Saturday, April 28, 2007


I was meeting with some friends yesterday in a place with some big big plate glass windows. We were all very surprised by a loud crash when a fairly sizable bird smashed with a fairly sizable amount of force directly into the window. The bird died shortly thereafter. As best we can tell, it's a Cooper's Hawk. What a beautiful bird! It's now stored in our freezer while we try to find someone who might like to preserve it thru taxidermy. Museums, audobon society or maybe just some taxidermist who needs a bird to work on.
Last week I had to stop to let a beaver cross the road. This one survived...barely. He seemed to be in no big hurry, but then I'm not sure he really could go any faster. Nevertheless, if several generations of beavers are going to go about crossing Route 4 on a regular basis, I sure hope natural selection works quickly to help them develop adaptations that will increase their survival rate. The "waddle along and lets hope their headlights pick up my silhouette in time to stop" strategy seems to me to have some real shortcomings. I had not realized the beavers are so big. This boy was easily a yard long from nose to tail.
Our pet skunk has been at it again. He live under our shed. He comes around at night and digs holes in the yard looking for grubs and whatnot and if we leave the trashcans unsecured, he is pretty good at helping himself. It's no big deal but we have to be a little careful about stepping onto the deck after dark in the summer. Don't really wanna surprise that critter. So now we're going to be getting a dog in the next few months. I'm not sure how to train that pup to avoid the skunk. I'm thinking the skunk is gonna have to move, but I'm not quite sure how to go about it.
I have not had to stop for a moose yet this year, although I did last year.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Secret

The Secret is the hot new thing is the world of media on motivation and personal development. It's a great introduction to the concept of The Law of Attraction. For those of you who are not familiar with the book or the concept, let me give it to you in a nutshell. The Law of Attraction means that when you focus on certain outcomes, you tend to attract (or create) those outcomes in your life. This is true of both things you want, and for things you don't want. In other words, if you spend all your time thinking about how unhappy you are, you will continue to have more and more reasons to be unhappy. If on the other hand, you begin focusing on how much you are grateful for, you will tend to attract more of those good things into your life.

The Secret spends a great deal of time unpacking the concept, it's implications, applications and mechanics. It has been very helpful to many people by giving them a focused practical process for taking responsibility for their actions, and taking concrete steps to improve their state. Generally I endorse it, and take much of it's basic premises to heart. As I said in my first post on this blog, I am very intentional about my approach to personal development. That is one reason why that is my business.

Nevertheless, I have some bones to pick with The Secret. For the sake of time, I'll just throw a few of the biggies up here on the wall for you, dear reader, to ponder. I will revisit these in more detail down the road.

First, the so-named Law of Attraction is NOT a secret and has not been hoarded and guarded by rich and accomplished people down through the ages. This is strongly implied if not spelled out in the opening sequences of the DVD. One example in ancient scripture -- "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."

Second, The Secret makes it way more mystical than it needs to be. The fact is that when you spend much of your time thinking about something, whether it is helpful, or whether it is damaging to you, you will tend to take actions, consciously or subconsciously, that will bring about that state. It's more about psychology, emotion, and communication that it is about metaphysics.

Third - although the DVD does make it clear that success is NOT only about money, there is a strong thread that equates wealth with owning large expensive things, traveling to faraway exotic places, and eating at luxurious restaurants. It seems to be assumed that if you are wealthy, this is how it ought to manifest itself. While I do not have a problem with wealth, in fact I intentionally am seeking to become a very wealthy person, I wish they would expand on what wealth really means, and what it is for. Since they don't, I guess I will (eventually).

Fourth - The Secret purports to be the solution to all of life's problems. I would say it's a powerful tool to apply to some of life's problems, but ultimately it leaves out one or two pretty BIG parts of the story.

More to come.

New Strategy

It seems that I cannot put aside a large enough block of time to write a lengthy post about anything. So, I'm going to try a new strategy. I'll be dropping a bunch of shorter posts, revisiting various themes. Let's hope it works. Some of them may be VERY short.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What going on?

There are days when whole essays emerge fully formed from my head, like Athena leaping from the head of Zeus. Then there are days (or weeks) when I seem to muddle around, juggling half-formed ideas, unlinked trains of thought, and unfocused outlines. I am in just such a time right now. I don't suppose this should be surprising, given that I am reading 4 books at once, attempting to break a personal record in my business, improve the current state of my house in preparation for guests, attend to a number for fairly pressing personal matters and still make time to love my family. My attentions and my energy is focused in directions that don't include a blog. No different from anybody else I expect, but I am finding that having a blog is a good thing. It actually makes me think more about writing down my thoughts and publishing them. Ultimately I believe that will be a beneficial discipline for me. Nevertheless, I'm still trying to figure out my personal blogging rhythms.
So here are some of the things I am juggling:
Christus Victor - This is another way of understanding what happened when Jesus dies and refused to stay that way. It's not so much the sacrifice, it's the victory that matters.
The Emerging Church - I have had several conversations about this maddeningly slippery concept. There is much to like and much not. I owe much of my developing thinking about this phenomenon to Assistant Village Idiot. His conversations are challenging me to sharpen my questions and answers about who these people are and what exactly they are doing. I'm finding that while much of my thinking actually seems to parallel much of theirs, I would never actually take on their label.
The Secret - I'm in the business of personal and professional development. "The Secret" is a film and book that may be one of the biggest events in this kind of business in decades. It's becoming in and of itself a huge pop culture phenomenon. While at a certain level, I applaud and agree with much of what it puts forth, for many people, it will become ( or has become) their substitute for true religion. What should I think about it?
Goals and Grace - In more general terms, I would like to explore the relationship between the American success philosophy and the Gospel. They are not the same, but they also have some fascinating points of intersection.
The Sacraments and Worship - This has been bubbling around for a long long time. My theology of both baptism and the Eucharist have undergone almost complete overhauls over the last several years (decade?). In part, this means that these holy rituals have become much more central to my thinking. I'm very excited about this, but it also has created some problems in terms of figuring out how to work out my new understanding.

These are some of the bigger items in development. There are others that are too unformed to really include here. I find it fascinating how much of this is specifically Christian in nature. I guess I spend more time than I realize thinking about this whole Jesus business. Go figure.

Well...check back every once in a while. Eventually I'll develop some of this stuff into something more complete and informative. It might even contain something worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

H Two Whoa! (Woe?)

Woke up on Monday with no running water, no cable, no Internet connection and hence no phone. Since I work out of my house, that put a bit of a cramp on my business. Managed to get some work done over cell phone.

Not sure how much rain actually fell, but it was a lot, with high winds easily gusting over 40 mph. Started Sunday, kept up overnight. The rain woke me up twice during the night. The rain! Monday it was full on non-stop. Heard that Mt. Washington saw winds over 150 mph. The big problem is that they came from the NE. The observatory was built for high winds but from the NW. This meant that they had one heckuva time closing the doors after each observation.

We were much better off then many of our neighbors. Next door a tree tore down a power line that was draped across their drive. The evacuated for a few days. I think the power line is still there. The local school was closed with no electricity, as was large portions of the town. Driving more than 8 miles in any direction led to detours around washed out roads. Evidence of multiple downed trees everywhere. We had no water as the pump station that pumps water from our community well was out of power. We did have electricity though. Thank God for small favors.

This morning I made that shift from expecting to be rescued to realizing that it could be a while and we'd better start making adjustments. First order of business - drinking water. So a trip to the closest grocery store got us 9 gallons of potable water. Next item - let's see about flushing the toilets. I grabbed a 5 gallon bucket and started making trips across the street to a small (now not so small) stream to haul water to fill the tanks. Dang. You don't really realize how much water you need to run an American house for a family of four until you have to haul it into the house in 5 gallon buckets. Next item - how 'bout washin' them dishes. More 5 gallon buckets to heat on the stove.

This afternoon all was restored. It was a good experience all in all. Very instructive for the girls. Makes me appreciate running water and septic even more. One could argue that civilization has been built on water and sewer. What is one of the central things that separates the developed from the undeveloped world? Easy access to clean water. Try running a country without it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Akeelah and the Bee

OK, this is one of those movies where you just know how it ends as soon as it starts, and that's perfectly OK because you want it to end that way because that is just the way it is supposed to end. It's not about the destination, it's about the journey.
I freely admit that I am not a cinema sophisticate. I generally do not look to film for my philosophy, theology or much of anything I think of as really important. Mostly I just want good stories I can enjoy. I especially appreciate heroic action (Legends of the Fall, Last of the Mohicans, Air Force One), but I am not averse to many movies commonly lumped under the chick flick category (I desist from naming names) if it's a good story and the characters are not morons. Serious films don't get too much play in my house, not because I'm never serious, but mostly because on a Friday night, after the kids are in bed, I really am not all that interested in engaging in the worlds problems. I have nothing against such films, and when I do watch them, I'm typically glad I did (assuming it was a good film). Akeelah falls into a different category. It's a feel good film, with a fair amount of life lessons built in. Preachy? Sure. But since I grew up in the church, I appreciate good preaching. And this is pretty good preaching.
Here's what I loved the captured my girls and gave them a great story that they can reflect on about how to deal with fear, pain, goals, ridicule, community, family, and reaching out into the unknown. I have already had several conversations where Akeelah was discussed. My youngest even cried when the film ended because she wants to do what Akeelah did when she gets old enough. Like I said, it captured them.
Keke Palmer plays the title character and she nails it. Laurenc Fishburne is full of Fishburnian gravitas, and in a few scenes goes all stiff and wooden, but it's easy to overlook if you aren't being critical. And I do not recommend approaching this with a critical eye. It ain't sophisticated or cynical, but it is written with grace and charm, a generous spirit seasoned with humor, toughness and tenderness all mixed together. I laughed. I cried. You should see it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reality Shift

Yesterday, I was driving along 1-95, returning from Freeport Maine, when I was passed by a large black pickup. Nothing unusual in that. Then I noticed what kind of pickup truck I gazed upon.
It was a cadillac. A Cadillac Escalade Pickup Truck.


Toto, I guess we're not in Kansas anymore.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Thoughts on Holy Week

Warning: You are about to jump into the middle of crude theological musings of an amateur. Read on at your own risk.

I had intended to post about Good Friday, and again about Resurrection. Well….I suppose I’m a little late for that. In an attempt to remain at least slightly current, here are snapshots of some musings on Holy Week.

Maundy Thursday – I was powerfully reminded this week of a time when, as a teenager, I met with 3 other boys for Bible study with Joe Coughlin, a local pastor. In the middle of one session, he stood up and walked out of the room with short instructions for us to remove our shoes and socks. We all looked at each other wondering if he was serious. He walked back in with a towel and basin, and reminded us agin to take off our shoes. He then knelt down and proceeded to wash our feet. We were…I’m not sure quite how to describe our feelings. Horrified seems too strong, but it just seemed so wrong for Him to be doing something so humbling. Pastor Joe was one of the most powerful mentors of my youth and we all had the greatest respect for him. I can easily identify with the response of the disciples when Jesus did the same for them. It was a powerful lesson that I have never forgotten.

You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I
am. If I then, the Lord and the teacher, washed your feet, you also
ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also
should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not
greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent
him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Good Friday – I have never really understood the concept of substitutionary atonement. Actually, I grasp the concept. I have never really understood the mechanics. How is it exactly that someone else can pay for my sin. If I commit murder, how is it that someone can serve my prison sentence, or even be executed in my place? There is no such thing as substitution in any law that I’m familiar with – except for that whole Kingdom of God thing. In theology classes, I was told that it’s possible because a) Jesus is perfect and b) Jesus is infinite by nature of his divinity. This never really seemed to me to solve the problem. How does Jesus’ suffering and death justify me?
The closest I’ve been able to come to getting this is the Deep Magic and the Deeper Magic referred by Aslan in Narnia. I know that Narnia is not a theological treatise or a book of biblical exposition. And, it doesn’t really EXPLAIN it, so much as it puts a label on it. Interesting label too. Magic. Hmmmm.
There is that about the atonement that is magical. The blood. The sacrifice. The words of power. I guess though, when YAHWEH sets it up, that’s how it is. I don’t really have to understand something to believe in it or even take advantage of it. I could list a whole bunch of stuff the inner workings of which I remain largely ignorant (automobiles, televisions, refrigerators) but that doesn’t stop me from pressing the button and watching the pretty pictures.
So I believe in the atoning work of Christ. Absolutely. It just remains a mystery. My overwhelming thoughts and emotions this week were simply a deep sense of gratefulness for it. Deep gratefulness. I need it.

Enough for now. I’ll rant on the Resurrection in a few days.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

5 Things about Me (maybe)

Assistant Village Idiot was kind enough to tag my blog recently. This is especially kind because I’m such a newbie to the blogosphere. As he said, who knows whether this blog will actually be thought provoking? It may be sidesplitting, irritating, monumentally yawn inducing, or a total waste of the electrons it is printed on. At any rate, I highly recommend his blog for the simple reason that Assistant Village Idiot is a sort of covert polymath. If you don’t know what that means, then go read the blog and try to figure it out.

The tag was part of a challenge to blog about something that you have never blogged on before. Well, in my case, that would be just about everything. So, I will slightly modify that task and list 5 important factoids about my life. Be aware that these may or may not be true. It’s up to you to guess.

I have a pair of pants made from actual dragon skin. They were designed and custom-made for me by a short chain-smoking Milanese tailor named Salvatore Baldassare. I don’t wear them very often, because when I asked my wife if they make my butt look big, she declined to answer. You know what THAT means.
I carry in my car, a 3.5 lb can of mixed nuts and a couple of bags of beef jerky. When I’m driving long distances, I find that these two things together make a tasty, filling and protein rich lunch. And no, I don’t actually consume the whole thing all at once.

I once walked 27 miles in one day to get a free meal at an all you can eat restaurant – just for the record, it was a Western Sizzler. On a different occasion, I spent 4 hours eating at another Western Sizzler. As you can imagine, I had all I could eat. Yet another day I ate ½ gallon of cherry ice cream for breakfast in ½ hour, and then walked 17 miles.

Depending on the type of shoe, I wear a size 12 EEEE. Even so, I have never attempted barefoot water skiing. Fortunately, I am still relatively young. The trouble is that it is so hard to find high-heeled sandals that fit properly. I’ve just about given up trying.

I once punched a Michigan State Police officer in the head and did not go to jail for it.

Truth or Fiction? You be the judge. Or, if you are truly post-modern you can just seek to discern the meaning of the meta-narrative.

Primary Shmimary

OK, I'm from New Hampshire. I grew up here and I am raising my children here on purpose.
I lived elsewhere for almost 22 years. Midwest actually -- Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. That was a great experience and I am glad to be back. I have always carried within me a deep and abiding affection for this state, it's land, it's people and it's institutions. I have found it to be home in a way I have never found with any other place (although I have certainly been to other places that I liked A LOT!). It has always been Where I Am From.
Having said that, I gotta ask, what is UP with the Political Primary thing?
I must admit, I am not a person who is highly engaged in politics. I mostly watch from a detached distance, noting with a certain amount of what I believe is healthy skepticism (but not really cynicism) the people and events of the political arena. I once thought I might like to be involved in politics but as I get older I suspect that I really don't have the stomach for it. If offered the opportunity to be King, I would probably jump at it. But campaigning for office, haggling over budgets, allocations and legislative votes just lacks the color and vigor that you get with a crown and scepter.
So I watch the whole flap over primary elections -- what state should go first? What state is representative of the nation? How much money this, and how many campaign trips that. I hear local politician get positively frothy at the mouth over the prospect that some other state should DARE to get in front of NH in the primary. It is our SACRED birthright as Granite Staters. We have the experience, we have the traditions, we have served the country well since...well, since primaries all started. Oh...and when was that? Oh like a whole 40 years ago? Whooopeee!
As one who has no dog in this hunt (other than actually living here) I gotta say that all strikes me as a rather steamy pile of hooahh. There is no doubt that first in the nation status in the primary elections is good for our ego, maybe for our economy, and certainly for our political status. But beyond that, I fear that it actually has very little benefit for the nation as a whole. I don't think our track record is really THAT good. To adamantly require NH to have the first primary in the nation strikes me as a largely self-indulgent, mostly self-promotional position.
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with self-promotion. I suspect, however, that in this case it may be coming at the expense of the whole nation. I would say the same of any other state that made such a demand for their state. I recently heard of a proposition for regional rotating primaries, where the country would divide into regions, each region holding its primaries at the same time. The regions would rotate the order every 2-4 years. Now this strikes me as eminently fair and feasible. It would make it easier and more effective for the candidates to campaign, and it would share the glory (and the responsibility) around the country. I do not believe that NH would be diminished in any significant way, in any way that REALLY counts, by this kind of arrangement. It would be a change, and it would affect some businesses and institutions. By and large, however, most people here would shrug, and get back to business.
I saw a T-shirt once that said, "NH. Go away and Leave us Alone." Because I think there is actually some truth in that, I believe that letting go of our first in the nation primary would be somewhat more than OK with most folks.
If this gets out, I may find my citizenship in NH revoked and be forced to be the only person in the entire state to pay sales tax. If so, I'll be letting you know where you donate to my legal defense fund.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Dead End

I just finished an article from Harper’s Magazine from the February 2007 issue called Dead end: Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice. The thesis is that all current counter-insurgency doctrine is fatally flawed because it fails to account for the true terrain of a counter-insurgency – the people. Failing thus, it fails to solve the essential problem of counter-insurgency. The central problem is not at it’s core a military problem, but a political one. If the counter-insurgency fails to control (notice I did not say win over) the people, then the effort to stop the insurgency will fail. This has been amply demonstrated in Afghanistan (both now, 25 years ago, and 150 years ago) Vietnam, and of course, Iraq.
But here is the bite. There is a viable solution to an insurgency that requires (comparatively) few troops. The Romans used it to great effect, as did the Ottomans and the Nazis. That is to out-terrorize the terrorists. I say that it is viable because it is affordable (in the sense of outlay of treasury, troop deployment and lives of soldiers) and has been proven effective. To put it simply, the occupying troops utilize selective and total retaliation against the civilian population for any perceived cooperation with the insurgents. Pretty soon, the civilians stop shielding the insurgents. There is no profit in it. Without the skeleton and armor provided by the civilians, the insurgency crumbles.
This we will not do. Nor ought we. And here is our true failure.
Our failure is not that we fail to oppress civilians. Our failure is that we want to wage war without taking responsibility for the outcome. The end of the article briefly outlines one other option – military government. We have also opted out of this approach.

“That decision reflects another kind of politics, manifest in the ambivalence of a United States government that is willing to fight wars, that is willing to start wars because of future threats, that is willing to conquer territory or even entire countries, and yet is unwilling to govern what I conquers, even for a few years.

Recall the outcome of WWII, and you will realize that we actually RULED part of Germany, most of Italy, all of Japan for years. We made no bones about it. We invested and did it right and created from the ground up the infrastructure for democracy. Democracy cannot be merely planted, it seems. It must be planted and carefully cultivated for it to be able to take root. This is our failure. By looking for the quick fix, the weeds are choking out the wheat, and unwilling to take the mower to the whole lot, we will eventually have to abandon the entire field to the wild thistles, brambles and witchgrass.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Tangled and Twisted

I was recently reminded of this quote from C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

As I become older I can see more and more what a dangerous and difficult thing love is. I wonder at how love can even be moral and righteous and some circumstances, and immoral and wrong in other situations. It’s not so much that I am seeing the world in more shades of gray. It’s that I’m coming more and more to see the world as incredibly tangled, impossibly snarled, knotted and jumbled. Few things are truly simple. Almost nothing cleaves a straight line.
This is as true for the adulterer as it is for the homosexual. The fornicator struggles with this as much as the sodomite. And guess what? That’s all of us. Jesus made it pretty clear that the real standard of rightness is higher than we can reach. So don’t think that you aren’t bound up in the knot.
As I was saying, it is easy to think that love, in and of itself, redeems any act, any person, any event. Deep affection, total devotion is perfectly acceptable, no matter who the people are, no matter what their situation. This may be the most pernicious lie to permeate our culture. If it’s love, then it must be OK. Love, however, is not that simple, and like everything else in the world, it is twisted and bent and needs itself to be redeemed and made right.
How can it be wrong if it FEELS SO RIGHT?
But I LOVE HER! Becomes not simply a declaration but the argument for justification.
The problem is defining what love actually is. Lewis’ book does a powerful job of exploring the complexities and layers involved in love.

Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: "We give thanks to thee for thy great glory." Need-love says of a woman "I cannot live without her"; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection — if possible, wealth; Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.

We have made love an idol. We worship it and justify our worship by chanting “God is love…God is love.” In fact, we really have no idea what we are talking about. Our study of love only grazes the most thin surface layer. It has not served us well.
I have no idea how to do this, but if we can go deeper and peel back the layers of what love is, we will find that love is much harder, more violent, more demanding than we like to think – and more glorious and magnificent and splendid than we could have conceived. If we were to find a way to truly reveal to ourselves the absolute heart of love, we will turn the world inside out.