' to people with writer's block
  2. Stop writing for awhile, and do something else.
  3. Stop writing indefinitely. Maybe it really is time to quit.
The first is probably the best - it's the most disciplined, and the hardest to accomplish (for me). The second - well, it's easy to get into a situation where tomorrow never comes.

And the third is tempting. But the problem is systemic (witness the lack of desire to communicate verbally), and pulling back can lead to a sort of isolation that I don't believe we, as humans, were meant to explore.

Has anyone else faced this? What did you do?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tanks for the Memories

I heard something on Christian TV the other day - an expression that I'd thought passed out of use.

"Tough as a Sherman tank."

The speaker was a young man, and I wondered - did he know whereof he spoke?

The M4 'Sherman' was the definitive 'American Tank' of World War 2. Built in the tens of thousands, it saw service from North Africa to Germany, and in the Pacific from New Guinea and the Solomons to Okinawa.

After the war it was distributed to our Allies, and was used in conflicts on every continent. Shermans are still part of various Christian militias in Lebanon, and are in the reserve forces of African and South American countries.
And yet - the Sherman was not a very good combat vehicle. It was fast, but lightly armed and armored, with a rather unsettling propensity to catch for (resulting in the nickname 'Ronson'...yes, like the cigarette lighter).

Shermans were no match for the heavier German tanks when taken one-on-one, but could overpower their adversaries through speed and weight of numbers. The Japanese had no comparable armored vehicles, but did possess a wickedly effective anti=tank gun that could make short work of the Sherman.

As the twentieth century passed, the Sherman pretty well passed into history with it, I had thought that the comparative, "...(blank) as a Sherman tank" was dead and gone. Glad to see I'm wrong.

(And if you happen to have a spare $400,000, you can buy your very own restored Sherman...with everything operating but the guns.)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book of Job

At some time we'll all feel a kinship with Job, We'll be beset by adversity, and everything we touch will be going wrong.

And it feels like we're powerless to stop the spiral.

Job must have felt that way. His family killed, his livelihood destroyed, reduced to sitting on a trash heap, picking at sores with a stick.

"I was an honest, upright man. How did it come to this?"

His wife told him to curse God and die.

But Job had four resources left - the three friends who came to visit him, and his faith. They saw him through.

Not that it wasn't hard - it's certainly a stretch to see a serene Job, whiling away the time. He probably had some hard days.

But, to steal a line from the marvelous Bruce Willis movie, Tears of the Sun, "A thousand difficulties don't make a doubt."

Just know this - God will not let the devil kill you.

You have to die, of course - we all do - but this is a spiritual death from which God has promised salvation. You may be battered and bruised, and die bloody - but you'll wake from this fitful sleep we call life in God's arms, and it will all seem to have been a bad dream.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Withdrawal - Continued

Off the narcotic analgesic as of today.

Probably a bit quick, but as it wasn't working, and causing more pain, I wanted out.

And I was doing weird things. Like pouring the contents of a salt shaker into a dish at 0300, and trying to eat it.

I want out.

But the symptoms are excruciating. A crucifixion. Literally. Last night I was lying on the floor, exhausted, arms outstretched. Trying to find rest that wouldn't come, muscles twitching. So tired.

And relief is just a pill away.

It is the devil's bargain. It relieved the pancreatic pain - to a degree - for a long time, and helped me to live as normal a life as I could get.

But the sacrifice is high. It's a crutch you can't easily put aside/

And my leg's still broken, as it were. But I've got to run on it.

And the pill will remain untaken.

I want to be me again. Even with unrelieved pain - I want to be me.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


If you've ever had to take certain kinds of medications for a long period of time, the word withdrawal can strike terror into you.

It's bad.

I have had to take narcotic painkillers for my worsening 'pancreatic issues' for a couple of years. For awhile they were holding the line, but lately have begun to lose their effectiveness, and have actually worsened the pain immediately after taking them.

Also - I don't have insurance, and new rules mandate a urine test every three months, which I can't afford.

So...long story short, I've been weaning myself off the painkillers. It's awful.

One of the most discouraging things is fatigue that simply can't be answered by rest or sleep. Everything is an effort - eating, drinking, just sitting up. I don't want to do it. It seems like too much.

Emotionally, everything takes on a darker hue. Life becomes grim, and the things that brought joy seem valueless.

And then there are the little things, like a runny nose, and grumbling stomach. I could do without either.

Temporary relief is only as far away as unscrewing a bottle-top. I started the weaning process before I ran out, and know that an extra pill would hurt, but would move me away from the fatigue and the gray outlook.

It would also be a step backwards. And so...no.

The only answer left for the pain is mental fitness. Without the help of medication, it won't be fun or pretty.

But that's life.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dreams of the Younger Me

My life didn't go the way I wanted it to, in a lot of ways. Boo hoo.

Seriously, I recently did catch myself feeling sorry for myself, that the grand plans I had when I was young just never came to fruition. I never did a lot of the cool stuff that I thought I was destined to accomplish.

Then I looked around, and saw 24 sets of eyes watching me. And realized that in lamenting my lost past, I was mentally binning a present in which 24 dogs who would otherwise have been killed are living to show their love.

There's more, I guess - books that would not have been written, et cetera, but I stop with the dogs.

Their options - or lack therof - were real. Life and death, blood and bone.

So, youthful dreams, goodbye.

And good riddance. I'm gonna go throw a stick, and see who gets it first.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Hobbitt

I was a reluctant fan of Lord Of The Rings - reluctant because when I was in high school. LOTR and Dungeons & Dragons were so popular as to be extremely annoying! (I didn't mean to offend by lumping the two - but to me, at the time, they seemed indivisible...I know better now.)

And then my wife and I were given LOTR on VHS. I was hooked from the start. Peter Jackson's vision of the story, and his meticulous execution, were of a standard of technical competence and engaging production that I was simply amazed. We recently got DVDs...and it's so much better!

I was initially expecting something great from The Hobbitt, but was a bit cautioned by the less-than-stellar reviews. I thought I might be disappointed.

No fear. The Hobbitt is better than any of the LOTR films. The characters are more clearly drawn, the conflicts more nuanced, and the arc of the plot is clear and clean. Production values are better, and the occasional obvious blue-screen moments in LOTR are completely missing (at least to me).

But most important - The Hobbitt is different. The tone is less serious, more certain. It knows you're going to have a good time, and doesn't have to impress.

Perhaps this is a lesson for all of us.

We're enough.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Cultural Relativism

Recently a group to which I subscribe on Facebook posted a couple of horrifying pictures. One was of a puppy, killed and roasted for food, and the other was of a frog being served as part of an elegant dinner - alive.

I won't tell you in what countries these occurred. Don't want to be labeled a bigot.

But, you know, these additions to the local cuisine are actually a 'national' thing. We're supposed to respect cultural differences, right?

Everyone's got their own view of the world, right? And we should be okay with that?

Sure. I'm okay with it.

Like hell.

I don't care about their traditions. I don't care about their tastes.

I'd just like five minutes at one of their dinner parties. With a baseball bat.

Or with my bare hands.

Friday, June 7, 2013

New Directions

The last 48 hours have been a bit trying. That translates to, really, really horrible, when I'm not trying to impress people through understatement.

Time to start thinking about building a racing hydroplane, I guess.

It may seem illogical, when health has gone, to look to a future of hot metal, cold water, speed, and no little hazard, but...oh, heck, it IS illogical.

But bear with me. It's kind of a fun mental ride.

The only image I had of these things - flat-bottomed boats that essentially ride on their propellers, with the hull just skimming the water - was of the piston-engined Unlimiteds that ran from the 1950s to the 1990s, when the teams turned to jet engines. They go fast. Like, 200 mph. So would you, if you had 3000 hp strapped to your butt.

They can also fly, which isn't a good thing when you don't want to do it. The front end can go up, and there are some clips on Youtube that show Unlimiteds doing complete loops. Or partial ones - which is worse. Here's one - non-fatal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtY7zWmY-xo

I can't afford a jet engine, don't have a shop big enough for one of these behemoths, and couldn't even afford the trailer for one.

But there are alternatives. Hydros range from little outboards, kind of like seagoing go-karts, to more reasonable inboards with automotive engines.

And then there is the Vintage class - in which one can replicate a boat that no longer exists, and race it.

That's the way to go.


This is a 7-litre design. Should go about 135 mph. It'll fit in the shop, and it's mostly wood.

Should be fun. Oh, how long have I driven fast boats?

About an hour. Why?

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Yesterday was physically one of the hardest days of my life. Wound up in too much pain to more than crawl.

Today is a bit better. At least I'm coherent. I can walk.

The perspective change is pretty big. Lying on the floor while playing with a dog or kid is one thing. Dragging yourself at that level is another.

Last thing - and most important - thanks to those who kept me in the game with FB chat and email. I'd list names but I'm running out of steam here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Musical Haunts

Have you ever been haunted by a tune that you just can't place?

I have. There was one that I could pick out on the piano, and run through my head, and whistle (badly), but I could never identify it. Friends I asked couldn't place it, either, when I played it for them. They found it familiar, too.

I was beginning to think I'd come up with something on my own.

But, no. The mystery's solved. It was a slightly modified version of The Seekers' "A World of Our Own", dating back nearly fifty years. It was hardly a flash in the pan - it received a lot of radio airplay through the early 70s.

'My' version is slightly different - it preserves the melodic structure but changes just enough to make the tune 'familiar but I can't place it'.

So - mystery solved.

Now for another one - what I suspect was a jingle for an ad campaign, though I could have sworn it was a song from the early 70s. It included the lyrics:

Green lights and blue skies,
and miles of open road

Any hints?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


The other day our neighbors left for the weekend in a large trailer, and with several additional vehicles. My wife said they were probably going to Elephant Butte Lake.

Ah, I said...what will they do there?

Stuff you'd find boring, she said. Cooking out and fooling around with jetskis and...sometimes, doing nothing.

I thought about that for a few minutes, and then said that, well, it's fair. The rest of the world would probably find my life boring.

No, she said. They'd find it overwhelming.

I thought a lot about that, and about the old adage that some of our lives are intended as inspirations, and some are intended as cautionary tales.

Mine's a cautionary tale.

Do too much 'stuff', with too much resolve and not enough humor, and you'll one day realize that the joys that your family, friends, and neighbors take to their hearts are alien to you.

If your life is a succession of goals and causes, with the requirement to keep an edge on between 'deployments', you'll miss the stand-downs that are supposed to keep life worth living. You may be physically present at the party, but your soul's off doing another thousand pushups.

Because it may be important one day.

And, in truth, it HAS been important. I've saved lives - including my own.

But joys lost can't be recalled, and the caution is this -

Please, please, find a balance.

I didn't. And it is, now, too late.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Price of Battle

First, please listen to this song...the Seekers' "I'll Never Find Another You"


Pay attention to the lyrics. Especially -

"I could search the whole world over,
until my life is through,
but I know I'll never find another you."

Do you understand?

Every death in war leaves someone, somewhere, desperately looking through their remaining days for someone who is the shadow of the person that was loved - and lost.

If you ever had a relationship end, you know a small piece of this.

But when a heart is ripped from you by bullet or blast or bayonet, there is no closure. There is nothing, but that awful, desperate longing.

We, as citizens and voters, owe it to ourselves, and to all those around us, to be sure that the people we elect are cognizant of this. That they know that beyond the posturing and the rhetoric, there are checks they can write that will be paid in a heartache more terrible than they can ever imagine.

During the Viet Nam war, American lives were spent to take hills...which were then abandoned, to be taken again.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, politicized Rules of Engagement meant that our troops could not return fire, and had to accept casualties.

'Accept casualties'. Easy for a politician to say.

Yes, sometimes war is the only answer to evil. But it should never be used to save a government's face.

Because I'll never find another you.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Faith and Works (or, if it walks like a duck)

What gets you into Heaven - faith or works?

It's one of the most divisive questions in Christianity, and the Bible's not a lot of help. Some passages say faith, some require works, most notably James' epistle (which Martin Luther seems to have really hated).

I don't see what the problem is. If you have faith, you'll do good stuff. Having faith and forgoing good grunt work isn't possible. It's like a car without wheels. Nice to look at, but not too useful.

But what about the other case? What if you're doing lots of good stuff - like, say, Gandhi - but you don't have a lot of Christina faith?

Jesus seems to address that. He says that if you care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, etc., you're really doing it for Him - as you do it for the least of these, you do it for Me.

And if you're doing it for Him, the de facto truth is that, at some level, you believe in Him.

Whether you want to or not.

The point is that Christianity's not an exclusive club, and Jesus didn't want it to be. Jesus threw out a big net, and it doesn't have a lot of holes in it. He wants everyone, and He's arranged the rules to reel them in.

(Yes, I know the 'if you deny Me before men I'll deny you before the Father' stuff - but the point is that if you are doing His work, even if you don't recognize it, you can't be denying Him at the same time. It's like playing golf and then, when asked, saying that you don't recognize the game...you're just out for a walk in the country, and amusing yourself by hitting a ball with a stick, and trying to knock said ball into little holes that you encounter. It doesn't wash.)

Your turn. Fire away, please.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Of Lost Loved Ones

A recent theme on TBN has been 'lost loved ones', meaning, of course, family members who are 'unsaved'.

My cup may runneth over, but my patience for sure boileth over.

Enough is enough. The recent tornado in Oklahoma ought to tell us that a lost loved one is a dead loved one.

I don't know God's mind. Neither do you, and neither do those who would pretend to speak on His behalf.

I can only say what it looks like from this worm's-eye-view. And it looks like this - that God, and only God, decides who is theologically lost, and is not.

And we'd best keep our eyes on our own souls, and on our own consciences.

Certainly, share your experience of Christ. Tell the world what He's done for you! That's the Gospel, that's what the Good News is all about.

But don't, pray, put on your royal vestments and stand in front of the curtain, and dare to tell me what the Presence beyond the curtain is thinking. That's what the Wizard of Oz did.

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Your own salvation. Not mine. And certainly not the salvation of the woman who carried my unborn child, gunned down before my eyes over twenty years ago.

Don't tell me that she's gone to hell because she was unsaved. DON'T. I mean it.

I doubt that I'll change any minds, or any messages that clog our religious airwaves.

But maybe, just maybe, in this darkness - someone is listening.