Friday, March 31, 2006

Blogger’s Block

Blogger’s Block

I think I have the blog version of writer’s block. Every time I try to steer my brain towards something worth writing about, it just shuts down. This is coupled with a general down feeling and a need for a lot of rest. I had a week with three doctor’s appointments. It turns out that even if you take decent care of yourself, you still fall apart over time. Of course, when I was younger, I did not take decent care of myself. But for the past 20 plus years I have been practically squeaky clean.

O.K. It is time to turn my thoughts elsewhere. I closed my eyes and thought back to when I was a little kid (about a half a century ago, really). I had recurrent dreams where I suddenly discovered that by jumping just right I could practically fly. I could take one long floating jump for 25 or 50 feet or more. In the dream I discovered that if I moved just right I could keep floating along. At least once, while I was awake, I remembered the dream so vividly that I became convinced that if I would move just right when I jumped, I would float across the yard. I wasn’t really frustrated when I couldn’t. I was just surprised. It had seemed so real in the dream.

I wonder if there was any relationship to something I used to do a lot when I was a little kid. I would lie in bed with my eyes closed and imagine that the bed was lifting up off the floor. I could rotate it. I could even lift up through the ceiling and hover above our block. I could fly anywhere I wanted. Of course my eyes were closed, so I couldn’t see anything happening. But I could feel the change in my position. I could feel the drop below my bed floating high in the air. I tried this again not so long ago. It still works.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Simple Life

Living Simply versus Simply Living

Although my life is quite stable, and I leave time for relaxing and being with friends, I have recently passed through a week or so that seemed downright frantic. I am busy at work. I still have two kids at home. I am in close contact with my two daughters who live away from home. We have a big house, five cars, and church related activities. I could go on with the list for a while more, but I am sure that there are lots of people out there who would read it and wish their life was that simple.

What does it take to live a high powered life in this millennium? Last Saturday I attended a two day seminar. It was a live telecast to thousands of people. One of the speakers pastors a large church, is president of the denomination, is president of a college he founded, has written 50 books, and has written dozens or more of well known worship songs. This guy is married and has kids and grandkids. My life seems sort of poky and slow in comparison.

However, comparing can be a big trap. How smart am I? How busy am I? How good am I? All of this compared to what or who? How could I ever be a decent judge of any such things? Furthermore, of what use would such a comparison be?

I have always been attracted by the idea of living simply. Apparently this has revived as a sort of fad recently. I see that there are clubs and seminars related to simplifying ones life. I actually believe that I have taken certain measures that are consistent with such a philosophy. Live simply so that others can simply live. I think that is a bumper sticker.

But who wants to simply live? Breathing, digestion, excretion, etc., I don’t think anyone really wants things quite so simple. The second we are born (and probably before) we are in relationship with other folks. For all of eternity God has had a plan and a purpose for our lives. So we will all crank it up quite a few notches above simply living if we have the opportunity.

But what about living simply? I remember my pseudo hippie era. I was in college. All I want, I would say, is a little cabin somewhere. Some books. A stereo and records to play. Some jeans and a tie dyed shirt. A few warm clothes. Sturdy boots. Well, I would want access to medical care. Guess I would need some kind of transportation to get around. I would want to travel some and see the world. Well, movies would be nice. Guess I would need a movie theater (VCR’s and DVD’s didn’t exist back then). Decent food, wine, beer, maybe a few stiff drinks now and then. I wouldn’t want to be alone of course. So at least double everything. Wouldn’t want to give up chocolate or coffee. In fact some nice pastries and a cafĂ© and a newspaper would be good. Running water. Toilet. Shampoo and soap. Glasses or contact lenses. A good sturdy axe. A way to sharpen the good sturdy axe. Some wood. A wood stove. Matches. Pencil and paper. Would want some way to keep up with the news. Some way to contact loved ones. Mail? Phone? I can’t stand it when my toes stick together. So, o.k. footpowder. Guess I’ll need a place to buy all this stuff and money to buy it with. Would need some kind of job or income. O.K. so I would have to live around a bunch of other people that I could work with and buy stuff from. Yeah but we would like all love each other and share. Well not too much sharing. Some people can really be greedy! O.K. we’ll vote on stuff. Power to the people. Except for the bad people. Guess I’ll need some weapons. Ammo. Something to clean the guns with. Oh man, guns and axes are made out of steel. Guess I would have to let someone build a steel mill. I wouldn’t want to live to close to it. I wouldn’t want to work in a stinking steel mill!! Maybe someone else has the ideal of a simple life working in a steel mill. I hope so. I have to at least have the darn axe. Whose going to dig up the iron ore? Not me!

Do you see where I wound up? There is no simple life. I can sometimes make my life simpler. For instance, I seldom watch T.V. I don’t own a boat. I have very intentionally avoided a lot of hobbies: stamp collecting, model building, fly tying, sky diving, and hundreds more. But then again, I love books. I like blogs and blogging. I lift weights. I do travel some. Good grief, I had four kids. How the heck am I supposed to make my life simpler with four kids! I have friends. The friends are often having as many problems as I am, sometimes more. Maybe I should skip some of the friends. But I don’t have all that many friends. Well just a few close friends. I do want to be nice to other folks. Well, actually, I am pretty sure I am supposed to love them. I can’t love everybody, though. Think of the time and complexity involved in really caring about a lot of other people. Everybody I have time for line up to the right. The rest of you, sorry, but I am trying to simplify my life. No love for you.

I need to lay down. Good thing I have a bed. And clean sheets. I love clean sheets. Nice pillows. Down comforter. Some candles. Oh man, I’m almost out of candles.

This is getting complicated. Gotta go. Bye.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Words can suddenly take on a cart load of new meaning.  Transparent is one of those words.   I remember calling things like glass transparent.  Then one year, transparent was a property that I was supposed to have if I were to excel at being a nice guy.  This seemed odd to me because, most of my life, if someone said they could see right through me, it was not a compliment.  My handy on-line dictionary says that transparent can also mean free from pretense or deceit.  If someone can see right through me and finds pretense and deceit, then it is a bad thing.  If they can see that I am free of pretense and deceit, I am transparent, which is good.

This leaves me with a conundrum.  I can be open and honest, but then folks will find out that I am indeed pretentious and deceitful.  Or I can try to cover up that part of myself at the expense of my transparency. I could deceitfully claim to be transparent, but I am afraid that folks would see right through me.

This all begins to be pretty silly.  That is generally what happens if I think too much about how others see me (or see through me).  If I make an effort to be transparent, I invariably fall into pretension and deceit.

More and more I find that actually caring about someone else is the only escape.  I can listen to what they have to say. I can do things for them. I can give things to them.    However, somewhere along the line there comes an important part where I talk about how I am doing.  If I only listen, the other person will soon tire of talking and wonder what the heck I am thinking.  If I only give and never take, others would have no opportunity to show that they care about me.  Love involves giving and receiving.  

God is love.  I want to be more like God.  Jesus is the only human that is also God.  So I want to be more like Jesus.  I ask God to help me be like him.  Am I being clear?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Small Things May Be More Important Than We Realize

Let me give you a real example.  I was practicing my Spanish by writing an e-mail to a Hispanic colleague.  I was attempting to let her know that my mother-in-law was doing well for a woman of 84 years (as it might be phrased in Spanish).  However, my e-mail program won’t easily let me switch to a Spanish alphabet.  So I was going to skip the tilde ( ~ ) that goes over the n in the Spanish word for years.  But before I sent the message, I used a translation program which told me that I had written “My mother-in-law is doing well for a woman who has 84 anuses”.  I decided to change the sentence.

So a tilde is the only thing keeping me from having 55 anuses instead of being 55 years old.  Who would have thought that ~ could be so important?

Now what is true for tildes may be even truer for small things like letting someone know that you care about them.  Come to think of it, caring about others is the one of the few things that will make it much less likely that you’re an anus!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Word Nerd Fun

I don't know if the following is factually accurate, but it sure is fascinating:

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

For Experimental Purposes Only

You May Be A Nerd If

  • You have never taped your ankles, but you have taped your glasses.

  • You laugh when someone says they enjoy art.

  • You can walk through puddles without getting your pants wet.

  • Your socks match your skin.

  • Your laughing and your snorting are indistinguishable

  • You laugh when someone names a body part.  Any body part.

  • You laugh when someone says “body”

  • You write nerd jokes on the internet for fun

  • You read nerd jokes on the internet wishing they were funny

  • You don’t have much cash, but you have a lot of cache

  • You make a pun using the words memory and mammary

Writing jokes is hard work!  I hope I learn to do it someday.

Antiwar Protest 1969

A Tiny Sample of a Vast Crowd

Forrest, Where Were You?

Maybe you have seen the movie Forrest Gump. Forrest was a fictional character who was cleverly inserted into film clips from the 60’s and 70’s. That is also when I grew from a boy in high school into a young man. It was one of the most tumultuous times in America in the 1900’s.

Recently I once again saw the scene where Forrest Gump is invited by Abbie Hoffman (Founder of the Yippies) onto the stage before an anti-war protest of vast proportion. I cannot document the exact protest (if any) that was being portrayed in the movie. However, it bears a striking resemblance to the largest protest that I was personally involved in. The protest took place in the fall of 1969. Preparing for this post has been a great lesson in how tough it is to be accurate about history, even if you were on the scene. There were a series of protests during the late sixties. The biggest ones occurred in the fall of my sophomore year at college. I gradually became more and more involved.

At this point, my memories of that day consist of a sort of collage of individual moments. I remember stepping off the chartered bus that we rode from Pittsburgh, and staring in awe at the vast number of buses that had parked as close as possible to the mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial were the protest was to be held. It seemed a long walk to the mall, and I vividly remember machine gun nests built with sandbags on the entrances to some of the government buildings. The height of the Washington Monument made it an ideal landmark, and I spent most of the day within a few hundred yards of it. I remember being so far back in the crowd that I could hear practically nothing of the speech making that was going on. Nor could I see the stage, other than a brief glimpse of it in the distance when a buddy hoisted me up on his shoulders. During that same moment I clearly remember looking out over the vast crowd (estimated to be at least 250,000 and at most 1,000,000). It filled the mall and stretched out into adjoining streets.

I also clearly remember helicopter gun ships hovering above the edges of the crowd. They were low enough that I could distinctly see the soldiers poised behind the machine guns.

The guns, soldiers, and thousands of police were no surprise. Although that day is noted now for its relative lack of violence, at the time it felt like anything might happen. Earlier protests had sometimes been accompanied by rock and bottle throwing or worse. Police routinely decided it was necessary to use clubs and tear gas to control the crowds. Approximately six months later, at a much smaller protest at Kent State University, national guardsmen fired their weapons towards the crowd as the guardsmen were being pelted with rocks and bottles. Four students died and a number were injured. It was in those same years that race related riots resulted in arson, looting, shootings and massive destruction in many inner city ghettos.

As I look back, it almost seems that the current blue state / red state polarization is a languorous debate or half hearted argument compared to the turbulence of the late sixties.
However, from a global perspective, the violence in the U.S. during the sixties was a mere blip compared to the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia or the horrors of Rwanda and Burundi. Even the tanks at Tiananmen Square were far more violent than what the U.S. experienced.

One of my last memories at the protest site was looking out across the mounds of garbage and the smoldering fires that dotted the mall area near the end of the day. Many started burning trash in an effort to stay warm that chilly day. It was less than six months before the first official “Earth Day”. I was disheartened to see the squalor. It was a raw confrontation with the reality of unintended consequences.

It makes no more sense to long for the protest movements of the sixties than it would to long for the trash and smoldering fires to spring up unbidden in your own front yard. The smallest act of compassion projects more power than thousands of angry, chanting voices. Forgiving a trifling personal offense is more potent that all the vitriol we hurled at “the establishment”. I want to change the world. I no longer want to pretend that I am changing it. I hope to do so by conforming my mind to the mind of Christ. I will do that not in my own strength, but by the grace of God.

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