Thursday, January 31, 2008

Arctic Blast

In 1999 the map of Canada changed for the first time in 50 years. A new territory was carved out of the Northwest Territories and returned to the Inuit people, formerly called Eskimos. Inuit means "The People" and the name of their new country is called Nunavet, which means "Our Land." The vast arctic region they inhabit is larger than the State of Texas, even though their population of 27,000 could comfortably occupy Chicago's Sears Tower (except for the lack of caribou.) With its sub-zero winter temperatures few of us are surprised to discover there is no population explosion in Nunavet.

In case you didn't know, Eskimos are racially distinct from the Native American Indians that inhabit the more hospitable climates of the North American Continent. In Eastern Siberia, Alaska, Labrador and Greenland they're still called Eskimos, which in Algonquin meant "Eaters of Raw Meat."

While growing up it seldom entered my mind to think of Eskimos in terms of their diet. Like most people, I always made the association of Eskimo with cold, inhospitable environments, and igloos. As it turns out, Eskimos live in all sorts of houses, including tents made of skins and underground sod homes, though most live in ordinary houses like ours. Certainly the Arctic environment places demands on these people to which most of us are unaccustomed, though it also helps reduce panhandling and street people.

One of my favorite short stories from high school days was Jack London's To Build A Fire. The story takes place in Alaska's Yukon region. It is a life and death struggle between a man and the elements, with everything hinging on his ability to build a fire. At the beginning of the story the man spits and he realizes, by the crackling sound of the spittle turning to ice in mid-air, that it is more than fifty below, colder than he realized.

Three decades after I first read this story I was clearing my driveway one December night in Duluth, Minnesota. There had been a fair dump of snow followed by a blistering cold Alberta Clipper. I knew it was cold, but discovered how severe the wind chill was when I spit and it became a marble before hitting the crust of snow and rolling away.

I knew right then it was cold. Fortunately that kind of weather is not the norm, even in Minnesota. Now for really cold conditions, think about what it's like to live in the arctic. The average December temperature at Gate of the Arctic National Park is twenty below during the day and forty below at night. Add wind chill temps and you've got weather!

This week, we had the pleasure of getting a spearhead of arctic air in Minnesota that dropped temps by more than fifty degrees in twenty-four hours in most places. My thermometer went from forty above to minus twenty-four overnight. That is a sixty-four degree drop, plus wind chill.

Funny how wind chill works. Usually it goes this way: the temp is zero with a wind chill that makes it feel like minus twenty, or it's minus twenty but feels like minus fifty. Why can't we have minus twenty temps that feel like twenty above? Guess that's not in the cards any time soon. In the meantime, do your best to stay warm. An extra sweater or two never hurt anyone.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Line Art

A few drawings from my sketch book. Not much to say this morning. A picture occasionally says a thousand words, though in this case that might be generous. Whatever you are doing, wherever you are, have a great day.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Politics As Usual

"With a Democratic response to George Bush's final State of the Union address that will be instantly forgotten, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius delivered a bland "Join us, Mr. President" call for bipartisanship that did nothing to advance her much-ballyhooed prospects as a contender for her party's vice presidential nomination." ~ The Nation

Oh well, it's that time in the election cycle again. Forgive me if I just can't get up for it this year. I participated in 1984. I half follow all the stories, but it really does feel like the same old same old all over again all over again. Politicians move their lips, and they are immediately assailed by other politicians who take a posture. The pit bull types get attention. If they are thoughtful, reasoned and considerate, like Governor Sibelius in her response to last night's State of the Union address, they are slapped silly by pundits for not being vicious.

Don't we have enough viciousness already in this country? It's no wonder we don't have sensitive artist types in political careers. Running for office means getting smeared with dung and other rotting filth, not to mention blood, usually one's own. Ross Perot (with thicker skin than many) did not have the heart for it. Others have stood on the shore while their ships left the harbor because they, too, hadn't the desire to be fed piecemeal to the sharks.
I'll vote in the fall because I usually do, but this whole game in between is not going to give us the best candidates.

Besides, when push comes to shove, and the facts get laid out before the new president and he or she sees how things really were and how it really is, this new president may not behave any different than previous presidents. My guess is that we'll continue to meddle overseas in other nations' affairs that we do not understand, that government will continue to get increasingly bloated, that taxes will continue to suck up our personal incomes and we'll all pretty much accept it because we do not like to seriously consider the alternative: anarchy.

Like America's convenience stores, the political shelves will remain stocked with Coke and Pepsi products, I mean Dems and Republicans. A truly radical departure from this tradition is simply not in the cards.

Nevertheless, the media love it because the war chests are full for buying up air time which provides oodles of capital for the networks, which thus enables them to pay large paychecks to all their talking heads so they can bash the candidates, or damn them with faint praise.

Yes, 'tis the season. And it's politics as usual.

Monday, January 28, 2008


The notion of labyrinths traces back to ancient mythology, but is found throughout history. In essence, a labyrinth is a maze, a puzzle, a complicated route that leads to, or conceals, something.

Many writers have made reference to labyrinths in their work. Jorge Luis Borges was fascinated by the idea of labyrinths, which appear repeatedly in his short stories. Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose was inspired by Borges in this fascination.

From ancient and medieval times to the present, labyrinths have had their appeal, as real structures to be built or as an idea. The mind itself is said to be a labyrinth. Numerous characters in literature, from Cervantes' Don Quixote onward, have become lost in the labyrinthine worlds of their imaginations.

One of Andre Gide's most fascinating works is his story Theseus, about the Athenian hero who navigated the labyrinth in Crete to slay the half-man, half-bull Minotaur aided by Ariadne's thread. It is an entertaining read, with unexpected twists, and comes with my highest recommendation.

Of course my first encounter with the Internet was somewhat akin to the notion of a labyrinth. If one considers each page a room, from which one must exit to enter another room, you can imagine the whole world wide web as a labyrinthine universe. You can lose yourself in it forever.

It was based on this concept that I created a small labyrinth when I first started building my personal website thirteen years ago. And if the Internet is a Labyrinth, then where is the Minotaur?

A Link to my LABYRINTH

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Remembering the Wounded

Life is long, and whether early on or late in life, nearly everyone experiences some kind of pain due to loss, illness, failure or disappointment. We go through our various life courses interacting with wounded people every single day.
The ancient philosopher Philo of Alexander once wrote, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." Life is not an easy road.

It is good to reflect on these things in our interactions with others. And let's not forget the many who are homebound, or families with a member in prison, or the many needy who are out of sight and out of mind. Our kindnesses make all the difference in the world for those who hurt.

Remember the wounded.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mourning Buttercup

It seems strange. Buttercup, our last pygmy goat, passed away this week. Death is not romantic. That it's part of life is a given. The longer we live, however, the more loss and grief we'll experience. It is actually all around us on a daily basis, but we are usually oblivious. A fallen soldier usually shows up in the newspapers, but so many beloved pets are lost each year... yet there are no obituaries.

This is a brief notation that our beloved Buttercup died this week and we'll miss her. She was a sweetheart.


One of the basic principles of marketing success is momentum. I think here, for example, of a giant concrete wheel with a tiny handle. To get the wheel turning takes a great effort. At first, it takes all your strength to simply get it to budge. But then, once you get it started, it takes less effort with each revolution until it seems to have a life of its own. To keep it spinning at a high velocity then requires a minimal effort on your part. You can't neglect it, of course, because it will eventually slow to a stop and you are back to where you started.

Well, companies have momentum, too. As do careers. It seems to take an inordinate amount of energy to get a brand established. The power and value that accrues can become startling to the one who initially invested so much to get that wheel turning.

In baseball and football, professionals understand the psychological power of momentum. In baseball, a series of base hits can do more to damage the competition than a home run. The thrill of the rally ripples through the whole stadium. Likewise in football, the ability to assemble long drives is much more devastating than a chance long ball touchdown pass. Those drives show dominance, and instill respect.

Is your life moving in a direction? Are you building momentum? If you know what you are about, don't let you energies be diverted. If you have become distracted and gotten off course, step back and re-center. The future is in your hands.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Ethanol Fallacy

The February issue of Popular Mechanics features a challenging story by editor James B. Meigs called The Ethanol Fallacy. Unless you’ve been sleeping in a cave for two decades, you’ve undoubtedly been aware of the ongoing debates regarding the best way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. A wide range of technologies has been evaluated from solar and wind energy to hydrogen power and fuel cells. Since transportation eats up the lion’s share of our energy use, much of the debate centers on how to power our cars and trucks.

Unfortunately, writes Meigs, the best solutions may not be getting the attention they deserve. Washington politicians have bought the “ethanol solution” hook, line and sinker.

Politicians have been falling all over themselves to prove their commitment to energy independence. The bill they have been crafting and carving has as kits moniker the title “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.” No longer just an energy bill, it is a security matter, giving it a special reverence. According to Meigs, this year’s presidential candidates “have outdone each other with vows to flood the nation with ever-increasing rivers of ethanol for at least a generation.”

It’s what our politicans love to do, of course. Take action fast. Look like a leader. Problem is, “shoot first, ask questions later” is a silly way to approach these kinds of issues.

The average person who votes is not really that knowledgeable about these matters, which gives the ethanol lobbyists a leg up. The truth is, it takes energy to make energy. The article points out that growing corn requires nitrogen fertilizer, a product of natural gas, and chemical herbicides, made mostly from oil. The heavy machinery that harvests these 93 million acres of corn all require diesel fuel and lubricants, as do the trucks that transport all this corn. According to one Cornell researcher, it takes more than a gallon of oil to make a gallon of ethanol? Now what’s that all about? How does this reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

There’s something corny about this ethanol business. As I have always suspected, and which the author here is not afraid to point out, the big winners are companies like Archer Daniels Midland whose lobbyists labor night and day in those corridors of power inside the beltway. And for who’s benefit? Not yours or mine.

So what can we do about it? Not sure, really. Any suggestions?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Definiteness of Purpose

Napolean Hill calls Definiteness of Purpose a critical key to success in life. Watched Chariots of Fire last night. Definiteness of Purpose is once again illustrated. Gold medal winners have a clarity of aim that enables them to surpass their peers. ~May 25, 1998

A prerequisite to achieving "great things" (it would seem) is a conviction that one is able to achieve or accomplish great things. This notion is accompanied by a desire to do great things, which flies in the face of current cultural beliefs that it is wrong, even elitist, to suppose oneself different from the herd. But it is not elitism that propels us to strive to do more and be more. It is not a belief that we're better... rather, it is a concern that we each, should strive to fulfill our full capacity. ~ May 30, 1998

These journal notes should not be taken to suggest that everyone should make their aim to be president of the U.S. or a world famous musician. There are actually two important matters outined here. The first is that without a definitie purpose or aim, our lives will drift, and that people who accomplish great things or even lesser things (providing for one's family, sending a child to college) do so by eliminating distractions and doing whatever it takes to accomplish the goal.

An example: Albert J. Amatuzio, the founder of AMSOIL, spent more than a decade learning all he could about lubrication before finally achieving his lifelong dream of producing a new product for the auto industry. This man's determination and definiteness of purpose was directly responsible for the synthetic motor oil market.

There is a flip side to this matter, however. Be sure your aim corresponds to who you are. That is, if you are middle aged and not particularly athletic, don't imagine that you will set a new world record for the hundred yard dash. Or if you have shaky hands and poor eye-hand coordination, it is not the time to pursue a career as a brain surgeon. The point being that self awareness is also useful.

I am reminded of the Aesop's Fable about the Monkey and the Camel.

THE BEASTS of the forest gave a splendid entertainment at which the Monkey stood up and danced. Having vastly delighted the assembly, he sat down amidst universal applause. The Camel, envious of the praises bestowed on the Monkey and desiring to divert to himself the favor of the guests, proposed to stand up in his turn and dance for their amusement. He moved about in so utterly ridiculous a manner that the Beasts, in a fit of indignation, set upon him with clubs and drove him out of the assembly.

It is absurd to ape our betters.

This in no way implies that camels are inferior to monkeys. Quite the contrary. There are many things monkeys can not do that camels are utterly equipped for.

So it is that our dreams should correspond with who we are. Though I'll add yet one more caveat. When we're young, we really don't know very well who we are. We can be so influenced by a bad experience or peers that we have a misguided picture of ourselves in our heads. Or, we see a barrier to achievement that is really no barrier at all. So perhaps our first definite purpose should be to find out who we are. From this starting point, we really can make a difference.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Importance of Family

"There is transcendant power in a strong intergeneration family. An effectively interdependent family of children, parents, grandparents aunts, uncles, and cousins can be a powerful force in helping people have a sense of who they are and where they come from and what they stand for." ~ Stephen Covey

The letter leaning against the photo is from my grandmother, a significant person in my life growing up. It was a letter of encouragement when I was a young man. The little girl in this 1956 photo is my cousin Lois, age four. My granparents helped build this telescope as part of the Sky & Telescope Society.

It is a sad thing when families get splintered. The strength I received from my grandmother is immeasurable. Perhaps I shared her temperament, for she likewise was an artist and poet, somewhat of a brooder, avid reader and lifelong learner. Perhaps it was just a grandmother's love.

The following is a poem which originally appeared in her chapbook of poems titled "Helping The Sun Grow".

Aftermath Of A Stroke
Here I lie, tight packed as in my Mother's womb
I laid with restlessness a full lifetime ago.
But still entirely I, altho I have no room
To move about and at my will to come and go.
But now -- I wander, freely in my mind
The long road thru the crowding mists of time,
And pause in my journeying now and then
To live the happy times again
Made bright indeed by sunset's glow!
~ Elizabeth Sandy

She often talked about another relative of our, a poet named John Hall, who had been editor of two West Virginia newspapers, and author of three books of poetry. The youngest of five boys, he ran away from home at age fifteen to serve the North in the Civil War. Down in Tennessee he took fever and after five months in recovery was left blind. Thus did he become, after accepting this difficult fate, the blind poet of Ritchie County. As it turns out, John Hall used to babysit my grandmother. He would take the children out onto the hillside and recite poetry to them. Grndma says the first ten years of her life he had babysat her and the other children. Thus did he birth in her a love of the creative use of language and image, of poetry and wonder.

In the same manner my own creative self was nourished by my Grandmother, Elizabeth Sandy.

Discover more of her poems here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Five People, Five Questions (Part Three)

To understand the background on this series read my January 15 post.

The question again: If it were possible to have discussions with five people from history (past or present) … who would you want to talk to and what question would you like to ask them?

M.W. of Dublin, CA
I always thought that Isaac Newton or perhaps Albert Einstein would have been very interesting to talk to. Both thinkers way ahead of their time and little bit on the eccentric side of things. Imagine spending afternoons over a glass of wine picking their brains.

I always thought that Mark Twain would make a good person to have at a party. His skewed look at life would be very entertaining to listen to.

E.C. of Irvine, California
Hmmm, without prior thought (off the top of my head), I'd say Jesus Christ, the Apostle John, the Apostle Paul, Paul Tournier, and C.S. Lewis. As to what I'd ask them, well, it will take more time for that part, and I don't have it right now. Today is son Benjamin's 26th birthday--our youngest! How can it be?

D.T. of Duluth, MN
Person: Thomas Jefferson, Question: How much separation should there be between church and state?

Person: Jesus: Question: Is it a sin for people with equivalent sex chromosomes to have romantic love? The chromosomal distinction is important because this rules out the ambiguity created by those born with xxy or others who have the stereotypical physical appearance or live as the opposite sex of their chromosomal distinction. I am sure Jesus knows about these gray areas of gender but I would not want any arguing among his followers and chromosomes are the best way we have today to separate the sexes into categories. We sure use a lot of political energy debating this question. It would be nice to get an answer.

Person: Mohammed: Question: Does Al Qaeda represent you well?

Person: God... If God actually shows up we get away with getting answers to two questions. We know God exists. If a no show, that is just as good of an answer. The one question if God shows up: How literally should we take this version of the bible? (I would hand over the King James Version and we would go line by line.)

Person: Ben Bernanke: Question: How much will the fed change interest rates next time?

I focused on only historical figures whose answers could have the greatest impact on the future of our universe (except for the last question, which merely sets me up for a big financial gain.) I also limited myself to one question per person. Historical figures such as Hitler or Einstein would be interesting but the answers to any questions I ask would probably have little effect on the future of our planet. Political leaders, scientists or explorers would have a hard time propelling the human race forward with their current knowledge. However, because folks take action (political and otherwise) to change the world while contending to be representing the mandate of dead leaders... well getting the mandate from the horses' mouth would be a nice change of pace and constructive. If Jefferson goes off on the separation of church and state, that could affect Supreme Court rulings as long as the United States exists. Mohamed could placate the Islamic world or kick problems up a notch... but at least we stop wondering. God... well let us get this existence of God issue settled. Is the bible an authorized biography, a road map or a fantasy? Let us move past the debate. The only problem might occur if Jesus, Thomas Jefferson, Mohammed and God all contradict each other in their answers. In that case, I think I would just edit the videotape to fit my agenda before I release it to 60 minutes.

J.T. of Solon Springs, WI
Easy one. I would like to talk to Nikola Tesla and work with him on sending and receiving electricity as particle waves so we could eliminate the need for power lines and extension cords.

M.L., another writer from Duluth area
I recall Bryan asking me a similar question when he was at Teen Mania. My initial response was to begin listing well-known authors and such. Then I thought further about it and realized that the question presents sort of a paradox.

The paradox is that the people I would most like to meet and chat with are not known to me nor to most anybody. Those that I think are the most interesting people on the planet are those who labor in the kingdom of God anonymously, in hidden places, behind the scenes, who never have their names recognized outside of their own little circle of family and friends but who exhibit a core strength of faith and grace of life in their work and ministry such that others are transformed by them.

On the other hand, I do know some of those people. Lots of them, as a matter of fact. I interact with some of them on a regular basis, and others I have known over the years. They exhibit varying degrees of grace, of course (“in proportion to their faith”, as Paul says), and some are probably more interesting than others. None of them, though, stand out as being well-known, or someone you would think to put on a list such as you are asking for.

I think if I were to ask them a question, it would be along the lines of the question Anita asked about Paul when last we met for Bible study (three months ago now?). “How did you get to be like this? What habits and disciplines make you able to give your life for others day in and day out?”

K.W. of Duluth
Definitely Jesus, #1, but then I think how great it'd be to hang out with him, but what kind of parable would I get in response to my questions?... And in my humanness, how frustrating would that be?

Mother Theresa, Does the part of you that is you/self/id decrease as you pour more and more of yourself out in selfless acts reflecting Christ's love...? Does it get easier? Did you EVER take time for yourself? How did you build in margins when you were surrounded by so much poverty (physical/emotional/spiritual)?

And finally, a few of my own questions which I wrote before receiving replies, lest I be unduly influenced by all these absolutely wonderful replies.

Friedrich Nietzsche: How much did your intense physical suffering contribute to the development of your philosophical ideas about God and truth? How would your world view have been different if your personal experience had been less dreary and more cheerful? (If you had not had migraine’s 230 days of the year, etc.) How and why do you think your work became so influential after you died?

The Apostle Paul: Did you have any idea that the letters you were writing would one day be taken as synonymous with or with the full force of the words of God? Is there anything you wish you had written/said differently? Are there any of these letters that shouldn’t have been included in the canon?

Leo Tolstoy: Looking back on your life, what was your most important work, the novels and stories you wrote, or the your efforts to promote the Gospel, love and pacifism?
(I would actually like to meet and talk with several writers asking each what they considered to be their most important work, but that would be a fairly long list.)

Jesus: The world is so big and so much is going on and there are so many people, needs, problems, issues… How much difference can one person really make today? (The rest of my questions are too personal to share publicly.)

Someone intelligent and perceptive in the South 100 years ago: How in the world did a supposedly Christian nation allow racial hatred to obtain such a vicious stranglehold on our people? (Not sure whom to ask, but it has been a lifelong question for me.)

Frederic Chopin: How did you create such original, richly beautiful music? Who, what, where were your inspirations and how did they influence you?

Thank you to all who contributed. Think deeply and reap.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Five People, Five Questions (Round Two)

The question again: If it were possible to have discussions with five people from history (past or present) … who would you want to talk to and what question would you like to ask them?

R.M. from Oregon
Selecting only 5 people is more difficult that it first appears, but here goes (an obvious disclaimer--Jesus is first on my list even though He is not listed below; my general sense is that when I am actually physically in His presence I will be soaking up everything without saying too much):

Adam, the first man: Why didn't you immediately seek God and ask his forgiveness after sinning instead of hiding and lying? How much different are you and I really?

Winfield Scott McGregor (my grandfather who was dead before my parents married): No specific questions, I just want to know him.

Saint Patrick: How/Why did you decide to return to Ireland to evangelize the people who once held you as a slave?

Isaac Newton: Why did you waste so much time on science and mathematics when you could have spent more of your time studying scripture and writing biblical commentaries?

St. Paul: Can you make me understand Romans? Is Romans 7 autobiographical after you were saved? Did you write Hebrews?

One thing smacks me in the face as I selected the people and the questions--we all have life, the human situation, in common with everyone who ever lived regardless of when we live. The questions we must ask ourselves are: What would we do in their shoes in their times? Would we avoid their failures? Would we have the courage and perseverance to do the right thing when they acted righteously? Do we hold them to a higher standard of accountability than we do for ourselves?

B.L from Duluth area
That is a very interesting thought - five people. Right away I think of Martha (from Mary and Martha) She was a servant - and I want to be one too. I read a quote awhile ago that stuck "Lord, give me the balance between Mary's heart and Martha's hands"

M.P. from Duluth
I'm not sure if I'll be able to come up with 5 questions of 5 people but I do have two now:

1. I would like to ask Dwight Eisenhower why they didn't put machine guns, grenade launchers and flamethrowers on the amphibious landing craft used at Normandy on D-Day and use them on the Germans before they dropped the ramps and exposed our soldiers to enemy machine gun fire.

2. On a more trivial note, I would like to ask Lee Harvey Oswald if he acted alone and if not, who else does he believe is responsible for the assassination of JFK.

J.P., a writer from Minneapolis
To what do you attribute your courage to stand up as one man to an oppressive régime?

As someone who suffered from depression, what kept you determined in your depressed moments (and doubts?) to do right for the most good?

How would you instruct or encourage a person with good (not great) intelligence to understand and gain your genius for insight and analysis?

JK Rowling
As the best-selling author in history, how would you describe the creative process (and luck? good fortune? God-given gift?) of inventing Harry Potter and the fantasy world of other characters he inhabited?

Hitler / Stalin
Looking back on your legacy, was it all worth it? Would you do the same all over again? With the same zeal, could you and would you have made the world better rather than worse?

Pauline Reage / Anne Rice
Was your novel Story of O based on personal experience (autobiographical) or dreamed up (imaginative erotic fantasy)? Both?

The same or similar for Anne Rice who wrote Exit to Eden and the Sleeping Beauty trilogy. While these works are clearly imaginative erotic fantasies, where within yourself did you find such devilish ideas and take them so far? And did you ever worry about what judgments readers would have of you as a person vs. as a novelist?

And maybe we'll leave the rest for another day. Till then...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Five People, Five Questions

One evening while dining out the week before New Year's, Susie asked me “If you could meet five people from history, who would you like to meet?” It was an interesting question. She said Jesus, Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, G. K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis.

The next morning it stimulated in me the follow up thought: What would I want to ask each of the five people I talked with from history.

I found the idea of it so stimulating that I decided to send this question to everyone in my Outlook Express address book. It seemed like a good way to discover which of my email addresses were obsolete, and would generate some potentially interesting replies. The replies did not disappoint.

I did include the disclaimer that I might place their responses on my website, but in the interest of a small measure of privacy I will use initials only here.

The question re-stated: If it were possible to have discussions with five people from history (past or present) … who would you want to talk to and what question would you like to ask them?

E.S., a writer from Duluth:
I had a hard time coming up with a list of five people, because the only historical figure I'd really, really like to meet is Mark Twain. But I worked on it and thought about it, and here's my list: Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Molly Ivins, Rachel Carson, Jacques Cousteau. They all have one thing in common, they used their skills wholeheartedly to effect social change.

D.B. from Napa Valley:
Here is my answer to your your question. There is no importance to the order, just as I thought about them. I tried to stay away from those you already mentioned, but also I don't think I could look Jesus in the eyes, let alone ask Him a question. But I would have loved to have sat at His feet when he taught, and I would have loved to taken a class with C.S. Lewis. I am not sure my questions are good ones, but I respect each of these men, and would have been honored to have worked with or for each. I kept it to five, but if I think of some more I may send them later...

Abraham Lincoln – If you could only name one thing which sustained you through the stress and tribulation of the Civil War - what was it?
Thomas Jefferson – What was your greatest success, and what was your most disappointing failure?
Sir Winston Churchill – In your political career, what would you have done differently?
The Apostle Peter – Why do you think the Lord chose you to be the first leader of the Church?
Francis Schaeffer – What is the biggest failure of the Church of the twentieth century?

M.D. from New York:
President Eisenhower: where are the bodies from the Roswell crash kept?
Chris Columbus : what food did you bring aboard your ships?
Henry Ford; how would you feel if your cars could travel at 300 mph?
President Truman: what if we don’t drop the atomic bomb?
Jesus: why does the Lord make children suffer?

G.K. from Michigan:
These are the first five that came to mind. It is far to late for me to be up on Saturday night. I need to go to bed. Thank Susie for the challenge. I liked her choices too. In particular Chesterton and Lewis. I am hoping that there will be times of storytelling on the other side with all of the people that I admire for their stand for Jesus.

#1 My great- grandfather Henry Kins -- The question: Is our name really Kinserdahl or is it Hermundson? Is the story you told my Dad true about why you came to America true and if it isn't true why did you change our name?

# 2 Ulrich Zwingle - Was it really a difference about the Lord's Supper that drove you and Martin Luther apart and was that what prompted you to say about him , " We are not of the same spirit."

#3 General Armstrong Custer - Were you shot by an old man when you rode across the river like the native Americans tell the story and were you killed relatively early at Little Big Horn like they say or were you the last to die like the movies depict it. Also, was your motivation for attacking by yourself and not waiting for your re-enforcements, that you were wanting to run for president and wanted a glory story to kick off the campaign?

# 4 Lief Erikson - Did you discover America or did you get no further than Greenland?

# 5 The Apostle Paul - Did you really evangelize in Spain and get as far as Great Britain or are those just legends?


Monday, January 14, 2008

Physics: It's Not Always Rocket Science

1. The science of matter and energy and of interactions between the two, grouped in traditional fields such as acoustics, optics, mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, as well as in modern extensions including nuclear physics, cryogenics, solid-state physics, particle physics and plasma physics.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

In high school one of my favorite teachers was my physics teacher Mr. Dennison. I don't recall all that much from the class other than a few films in time-lapse photography of a bullet piercing an apple, and clouds across the autumn skies. Something about velocity and gravity. Nothing about rocket science.

The reasons we like teachers vary, but in this case it may have been the special interest he showed to me. And it may have been that he was a baseball coach and I'd spent years dreaming that one day I would grow up to play baseball. Mr Dennison, my junior varsity coach in baseball at B.R.H.S.-West in New Jersey, had been a minor league pitcher for seven years. At the end of that seventh year he was brought up to the major leagues for a week, joining Boston's Red Sox bullpen the last week of a non-significant season and getting a chance to pitch part of an inning.

Evidently his dream had to be abandoned, because after this brief brush with the majors he let it go. Looking back on my own life I see any number of dreams embraced and abandoned, and understand now what I did not understand then. Perhaps this experience of pain made him a better coach and better teacher. He was certainly both, and an influence on my life.

It seemed as if he'd taken an interest in me. As a student, one tends to feel oneself to be a lost particle, insignificant as dust. To be singled out is a big thing. Especially by your J.V. coach.

My last period class was study hall and Mr. Dennison would take Joe Sweeney and I out of class to give us batting practice. Mr. D threw more junk at us than a carnival barker. His curves were impressive and the knuckle ball was a phenomenon. Both sophomore and junior years I had the second best batting average on the team and lowest strikeout percentage. Joe Sweeney had the best batting average, a healthy .500 or better junior year, and Skip Hoy similar our sophomore year.

But it was apparent we weren't going to be superstars. Late in the season I was brought up to varsity, played respectably at shortstop and earned a letter. The following year, however, the head coach was going to be re-building and it didn't take rocket science to see my future was not going to be in baseball.

I learned some valuable lessons from Mr. Dennison, a few in the classroom and some important ones out on the baseball diamond. His investment of time made an impact, and imparted some positive energy into my soul, an interaction that helped contribute to my own efforts years later as a coach, teacher and role model. Thank you, Mr. Dennison.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Suppose we are interested in learning a new language. My son took an interest in Russian a few years back. Because of my interest in French literature I took an interest in learning French. One thing you quickly learn with languages like French or Russian, and I suspect Chinese or Navaho, is that you do not just "pick it up." One must make a deliberate decision and make a commitment to the task. You decide, "Yes, I will take whatever steps are necessary to achieve this goal."

In its essence, achieving a goal like this requires (a) the decision to do so, (b) finding a mentor who can help us move out of square one into complete facility, and (c) following through on each step along the way.

Dallas Willard, in his book Renovation of the Heart, uses this process of learning a language as a metaphor for character development. It requires intentionality first. Do we want to become better people? It does not "just happen."

Life is an ocean. If you are a ship in London and want to reach New York, it will be a very long time before you reach this destination if you set about to just drift there, if you reach it at all. Tragically, too many people live their lives with no aim whatsoever. Or with very low aims.

Where are you going with your life? What kind of goals do you have for your own personal development? As Ralph Winter once said, "Risks are not to be evaluated in terms of the probability of success, but in terms of the value of the goal." Keep pressing on. Purposefully.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Real Power

Yesterday I wrote about how when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, he displayed two qualities that are unique to man: creativity and freedom. Later in the day I began thinking about another facet of this act of creation that is not spelled out but clearly present. I refer here to God's power. The mighty God conceived and spoke into existence a universe.

It is important to understand power, though I hardly have time to write anything comprehensive here. Many people associate power with bullying and intimidation. Yes, this is a form of power, but not the highest form of power.

A number of years ago a friend of mine, John Prin, recommended an insightful analysis of power called Real Power by Janet Hagberg. The book outlines the six stages of personal power within organizations and is one I'd highly recommend to anyone seeking a greater self-understanding and how to move beyond powerlessness or the lower levels of influence.

According to Hagberg, the lowest level of power is powerlessness. The next level is power by association. The third stage is power by symbols. Stage four is power by reflection. Stage five is power by purpose. And the highest level of power of influence is the saint who remains powerfully influential long after leaving the systems or structures of power. People like Mother Teresa, Saint Francis of Assisi, etc.

I like thinking in terms of influence. This is a little different from the idea of creation or the power demonstrated by God in creation, but not entirely. Are we making an impact with our lives, our activities? Are we making a difference? How can we make a difference that counts for something? What is the meaning of our lives?

Many people see "power" as destructive, or with its destructive face affixed. Power is demonstrated by one's ability to manipulate, intimidate, crush and destroy. Is this real power? Maybe it is a form of power, but a distorted form for sure. For a true portrait of how power is most perfectly and vividly expressed, check out the message by Pastor Brad Shannon on January 6 called Our Self Giving Servant Father . It turns our usual understandings about power on their heads. This is indeed Real Power.

Be sure to check out Janet Hagberg's Real Power at

Visit the website of my friend, author and speaker John Prin.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Creativity and Freedom

I want to share a complicated idea that I was introduced to yesterday. For a long time I have held that one of the qualities that makes us, as humans, unique and reveals that we are made in the image of God is our creativity. God's first action was a creative one. Or at least, the first recorded action of God was thus. He made the heaves and the earth.

Likewise, we ourselves are distinct from bluebirds, earthworms and cows by this attribute of creativity that permeates who we are. Inwardly we understand this, even if we do not contemplate it. When we create we feel good. Musicians, artists, architects, writers love nothing more than this process of expression. There is something magically satisfying about being creative. This is what makes it all the more tragic when a teacher or parent stifles or destroys the creative urge within a child in order to make that child conform to some robotic ideal.

The new thought I had yesterday, stimulated by a sentence from Dallas Willard's book Renovation of the Heart, was that there is another aspect of God's nature that we share, which I had never considered before. God is a free agent. You see it again in the first sentence of the Book: "In the beginning God created..." The implication here is that God, of his free will, performed this creative act of bringing the worlds into existence. It was a choice that originated somewhere within the mind and being of God.

For this reason, when we live freely, as human beings we are happier. Freedom is an arbitrary need. It is again part and parcel of the original design.

Two corollaries emerge from this idea. First, one reason America became a great nation and world power was because to a large extent it was a culture with immense freedom and creativity. The fertile soil of freedom enabled the wondrous creativity of Americans (I am not blind to the awfulness that is also part of our history) to produce a vibrant, technologically advanced commerce. Capitalism itself is founded on the notion of free markets. And the American Revolution was a revolt against tyranny in an effort to allow families to enjoy freedom.

The second pertains to our personal situations. To the extent that we are not free, to that extent we are inwardly unhappy. I am not referring at this point to the economic necessities which require that we work 40 to 60 hours a week to provide for our families, though this can be stifling if one is not in a satisfactory situation. I am referring, rather, to our many bondages as Americans: alcoholism, addictions to drugs, sex, gambling, various eating disorders, etc. The list goes on. To the degree we find ourselves enslaved by self-destructive vices or behaviors, to that degree we are failing to express the original design. We are born to be free, and our happiness is directly related to our experience of freedom, both inward and outward.

When we get caught in self-destructive cycles and find ourselves enslaved, it is depressing and steals our happiness.

Although humanity shares much with other creatures, often forget that we are uniquely made in God's image. That is, we are not like all other animals. We do have a right to rule the earth, though it comes with the responsibility of being caretakers consistent with God's character. We are not components in a giant machine called society. We are people of inestimable value because we are God's children. We express it best when we are joyfully creative and free.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Anarchy and Revolution

E.L. Doctorow's Welcome to Hard Times is a vivid portrait of the early days of our wild west, when lawmen were scarce and unbridled lawlessness had its way. A small town is ravaged, and in the end ravaged again. The evil is real as is the cowardice, fear and grief.

I mention the book because of the images it paints. Set in the Old West, it could easily be a snapshot of a village in Rwanda, or Paris during its reign of terror. When law and order break down, the grim result is frightening.

Yet there are some who bought this scenario as a dream. Tear down the system and something better will emerge in its place. How that "something better" emerges is unexplained. But what is clear is that no one wants to be caught up in the midst of this kind of horror. And the more we have at stake -- homes, families -- the more we realize how utterly devastating a cultural breakdown will be. Who wants to see a spouse or child get abused, raped or tortured, to see all of one's personal belongings trashed and burned?

For this reason most people accept the slow erosion of freedoms, the increased taxation, the higher cost of living. What are our alternatives? Gratitude is one of the first things on my lips, for the family I was born into and the security I felt growing up, for a country with so much freedom within a structure of law. I have not been losing sleep over an unsettling fear that our family is endangered by marauding bands of bad men. (As soon as I write this, however, I wonder whether this is the case for some people in other parts of our nation... such as sections of South Chicago or L.A. or Philadelphia.)

We have many problems in our country, but the solution is not a teardown. Riots in the streets will not get us what we want. The feeling of powerlessness is strong out there. Making ends meet is a challenge for many and it is difficult to understand the forces behind the economic pressures most people experience. Also there is that feeling that we can't make much of a difference as we see civility deteriorating around us.

But the truth is contrary. The call to revolution should be a call for revolution within. Eliminate your inner anarchy, and you will be better suited to impact the community, and larger world, around you.

We really aren't powerless. Our future is in our hands.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

All the World's a Stage

William Shakespeare. The name carries weight, influence. His remarkable power with words defies comprehension. Not only the quantity of his words, but the quality of his content... When writers review the rich catalog of his works, they are impressed and humbled. The guy could turn a phrase. Moreover, those phrases contained dense pearls of distilled wisdom. How did he do it?

Well, I have since learned that he did not do it. There was a committee, founded by two playwrights Geoffrey Williams and Walter Shakespeare. They hired a team of young writers and put them to work. The published sonnets and plays were said to have been penned by a William Shakespeare. A scandal arose at one point when one of the writers revealed...

Please do not believe the muttering in this previous paragraph. It would astonish me even more to discover that Shakespeare's art had been produced by committee. Have you ever done art by committee? I myself stand in awe at the volumes produced by authors like Shakespeare who with no keyboard, no word processors, no typewriters moved the world.

The best way to enjoy a good quote, by the way, is not to read a series of them quickly, as presented here. Rather, make as if each were a tea bag. Heat your cup of water, dip it and let it steep. Allow the aroma of each idea to seep into and saturate your thoughts. Once you have supped from the first, you may proceed to the next. There are flavors rich and subtle here. Take your time, enjoy each one.

» The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

» Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.

» Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.

» Be great in act, as you have been in thought.

» Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none.

» Blow, blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind,
As man's ingratitude.

» There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

» Brevity is the soul of wit.

» Cowards die many times before their deaths,
the valiant never taste of death but once.

» Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

» All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts...

Monday, January 7, 2008

Ramble or Reach?

All roads lead to... No, it's not that simple. The roads diverge and do not have identical ends.

Think in terms of watersheds. Think in terms of destinies.

Choices have consequences. But we are not powerless. We have the power to choose.

So much of life is lived as if we do not have choices. The reality is, we almost prefer it that way. If there is something we really, really want, there will likely be a price to be paid to obtain it. And most of us lack the motivation to do the necessary work. Who likes work? If it ain't easy, we pass. Our natural tendency is the path of least resistance.

The greatest achievements require risk and sacrifice. If we fail to make sacrifices in pursuing a goal, we tend to diminish its value. An achievement feels cheap if it did not cost us something.

And so it is.... we ramble, we drift. And we fail to pursue the deepest longings of our hearts.

Dream big. Dream big and reach for the stars.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Stigmata X

Stigmata X
by Terry Anderson
No man can ever start anew completely;
he's everything he's done
or said or failed to do.
Each bit is added on,
Altering the whole,
But covering, not replacing
what has gone before.
A piece of unfired clay,
he bears the marks
and scars of all his years.
Not just clay, though
sculptor, too;
he helps to mold himself:
Object, artist, audience.
Sometimes, though, larger hands --
destiny, fate, karma, God --
take firmly hold and,
wielding fierce events,
risk fracture to hack
and carve away some
awkward, ugly bits.
The final work cannot be seen
until it's fired, and all fires cold.

Paul knew: suffering and pain
are the truest ways,
the only ways for some of us,
to draw out that within
which answers to
the purpose of it all.

Terry Anderson was a journalist taken hostage in Beirut in the 1980's. After his release he wrote an insightful and powerful book called Den of Lions: A Startling Memoir of Survival and Triumph. It is an engrossing account of one's man's personal first hand experience in hell, with incredible self-disclosure. At various places in the account Anderson's poems have been interspersed. This one made an especially meaningful connection with me when I read it a few years back, and I share it with you hear.

Friday, January 4, 2008

More Recommended Readings

For Christmas I received an audio version of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. Even though I've read it several times, I was thrilled to obtain it and have already begun reading it again, if listening to books can be termed reading.

When I was young I used to visit the headquarters for Worldwide Evangelization Crusade in Fort Washington, PA. The executive director was an exceedingly wise and humble man named Elwin Palmer. Whenever I visited WEC I would try to spend a little time with Mr. Palmer. (My first goal when visiting was to meet and spend time with Norman Grubb, whose books had powerfully influenced me at that time.) There were some other remarkable people there. They had 1000 missionaries, and did not believe in asking for support but trusting God and prayer to provide all their needs. Anyways, Elwin Palmer said his favorite book was The Great Divorce, which naturally led me to obtain and read it.

Another rare gem is Lewis' The Weight of Glory and Other Essays. The first essay, "The Weight of Glory", about fifteen pages, is worthy of an annual review and has life changing implications. I guarantee you will remember for ever the point he makes in this essay.

As I am often fond of saying, the two greatest influences on our lives are the people we meet and the books we read. Here is a short list of thought provoking or entertaining readings from recent years.

(1) Relativism ~ by Francis Beckwith & Gregory Koukl
(2) The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America ~ by Philip Howard
(3) The Great Divorce ~ by C.S. Lewis
(4) False Presence of the Kingdom ~ by Jacques Ellul
(5) Bias ~ by Bernard Goldberg
(6) Blinded by the Right ~ David Brock
(7) John Adams ~ by David McCullough
(8) The World Is Flat ~ by Thomas Friedman
(9) A Bend in the River ~ V.S. Naipaul
(10) Mere Christianity ~ C.S. Lewis

(Bonus Recommendation) Boogers Are My Beat ~ by Dave Barry

Thursday, January 3, 2008

On the Late John Brockman

He passed away and left us his legacy: a finely crafted volume designed to relate the truth. He called it The Late John Brockman. Since all our experiences of the Present come through the senses, and this delays our direct experience of them by a fraction of a moment, then by the time we experience the present, it is past. Since the past does not exist (because it is gone), so are we.

He wrote the book before he was dead, but said that we are all dead because we live in the past and the past is gone, does not exist. He explained it like this. There is a time delay between the thing perceived outside our bodies and the actual reception in our brain of that perception. While it is infinitesimally small it is, nevertheless, a delay. Sight, sound, taste, smell, and the tactile senses -- all undergo the same phenomenon, a space of time is required for transmission from fingertip to brain acknowledgement, from retina to inward scene. The external world is past. He took a whole book to scientifically demonstrate what I have here reiterated twice. In the end, John Brockman pronounced his death.

Unfortunately, the tome failed to produce an income and his parents pressured him to secure a job to pay his bills. (He had borrowed three thousand dollars to produce the six hundred hardbound originals that were offered to a disinterested public.) He refused to take employment, and his father refused to feed him. There were other disagreements. He told them they were dead and that it did not matter whether they loved him or not because everything is meaningless once it is part of the irrelevant past. The oceans of time are too salty to drink for one who is so fully persuaded of their brininess. His mother became ill over her son's hardheartedness. His father and mother fought much and regretted many things they said to each other.

On a cold December night he left the house barefoot and without a coat. The next morning his blue body was found in the forest behind his home where he had nailed his hand to a tree.

I don't know why I have written all this. Perhaps because his book made an impression on me once, though I never stopped paying my bills. Nor did I forget that there are consequences for behavior.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Dark Arena

Nearing the finish of Mario Puzo's The Dark Arena, an early novel written before his fame. He must have been dealing with his own inner demons here, after going through the war. Was Puzo (the character) Mosca? The book is dedicated, "for Erika." Written in 1953. He was writing for almost two decades before becoming a mega-blockbuster with The Godfather. Years of discipline and development, unseen in the womb of dark struggle, where the writer is formed: The Arena. Only the best gladiators will survive... the rest are washed away and forgotten. We remember not their names. "The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happen to them all."
April 20, 1998

I wrote this journal entry upon completion of my short story Unremembered History of the World, and as I neared the end of Puzo's book which I was reading at the time. In my youth I remember vividly the reading of his compelling blockbuster The Godfather. One evening I could not put the book down, and when my mom got up in the morning I had been reading all night.

The power of good books is revealed in this anecdote which I remember from a Puzo interview years ago. He had been a struggling writer for years, but with the success of The Godfather he suddenly had more wealth than he could have ever dreamed of. For a year he did everything money could buy, went everywhere, exhausted himself in his pursuits. At the end of it all, he was bored by everything... except his books. Reading, he said, was the one thing that he never tired of.

Here is a link to my Unremembered History. I tried to create a non-linear experience with several asides utilizing the unique capabilities of hyperlinks. But in point of fact, a written document can accomplish the same through footnotes. Nevertheless, I consider this one of my most interesting stories, though somewhat slow to develop for some modern tastes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

No Country for Old Men

Cormac McCarthy's book No Country for Old Men is an incredible story so very well told. I listen to audio books and this one made me want to keep driving. I could hardly wait for the morrow's commute.

It's one of the classic thriller story lines. An ordinary person accidentally gets caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man is a nail-biter example of this genre. A Simple Plan, with Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, is another.

And like any exceptional story, No Country has memorable characters. Llewelyn Moss is the unfortunate man who while hunting comes across a dope deal gone bad in the expansive back country of South Texas, and ends up with a satchel containing two million dollars in cash. There's a lesson here, though it is never stated as such: if you ever find a couple million dollars that are not yours, it's best to just stay out of it. Even though everyone involved in the transaction appears shot up and pretty much finished off, Moss knows that there will likely be others coming for the money. Little does he know how bad one of these others is.

NOTE: This Review Contains Spoilers

The guy who keeps you sitting straight up in your seat, and may keep you awake at night after, is Javier Bardem as Anton Chiguhr. Think sugar and chigger, and you have this pathological, human version of The Terminator, relentless in pursuit and seemingly indestructible. Nothing sweet about this man whose conscience is dead and determination unstoppable. Your heart rate increases every time he's on the screen.

No Country for Old Men has been receiving fabulous reviews. The Coen brothers (Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) wrote the screenplay and directed this first rate film. Like another current book adaptation, Charlie Wilson's War, there is much that has to be sifted out and only hinted at, lest we have something tiresome to watch after a while. The Coens were successful at creating the emotional tension that is generated by the book.

How did they do it? One noteworthy item is the total absence of a music soundtrack. They deserve high praise for avoiding the commercial temptation to make a music bed that would generate additional revenues afterward. Instead, they went the direct opposite way with this film. No music, no sound at all in the opening or closing credits. No fake strings section to tip viewers off that something bad is coming. The tension is created totally by the intersection of characters and circumstances. And it does get intense.

In terms of execution the film was flawless. Congrats to the Coens for their ability to bring everyone together and pull off this kind of feat.

But there were a number of problems for me with this film adaptation. First, Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. I mean, I just couldn't get past that this was Tommy Lee Jones playing a caricature of himself. He has been in too many movies where he's this hard boiled veteran whose seen too much of life. It is through his eyes that we see the story unfold. As a central character he plays this role well, but I know him as an actor from The Fugitive to Men In Black and, gosh, couldn't we find anyone else to do this? Sorry, guys. That's how it was for me.

Second, some have criticized the short amount of time Woody Harrelson is onscreen. Yep. He is a more important character in the book. Like William Hurt's brief appearance in Syriana, it was not necessary to have such star power here. O.K., it maybe sells more tickets at the box office? I really liked this character in the book, and Harrelson does play Carson Wells the bounty hunter very well, but I just don't know.

I consider both of these criticisms relatively minor compared to my one major criticism. It simply ended too fast in too confusing of a manner. I think a tight, fast ending is usually great in films so that they do not drag on after the final rush. The problem here is a tight, fast and confusing ending. If I had not read the book, I would not have known what happened. And I am not talking about the scene where Chiguhr is hit by the car. I'm referring to the preceding homicides that end the cat-and-mouse drama.

The reason this is a problem is that, in my opinion, the last emotion one should have after this kind of a thrill ride is that same relief you get when the roller coaster slams back into the station and they unlatch the mechanisms that keep you in the car. Relief. Catch your breath. Instead of a big "wow," I left the theater perplexed and disappointed, with jumbled thoughts. Instead of being in awe at the way they created such a fabulous film, I walked out baffled, dampened by the lack of clarity in the films last scenes. This should not have happened.

I still think it a powerful film and worth seeing if you like this kind of story. It will put you on the edge of your seat.