Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Review of Sorts for The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

This is going to be more a “how I felt about the book,” than a real review, not because there isn't much to talk about or I didn't like it much (I thought it was great and want to buy the trilogy) but because I just don't think I can write much, if anything, about the plot without giving away major spoilers for the first two books.

If you've read my review of the first two books or read the books themselves, you know a major theme is trust. In the third book this theme continues, with Vin and Elend having to learn to trust each other even further in their relationship and how they respond to situations around them. It also deals with the flip-side, how some can develop a sense of trust only to use it for their own goals benefit.

In my last review I'm not sure how much I discussed that there is also a theme of self-sacrifice, especially putting the needs of your followers/people ahead of your own.

The third book develops the theme of sacrifice tenfold. Elend continually questions whether he is being too ruthless, that he is requiring his citizens to give up too much for “the greater good” but he gives up just as much in his own life. He is compelled to use force to relocate citizens to where they will be safer, asks his soldiers to expose themselves to a potentially deadly enemy they cannot fight (but allows those who wish to go the freedom to do so), and fears he is becoming like his ruthless father or even the emperor he helped to overthrow.

There is also a strong theme of servant leadership, with Vin, Elend, and Sazed (and other characters as well) putting aside the selves they are most comfortable being, what perhaps they even view as their “true selves,” to be instead the people those they serve need them to be because of their potential and the abilities they possess. This theme hit somewhat close to home with me, there are some jobs/volunteer opportunities I know I would excel at, in which I know I could do great good, but I shy away from those things because I know they would hurt me (emotionally) and they scare me (I'm scared I may break). The three individuals previously mentioned give their all for others, for those they know and those they don't. They know themselves well enough to know recognize their talents and, though it costs them tremendously to use those talents, they do so for the sake of others. And perhaps, as Christians or even simply human beings who feel called to give the best of ourselves for the benefit of humanity, the way we can most deeply fulfill our purpose is to seek opportunities in which we can most fully use our gifts...even if it will eventually use us up. I suppose the comfort in being a Christian is that, if or when we break, God can put us back together and, even if this world uses us up, we will be restored and made new in another realm.

Yet another theme is hope. How people can come to depend on you when you are the hopeful one when their own hope is lacking. How it is easier to face trials when there is a hope to hold onto and how it can give you strength.

As you can tell, though these books are fantasy, they are deep enough to cause one to think and wonder. The characters continue to grow throughout the trilogy, in themselves and in relation to each other. I highly recommend them and venture to say that those normally not particularly fond of the fantasy genre may find enough depth and character development to reconcile you to this fantastical realm.

A word of caution to all readers: Sanderson isn't scared to kill off important characters, so if that is a deal-breaker, consider yourself warned. Some authors kill characters off in such a way that you feel cheated and empty but Sanderson does it in a way as to leave you somber and thoughtful.  

For those interested, here is my review of the first two books in the trilogy...also, it's a little more of an actual review. :) http://almostignoramus.blogspot.com/2013/10/book-review-for-mistborn-and-well-of.html

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Little Tangent About That Grocery Item You Always Forget You Already Have

I don't think I'm the only one that does this. I know at least one of my aunts told me she does (though her often bought item is sauerkraut). You go to the grocery store and get things you think you need and, even if you have a list, you pass by that one thing and think, “I'm not sure I have any of that, I think I may need it,” only to get home and discover you already have not one but multiple boxes/cans/etc. waiting for you.

For me that item is refried beans. I have not one but four cans of refried beans and, on the rare occasion I use them, one can can get me through two or three meals. Refried beans are about the least versatile food there is, it's basically have them in a tortilla, on a tortilla, or with tortilla chips.

Why can't my item be something like chicken? You can fix chicken a million different ways. You can invite friends over for chicken and not have your living room be filled with noxious odors if your friends stick around.

Or bacon? If it was bacon I could be one of the manliest men around. “You guys want to come over later to watch the game? Instead of chips and dip I'm serving bacon and dip. I even made some cups...out of bacon.”

I would probably have a troupe of man's best friend just waiting outside my door, because, well, one man can only eat so much bacon before he starts to share. Just think of all those wagging tails that could be waiting for me.

But no, my item is refried beans, so I shall sit here all alone and contemplate how much methane I can produce as compared with cows. And hey, I think the beans have lard in them, which is kind of related to bacon. Also, according to that wise old rhyme, they're good for your heart.

*Note: I actually went to my parents house tonight and fried a bunch of fish and had a lot of other stuff, too, so I'm not really sitting all alone with a can of beans...though I may be some time in the future. I also never watch “the game,” I'm just not that interested in any of them.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Brief Detour Into Frivolity: A List of Some of My Current Favorite Celebrities

Apart from a long-time crush on Natalie Portman (mainly based on roles from two of her movies) and an off and on crush on Rachel McAdams, I have never really followed or been interested in celebrities and watching their interviews. Even for the previous two, I have very rarely watched interviews with them but recently there have been a few celebrities whose interviews I search out and enjoy watching and even enjoy learning some about their lives. So here is my celebrity favorites list and what I would like to do with each of them (spoiler alert, it's not anything dirty), in no particular order.

  1. Jennifer Lawrence. I think this girl is one of the funniest, most ridiculous, and adorable actresses out there right now. I've heard she can curse like a sailor, so I know I wouldn't like that aspect of her, but I would like to find a really really bad/corny movie and watch it in a living-room group setting with her (with her providing plenty of narration of course). I love watching her interviews and enjoy her acting but I can't decide whether I would greatly enjoy hanging out with her or if she would drive me crazy. I think we would get along great in small doses. She would probably only tolerate me if she got my dry humor, otherwise I would be too bland.
  2. Emma Watson. I admire this woman, for the character she got to play in Harry Potter and the woman she is today. I would love to get coffee with her to talk about books, current world events, and her work with the UN. I think she is smart, charming, and lovely. The thing I think I would be most nervous of is appearing a little ignorant.
  3. Emma Stone. I think she is one of the most adorable and charming girls around. I would love to spend the day with her and Andrew Garfield (her boyfriend or past boyfriend) hiking or kayaking. I think they are cute together and genuinely think I would get along with both of them, especially if they were together.
  4. Logan Lerman. He just seems like a sweet, likeable kid. I thought he was perfect in Perks of Being a Wallflower and I'm looking forward to seeing him in Fury. I think he, Andrew Garfield and I share similar personalities and think they may be oddball enough for me to get along with well.
  5. And lastly, Taylor Swift. At certain times (especially when she does not have a lot of makeup on) I have thought she was quite beautiful but, and I know may seem odd, I never really developed a crush on her until I saw the video for Shake It Off. I love that even with all her fame, she doesn't take herself too seriously and isn't afraid to be a little dorky (which is one of the things I like about Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence as well). I also love that she is getting attention for being so supportive of some of her female friends. Speaking of her female friends, I think it would fun to make dinner with a couple of them and Taylor and then watch a movie. In high school and college I used to sometime be a part of “girl nights” and I think Taylor would be someone fun to experience this with. P.S. One day one of my sisters and I were talking about Taylor Swift and out of nowhere she said, “Your not allowed to date her.” So even if I ever got the chance, I guess I'd have to let it pass by. :)

A couple things I think all of these people have in common is that they are all sweet and intelligent people.

I know fame has a lot of advantages (and I believe some of the above people are using those advantages to help humanity), a lot of perks but I also know I probably would not handle fame well. I am a very passive and laid-back person but if paparazzi was getting in my face and especially in the face of someone I care about, I may have a hard time not throwing a punch or uttering a few threats. I know celebrity houses/estates are often very excessive but I can somewhat understand why so many indulge in that excessiveness. Those compounds are a refuge to attempt to keep prying eyes and listening ears at arms length. I think I would have to take the Johnny Depp approach and live in a place where not many people care about my fame.

I feel like I should say that if I were to make a list of favorite actors, as far as how well I like their acting, it would be a little different. Note: some of these people I do not like in “real life” I merely think they act well and typically chose good parts.

In no particular order:

  1. Dakota Fanning. I've thought this girl was an amazing actress since she was tiny (in I Am Sam and Man on Fire)
  2. Denzel Washington (good guy, bad guy, good guy who's ruthless, he can do them all)
  3. Tom Hanks (I may have thought Castaway was boring, but he still did an amazing job)
  4. Ashley Judd (she's so strong, I love her in Kiss the Girls)
  5. Morgan Freeman
  6. Will Smith (well, minus that After Earth or whatever one he recently did with his son)
  7. Tom Cruise
  8. Jennifer Lawrence (she made it onto both of my lists)
  9. Leonardo Dicaprio (there may be a lot of his movies I don't really like, but he does a an excellent job)
  10. Natalie Portman (if you think she always plays the same cute/adorable character then watch The Other Boleyn Girl, actually don't, it's a sad, twisted movie that makes you hate Ms. Portman)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Life and the Significance of Creating Earth

In my last post I spoke of our life on earth and how its significance pales when compared with the life that is to come and, in a way it does, but it may also be that our brief time here might be the most important part. Just think, something about our experiences here are so significant and worthwhile that God was willing to risk our eternal soul in order for us to have these earthly experiences.

He could have (and did in the form of angels and other heavenly beings) simply made us purely spiritual beings, could have skipped earth and just had us in Heaven (that's not to say that we couldn't have still rebelled, obviously some of the angels did, but I think our rebellion would have been less likely and maybe the angels rebellion as well). But he created earth and, though he may not have originally created it with death, decay, and temporariness, he knew it would become such. He knew that our bodies would break down, knew they were fallible, and the world we live in breakable but he was willing to risk it, risk us because there is something here which we can gain.

I won't pretend to know what that gain is, but I will attempt to guess. First, maybe it was just so the God-head could enact the ultimate display of love through the life and death of the Son on earth. If the world had never been created, if the eternal Heaven was all there ever was, God could tell his creatures “this is how much I love you, I would become temporal, fallible, breakable, 'temptable.' I would be broken for you, allow you to tear my heart to pieces, and then offer to save you. I would be a sacrifice for your sake” and it would be no less true than it is now, but in acting that out on this little ole earth I think it changed something about reality, about how heavenly creatures view the God they worship and creates a relationship for us to God that otherwise would be impossible (and I'm not just talking about how that Gesture solved our fallenness).

A life here on earth also perhaps allows us to appreciate certain aspects of God which we would not find as awe-inspiring had we not experienced decay, fallenness, the breaking down of all around us, and pain. Perhaps through our seeing so much imperfection, we will better be able to see perfection.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

God's Preparation For Work Here or for Life in Heaven

A few months ago someone in our church said something like, “I'm starting to wonder what God is preparing me for, I'm getting old.” Meaning that they don't feel they have accomplished a specific great work for God and they don't foresee that great work in their future.

Well, I think sometimes God does have a particular “great work” he is preparing us for, that he uses all other happenings in our life to prepare us for and causes all things to work together in such a way that we are “at the right place, at the right time” and have been prepared perfectly for just that situation, to accomplish that specific grand work.

But sometimes I think God “just” uses this life to prepare us for our life in Heaven, that in some lives there are no “great works” but just little, simple ones (in man's terms) that still have eternal significance, that still echo beyond time. And I think such a life is more than okay, for this life pales in significance, is a “mere breath” when compared to the Life that is to come. So all our preparation, even if it accomplishes nothing of grand significance while we are here, is no less important, indeed is even more important, than a preparation which prepares us for anything here, no matter how grand.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Triumphal Procession

We, as Christians, are like those being lead in a triumphal procession as the ones who were defeated, who should be hanging our heads, only to discover that through our surrender and defeat, we have been granted a freedom that is far beyond what we had before; a victory greater than any defeat we endured. 

As we progress in our procession our clothes slowly change. The old cord about our waist becomes a Belt of Truth, the rags draped around our shoulders become a Breastplate of Righteousness, our tired feet feel as if they have wings of Readiness, on one hand our manacle becomes a Shield of Faith, and the other turns into the Sword of the Spirit, our bowed head momentarily falls a little lower with the added weight, but then we realize our shame has been replaced with the Helmet of Salvation. We look around us in wonder to discover that we, the conquered, the broken have become the Conquerors and, instead of being sentenced to a life of crushing slavery, we have been elected Ambassadors of our Conquering King. With this armor thus in place we must remember that we do not fight our fellow man, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” As well as all our other clothing and armor, we must remember to also clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” 

Those once corrupted with Darkness become a Shining Light to the world and through all our attire aforementioned we reflect the Glory of our King.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why an Eternal Worship Service Wouldn't Be Too Bad

Some people don't necessarily want to go to Heaven because they think it is going to be an eternal worship service with everyone saying “Holy, Holy, Holy” over and over and over again and then over again and again. Personally, I think there's going to be more to it than that. But, if there's not, I do not think that worship will ever grow boring and here is why.

I believe every beautiful thing you have ever seen, every majestic sight, everything truly wonderful thing you have experienced is merely a small manifestation of God for he has revealed a portion of himself in those things. Take the all of creation, all of its complexity, its beauty and its wonder, they are but echoes of what make up God. This is the Being upon whom you will be looking. To forever look at his face is to forever see new and different aspects of beauty, of power, of glory. We will not be singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” in English or any other earthly language, but rather learn the “real word,” that sound which most truly expresses the sentiment of “HOLY” and, knowing that word and gazing at God we shall say “Holy” over and over again because each moment gazing at Him is a moment in which we are better learning how perfectly that word fits Him. We will roll the word around in our mouth as if savoring a good wine, thinking, “this is what Holy means and who it is truly referring to.” We will say “Holy,” “Perfect,” “Pure,” Majestic,” “Merciful,” and so many other words because as we learn those True words we will see them personified before our eyes and will not be able to help but say them. God is the seemingly ever changing and truly unchanging God, he will forever seem to be new and changing because of his vastness, his splendor, and majesty.

If we “have to" forever stand, kneel, and fall before God, I do not think our spirits will mind, for that is what they were created to do, to worship God while in his presence, gazing upon his beautiful and loving face.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Open Letter To Hermione Granger-Weasley Concerning Emma Watson

Dear Hermione,

Forgive me for using your first name but I am unsure as to whether you adopted the Weasley name, kept your own, or if you and Ronald hyphenated both of your names.

I am unsure of how much you stay current regarding Muggle news but, because both of your parents are Muggles, I believe it is safe to assume you follow it somewhat closely. Because of this I also assume you have heard the recent news regarding Miss Emma Watson and that she has become a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN.

I am unsure how how influenced she was by portraying you for all of those years in the Harry Potter films. I know her intelligence, passion, and her sense of independence are her own but how perfect that even after that role has been completed, even as she grows and becomes her own person, that she would become someone whom I think you would be proud of.

How wonderful it is that Ms. Watson was able to fill a role of someone who felt deeply about fairness and equality, as you fought for for the House Elves, would grow up into someone who is still fighting for fairness and equality. You must be proud of her declaration of striving for gender equality, of her being a “freedom fighter,” of sorts, just as you were.

I have now listened twice to her speech given at the UN and can say I agree with, if not every word, than close to every one. Despite this I will not label myself a “Feminist.” A part of this is because of what she said, it has become an uncomfortable word, but also because though I agree with her, there are some Feminists that I merely get frustrated with. It seems some argue not for equality but for being treated just the same, that all women should be treated exactly as men are stereotypically treated. But I believe not all women want that, nor do all men. Yes, I believe they, men and women, should be treated fairly and justly but, as Ms. Watson said, there is a spectrum.

According to Myers-Briggs personality type tests I am an INFP and supposedly only 4% of United States are this personality type. Among males it is even more rare. In college I majored in Psychology and, in my classes, as my teachers talked about typical thought patterns for men and women, I more often identified with those assigned to women. Since then, this has typically been a recurring trend.

I am a heterosexual male, strongly attracted to the opposite sex. But I have no desire for power, have little ambition to lead, do not care for promotion, I am horrible at math but love art and writing, and am not motivated by money. I have a strong dislike of sports, a part of this is because I am so non-competitive and confrontational that I get frustrated with those who are very competitive. In other words, I do not posses many of the attributes associated with being a “manly man.” I feel compelled to say I have fought Missouri wildfires with little fear, have been a part of building houses and cabins, and, if someone helpless is hurt then I can get angry and passionate against those who hurt them. I know it's silly and a part of what Emma and HeforShe is fighting against, but I feel like I needed to share those things so people will know I am not a “sissy.”

I have been blessed, though I have grown up and continue to be a part of a Christian sect that is very traditional and conservative, to be supported for who I am. I have accepted I am who I am and am comfortable in my own skin. That I am nurturing, that I feel deeply, that I desire to serve instead of lead. My parents have supported me as I first thought I wanted to be an elementary teacher and then decided I believe my calling is to be a Youth Services Librarian. They understand and accept that I would turn down more money, a position with more potential for promotions, in favor of a somewhat low-paying job in which I will be happy and will feel I am making a positive difference.

Sorry to go on a tangent, but I say all that to illustrate that we are all different. Yes, I stand behind and support the Feminist cause of equality. I think it is stupidity to not pay two individuals doing the same work, the same pay. I believe women have the same potential for greatness and excellence as men. I know that many women are smarter than I, that they can make better engineers, architects, and rocket scientists than I could ever be. Some of the best, calmest, most level headed, strongest leaders I have served under were women. So, yes, I believe we are equal but I still maintain we are different, we are all different. I am glad Ms. Watson is promoting this along with her call for equality and that she realizes that is not a war of man against women but rather a war for humanity to feel, to be strong, to be gentle, to be brave, to strive and be the best you can be whether man or woman and give the support and tools for others to do the same.

Thank you for your service to humanity.


Jared White  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Illusional Romance of “We Were Destined to Be”

It seems our society strives to make us think that which is most romantic is when destiny crashes two people together, they were fated to be together, they didn't really have a choice, they were “meant to be.” I understand the perceived romance of such a forceful love, I even understand not being able to help but “love” someone ...but isn't there something even more romantic about “I choose you, out of all others, I choose to love you” instead of, “I can't help but love you. The universe aligned in such a way that it just had to be,” or, “You're so attractive I just couldn't help myself.” The first is a matter of the head and the heart, working together to continue to reinforce love, of getting to know your lover's brain as well as body, of getting to know more than just their smell, taste, and touch.

Society tells us love should be effortless, you shouldn't have to work at it, that it will “just happen” and keep happening. But in all other areas of our life don't we learn and experience that often the best and most enduring things come through hard work? Don't we most value those things which were gained by hard work or treasure certain things because they were given to us as a gift made possible by someone else working hard? Why should one of the most important things in our lives be effortless? Why should one of our most important relationships not take work? Again, isn't it more romantic for someone to “work” at loving you, to nurture and care for your relationship, to better themselves for your sake, to make themselves more lovable, not because you ask them to but because they love you enough to try? Isn't this more romantic than, “I love you because it's easy”?

I believe I would someday rather hear, “I choose you, I know I will not die without you, but I know you will enrich my life. Yes, I am in love with you but I can help myself. I choose to not only love you now, when it is easy, but to also work at loving you, even when it's tough.” I know passion is important and I want to be in love, but do you really want to be with someone because their body demands it? Because they “can't help themselves”? If that is really the case, then what happens when someone else comes along with which their body chemistry is even more finely attuned? Will they be able to help themselves then? What happens when the planets seemingly perfectly align and they know fate wishes them to be with this other person?

Just some thoughts for all to ponder

P.S. I am really a hopeless romantic. I love romantic comedies and an occasional love story. I was in love with one of my best friends for years, a part of this was for her own sake but I also can't help wondering if a part of it was because it would have been so “perfect” for us to fall in love, it would have been so romantic for us to have gotten married. A part of me romanticizes about meeting someone and “just knowing they're the one” but I also know I will be able to choose whether or not to have a deeper love with someone or simply an attraction borne of seemingly perfect circumstances, an adorable smile, shining eyes, and pheromones that call to me in the breeze.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Continued Uniqueness While Forever Becoming More and More Like the Father

I think in Heaven we will continue our journey to become more like the Father, we will have an eternity to work on it, so maybe “someday” we'll get pretty close. So, does this mean eventually there will be a bunch of identical creatures occupying Heaven? If so, then what was the point of our experience while on earth, of giving us each unique DNA, of creating us with different strengths and different weaknesses, of allowing us to experience different joys and different sorrows? If he wanted sameness, I think he would have bypassed earth and just created us ready-made, purely spiritual beings.

Rather than becoming more and more the same, I think that though some aspects of us will do that, we will actually become more different and unique. Because though we may all be becoming more and more like our Father, our Father is so complex, so “huge” a being that we will never become “large” enough to encompass this vastness. Our experiences, our DNA, our uniqueness puts us more in tune with some particular aspect of God which we better understand than any other being and through eternity we will better come to personify that aspect, and in so doing become more unique and different than the beings around us who are better learning to personify some other aspect of God.

A part of why I think this way is the image of us, as a whole, as the Body of Christ. Each of us are a part. I am the left earlobe, you are the right eyelid. Given eternity I will never be the whole body, you will always be a part of me as I am a part of you. We will grow, we will change, I into a better earlobe and you into a better eyelid. Together, all together, we will come to look more like Christ and our Father. We will continue to learn to function as one, to share what we experience of heaven and God but I think we will forever remain different parts.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

God's Justified Egocentrism and How it is a Manifestation of His Love

Think back on your life, to when you were small. When you weren't being selfish, you wanted to share with those you cared about. If you were eating something good, you wanted to share it with your mom. If you were watching your favorite cartoon, you wanted your dad to watch it too. You wanted to share that flower you found, that rock, that bugger out of your nose. Because sharing something you thought was wonderful is what you did with those you loved. As you got older this trend continued. You shared your favorite music with your friends, your favorite shows, your special spot, your favorite game. When you had a significant other, if you experienced something wonderful, discovered something beautiful, you likely wanted to share it with that person. You wanted to share the beauty of the sunset, the wonder of the stars, the vastness of the Grand Canyon or the delight of New York. 

We wish to share the best things with those we love. We wish for them to feel the joy, happiness, bliss, and delight that we experienced when we encountered those special things. Now think of God, he is the Being from which all of those truly wonderful things you want to share streamed from, they flowed out of him and had their origin in his nature. He's the best thing around, the most beautiful, the most perfect, the most wonderful and oh so many other things. So, because he loves us, he seeks to share himself, he seeks to show himself to us, he desires to bring us into Heaven so we can look upon his face. Everything we have delighted in sharing with those we love are derived from him. Yes, he may be egocentric, but it's because it is really all about him, revolves around him, streams from him, comes back to him. He asks us to look at him not because he is selfish or vain but rather because he loves us and he knows that, truly, there is nothing else we would rather see, nothing else we could delight in more, he shares himself with us because that is the best he has to offer and it is far better than anything we ever attempted to share with those we love...except perhaps seeking to share him as he has shared himself with us.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Some memories of AmeriCorps and very stormy nights

I'm driving, driving, the sky is dark with clouds, lit with lightening, and the night is alive with memories, remembering another dark and stormy night.

Imagine driving down the interstate, it being raised on a slight embankment, and instead of seeing earth all around, covered with crops as it would normally be, there is only water, with here and there the tops of trees or lonely buildings poking above it.

We were told of another emergency shelter that we could stay in that night, only, as we get near to where our exit is, there's still water on both sides of the road, and as far as we can tell the whole town is under water. So we drive on into the gathering night, yet another storm comes, blessing the earth with water it does not need. Lightening flashes and all we can see around us is water, water everywhere. A few times as we've been traveling, there have been places where water has made it up to the embankment upon which the interstate is built and we slowly, cautiously creep across it (thankfully oftentimes there is a car in front of us so we can see that you are able to cross safely). The lightening flashes yet again and to left, over the fields of water, it appears a funnel cloud is forming. Thankfully it doesn't touch down, but it spooked us even more in an already stressful situation.

I think this is the night we decide to stay at a hotel, somewhere on higher ground, where we feel safe from the lurking horrors of the night.

Another day, another drive. We are making a delivery of blankets for the Red Cross over the Illinois border. The National Guard is in the process of rescuing and evacuating a flooded town and as it has been most days for a few weeks, it is rainy.

We drive around “Road Closed” signs and, again, drive over some small rivers of water. At one point our road is circling around a large hill and when we look down in the valley, where you would normally see cows or horses grazing, we see not one but two large barges towing other barges, lazily chugging around the valley in order to escape the raging Mississippi which refuses to stay in its banks.

Another night, another storm. We are sleeping in the tiny town hall of a tiny town. The building serves as post office, school, community center, as well as town hall.

We are awakened from sleep because the National Guard, whom we have been helping to build a wall around the the town, is pulling out because the sky is falling again and they think this is a losing battle. While we have rested the Guards we have worked with have been replaced with others, who did not know our vehicles have been left on higher ground and that we need a ride. New orders are issued, new logistics figured out and, after saying a few hurried goodbyes to the townspeople who still refuse to leave, we climb aboard to sit in back of a military transport which is designed to hold 30 instead of I and my 2 companions (our leader is up front guiding the Guard to the small church where we parked, where we hope the water hasn't reached).

The canvas in back is left open and, because these vehicles are so big, they not only go on roads which have a few shallow rivers flowing over them, but plow over roads that are completely submerged. So our view from the back is sometimes more eerie than ever, the whole world is made of water, even that upon which we travel, with here and there a tree or the top of a building poking up.

In 2010-2011 I was a part of the Americorps Saint Louis Emergency Response Team and I and 3 others where a part of responding to the Southern Missouri Floods where we help the National Guard fill sandbags, helped the Red Cross however they needed us, and assisted a town in coordinating their volunteer efforts. It was a surreal time but I met some amazing people and worked with some amazing people.

Oh, and the residents who refused to leave where able to keep their town hall from flooding. The Guard had built a wall around the entire town, but the water breached it. But, their hall was the heart of the town and in their saving it the residents saved their hearts and many of them returned after the waters had receded (though, depending on who you talk to, that may or may not have been unwise).  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Conqueror of Monsters

The idea of this first began when I saw the picture you will see if you follow the link at the bottom of the post. Well, I suppose it goes back further to when I did a storytime at the library about “friendly monsters” but the picture brought the idea above my subconscious. The picture then caused me to think of Frankenstein's monster and how he became a creature of terror, for he didn't begin that way. Then, after the idea was underway, someone called MicroSFF who I follow on Twitter had this post:

"Are you a monster hunter?"
I look up from honing my spear and nod.
"You kill them?"
How to explain not all monsters are bad? "Yeah," I say.

After that, I decided I should take the idea and run with it. Maybe someday I will turn it into an actual story and not simply what it currently is. Without further ado:

They call me the Conqueror of Monsters, they think I break their wills, subdue them to my wishes but really all I do is talk and, more importantly, listen. I speak softly, calmly, and bring gifts. Nothing fancy, just things I know the “monsters” need. Yeah, the villagers bring “sacrifices” but they often run the other way screaming after they drop the present off. Not exactly an endearing behavior.

I first go amongst the villagers without letting them know who I really am, as if I'm just passing through and I begin to silently recruit. Though all I recruit are brave, they may not be whom you would expect. I get the soft spoken ones, the ones who when they were a child mended broken wings and the broken souls of those who others had given up on long ago. I get the ones who don't shy away from the pain and suffering of those around them but instead steadfastly attend the wounds that are both inside and out.

The idea of sending virgins has some merit behind it for, ideally, a virgin still possesses innocence and with innocence there is sometimes a willingness to love and care despite outward appearances. But, most of the time the villagers expect the virgin to be eaten and they beat this idea into the poor girl's head so she screams and screams into the monster's face until monster is reminded of all the reasons why they hate humanity...so they often end up killing her or leaving her for other beasts to happen upon. It is a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. Every once in awhile their innocence wins over their misguided ignorance which the villagers have put in place and when the “monster” comes slowly and cautiously towards her she realizes that perhaps it doesn't want to harm her and she succeeds in taming the “monster” and, thus, the idea of offering of a virgin is reinforced. Or sometimes the monster is so disgusted by the screaming child and the idea which put them there that they move on. But again, often the wolves or bears eat the poor thing so the villagers think it was the virgin that appeased the beast and made it go away.

This type of success is actually what started me along my present tract (the taming, not the leaving). I used to be the typical old-fashioned monster killer and was quite good at it, traveled far and wide, but in my travels I began hearing of these tamings. So I started interviewing the successful virgins and was surprised when the first few asked if I also wanted to interview the monsters as well.

I began to find out that there was something all of these monsters had in common, they had all been desperately lonely and their deepest longing wasn't for blood or pillage but for companionship. They had become monsters because throughout their lives they had been repeatedly spurred and rejected by humanity. When they were young they would often try and save humans from drowning or wolves or some other predicament but instead of thanks they saw fear and sometimes disgust.

I'm sure you remember the story, how Frankenstein's monster saved the little girl, when she realized what had saved her, she just screamed and screamed; then Frankenstein's monster realized just how alone he was, how despised he was, so he began to despise.

Basically the thing all monsters have in common is that they are truly unique, either one of a king begotten of mad scientists or mislead magicians or, as in the case of the dragons, endangered species. Most of the time they are very aware of their appearances, perceive themselves as scary, so they are shy and keep to the shadows. Well, though I can say truthfully that some are quite beautiful once you get to know them, they are often quite intimidating and impressive so when most people happen to notice them “lurking in the shadows” they're quite startled which leads to fear, which reinforces the monsters whole idea about themselves.
So over time the monsters, in their loneliness and rejection, become bitter and finally hateful. In other words, they become a monster, they didn't start out as one.

Can you guess why I recruit the villagers I do? Because how I deal with monsters, how I defeat them, is to become their friend and then help some of the villagers to do likewise.

Yeah, it's more tedious and time-consuming than chopping their head off but it's more challenging and I never really liked killing anyway.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Book review for Pleasant Valley by Louis Bromfield

Book Review for Pleasant Valley by Louis Bromfield

Copyright 1945. Why, you may ask, am I reviewing a book from 1945? Because I think it may be more relevant now than when it was written.

I found this book in the gardening section of a very small country library because it is classified as a “farming memoir” and it is, but it is much more. It's about economics, architecture, the stability of France (at least up until the book was written), dogs, oddballs, self-sufficiency, sustainability, conservation, politics, dangers of raising the federal minimum wage, causes of poverty and its perpetuation, maple sugar, a love of nature, and, oh yeah, farming.

The reason I say it's as relevant today as when it was written or even more so, is because though we have made our farming practices more advanced, we are still “strip mining” most of the land which is being farmed and in many areas not much is being done to actively restore land which has been exhausted in the past. If Mr. Bromfield could catch a glimpse into today, at our wildfires in the West and the flooding in the Mid-West while at the same time having an alarmingly decreasing water-table, he would be very tempted to say, “I warned you, I told you so, and told you how to fix it.” Admittedly, he does share that the methods used on his farm may not succeed as well in other places because the glacial soil his farm is located above gives some advantages in soil restoration.

I think it is relevant because there was a start of a “food revolution” during the writing of Pleasant Valley which then largely died off but, I think, is having a recurrence in present day. Sadly, the government was, in part, behind the last one. They were the ones who were leading the way towards better land practices, they wisely sought to spread conservation and good land stewardship through example (in the form of “pilot farms” and land areas) and helping promote a largely self-supported organization called Friends of the Land, made up of concerned citizens who recognized our land as one of Americans greatest assets. I say sadly because, currently, I think such government support is lacking or at least I have not heard much of it.

Pleasant Valley is about being connected to the land and realizing every citizen, whether on a tractor or in a sky-rise, is tied to the fate of the land. That what the farmer does and, really, every landowner does effects not just them but the country as a whole. The health of the land, the health of our farms and the animals and fruits grown there are linked to our health, our intelligence, our sense of security, our future and when our land is poor, it perpetuates poverty because our health, the development of our intelligence, our sense of security, and our hope for the future suffers.

The overarching theme of Pleasant Valley is that our land is our most valuable asset as a country and having as many citizens as possible to own a little piece of land which they can care for and nurture and, in turn, be nurtured by it is the best way to have a strong and stable democracy. This is because these people, in being tied to the land, have a stake in our country and its well-being and in having the security that land can offer (in terms of producing much of what that person actually needs, if times get tough), they are free to vote for the best government, they are more free to vote because they are not dependent on a certain type of government and their hand-outs.

The above idea kind of goes back to my post about people “putting down roots” versus having a renter mentality in relation to the community in which they live. The same idea applies, if someone is tied to a piece of land, is clearly shown that their security is bound to that piece of land and the health of it (and they are taught how to care for it), then they will better treasure it. Bromfield says this is how France survived multiple invasions and revolutions, though citizens lost jobs, though their currency and economy were affected and disrupted, many countrymen had small farms that their families had cared for and cherished, so they tightened their belts a little and were still able to independently survive without putting much of a stress on a already overtaxed, unstable government.

Another prevailing theme which Bromfield shares is to work with nature instead of against her, to learn from her methods in soil restoration and merely speed them up by the help you, as a farmer, contribute. To plant in such a way that you help the land as it provides for you, to design your farm so as to harvest water and hold onto it, rather than letting it all run away with your topsoil. To organize your fields, orchards, and vegetable garden so nature helps to pollinate, control pests, and encourage game.

As I was telling my mother about this book she shared that she remembers some family friends when she was growing up that had an orchard and, beside the orchard, they grew a variety of berries for the birds. The family did not really harvest the berries, but left them for the birds and the birds, in turn, did most of the pest control in the orchard. This is the type of thing Bromfield advocates.

This is a book that I would like to own so I could underline and look back through. Not only to better know how to care for the land I will hopefully someday own but also so I can live a better, more “simple,” fuller life.

Now for some quotes:

(from page 10)
The permanence, the continuity of France was not born of weariness and economic defeat, but was a living thing, anchored to the soil, to the very earth itself. Any French peasant, any French workingman with his little plot of ground and his modest home and wages, which by American standards were small, had more permanence, more solidity, more security, than the American workingman or white-collar worker who received, according to French standards, fabulous wages, who rented the home he lived in and was perpetually in debt for his car, his radio, his washing machine.

Sitting there it occurred to me that the high standard of living in America was an illusion based upon credit and the installment plan, which threw a man and his family into the street and on public relief the moment his factory closed and he lost his job. It seemed to me that real continuity, real love of one's country, real permanence had to do with not with mechanical inventions and high wages but with the earth and man's love of the soil upon which he lived.

Some wisdom shared by Bromfield's neighbor:

(from page 144)
He looked down at his big hands and noticed, as I did, that some of the black damp loam of the fence row still clung to them. He brushed them awkwardly together. “I was just digging into the fence row to see what was going on there underground. A fellow can learn a lot by watching his own land and what go on in it and on it...Nellie always said a farm could teach you more than you could teach it if you just kept your eyes open...Nellie...that was my wife”
“Of course,” I said, “I remember.”

Before I share the next one, I should share, Bromfield was not in the “middle class,” he was a bestselling author, wrote scripts for Hollywood, etc.

(from 132)
The middle class is the backbone of democracy – in fact democracy cannot exist without a flourishing middle class. Perhaps the simplest definition of the middle class is that of a group of citizens who own something, who have some stake in individuality, in freedom, in good government, in the protection of civil rights and in the nation as a whole. Democracy is essentially a giant co-operative in which all the citizens have a stake...A man with a stake in the nation is independent. He resists being pushed about and regimented. A man without economic security, dependent upon the state to care for him whether it be to provide jobs or to pay him a dole when he is out of a job, is helpless. He can only continue to vote for the kind of government which provides him with a roof over his head, a miserable wage and food for the mouths of himself and his children. For him there is no security and no other way out.

(from 314)

We have set about to turn the wheel of fertility moving forward again...What we have been doing has been a relatively simple thing. We have sought merely to build as Nature builds, to plant and sow and reap as Nature meant us to do; we have sought to rebuild the earth as Nature built it in the beginning. With man's ingenuity we have been able to do it more rapidly than Nature herself, but only because we worked with the law and within the idiom of Nature. Man has never been able to impose his own law upon Nature nor to alter her laws, but he can, by working with her, accomplish much...

(from 316)

Each farm is a tiny world in itself, with each day its small play of tragedy, of comedy, of farce. Each day is in itself a cycle of the history of the earth.

(from 318)

For the children the rewards have been greater possibly then for the adults. There has been health and good food and fields and woods to roam over, animals to care for ,streams to fish and swim in, and all those contacts with air and earth and water which make for wisdom and understanding and judgment and for those resources later in life which are indestructible and far beyond either fame or riches in the long and trying span of life. They have learned, I think too, the great importance and solace of work, not the aimless, monotonous work of riveting and fitting together nuts and bolts, but of work which creates something, work which is richly its own reward, within the natural scheme of man's existence – the kind of work which contributes to the progress and welfare of mankind and the plenty of the earth upon which he lives.

There are other portions I would like to share, but some of them are pages long, so I will just once again encourage you to read the book.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Product of an Overactive Imagination: Mother Nature is Sentient

The reason we haven't realized it is she is not some wise old Mother, she's like the 3-year-old who allows you to build a tower with blocks, only to knock them down delightedly and say “Do it again.” She is at this game endlessly with man and all our works, because she is so vast she waits more patiently than a 3-year-old, because her life is so long her tearing down can take generations, but it is no less deliberate; from her view it is no less a pleasure when she swipes her hand and it takes 2000 thousand years to complete the swipe. But sometimes, like a 3-year-old, she throws a tantrum when something isn't coming down fast enough, she employs not only her slow hand of erosion, rust, slowly shifting earth, and rains, but pulls out the baseball bat, the gun, and the missile. A 3-year-old holds these in her hands, fires at our works, smiles and says “Do it again.” And we, we do it again, we build it bigger, we build it stronger, we dare her to shake it, buffet it, and hit it with all she's worth and, because she's a 3-year-old, she'll gladly oblige.

Next time the wind howls and shakes your house, listen and hear if you don't agree. She's laughing at you, at us. To her it's all a game.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

How Becoming A Mobile Society Has Damaged Our Communities

Last night I went to a folk music concert which was the launch of a new music venue, Music on Main. Who performed at this 160 people venue? The Kruger Brothers, the ones who have been on Letterman, performed with Steve Martin and Doc Watson, played around the world and, in the next few months will play shows from Alaska to Florida.

Why were they proud to be a part of this show? Why did they fill their concert with stories about the little community of Wilkesboro, North Carolina? Because they have adopted this place as their home, it is not the place of their roots (the brothers are from Switzerland and Joel Lansdberg is from New York) but they have put down roots here, they have dug in deep.

This is the place where the Isoms and others who are developing this venue have staked their claim that this is there home and they want to see it prosper, thrive, they want to bring new life to old traditions and old buildings.

Roots, they can not only benefit that which digs them deep, but in turn benefit that which they have dug deep into. Roots hold things together, help fill the soil with life, encourage other life to come as well, and so many other things. When your roots are dug in deep, you are invested in what is beneath your feet, the health of where your roots are determines your health, the improvement of the soil leads to improvement to yourself.

Recently I have been looking for a rental property to move into, while looking, I have learned of 3 places that have been damaged enough that the owners don't even want to show me the place until they can clean it up and fix the place. And in general that seems to be the renters mentality, “This place isn't really mine, so I don't need to take care of it.” There's no sense of ownership, there's less a sense of responsibility towards a place when you know you can just pick up and leave.

Well, I think this mentality has also developed in the minds of “mobile” people who move from place to place. They treat the communities they live in as a rental property. What do they care about the future of that community if they will be leaving before that future comes to pass? Why should they pay high taxes, invest themselves and their money in making improvements to a place that they will leave?

And so people live in places with the mindset of getting out, they don't dig their roots in. This is bad for the community but it is also, in turn, bad for the people who live like this. Because they don't dig in, don't invest themselves in getting to know their community, don't allow themselves to care for it, they get a shallower experience of that community, don't get to experience everything the community really has to offer, which leads to a worse experience overall and they think some other place will be better, so they move on.

Deep down I think most people still know that most things really worthwhile, of real value, take time and effort to develop and maintain. These things need nurturing to prosper and this applies to the community you live in as well. It is partly up to you to make the community you live in worthwhile and valuable; if you nurture it, it will in turn become a place which can nurture you.

Those behind Music on Main have committed to putting on 20 something shows in the course of the year. I believe the overall genre will be folk, because The Kruger Brothers and others have decided to make the claim that Wilkesboro is the “Heart of American Folk Music.” Some shows will be open mic, many will be local artists (which we have lot wonderful talent, so don't equate “local” with “not very good”), and some will be pretty big time folk groups (which we will get here with the help of the Kruger Brother's friendship).

As I said before, the idea behind these shows is to bring new life and breath to North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro. To get our name more on the map and show the world what we have to offer.

Wherever you live, look in the nooks and crannies, up to the rooftops and in the basements, look on the sidewalk and find what it is you love about that place. Then nurture that love in yourself and put effort into making that thing or place more lovable and share it with others. Maybe you'll someday find your roots dug deep, your community more strong, and your head held more high because you are confident that what is beneath your feet will be there for you, because you have been there for it, have nurtured it and made it strong.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Asking Questions and Speculations About Heaven

I know some people aren't comfortable with speculating concerning religion, heaven, God, etc. (I'm thinking about some particular people at my church:), but I read C.S. Lewis as I grew up and probably 70% of his theological works are speculations based on logic and ponderings, struggles and faith. I grew up loving the Psalms, where questions abound and Psalmists aren't even opposed to yelling at God and they yell some pretty strong things, but you know what? God preserved those questions for us.

In things relating to salvation, yeah, it's dangerous territory to start speculating but in terms of relating to God, I honestly think, more than anything, he is amused by our speculations of him as a Father or Mother would be assumed at the speculations of their young children. I think if he didn't want us to ponder him and who he is, he would have only given us the Word and not also revealed so much of himself in the world around us and through our interactions with other human beings.

In terms of what heaven will be like, in the end I don't think it really matters, we will all be wrong, because what awaits us is beyond imagining, is beyond our comprehension. I take the Bible's physical descriptions of heaven "with a grain of salt" because, personally, I don't think jewels are very pretty and I am not impressed by gold. I think what was trying to be conveyed is that it is a place of beauty beyond compare, where there is no want or squalor...and so much more.

With that preface, on to more speculating.

I have often heard people say, "When I get to heaven I'm going to ask...," but it seems like the persons intent is to ask it right then, right when they get through the gate or even when they're standing in line at the door. If you read the Psalms, you God is comfortable with questions, he doesn't always answer them, but David asked a lot and he was called a man after God's own heart.

We are going to be an eternity in heaven, a "time" so long that it ceases to be measured. I think there will be time enough for every question and that we will hear every other persons questions and that we will be encouraged to ask more questions and have innumerable questions answered without even asking. Why? Because through our questions we will understand God more fully, through others questions we will understand him even more fully, and to understand God more fully is to better be able to praise him, because we will better understand why he is to be praised. I think heaven is partly going to be a show and tell of how God worked in your life (what you understand of his work before your questions and even more after your questions have been answered).

I think one of the experiences of heaven is going to be looking back at our life through the eyes, maybe not of God (because even our "indestructible" souls would probably explode or something), but through the eyes of heaven. I think we will see how everything effected everything and everyone else, how everything was connected together. I think at first we will be consumed with an almost overwhelming sadness, for we will see all the opportunities lost, all the good deeds prepared for us that were left undone. Now, before you tell me, "There's no tears in heaven," let me finish. I think we will then be be shown the picture more fully, that things will be pointed out that we didn't notice at first glace. I think we will be shown how God "has caused all things to work for the good of those who love him," how God managed to take our feeble attempts when we tried our best and caused everything to work out beautifully, to realize he made our individual imperfections into a whole that is perfection.

So keep on saving up your questions and, when we get there, don't be scared to ask...but maybe wait awhile, merely gazing at the face of God will probably answer thousands of questions we never knew to ask.

Also, try to look at your life and the lives of those around you through the eyes of heaven. Try to think, "How is God going to use that in the picture?" "How is God going to use that aspect of that persons life for the ultimate good?"

Maybe sometime soon I'll make everyone nervous by devoting a post to trying to describe God, but I think this is enough speculating for now. :)

P.S. I think if I do have a "crown" it's going to be made of something living with leaves and flowers incorporated in...and maybe have a hummingbird nest on it as well. Whatever it is, it will match me better than I could ever match it myself and yours will match you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Loss of Unstructured Play and the Fading Shared Human Experience

As I have said of other of my blog posts, I didn't do research about this, it is merely my opinion which formed while I was tying my shoes, or taking a shower, or, in this case, as I was getting dressed on Sunday.

My thoughts started out thinking about writing a post concerning how "children are children the world over, no matter where you go"...but then I realized this will soon not be the case. At the last church I went to, every week at my church small group the toddler age daughter of our hosts would play with people's phones, my nieces (one of whom is 4 and a half) play with my sister's phone, and many people are starting to buy phones or tablets for children who are that age or younger.

I've heard kids have computer classes in preschool and, if not then, then very soon after. Recess, free time, etc. seem to be in ever shorter supply in our country (and perhaps other developed countries). Not only is kindergarten actually highly structured but so are many preschools. Not only is school time structured, but "play time" now largely consists of myriads of structured activities.

Kids thrive on a sense of structure, of knowing what to expect but spontaneity has to be a part of life, you have to experience spontaneity and learn how to respond to it at an early age or life is going to be really tough.
So very increasing structure and becoming deeply involved with technology at ever younger ages, what does this have to do with the "shared human experience?" When telling others why I like working with kids in different cultures (and I have experienced quite a few) one of the things I say is, "Kids are kids, wherever you go." You may have no clue about the language, you may know nothing pertaining to the proper customs when interacting with adults, but you can play tag, hide-and-seek, climb a tree, kick a ball around, play hopscotch (or something like it), and relate to the kids in a thousand other ways, if you're willing to. Why is this possible? Because their unstructured play using only their environment and very limited resources took on a structure of its own that echoes your own childhood experiences. During this largely unsupervised play they formed their own rules of interaction and they remind us of lessons we learned on the playground or in our backyard. These children, those as a people they look and act so different from us, remind us a little of ourselves.
In short, through the children of another culture, we realize "they" are not so different from ourselves. The picture flashed in my head of the old and not so old pictures of soldiers smiling at children and children smiling back, because they are relating to each other, even if the parents seem alien, there's a spark of familiarity between the soldier and the child.

In this age of globalization we might just be increasing the differences between developing countries and developed ones; instead of closing gaps, we might be widening them. Imagine a child from today or one born ten years from now, with their hands always on technology, with their organized sports, organized dance, organized life, and now imagine them going to a developing country for the first time when they are a teenager or an adult. Their phone may not get reception and slightly organized chaos is the schedule for the day.

Will there still be as much of a spark of recognition as they look at these alien children, will they still be able to see themselves in them and their play? It may be interesting to watch, it may be heartbreaking...I guess we'll have to wait and see.

P.S. Maybe I'm totally wrong, maybe because of often exposure to world news, to cultural events from around the world, the children of tomorrow will be able to relate to cultures other than their own better we ever could. Again, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Movie Review for 42: The Jackie Robinson Story and An Apology to Men With Color Other Than My Own

As I was writing the book review for To Kill a Mockingbird a particular instance which occurred when I was a busser in a restaurant kept cropping up in my mind. I went back and scanned through that book review and didn't deal with that instance there. Watching this movie made me remember it again.

There was a man I worked with who was good looking, well put together and, as I was around him more, I began to think of as sort of a “Renaissance Man” of the restaurant business. If someone was sick or didn't show up, he seemed to be able to take anyone's place. He was hired as the dishwasher but he also filled in for the prep cooks, the cooks, and helped me as a busser a few times.

The first time he helped me with bussing he said something like, “I don't want to work this position, anything dealing with money. If something goes missing, they'll look at me.” He was nervous about the tips being left on the table, he felt that because he was black he would be suspect.

A couple weeks later one of my fellow bussers was fired for stealing tips...and he was black. Supposedly one of the waitresses saw him do it, but I still felt it was unfair that I didn't even seem to be a suspect, they didn't question me or anything.

Anyway, that situation gave me a personal experience into the fact that the work Atticus started on in To Kill a Mockingbird hasn't been finished yet, justice is still not blind and people are not blind in ways they should be. And I am sorry for that. I am sorry you are still more likely to be suspected because of the color of your skin. I am sorry we still see colors in ways we shouldn't, that we still attach certain attributes to people because of how they look. In other words, I am sorry prejudice is still a problem, even after all this time, even after all that has happened and all the supposed growth.

Onto the movie. I am not good at history, especially history regarding sports, but from the brief reading I did, it seems the movie stayed true to the story, even if all the particular instances in it were not exactly correct. Whether you like baseball or not, it's a movie worth watching because it was a wonderful story of courage, not just of Jackie, but of so many around him.

I don't know how accurate Branch Rickey's character was or the reasons behind what he did, if they were noble and for the love of the game or about eventually making more money. Whether they were noble or not, it took guts to do what he did and it took smarts to choose the right player for that historic role.

I admire Jackie's wife, admire her for loving him and supporting him, even though she probably worried every time he walked out the door, every time he stepped up to bat, every time he went on the road.

I admire the players on Jackie's team who, over the course of time, were united. Who started respecting Jackie as they got to know him and his abilities.

And, of course, I admire Jackie Robinson, who held true to his word and didn't fight back, and in so doing showed that he was more of a gentleman than those white men who hurled abuse at him.

The acting in the movie was superb. Chadwick Boseman did a wonderful job of playing strong and independent Jackie (which sounds true to the real man), Nicole Beharie was beautiful, fun, strong, and charming in her role as Jackie's wife, Harrison Ford perfectly mixed the gruff old man and someone who deeply cared about baseball and people, and the cast in general just did a splendid job.

It's a movie about baseball, yes, but it is also about so much more. It's about breaking down barriers, overcoming prejudices, having the courage to not fight back (when fighting back would only make things worse), changing mindsets and changing the world. Even if you're not particularly a baseball fan, I still highly recommend it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mankind’s Relentless War on the Sea or Why the Mermaids are Silent

In the same vein as Zombies AttackAmerica and Lights, Camera, Cue the Alien Invasion I bring you, Why the Mermaids Are Silent.

You have been an unwitting participate in Humanity's longest war, you and, most likely, all of your ancestors. In the dawn of time, once humanity began to come into its own, to develop trade, travel further, and finally started to use the seas for trade, we were approached by emissaries from under the sea. At first they were welcome allies, beings who were civil in the world of nature that is not.

The merpeople escorted our ships, guarding them from pirates using their awful spears. After a time, the sailors began to notice that when they were accompanied, the weather was more likely to be fair and there was often a favorable wind. Sailors grow lonely in the watches of the night and so grew used to the merpeople's presence and developed friendships of a sort (at least as close to a friendship as you can come with having very little in common in terms of means of communications). Because the merpeople revealed their powers gradually and in subtle ways, they were merely incorporated into sailors superstitious ways, instead of being feared.

As you can imagine, the merpeople's technology is very different than our own. Though they developed means to go about on land, it was cumbersome and uncomfortable, besides, most of the world is made up of water, so they left the dry dirt to us. As well as developing ways they could go ashore, they made ways in which man could visit underwater. Over time the story of Atlantis has gotten twisted, it wasn't that the city was buried in water, it had always been underwater. And it wasn't the city that was destroyed but rather our means to get there and the ties which allowed us to go.

Merchants have always dealt in stories, as well as goods, and they began to tell of the powers sailors spoke of their guardians having. Also, those few merchants who had visited the underwater cities boasted of the wonders and power they saw there. These stories filtered up to kings and queens and those kingdoms which had coastlands began look from their tallest towers at just how much water there was, some dwelt in lands with water that went on forever and spread news of this neverending water to those who had never seen such a thing. From everywhere there was water came also tales of merpeople, with their weather controlling power, their spears which could go further than any weapon of our own, and their otherness. As often happens when we are confronted by things we do not understand, the rulers became suspicious and fearful of the merpeople.

Sailors had quickly learned, when they were accompanied, they could not throw their waste overboard. Their companions conveyed they could grow sick from this refuse. Well, some merchants had learned of these things and had also heard their rulers fears, so they sold this information along with an idea to weaken the ones their rulers feared.

So mankind began the most continuous onslaught of any war, and began using biological and chemical warfare before they learned of germs or really knew what chemicals were. Mankind became the merpeople's enemy. Mankind was encouraged to throw their filth into their freshwater sources, because all streams lead to the sea and, thus, would weaken our enemies. Sailors were told to throw their waste overboard to chase away their guardians.

Merpeople began hiding their dead so we could learn no more weaknesses, developed means to keep areas of water pure enough for them to live in, and, mostly, withdrew into themselves. Though occasionally a particularly hardy young one rose to the surface to seduce and drown lonely sailors. Also, the legends of Selkies or Seal Wives make me wonder if they continued to develop less cumbersome means of venturing on land.

Merpeople are a farseeing people, so as well as immediate attacks using storms, drought, and other means, they use acid rain which strip our monuments and weaken our buildings.

From the side of the merpeople, it has never been an all-out war, just an occasional extra storm or discouraged raincloud on a parched land. But then things changed. The US launched a sustained nuclear attack starting in 1946 which lasted over the course of 15 years guised under the claim of “nuclear tests” at the Pacific Proving Grounds until the Partial Test Ban Treaty finally put a stop to it in 1963. Starting at the same time Russia decided on a more passive attack of dropping their waste from their nuclear power plants into the sea and, because it was passive and used less resources, was maintained for an even longer time than our attacks.

Since then the merpeople have become more invested, causing tsunami, earthquakes, tornadoes where they have never been before and increasing the frequency of “natural disasters” in general.

Also, they are in the process of melting the icebergs and glaciers in order to devastate our coastlands. Because of this, many governments have reevaluated in the last few years, instigating clean water acts, striving to “go green;” in other words, trying to appease a species we cannot seem to destroy that is capable of destroying us.

Now the question is, is it too little too late? Have the merpeople's hate built up for us to such a degree that they are willing commit mass suicide in their attempt to enact their revenge by shutting down the global conveyor belt, canceling out Thermohaline Circulation by raising the temperatures at the poles. This would basically kill the wind, dramatically change the weather (or make the weather stop), and stagnate the oceans...in other words, change the world as we know it and turn it into a far less friendly place.

So push for peace with the merpeople, take care of your planet, or you may have a lot of help bringing about its end. Also, push for relationships with them, we all know the best way to overcome old hates and prejudices is to get to know entities from the group you hate. Maybe if they get to know a few of us who are decent, who care about them and our planet, we can all work together in preserving our planet instead of destroying it in our attempts to destroy each other.

Oh, and if you doubt that merpeople are real, how you account for the fact that mankind has so thoroughly dirtied our waterways for so long? Whether humans knew of germs or not, they had herders and merchants who told tales of how refreshing and wonderful unpolluted springs and mountain streams were. Even if you knew nothing of the benefits of clean water, you could see and taste how much better water was that did not have animal feces and all of mans waste in it. There had to be a reason to account for this madness.

P.S. I recently told my brother I don't need pre-established conspiracies...I can make up my own. :)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Downfall of Face-to-Face Interactions or Why The Younger Generation Doesn't Want to Talk to You

I'll say up front, I didn't do any research concerning this, it is simply my opinion based on snipetts of conversations I remember and pieces of things I've read.

I've shared on this or another blog that there was a period of years when I didn't really miss anyone, whether it be friends or family. Throughout my life I've always been leaving places and when you leave places, you leave people and, if you allow yourself to, you miss them...and missing hurts, missing makes you long for someone who isn't there, missing sucks. Because I was always leaving places, I decided I wouldn't miss people but in deciding this, I was unknowingly also deciding to not really connect to people, to tie our hearts together, to have our lives bonded. So one day I decided to allow myself to miss people again and, through a process, I did. I have to admit, though, I often I still leave places before I can get too attached to anyone.

I say all that because for years I have heard that our society is becoming a “mobile society,” people don't stay in one place as long as they used to, they're waiting for longer to settle down (in terms of starting a family), but even when they do “settle down” they still may not stay in one place.

I know I am an extreme case, over 13 houses in 3 countries before going to college and never staying in one place longer than 11 months (most of the time shorter) since I graduated in 2007; but I think, in general, people are moving more.

There's two types of relationships you can choose between, one that is based largely on physical interactions or one that is based largely on texts and social media. Do you see where I'm going with this?

You move when your kids are young, after they've played “hands-on” with kids and been physically involved in each others lives, and it hurts to leave those friends behind. Even if you don't move, as the kids get a little older, a lot of them leave school to go home to empty houses and it hurts to be alone, away from people. But in both those situations, you know what type of relationships come through for them? What allows them to take their friends with them across the country and into empty homes? Texting (which you can more easily do with multiple people than trying to have a conference call) and social media (which easily allows you to share your life with those who are not physically around).

They are connecting the best that they know how, the least painful way they know how, and in the process, the internet becomes more real, the intangible becomes more solid to them than you can understand.

They are interacting, they are connecting. In some ways they are more intimately involved in each others lives than an older generation could ever be; because they have a camera, video camera, and means of communication with them at all times, they can share what they see and hear (in a limited fashion), the moment they see or hear it.

But I am old-fashioned and getting older. Compared to side-by-side interaction, I don't even like phone calls. Though I enjoy being alone, if I am going to interact with people, I want them to be beside me. I want to hear their footsteps beside me as we walk together in the night, I want them to smell the campfire with me, I want to see them laugh or cry, to be able to walk with them arm in arm, or pat them on the back.

In all the younger generations connection with others who are far away, they begin to value less the possibility of connections immediately around them, after all, that was the type that caused them pain.

Despite all of their connection, I think there is a deep-seated need for physical connection as well. It is through those types of connections, the type that puts you face-to-face, that you learn respect (because you see them cry and hurt because of what you did), patience (because it's harder to ignore someone in the room with you whom you are tired of or frustrated with than to simply ignore texts), conflict resolution (because it's harder to dismiss a problem if someone is looking you in the face), and so many other things that apply to all aspects of our lives.

It seems to me and I seem to remember reading some research about that fact that it is in unstructured play that we learn many of the lessons I hinted at. Since there are less set rules, we have to work out our own and learn them, in short, we learn to have more successful personal physical interactions because we learn all the nuances which underlie them.

Unstructured play is something that children/young adults have been sorely without for many years. First we forsook our front porches and took away our watchful eyes and our neighbors watchful eyes and, partly because of this, many of us grew fearful of letting kids outside to play, to explore. I wonder if the world has really grown more dangerous for our children or are we just more fearful because we know of every awful thing that happens from coast to coast and around the world because of our global media?

I guess my advice is to put down roots, form deep physical connections with some families around you (and of course with your own family). Find a camp or some place where you feel safe enough to let your kids run around together being kids, without too much supervision. Even if it's just for a couple weeks each year, I'm sure they will learn a lot and have fun as well.

Oh yeah, and a part of unstructured play may be a skint knee or even a broken arm or being around another kid when something bad happens. But you know what? This teaches your kids that actions have consequences, that things they do can get them hurt or someone else.

One of my goals in life is to make some of these safe learning places, whether this be a library I am someday involved with, a camp I make, or a neighborhood I create. Also, I will push for others to make such places as well.

Someday the internet will be even more tangible than it is today but maybe, just maybe, the value of the immediate, of the here, will grow more tangible as well.

Now stop listening to the child-rearing advice of a single guy and go hug someone or give them a pat or the full sensory pleasure of watching you dance across the living room (if you do it for long enough, they'll probably film you, make fun of you, and share the video with their friends).

P.S. I have heard stories of parents and grandparents who had largely lost touch with their growing children/grandchildren but then they started texting them. Before they hardly ever talked but now they text quite often. Be careful not to get your hopes up too much, though, because they may just think you're weird or intrusive because that's in some kids job description (it's a bummer they take off the tag off at the hospital before the parents can read it).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Word That Never Came

I wrote this a few years ago for another blog. As I was re-reading it before I used it for a Lord Supper talk this past Sunday, I realized the ideas for it were strongly inspired by a skit I was a part of at Bible camp years ago. I don't know the name of the skit or who wrote it...so that's the best I can do in giving credit.

The Angel Michael stands in readiness with legions of angels flanking him and standing at his back. At any moment they expect the word, they are constantly on edge, leaning forward in their strain to hear, in case it is said in a whisper. They heard their Master crying, in so much pain he seemed to be sweating drops of blood. They do not understand his words to the Father, do not know what horrid thing Christ will face which causes him to say, “Not my will be done, but yours.” Michael cannot stand to see his Lord in such pain by himself, the Lord’s silly disciples are asleep instead of attending to the task Christ set them, so Michael comes to his side and reminds him he is not alone. “Whatever needs done, we can help you, you know what strength each of us has.” Christ looks to Michael with pain in his eyes, knowing he must face this task alone, but thankful for the comfort Michael has tried to offer.

Christ returns to his disciples, they are asleep, again. He rouses them and points to the torches coming up the road, to the mob coming through the shadows. Christ asks whom the mob seeks, they answer and Christ says, “I am he.” They fall to the ground from the power of his words, but foolishly still want to take him. Michael smiles and readies himself when he sees Peter draw his sword, now Christ will give the word. Instead all Peter’s clumsy attempt produces is a loss of an ear and, to Michael and all others amazement, Christ heals the injured man and allows himself to be taken.

All the humans who are with Jesus do not understand and flee; where is the warrior king they were expecting? Why is the Messiah going quietly? Even the angels do not know the plan, but instead of fleeing they surround their Lord more closely until he silently tells them to retreat a little and stand their ground, for his captors are losing their nerve. The captors do not see the angels but can feel their suffocating power.

A man, a mere puny man dares to call his Lord a blasphemer so Michael raises his sword to deal a killing blow, thinking, “Surely he will now give us the word.” Instead, Christ simply stands there as the supposed priests strike the King and spit in his face. One of the angels meekly asks, “Do you think he somehow lost his ability to speak?” not believing his Lord would allow this to happen to himself.

The nightmare of a night continues, the angels, of course, not growing weary but some of these ancient, almost timeless beings begin for the first time in their existence to feel impatient, as their Lord undergoes more accusations. Some begin to doubt the wisdom of God, why did he decide to become a being limited in power anyway, a creature who can be broken, hurt, and killed?

An angel yells to Christ as Christ is being beaten, “We are still here, can you not talk? Why Lord, why are you allowing them to do this? Just give us a sign.” Ending with a desperate, almost helpless voice, “We are still here…we are ready to stop all this.” But the Master of all still does not stop the blows and torture. And still the nightmare continues, more mocking, more accusations, more misunderstanding on mans part and the angels and finally, heresy of heresies, a sentence of death on the most innocent man who has ever walked the earth.

The Lord is forced to carry his own cross and falls beneath its weight. A tear slides down Michael’s face, the angels are crying at seeing their Lord so weak, knowing full well how strong he could be if he would only summon the power into himself. They are crying because he seems so alone, yes, they are standing all around, but the humans, the foolish humans whom Christ came to save are treating their Messiah as a thing of utmost contempt.

The nail is posed above Christ’s hand and Michael yells to his legions in a voice which shakes the sun, “All ready now, the word must come, has to come.” The hammer strikes, again and again, on to the other hand and a nail through the feet…still no word comes. The universe looks dark to the angels eyes, everything seems wrong, as if wrong has finally won, as if the Traitor has somehow cheated God and has finally gotten his way.

Michael and his legions surround the hill, keeping the sniveling, snickering demons away from the angels Lord. Michael looks into the the face of the devil and sees the smile on his face, his sneer thinking he has finally won. The sky seems to match the devil’s mood, for it seems the very sun has forsaken the sky and darkness appears to reign over the light. Michael’s face is grim but he says, “It isn’t over yet, we are only waiting for the word and all this will stop, then you will not be smiling anymore.”

Twice now the Lord has spoken and were it not for the lightening reflexes of the angels the universe would be no more, for when they saw his mouth begin to open the angels began to make their move, only to stop themselves and hear with disbelief the words which came from their Lord, words of forgiveness instead of a command.

Final words come from the Lord’s mouth, “It is finished.” The angels see that life has left the Savior’s body. “What is finished?!,” all their throats yell with a voice so filled with grief, confusion and power that it rips the world in half.

Michael hangs his head and says to his army in tones of sadness and shame which makes creation tremble, “Somehow we have failed.”

If only our Savior would have yelled or whispered to the waiting angels, “Now!,” the world would have stopped, the skies would have melted and the ones who were crucifying our Lord would have turned to dust before the angels fury…but that word did not come, Christ did not stop it all and God did not destroy the world because of the monstrosities committed against his Son that day. Instead, Christ died, taking our sins, our guilt for every sin we have ever committed upon his shoulders in hopes that we would look at that act of love and be won by it to an everlasting life spent with the Father and the Son.

Of course I do not really know what Michael or the other angels were really feeling, but even if they did know the plan (which God seems to like to have some mystery about him, so maybe they did not know), they must have felt helpless. Even with all their power, they could not take away the pain Christ was experiencing, they were not allowed to strike down the ones who were mocking the One they loved. The gift of Christ’s life which he gave, the gift which allows us to be born clean and pure into eternity, did not only cost Christ and God. It also cost the angels the pain they felt, and the women's pain who loved Christ with their all, and the men's pain who had put all their hope in Him. Happily, the seeds of their pain lead to more joy than the universe can contain, to a realized dream of God’s that will one day unite angels and man before His throne, to live forever sharing with each other the portion of God which they understand better than any other being because of the experiences they have had. And what an amazing dream that is.