To be an Idaho citizen Part 2

Living in Idaho means having access to everything from the city to the farm to the backwoods. But living in Idaho also means that your government is a bit unhinged.

Let us start with the governor, Butch Otter. The man with the comical name that I could not invent even if I tried is lackluster on his best days. Married into a rich family and later divorced. In the 90s he remarried a woman half his age: a 24 year old pageant queen - Idaho's representation in the Miss USA contest. Since winning the 2006 election for governor, he has mostly rested in his popularity from previous positions as Lieutenant Governor and US Representative. When he has made an effort to do something, he acted with the sense of a kindergartner (example: refusing to sign any bills until the legislature passed a roads bill that he wanted).

Otter's second and third terms have been defined by failure and controversy. He backed the awful Luna Laws that voters soundly rejected. He has wasted $80,000 of tax payer money trying to fight the court's rulings on gay marriage. Even worse than all of that, he has been embroiled in scandal and accusations of crony capitalism. His attempt to privatize a state prison earned the nickname "Gladiator School" and is being investigated by the FBI for all sorts of charges; falsifying reports, allowing the gangs to control the prison, and purposefully under-staffing the guards. The Idaho Education Network was formed under his lead with the intent was to connect every high school in Idaho to high speed internet - including remote rural schools. However, contracts given to his out-of-state campaign donors even though a local company pitched a better service at a lower price. His actions resulted in a lawsuit (the state lost) and the courts determined that the previously awarded contracts were done so illegally. Again, this cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.

At best, Governor Otter is incompetent. At worst, he is manipulative and vindictive; possibly criminally corrupt.

This brain trust doesn't stop at the top. It works its way down to lower offices. Remember our Superintendent of Public Instruction? Yes, the one who won her election despite her bout of dishonesty, plagiarism, and lack of experience.

Or the former State Representative (and tax protester) Phil Hart who owed the IRS half a million dollars and tried multiple times to claim legislative privileges to evade his court battles.

Or the toe-tapping former US Senator Larry Craig who was arrested for lewd conduct in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, eventually pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. Despite being charged with misuse of campaign funds in an FEC lawsuit and court ordered to repay over a quarter million dollars in fines, Larry is now employed by the Idaho Republican Party as the financial chair of their executive committee.

Or former State Senator John McGee who got arrested for a DUI and grand theft auto after he stole an SUV with an attached towing a trailer; he went for a joy ride eventually crashing in the front yard of a Boise neighborhood. Despite his criminal charges, the senate took no penalizing actions against him and he was able to retain his position as caucus chairman. He finally resigned seven months later amid charges of sexual harassment.

Granted, those last three are all in the past. The current state leadership however is still filled with dolts of their caliber. Our current legislative session has been filled with disappointment.

Perhaps the most glaring evidence of their inadequacies is the refusal to recognize the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian due to paranoia of federal government overreach. Their actions crushed the dreams of the eighth grade student who has spent the last two years lobbying the state on behalf of the giant salamander.

Since the legislature began this current session, they have spent more time giving a proverbial middle finger to the big bad feds than they have attempting to resolve real problems facing our state. Rather than addressing education for our kids or providing support to the disabled in our community, Idaho's lawmakers are attempting to nullify federal law and claim possession of federal lands. They often ignore the advice of our Attorney General. They ignore the voices of the people who come to testify, send them emails, or call their offices. As for the many lawsuits that the state is fighting, our leaders have chosen to seek private lawyers rather than use the attorneys that are employed by the state - which means we're paying for legal representation twice. This GOP dominated government is redefining fiscal conservatism in horrifying ways.

I've become adjusted to the loony nature of our state's governance. After all, there isn't much I can do except wait for the next round of elections and hope my vote against these morons is not the only one.

Then the past few days happened. It must be a slow news week elsewhere in the nation because the idiocy of the Idaho GOP has made headlines from sea to shiny sea.

Both news stories broke on Monday.

First, while a doctor gave testimony, Rep. Vito Barbieri asked her if a gynecological exam could be performed by a woman swallowing a tiny camera. Anyone who has sat through a junior high anatomy class should be able to answer that question. Vito is an odd character. He is often confrontational during session and rude to anyone who provides input contrary to his political leanings. In response to the backlash against him, he claimed the question was rhetorical - which is likely. But it does nothing to further his cause. When you ask a stupid question like that, it undermines your argument. His back up excuse after the "rhetorical question" claim was that he was taken out of context. Of course, it is hard to be taken out of context when you are quoted word for word.

The second story revolved around a proposed resolution for the Kootenai County GOP Central Committee. This resolution asked for Idaho to declare that it is a Christian State - that "The state of Idaho and all its institutions will render full recognition to the Christian basis thereof, not permitting any diminution or rejection of its status nor any restriction on its presence or role in the public arena." Forget that the first amendment of the US Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion. Forget that Article I section 4 of the Idaho Constitution also protects religious liberty stating "No person shall be required to attend or support any ministry or place of worship, religious sect or denomination ... nor shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship." But hey, who cares about the law?

Supporters claimed that the resolution was significant because we live in a time where Christians are persecuted in countries like Syria. They forget that the Christian church was founded during a time of persecution, that the first churches often met in secret, that the Roman government often subjected early Christians to torture and executions. They forget that there have always been nations where Christians are a persecuted minority and that the church often thrives in the midst of open persecution. They forget that Jesus told his disciples that they would be insulted, slandered, and assaulted because of their faith, that they would be blessed for the ways they are mistreated. One committee member backing the Christian State resolution had the gall to say that the republican party is a Christian party. It is as if the God they believe in is smaller than politics or belongs to only a single party.

Times like these make it hard to enjoy living in Idaho. Maybe I need to take a evening walk along the Centennial Trail again to watch the sun set over the Spokane River and remember why I love this place that I call home.

Because, if you ignore the troglodytes that govern this state, it really is wonderful here.


To be an Idaho citizen Part 1

If you are to live in Idaho for any extended duration, you will discover much to enjoy. From the depths of Hells Canyon and Snake River Canyon to the heights of Borah Peak, the Selkirk Mountains, or the Sawtooth Range. From world class ski resorts of Sun Valley, Brundage, or Schweitzer Mountain to the the beauty of Payette, Coeur d'Alene, and Pend Oreille lakes. From Craters of the Moon National Monument to City Of Rocks National Preserve to the Cataldo Mission National Historic Landmark. From deserts to forests. From peaceful valleys to alpine ridges. From farming canals to wild rivers. From the Mormon dominated south to the libertarian north. The hunting and fishing and boating and swimming and hiking and spelunking. The metropolitan entertainment and agricultural fields and state fairs and community festivals and art galleries and distilleries and cheese factories and coffee roasters. The clean air. Most people would be able to find an aspect about the state of Idaho that they could love.

We have been nicknamed the Gem State because of the varieties of gemstones that can be or have been found within our borders. This state is also a figurative gem because of its something-for-everyone setting. The city dweller. The suburbanite. The farmer. The redneck. The thrill seeker. The artist.

Idaho has been home to authors and poets like Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound; actresses Patty Duke and Ellen Travolta; actors Viggo Mortensen, Dennis Franz, and Ben Stein; athletes like Jake Plummer and Don Larsen; even Philo Farnsworth - the guy that invented the television. At some point in time, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Elway, Mark Zuckerberg, Clint Eastwood, and Wayne Gretzky have owned vacation properties in Idaho. This is a state that has inspired adventure as well as offered a quiet retreat for many.

In my little corner of Kootenai County, I have come to appreciate our event-filled tourist season that seems to never end. Car d'Alene, Ironman, the Fourth of July parade and fireworks show, Julyamsh pow wow, Art on the Green, North Idaho Fair. I love our nearness to the rugged wilderness and access to the amenities of Spokane on the other side of the state line. The smell of mint as I drive across the prairie, the roar of water falling over the Post Falls Dam, the feel of wind sweeping inland from the lakes and rivers, and the relieving chill as I dip my toes into the water after a hike around Tubbs Hill. We experience all four seasons in their truest forms: wet but warm springs with cherry blossoms and electrical storms, long hot summers that will compel you to seek either air conditioning or your favorite stretch of beach, cool and crisp autumns with colorful foliage, and frigid snowy winters that make recent Californian transplants regret their decision to move north.

This is my home.

Before I start to sound like I am speaking on behalf of the Department of Commerce and Tourism, before you assume I'm trying to convince all of my out-of-state friends to relocate to my neighborhood, there's more.

Idaho contains unparalleled scenery. It is a golfer's and sportsman's paradise. We have miles and miles of trails to support any fitness advocate. Foodie will find their favorite culinary haunts. If you're looking for good wine or good gin, you'll find it in Idaho. Life here is something that anyone could get used to.

However ...

If you are to live in Idaho, you will have to accept that crazy is the default setting for most of the politicians that run this state. The capitol building in Boise is a stunning and gorgeous work of architecture, but the business that is conducted within its walls borders between insanity and absurdity.

There is more. If you want to know what kind of mindlessness lurks around Idaho's government, you'll have to read part two tomorrow.


Blogfest 2015

Saturday was a glorious (partly) sunny day but still a bit on the frigid side of the thermometer. That made it a perfect day to head inside for some socialization and good food. Bloggers and blurkers from around North Idaho gathered at Fort Ground Grill to celebrate the anniversary of Dave O's Huckleberries blog.

This is an annual event and I have lost count of how many Blogfests I've attended. But the people that were there make it worth the visit.

(click to enlarge - it's worth it)

This is the second year that all three kids came with me. It's interesting to give them a glimpse into my social world beyond what they normally get to see.

The kids got to meet Mayor Widmyer. Steve came around and shook their hands. Christian acted as if he was in the presence of royalty. Steve is such a great guy and as long as he's running for office, he has my vote.

Aside from the delicious grub provided by Fort Ground Grill and Bent's BBQ, there were also lots of laughter and reminders of why our blogging community exists.

Good times were had. JJ really enjoyed his lemonade.

Christian kept busy, distracted by Angry Birds. (completely draining the battery on my iPod)

And Chloe made some new friends in Digger and Spaz.

Honestly, I am grateful to be a part of this community. It is so rare to see a cordial and jovial gathering of a group of people with such diverse political and religious persuasions. It is also an honor to be considered as peers among the talented writers and photographers that Dave has assembled.

I can't wait until next year.


Frosty windows and the real me

The past couple of days have displayed the classic North Idaho beauty: bright sunny backdrop contrasted against our sparkling lakes and the greenery of forested hills. This has created a deception of warmth; we're venturing out in shorts and sandals with car windows down despite the fact that it is only 40 degrees outside.

After all, it is still winter.

During this time of year, those clear and cloudless skies that reveal scenic splendor by day and galaxies by night come with a setback every morning: frost. I hate frost.

Perhaps hate is the wrong word. More like I despise frost with a fiery passion that rivals Krakatoa, Vesuvius, and St Helens on their worst days. There is no wintertime activity that annoys me like scraping frost off my car's windshield.

This morning, as the defroster inside my car was cranked to its highest setting and I begrudgingly employed my ice-scraper outside, I had a flashback to another frost. One that was stickier and more annoying. During my senior year of high school, after a late night dress rehearsal, a cast mate offered me a ride home. When we left the auditorium, her car was covered with frost. Unfortunately, she did not have a scraper in her car. There was an empty cassette case (remember those?) and I offered to use that to scrape her windows. It worked. But by the time I finished scraping every window, her car had completely frosted over a second time. It took three full scrapings before the internal temperature of her car was warm enough to stave off repeated frostings.

As my mind is prone to wander, this thing I loathe reminded me of something better.

But first I have to go back in time a little further than high school. I grew up in a household that was enamored with sports. Saturdays filled with Pac-10 games. Sundays dominated by the NFL. Dave Niehaus and the Mariners all summer long. Sonics and hockey filled the winter months. And when all else failed, we watched pro wrestling.

By the time I was in kindergarten, my parents enrolled me in league soccer. I played for a couple reasons. Partly because my brother played soccer, and there was an expectation that I participated in some sort of competitive sport. But also because I actually liked soccer.

Then junior high came. My brother's choice of sport at that age was basketball. I couldn't do it. I was short and I knew that I would not be able to compete, so I made the unwise decision to join the wrestling team. Despite my ill fated choice in junior high athletics, there was another path I took during those years that changed my life far more than anything I experienced while playing a sport: I auditioned for drama club.

My first roll as a German officer in The Diary of Anne Frank started the journey that would bring me to that frosty night four years later, thrice scraping ice off of a friend’s car with a little square box of plastic meant to hold cassette tapes.

This girl was a part of the production cast, but she wasn't someone I had met through the drama club. I had grown up her with since we were toddlers; I had known her longer than any other student at our school. One of my earliest memories is getting in trouble for playing tag with her in the sanctuary of the little church we attended on the corner of Fourth and Alder. Her presence in drama club was significant. In our church youth group, she was one of the popular kids. As I have mentioned before, I was not one of the cool kids.

The line between the insiders and the outcasts was easily defined by athletic ability. They were tall and coordinated and good looking. During retreats and mission trips they would fill up their free time with a pickup game of football, and three-on-three rounds of basketball were as common as bible studies. When I joined the drama club, it was as if I had made a conscious decision to isolate myself from the sporty socialization of my peers at church. Our Sunday school classes and youth group meetings so frequently talked about media consumption that it often felt like our salvation was dependent on the genres of music we listened to or the kinds of movies we watched. From that perspective, playing sports was the wholesome activity that was encouraged. But art? Theater? Jazz band? Engaging in those heathen activities was a social stigma at church.

I developed a dual personality. One for my church friends and another for my school friends. That second persona was closer to the real me. The split was essential for my survival. It often felt like my peers at church negatively judged me for my theatrical associations. After all, the drama club was filled with outspoken atheists, openly gay people, and kids that smoked. Why would a good Christian kid want to hang out with them?

My senior year was the first time in my six years of involvement with school theater that I could share the stage with one of the popular kids from church. It was improbable that one of the cool kids would join that eccentric circle of thespians that I considered my closest friends.

Sure, there were other mixings of the two worlds. In junior high, my best friend Willie and I had roles in The House at Pooh Corner. He was Eeyore and I was Christopher Robin. Willie and I were friends at church, but he was an outcast like me. In high school, Willie's older brother Mike was a constant fixture in the drama club. He was also an outcast.

I have never regretted my decision to pursue involvement in theater instead of sports. Some of my greatest memories from my tenure at Marysville-Pilchuck High School happened in the performing arts building. My senior year was the pinnacle of that time: learning sword fighting for my role in Cyrano de Bergerac; elementary kids asking for my autograph after watching our production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe; all nigh set building parties while preparing for Into the Woods; passing around an acoustic guitar for group sing-alongs backstage.

As I look back at the highlights of the drama club, the unlikely addition of a popular kid from church is one of the most impacting. Not just scraping frost off her windows three times in one night - but the fact that she was there.

Until then, I lived in two worlds. The religious culture that rejected my interests and the supposedly godless culture that accepted me without reservation. The kids in drama club knew that I was a Christian, but that didn't affect their opinion of me. They gave me the freedom to express my faith far more than I ever could have with my church friends. Religion was important to me, but so was the theater. I lived this dichotomy, believing that my two worlds would be forever separated. I thought that I could never enjoy the arts at church and that I could never bring the church to my art.

Then one of the cool kids at church auditioned for a part in one of the drama club's productions. This was a collision of universes. This was validation that my passion for the theater had purpose and value. I finally realized that my theology and my artistry could coexist. The real me started showing up at church a little more frequently.

That frost though.


That which has no weight

When I purchased my phone, it weighed 3.95 ounces. Before installing any apps, before taking a single photo, before making a call or sending a text message: 3.95 ounces. My phone was nothing more than 3.95 ounces of aluminum, glass, sapphire, and electronic circuitry.

Now my phone's storage is 77% full, yet it still weighs 3.95 ounces. And if I fill it up to maximum capacity, it will still weigh 3.95 ounces.

That means the sum total of my digital existence: pictures and videos of my kids, chat and text conversations, books I've downloaded through Kindle, my guitar tuner, notes, calendar reminders, Pandora preferences, voice memos, cooking recipes, my bible, internet bookmarks ... All of it is weightless. Flashlight? Weightless. Angry Birds? Weightless. Marvel Comics? Weightless. Podcasts? Weightless.

Everything that you could ever want or need to know about my interests and habits weighs nothing.

The same is true of the human brain. On average, the human brain is three pounds. Skinny or fat, rich or poor, intelligent or stupid, an average of three pounds.

Just like installing a program on your computer does not make your hard drive heavier, we don't gain weight through learning. The brain itself is hardware. It is what allows us to function. To move, to breathe, to experience the fullness of our senses. But inside the brain, there's something else - something weightless. It is the human software - our thoughts, our identity. That which has no weight.

The sum total of who we are, what makes us unique, weighs nothing. Everything that makes us valuable is completely weightless. Our memories, our knowledge, our opinions, our dreams, our fears, our desires, our faith. All of it is wholly without weight.

The most important segments of our existence cannot be weighed or measured. It has no physical presence.

You are not identified by your shoe size, your waistline, or the number that shows up when you step on a scale. You are not your hair color or skin color. You are not your photographic smile or lack thereof.

What matters most is inside you. It has no weight or appearance, yet it is what makes you beautiful and gives you worth.

You - the real you is truly weightless.


The No-Truth Zone

Brian Williams has been relieved of duty. The powers at NBC have concluded that one tall tale invented in the mind of their most recognizable newsman was grievous enough to dismiss their most recognizable newsman for six months without pay. The statement they're making is important: that honesty matters. That liars should be punished. That news should be presented accurately and with truth.


Or at least that should be good. Unfortunately, the lesson will be lost in the din of 24 hour news networks.

Because FOX News has been lying for years.
Because CNN has been lying for years.
Because MSNBC has been lying for years.
Because CBS has been lying for years.

Because the truth is not sexy. The truth does not sell ad space. The truth does not lure in gullible viewers. The truth is that the culture of always-on news reporting encourages a stretching of the truth. Blood sells. Drama sells. Controversy sells. The more exciting, the more alluring, the better. The talking heads need to distort, omit, or invent facts to enhance their stories. Otherwise, it is just dull or appalling.

We live in a bizarro world where no-spin zones are filled with spin, where newsrooms resemble movie studios. Pick a major network - any of them, and you have a good chance of seeing someone lie.

I am not complaining about the bias. Everyone is biased and it is natural for viewers to seek out news programs that confirm their preexisting biases. So it does not bother me that FOX News leans right and MSNBC leans left. I do not care if news programs favor liberal or conservative viewpoints. What irks me is when news makers quickly and intentionally present demonstrably inaccurate "facts." And when it comes to news, everybody lies.

Yes, everybody. (infographic courtesy of PunditFact - click graphic for easier to read version)

Honesty matters. So I think it's good that NBC has suspended Brian Williams. But I wish that all news networks would follow that example. I would love to see more pundits disciplined for their dishonesty. Granted, (for some networks) that would result in a suspension of their entire staff.

Instead of mass layoffs and upheaval, maybe there should be a revolution in the way news is presented. What if there was more fact checking? What if anchors and new personalities offered more corrections and apologies for their inaccuracies? What if there was less infotainment and more information? What if the FCC fined networks for lies the same way they impose fines for indecencies? (Example: Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction.)

Truth is, none of those options will happen. We are to blame for this proliferation of lies in media. We allow it by consuming it. As long as they are getting the ratings they are going to keep doing what they have always done. We reward the liars by watching and accepting their lies.

Do you want to see more truthful news? Then turn off the TV.



Jerkitude: (noun) having a rude, hostile, and/or offensive disposition causing you to treat others with general disdain or lack of respect. ex: "You know what his problem is? He has a real jerkitude."

There is a lesson that I have learned in life that has served me well: don't be a jerk. That being said, I don't always get it right. Try as hard as I might to be nice and take the high road, sometimes I can be a real jerk. If you are one of those people that have taken the brunt end of my unintentional jerkitude, let me apologize. I am sorry. I am deeply saddened by my actions. For those of you who have never seen that part of me, congratulations - you have witnessed my better side, the one that I hope to portray more frequently.

People in general can be mean. It happens. Taylor Swift writes songs about them. Screenwriters use them as inspiration for movie villains. And they will one day be employed by the nerds they once bullied.

Speaking of Taylor Swift, there is a word she's popularized that has become prevalent to the point of losing it's meaning: hater. As in, "The haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate. ... so shake it off." (Now you're going to be singing that song song song song for the rest of the day. Again, allow me to apologize, I'm sorry.)

That word is frequently tossed around in some of my social circles. If one was gullible enough to believe that every usage of the word hater was truly and accurately applied, then the whole world is populated by haters that want to do nothing more than poop on your dreams.

We know better. We know that is not the case. How do we know? Follow some simple guidelines.

1. Someone doesn't like what you have to say. That doesn't make them a hater, it means they have different opinions, world views, and life experiences than you. We need people like that. Without them, humanity would dissolve into defeat clouded by our own self delusions. No one is correct 100% of the time and we need people to challenge our thinking so that we can either hold firm to that which is true or abandon that which is wrong. These people help us to stretch and grow.
2. If you say something offensive and someone points it out, they are not a hater. They are only pointing out the obvious.
3. If someone says, "I agree with you, but the way you come across is arrogant/rude/dismissive/harsh ... " they are not a hater, they are trying to help you.
4. If someone says, "You offended me, here's how," they're not a hater. They're just setting a boundary - something everyone should do. They might be over sensitive. They might also have some valid points.
5. Someone who is attempting to engage you in a conversation with contrary opinions is not a hater. Anyone trying to explain to you their point of view is someone who is interested, someone who cares. A hater would just dismiss your perspective and mock you; they would never reveal their point of view so that they can continue their mockery even when your positions change.

Rejecting every critical voice, every ounce of opposition, each source of disagreement, and any attempt to correct or admonish says more about you than it does the person you've branded as a hater. In fact, there is a word for it: narcissism.

Taking criticism as a personal offense eliminates the validity of the critic. It removes any possibility that they could be correct or that you could be wrong. It also prevents any opportunity for you to learn. As I said earlier, no one is correct 100% of the time. The only people who believe they are never wrong are narcissists.

Personally attacking or humiliating those who disagree with you is also narcissistic. You can call them a hater all you want, but when you bully them in response it doesn't make you better. It makes you a jerk.

When you retaliate against someone (by using their own words against them), a person who cares enough to share their perspective with you, who displays vulnerability in an attempt to help you, that makes you an ass.

Don't be an ass. Get rid of the jerkitude. And if I ever act like a jerk, please call me out on it. I promise not to label you as a hater.


U is for Updates

Last November, I shared a bit of the high wire act of parenting an aspie, balanced between victories and heartaches. In that post, I mentioned hope. And reasons to hope. There was an important source of hope that I left out of that previous quirky blog entry: people.

Over the past year, I have waded into a supportive community that has breathed new life into my existence of a dad leading a son on the spectrum. Some of these are ASD parents like myself. Some of them are grown adults living and thriving with Aspergers. I am privileged to count these people as friends, despite not having met most of them face to face. Sometimes, gifts of hope come in two dimensions. Among them:

Nate Pruitt: author, pastor, father, an a kindred spirit. I cannot wait until the day that I can sit down and share a meal with this guy. He's been a voice of encouragement and occasional comic relief, and I hope that I have been the same for him.
David Dollar: This man makes me rethink my self-claimed title of pop-culture junkie. I know movies; he knows them better. David is the only person that I can think of that loves watching movies more than I do. And you can see that reflected in his blog. He also has a little boy on the spectrum. While he doesn't frequently blog about his son, when he does, it is incredibly sweet and moving.
Tom (Adventures in Aspergers): Finding this blog was an accident. A link passed along in a facebook group. But this guy is the kind of dad that I want to be when I grow up. Hip, snarky, involved, and he takes Asperger parenting to a level to which we should all aspire.
Erin McKinney: When Erin passed through town on her way to Seattle last summer, she dropped off a gift for Christian: a book about a kid with Aspergers who is trying to solve a missing persons mystery. While reading it, Christian kept on pointing out how much he's just like the main character. Erin gave the perfect gift and showed unbelievable yet simple generosity for a 10 year old she had never met. I also had a lot of fun talking to her, giving her tips about great places to see and hang out while she was in Seattle. In return, she painted a portrait of what life could be like for my son in another 10 to 15 years. She has found her passion and was getting ready to start an internship. Since then, she's found a dream job. She struggles with typical aspie issues, but she's developed coping mechanisms and is a never ending fount of tips and motivation.
Matthew Baldwin/Defective Yeti: This Seattleite has been one of my favorite bloggers for years. His writing output has slowed in recent times, but he still throws out something frequently enough to make it interesting. Some of his most compelling posts are about his son. He also provided the most convincing explanations of how Autism affects everyone differently, which makes support and treatment challenging as each kid needs something that is as unique as them. In October of 2013, he spent an entire month writing about his son, Autism, and parenting. If you have a kid on the spectrum, or if the child of someone you love is on the spectrum, this is essential reading: A Month of Son.

The lesson I'm learning here is that I'm not alone. Neither is my son. There are so many out there who know what it is like to be us, who know what we're going through, and sometimes navigating those trials right along side us.

Remember how I predicted that this Christmas would probably be the most difficult one I have ever experienced? Well, I was wrong. Woefully and graciously incorrect. It began with meeting a girl named Chris, and her boyfriend (also named Chris), through a social hangout. That stranger enlisted an army of strangers to make sure that myself (and a handful of other mutual friends and acquaintances) knew that we were loved and not forgotten. She played the role of Saint and Santa, and the best gift of all is a framed picture of my three kids that is now sitting on my desk at work.

Then my brother came to visit. That alone was enough to make Christmas bright. I miss having him around - to go with him to concerts and hockey games, or to talk for hours about bands that no one has ever heard of, or to devise epic pranks to play on our dad. But then he surprised me with my Christmas gift, one that made my load a little lighter. Aaron has served a lot of roles over the yearsL big brother, bodyguard, best friend. This year, he was a champion. I don't say this enough, but my brother is freaking awesome.

What I thought was going to be the worst Christmas actually turned out to be one of my best Christmases ever.

We are now a solid month into the new 2015. If you look to the right side of my blog, you'll see some updated links in my blogroll. Unless you're reading from a smartphone, in which case you can ignore this completely. There is one other addition there - a link to The Faithful Geek on Facebook. I would be grateful if you followed me there. It's a quick and easy way to know when I write something new. But It's also an outlet for the geeky stuff I find around the web.


On being awesome

Carol Baker of Cherry Pie Social has a fantastic project called #365Awesome that she is running through her personal blog, Carole Baker TV. Her original intentions were to create a guide to being awesome - a legacy for her daughters. Then she invited others into that world and asked for her community to contribute. She asked us what we do to be our best.

This series has attracted a variety of people writing guest posts. Sometimes, these are remarkable bloggers (like The Common Queen or Corie Clark). Today, it's me.

In my entry to #365Awesome, I explain the importance of knowing your self. You can read it here: Know Your Self. #365Awesome. I would also encourage you to read through some of the other posts as they come from a talented group of writers.


The Changing Church

Last November, people of the internet freaked out when the trailer for the new Star Wars movie came out. Voices were divided into two camps: those that were squealing like the school children they once were when they first saw the original trilogy, and the whiners. The complaints were petty: they changed the shape of the satellite dish on top of the Millennium Falcon, they made an African American stormtrooper, they turned R2-D2 into a soccer ball, they added two unnecessary blades to a lightsaber. These complaints have no bearing over the quality of the movie or the writers or the story, they’re only minor squabbles about things that were different. Complaints over changes to the mythos of a fictional universe that is 38 years old.

Now try to change religious traditions that are centuries old.

I discovered a print version of Relevant Magazine in early 2007 when they featured Ben Folds on the cover – something that no other Christian magazine would have done. Inside the pages, I found sharp writing that danced between entertaining and edifying. I signed up for their newsletters and now I primarily read the digital version of their publication. In the years since, I’ve found new music through them – great bands that I would have never heard of through any other method. I’ve read countless articles and interviews; most of the time, that reading has proven to be thought provoking and left an impact. I’ve developed a respect for their willingness to speak with people and highlight subjects that would normally be considered taboo by the mainstream church.

Rarely do I ever come across articles from them where I disagree. Even rarer are those that I wholly reject. And never ones that completely rub me the wrong way. Until now.

They published a piece called “4 Ways the Modern Church Looks Nothing Like the Early Church.” It’s not the first time that they have editorialized on the failures on the modern church. Most of the time, their criticisms are well placed. This however, disgusted me.

First, it’s written like the clickbait of Huffington Post or Buzzfeed. Some throwaway listicle. Before even reading it, I was appalled with that title.*

Of course the modern church is different from the first century church. Just like the modern church is different from the one that I grew up in during the 80s and 90s. Just like the modern church is different from the church of the 70s when my dad was studying to become a pastor. Even those churches from my youth are different from the churches that existed before them.

The churches of the Holy Roman Empire were different from the first churches scattered across Palestine and the Asia Minor 2000 years ago. The first protestant churches to spring up after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg were different than anything that preceded them – in fact, the Catholic church was changed by Luther’s defiance. The church of the reformation period was different than the church of the dark ages. The churches planted in the new world by pilgrims and other settlers were different than the churches in their European homelands. The missions built to convert the American Native Tribes were different than the churches back in the Eastern states. And the churches of the Civil Rights movement were different than those of the Industrial Revolution.

One thing remains the same, connecting every church body from the second chapter of Acts until today: change – everything changes.

Well, that and Jesus.

Because, the Christian church has always been about Jesus. Sometimes, we get it wrong. Sometimes, we’ve distorted His words and His message to suit our own biases. Yet underneath our selfishness and our ambitions, beyond our failures and brokenness, the church was founded upon this person who called us to love God with every fiber of our being, every synapse of our thinking, and the deepest recesses of our souls. This thing called Christianity was designed to honor a man who commanded us to love others – even our enemies in the same way that we love ourselves. Churches, from the earliest incarnations meeting in secret to today’s mega churches preaching to millions every week, all share a belief in this savior who taught how the last would be first and that to give was to receive.

Such bizarre principles. Revolutionary ideas. And for thousands of years we’ve been trying to figure out how to live by those teachings.

Is it fair to criticize the modern church? Of course it is. There are many things that we are doing wrong. I have even written about them many times before now. But to say we’re failing because we’re not doing things the same way that things were handled by the early church is misguided. It’s woefully wrong.


Because the Christian religion isn’t about the early churches, it’s about Jesus Christ. If we insist on emulating the churches of the first century, it is making them far more important than they should ever be. It is taking the focus off of God’s one and only Son. Placing such significance on any object or group of people is really just another form of idolatry.

Our faith is not about a building. Nor is it about a group of people or an organization that once existed. It is about one person. Jesus. The unchanging God come to earth as a man. Him and Him alone.

There is another thing that has changed since those first century churches: culture. Anyone with even the most trivial knowledge of world history could write a rebuttal to the Relevant article. Title it: “4 Ways the Modern Era Looks Nothing Like the First Century CE.”

Times change. People change. Cultures change. Technologies change. Everything changes except God. The biggest issue that the modern church faces is the same it faced when I was growing up. It is the same issue that churches faced when my parents were kids. It’s the same issue that faced the Catholic Church when Luther composed his Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum. It is as simple as it is relentless.

How do we worship an unchanging God in an ever changing world? How do we communicate His truths when the world of politics are constantly in turmoil and the sciences are rapidly advancing?

We try. I guarantee we’re not getting it right. We’re making mistakes. But we’re also a population of humans trying to interpret and understand the divine. As long as there are people involved, the church will never be perfect.

But there is something else I know. The early church was also composed of people. Wonderfully imperfect people like you and me. They didn’t get it right either. They made mistakes. They had problems too. How do we know they had issues? Because the apostle Paul had to write them letters to convince them of their errors. Because John addressed them while exiled on Patmos, sending them his Revelations as a warning to change their ways.

If the early churches were perfect, most of the New Testament would have never been written. The early missionary journeys documented in the Book of Acts would have been nothing more than a victory lap. Paul’s Epistles would have been filed with congratulatory awards instead of instruction and admonitions.

Does this Relevant contributor honestly believe that the modern church would be better off if we modeled ourselves after the early church that was just as messed up as we are today?

Change is difficult. It is uncomfortable. There will always be a percentage of the population that just wants to go back to the way things were. Nerds will always argue about which Star Wars movie is the best, and Christians will argue about … well … anything.

Change is also inevitable. The church needs to endure some revisions, but let’s not go backwards. Especially if what existed back then wasn’t any better than what we have now.

*I also have other objections to the content of the article. Alas, this post is long enough as it is.


It's the onions, for real

To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day, my son's fourth grade class was given an assignment to do community service and create a presentation about how they served. Christian was excited about the project; he said it was worth a lot and would affect his grade. But he was also eager to do something nice for people he never met.

He brainstormed a few different options that he felt would be fun and beneficial. The two of us went through the list and weeded out a couple ideas that might not be the greatest. (Washing cars in sub-freezing temperatures?!?) The winning plan would be to prepare a meal for the fire station around the corner from my apartment. There is a dish that I cook that he says is his favorite food in the whole world: I call it redneck stir-fry. It is nothing more than diced potatoes, seasoned, and mixed with a bunch of vegetables and a protein of some sort.

Friday afternoon, he visited the fire station to make sure we had solid expectations. He found out how many firefighters would be on site for dinner and if they had any allergies. The fireman that was on duty gave him a tour of the building and let him sit in the biggest truck that was parked in the garage. By the time he got home, he was shivering with nervous pride and anticipation. Saturday morning, we went grocery shopping and picked up everything needed. Bacon, bell peppers, bread crumbs, potatoes, carrots, cheese, and some extra bacon so that the chef and his grown-up helper could have a sample. Saturday afternoon, we began preparing the food. Fying bacon, washing and dicing produce, stirring in the breadcrumbs and seasoning, preheating the oven, sautéing the veggies, mixing all of the elements into one pan.

It all came out of the oven at the exact time we needed to leave. Our arrival at the station was perfectly timed as the fire crew had just returned from training exercises. The three kids watched as they parked the fire engine; then we were all invited inside as they changed out of their heavy gear.

Christian explained why we were delivering their dinner and what was being served. He was happy to find out that the firefighters all liked peppers and bacon. (Christian is not a fan of peppers and would have picked them out if he was eating.) But his explanation of why he chose feeding firefighters was poignant and shows a hint of wisdom older than his chronological age would suggest.

"Why did you choose us?" He was asked.
"Because," came his reply, "you spend all your time serving so many people, I wanted to serve you in return."

I cannot express how grateful I am to have a son like him.

But let's rewind a bit back to the food preparation. Part of the project was that he had to participate. He couldn't have a parent do all of the work for him. While there are certain things that I insisted handling, I kept him busy. He scrubbed the potatoes clean, peeled the onion, and removed the seed clusters from the bell peppers. He sautéed the onion and peppers and crumbled the cooked bacon into bits. He stirred the seasoning/crumbs/oil/potatoes mixture and dumped it onto a cooking sheet. After he peeled the onion, I chopped it into four parts. I was hoping to have him cut off the sections of the onion that I don't cook, but he wanted to stay as far away from the onions as possible.

"Why does it burn my eyes?" He asked. I explained the chemical irritant that onions contain; how it's strongest while cutting them and dissipates when cooked. He understood the explanation enough to know he wanted me to handle the dicing. By the time I dumped the chopped up onion into the skillet, my eyes were on fire and swollen with enzyme induced tears.

"Do the onions burn your eyes too?" Another of Christian's questions. I choked out an answer that yes, indeed they do.

He followed that up with another question and some observations. "Are you crying? Your voice sounds like you are. And it looks like you have tears in your eyes."

"Yes, I am."

He at once had to share this news with his siblings. "Guess what! Daddy is crying. The onions made him cry."

With the onions in the pan, I returned to the cutting board and focused on julienning the peppers. "Do you think it's funny that I was crying?" I asked Christian while demonstrating how to slice bell peppers.

His answer was unexpected. "I've never seen you cry before."

Really? Impossible. That can't be true. Surely he has seen me cry at some point in his ten years of life. Even with my stunted emotional vocabulary, I tend to wear my emotions like a merit badge. Heck, the series finale of Psych made me tear up a little. I still cry every time I watch Atreyu's horse Artax drown in the Swamps of Sadness. The right song played at the right time will make me bawl like a baby.

How could my oldest son have made it this far without witnessing one of those tearful moments?

I don't have answer for that question. But I believe him.

I know some parents would think that it's a good thing for him to never see me cry. It shows me to be the big strong dad that he can look up to as if I'm some kind of comic book hero. I disagree though. I'm not superhuman. Real men cry. All humans have emotions.

It is good for him to see that. Even if it is just over onions. However, it could have been the weight of his words that wrecked me. "You serve others so I want to serve you."


But this time, it was the onions.


2014 in Review

It's a new year and I hope yours is happy so far. Before I get going with my regular posts, it's time for a little self congratulatory reflection on this blog and the past year.

In the wake of tragedy, I wrote a post that has garnered more likes, comments, and shares than anything I've ever composed - far more than I ever expected. That was my letter to the students at my high school. You can read it here. After that, my top five blog posts written in 2014 are as follows.

1. The emasculating father
2. What about happy endings?
3. Life Lessons Learned
4. To be stingy
5. We need more geeks

Top five posts from years past:
1. The unexpected side effects of inhaling Cascade dishwasher detergent
2. Facepalm Friday
3. Faith & Pop Culture: Counting Stars
4. My not-so grown up Christmas list
5. 5 Stages of No-Shave November Grief

Without a doubt, most of my traffic is referred from social media. However, people still use the google every now and then - especially people panicking after accidentally inhaling dish detergent. Most search queries that lead to The Faithful Geek are understandable, but there are a few that made me scratch my head. For example:

"how could it be helping the middle ctocking in the dackness if reconigize the end in the beginning" (misspellings not mine)
"red meat and cold showers"
"the melody in down on the corner by ccr"
"victoriousm nakid gerls hot" (again, misspellings not committed by me)

One of the most fascinating blog statistics for me to look at is the location of my readers. It excites the geography nerd in me. 2014 held a couple of surprises. This was the first year that I had readers in all 50 states. It is also the first year that there was another state that had more visitors than my homeland Idaho. The top ten states that visited are as follows.

1. Washington
2. Idaho
3. California
4. Wyoming
5. Oregon
6. Texas
7. Arizona
8. Oklahoma
9. Colorado
10. Florida

Outside of the US, top 10 foreign visits came from:
1. Canada
2. Germany
3. United Kingdom
4. Brazil
5. France
6. Australia
7. Japan
8. India
9. Philippines
10. Russia

A few other interesting observations. This is the first year that tablets were used more frequently than mobile devices with iPads leading the way. Chrome is the most frequently used browser for readers visiting this blog. But for little browsers that could - 3% of my traffic came on Amazon Silk - thanks for my readers using their Kindle!

2014 was a big transitional year for me. It was a of changes and challenges. But it was also a year of growth. I am thrilled to jump into 2015. Thank you for taking this journey with me.


Observations from attending my first midnight mass

Attending a midnight mass is an activity that has been on my bucket list for many years. This year, I (hopefully) get the privilege of sleeping in on Christmas morning, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit one of Coeur d'Alene's Catholic churches and experience a midnight mass.

The following are my observations from the service.

1. That is a lot of standing and sitting and standing and sitting and standing and sitting and standing and kneeling and standing and sitting and standing and kneeling and sitting and standing and sitting. If I was a faithful Catholic, I would probably be a skinnier man.
2. I should have stretched before the service. My calf muscles are screaming at me in protest.
3. I should have also peed before the service started.
4. Not as much Latin as I expected. Granted, I know the amount of Latin used during mass varies from church to church. But I was still expecting to hear more.
5. That being said, O Come All Ye Faithful sounds beautiful when sung in Latin.
6. I hope I didn't look too awkward. All that bowing and hand raising and hand motions and walking in circles and surprise hugging. I had no idea what the heck I was supposed to be doing.
7. Yes, I said hugging. It was accompanied by the phrase "peace be with you."
8. The 'Christian side-hug' must be strictly a protestant thing.
9. That was real wine. Cabernet Sauvignon if I had to guess. But I could be wrong.
10. Did you know that the sentence, "Well, it's 1:15." is a joke? Neither did I. But everyone laughed. Except me. I hope that didn't make me look awkward.

That was an interesting experience. Another bucket list item checked off of the list. I'm glad I did it. I might even go again someday.


T is for Tidings

Not all news is good news. Good news is a real and valid entity, but there also exists bad news. Some of it will sour your taste and weaken your emotional fortitude. Some of it is simply nothing more than ugly – disheartening at best. And sometimes, news can mean different things to different people.

For example:

Christmas Eve is a week away.

For some people, this is fantastic news. These are the people who got all of their gift shopping done in August. Who started listening to Christmas music in October. Who find it easy to get into the holiday spirit. Who revel in ugly sweaters that they only wear this time of year. Who fill their homes with decorations, laughter, cheer, guests from out of town, and the delectable scents of baked goodies.

For others, this is urgent news. These are the people that have procrastinated pulling the decorations out of the garage. Who have forgotten to schedule their year-end PTO. Who haven’t yet purchased a single present. It’s time to check those wish lists that are sitting unread in their inbox or wadded up on a sheet of wide ruled notebook paper stuffed in their back pockets.

There is also a segment of our population that views this as bad news. A first holiday season without a loved one. Traditions that trigger hurtful memories of a troubled childhood. Anniversaries of a tragic event. Estranged family members. Broken relationships. Financial stresses. Seasonal depression.

We hear the carols and the familiar lyrics “tidings of comfort and joy.” These words resonate with a great many people. Others hear those words at a time of discomfort and lament.

To be honest, this Christmas will probably be the most difficult one I have ever experienced. Even with the holiday playlist on my iPod on constant rotation at home and at work and in my car, I’m still having a difficult time being merry. Not to say I’m the Grinch with a heart that is two sizes too small. It just means that the smile on my face takes more effort than usual. That my murmurs of “happy holidays” are born out of sincerity instead of an oblivious platitude. That every laugh, every prayer, every best wish, every hug is deliberate.

It means I am living in this grey area between heartbreak and abundant bliss, between relief and remorse, between hope and sorrow. I have never more fully understood the lines from that Counting Crows song “walks along the edge of where the ocean meets the land, just like walking on a wire in the circus.”

It also means I’m wrestling with the understanding of the difference between happiness and joy.

So Christmas Eve is a week away. What kind of tidings does that bring? Is it good news or bad news? Well, in my world, it’s a little bit of both. Like I’m walking on a wire.