Huggy Bear

My father was a hugger. Actually, I should say he is a hugger. As far as I know, Dad will still welcome those he loves with a warm embrace.

That is the culture in which I was raised. My dad placed a high value in the worth of a hug. To him, it communicated something that could not be exchanged in words. It instilled a sense of acceptance, joy, and respect wrapped inside his arms.

It rubbed off on me. By the time I was in high school, I was willing to deliver a hug to anyone who needed it. The trait came in handy when an earthquake shook the auditorium during the final dress rehearsal of Neil Simon’s Rumors in the spring of my junior year when cast and crew members needed a hug, a shoulder to lean on from someone with a clear head that could tell them, “Everything is going to be all right.”

Times have changed. I have grown older and perhaps a little more cynical. Life experiences and emotional wounds have transformed me. These days I am less like a koala bear and more like a polar bear. I prefer colder temperatures, growl a lot, and can be a bit of a loner.

Photo courtesy of ZME Science

Sure, I still give hugs but they are more reserved for my kids, my parents, or my brother. My natural inclination is to keep everyone else at arm’s length. Greet with a high-five, a handshake, or a subtle nod that says “hey.”

Yet seasons pass and wounds heal. I am going through a personal evolution and find myself once again welcoming hugs from friends. Those awkward Christian side-hugs, the ‘we’re not too manly to hug’ bro-hugs, and full-frontal hugs that imply an unbreakable brotherhood.

While my digression from the way my dad raised me was a slow burn with no clear reason why, this road back has been quick with an identifiable culprit.

I blame my friend John.

He is the kind of man that will hug anyone. And he pulls it off with so much grace and genuine humility that there is nothing creepy or intrusive about it.

Suddenly, I have changed again. Now, I will accept a hug when walking around church. Or when I bump into friends downtown. Or at the end of my small group when I’m headed out the door to go home. Or when John walks up behind me at Subway and gives me a sneak-attack hug like the friendliest ninja you’ve ever met.

But it is not just John. It is the group of guys he and I are in. It is out-of-state friends who have promised to give me the biggest hug when we finally get to see each other. It is the people who have worn down my rough edges and encouraged me to be vulnerable again.

A funny thing happens with friends like that. When you surround yourself with the right kinds of people, they make you a better person.

To those friends who have welcomed this polar bear into your midst and awkwardly embraced me: thank you for teaching me to be more of a cuddly bear.

Photo courtesy of Metro UK



Shortly after noon today, I looked up. Straight up. Staring at the sun. This is what I saw.

It looks pretty, but it is far from pleasant. The glowing orb in the center of the picture is the sun. As for the grey matter, those are not clouds. That is smoke, ashy remnants of burnt wood and brush.

For those of you who are unaware, the Inland Empire has been inundated by an onslaught of wildfires. Lightning strikes. Downed power-lines from high winds. Errant cigarettes tossed from car windows. Campfires not properly extinguished. Even some arson. This summer season has kept Forrest Service and Land Management crews busy and worn thin.

The Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area is surrounded by fire. Five major fires between Lewiston and Missoula and another between Lewiston and Walla Walla. A collection burning north of Kellogg and southeast of Sandpoint. One on the Washington side of the state line west of Sandpoint and one near the Canadian border north of Bonner's Ferry. Fires in or near both the Colville and Spokane Native Reservations. And the northern forests are ablaze from Okanogan to Lake Chelan to the North Cascades.

With fire comes smoke. It has been hazy for most of the past couple weeks, displayed in devilish red sunrises and an amber glow causing a preternaturally early dusk. While my throat has felt the impact of ashen particles in the air for a few days, today is the first where the air outside smells as if chain-smokers ruled the world.

I love a controlled campfire; the dancing flames are hypnotic and calming. I crave good barbecue - few things in the world rival the sweet mesquite and hickory aromas and the scent of grilled meats. And the smell of a lone wood stove burning in those first few crisp and chilly days of autumn flood me with a sense of warmth and nostalgia for days long gone.

But this burdensome odor of everything burning is disgusting. The smoke filtered light casting a jaundiced hue on every available surface is disconcerting.

We know that fires can be healthy for the forest. But it can be costly for property owners and insurance companies. It can also be deadly; this week we saw the lives of three firefighters perish near Twisp.

We need a break. We need it now. We need rain. We need hoodie weather. We need winter.


The Lingering Power of the Dark Side

Some of the best conversations I have had with my oldest child were about fictional universes and how they translate into the real world. These talks are born from books like The Hobbit and Jurassic Park, TV Shows like Doctor Who, video games like Portal, and movies like Back to the Future.

Christian reading The Scorch Trials.

Christian loves science in all forms: proven, theoretical, and fictional. The kid is fascinated by the concepts of time travel. His highest aspiration is to invent a time machine and be the first person to travel into the past.

We have discussed theories from fiction, fringe sciences, cutting edge research happening at CERN, and the discoveries of the New Horizons space probe and the Curiosity rover.

Our conversations cover topics foreign to most elementary aged students. String theory. Uncertainty principle. Quantum mechanics. Parallel universes. Time dilation. Paradoxes. Historical elasticity. Schrödinger's cat. Many-worlds theory. Wormholes. Dark matter. Teleportation. Theory of relativity. DNA engineering. Holograms. He is the only 10 year old I know who understands how some particles behave differently when they are observed than when unobserved.

We have these conversations because he reads comic books and dystopian novels. Because he enjoys fantasy and science fiction and he wants to know how much of it is grounded in reality. Because he has an insatiable desire for knowledge.

His favorite scientist is Albert Einstein. His hero is Luke Skywalker. He wants to be the next Bill Gates.

A couple weeks ago, Christian watched the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time. He and I spent an afternoon talking through his favorite parts of the three movies. A friend of his introduced him to Star Trek last summer so I asked him which franchise he preferred.

Christian: "Star Wars. Star Trek seems smaller and less exciting.”
Me: “Did you know there is a big debate in geekdom over which is better: Star Trek or Star Wars?”
Christian: "What's a geekdom?"
Me: "It's like a kingdom of geeks."
Christian: "That's awesome. If that was a real kingdom, you'd probably be their king."
Me: *laughs*
Christian: "What's so funny."
Me: "I appreciate your vote of confidence, but I'd more likely be their priest than their king."

Since then, he has been brimming with questions, asking at every opportunity.

Would you rather live on Hoth or Tatooine? (Hoth.) Would you rather own C-3PO or R2-D2? (C-3PO.) Who do you like better, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo? (Han.) Would you rather be a wookie or an ewok? (Wookie.) Would you rather fly a TIE Fighter or an X-Wing? (X-Wing.) Which movie is your favorite? (Empire.) Did Leia know that Obi-Wan Kenobi was Uncle Ben? (No, and Luke didn't know Uncle Ben was Obi-Wan.) Which character had a better cool-factor, Lando or Boba Fett? (Both.)

These discussions start simple and often grow into something meaningful. Opportunities to build character, spark creativity, and form values that will carry him through life.

One deep question led to another, begging for an answer bridging the world between fantasy and reality. Christian wanted to know how the Empire came to power. If they were so evil, how come no one stopped them? I explained their rise happened in secret. They operated in the shadows so their actions went unnoticed until it was too late. Those who could have prevented it were taken by surprise. This spawned a conversation about how those who do bad things operate best in darkness when no one is aware or paying attention.

Digging back into the movie, Christian confirmed that both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine died during the final confrontation with Luke, and most of the Imperial forces perished when the second Death Star exploded. Were Vader and Palpatine the last of the Sith? His mind was trying to connect the events of Return of the Jedi with the upcoming The Force Awakens.

He asked a follow up question. "If Vader and Palpatine died at the end of Jedi, then how can there still be bad guys to fight in the next movie?

I cannot answer that within the framework of Star Wars mythos. The new movie will not be out until Christmas so any plot related explanation would be nothing more than speculation. But there is a good answer found in the real world.

"Is the force similar to anything in real life?" I asked him. No, not superpowers. Nothing magical.

"For the Jedi, having the force is similar to religious faith." I said. "But the Sith had it too. People are not automatically good people because of their religion. The force was not something that made a character good or evil, the choices they made determined how the force was used. Those who were wise and kind became Jedi and those who were selfish and hateful became Siths."

He nodded. He understood.

I continued, "In life, we are all given the same power. We can choose to do good or we can choose to do evil. Our actions reveal what kind of person we become. We have the freedom to make those choices so even if you got rid of all of the evil people in the world, future generations would still be able to make the same decisions to do good or not do good. Much is the same in Star Wars; Vader and Palpatine died, but the force still exists. Even without their villainous influence, those who have the force still have the option to follow the path of anger."

"Whoa." In one word, I could hear the gears turning in Christian's head.

We live in a fallen world. It is broken and messed up in a million ways. Bad people will always exist. The dark side will always be a lingering temptation. We will always need a few brave souls to stand up and fight for what is right and just.

Thankfully, we have a space opera that demonstrated this life lesson for my padawan learner.


Faithful Geek’s guide to NFL fandom

Football season is back. I will root root root for the home team. Well, my home team. I am a local boy so my dedications will always be to Seattle teams and football is no different.

Want to know who I want to win? My formula is simple. I have every NFL team ranked from my favorite team to my least favorite. It is not based on which teams have the best offensive line or the best chances of winning. It is pure personal preference. If one Team A is higher on the list than Team B, I want Team A to win. If Team B is higher, then I want Team A to lose.

Is this a good way to predict results for each game? No. If I took this list to Vegas, I would lose a lot of money. Thankfully, I am not a betting man. This list will make me cheer for some underdogs. It is also predictable. It ensures that I will never be a fair-weather bandwagon fan.

It is my list. I’ve also included the ranking set by Business Insider for comparison with my ranking. I like who I like, let the chips fall where they may.

Starting with my favorites, these are the teams that I will always root for – unless they are playing a team ranked higher on my list.

1) *this should be no surprise* Seattle Seahawks. B.I. rank: 1 – Legion of Boom. 12th Man. Loudest stadium in the league. My hometown team.

2) Detroit Lions. B.I. rank: 17 – My dad’s cousin used to play for them. He retired years ago, but I still hope they’ll have a winning season.
3) Green Bay Packers. B.I. rank: 2 – Always a solid team. Even with Aaron Roger’s smug grin.
4) Miami Dolphins. B.I. rank: 8 – I have been a fan since the days of Dan Marino.
5) Minnesota Vikings. B.I. rank: 20 – My mom’s aunt passed on her appreciation of the Vikings to me.
6) Arizona Cardinals. B.I. rank: 16 – I am impressed with this team. Being the first team to hire a female coach made me respect them even more.
7) Kansas City Chiefs. B.I. rank: 15 – this is all about respect. They are one of the Seahawks biggest rivals, but they are also my cousin Allen’s favorite team.
8) Cincinnati Bengals. B.I. rank: 13 – this is the most frivolous addition to my favorites list. When I was a kid, I liked them for one reason only: the tiger stripe pattern on their helmets.

The second group is the “meh” list. I do not like them. I do not hate them. I do not care if they win or lose. I will cheer for them if they are playing a team in the third group and against them if they are playing a team from the first group. Otherwise, I am generally neutral to their existence.

9) Chicago Bears. B.I. rank: 25
10) Tennessee Titans. B.I. rank: 31
11) Atlanta Falcons. B.I. rank: 14
12) Carolina Panthers. B.I. rank: 26
13) Jacksonville Jaguars. B.I. rank: 32
14) Houston Texans. B.I. rank: 22
15) St. Louis Rams. B.I. rank: 10
16) Cleveland Browns. B.I. rank: 24
17) Tampa Bay Buccaneers. B.I. rank: 27
18) Buffalo Bills. B.I. rank: 11
19) Baltimore Ravens. B.I. rank: 6
20) Indianapolis Colts. B.I. rank: 4

Now for the teams I cannot stand. I will always hope for these teams to lose unless they are playing a team lower in the list. And in those cases, I wish it were possible for both teams to lose.

21) New York Jets. B.I. rank: 23 – Truth be told, I do not like any team from NYC.
22) San Diego Chargers. B.I. rank: 18 – There is something about this team that does not sit well with me and it is something that I cannot define.
23) Philadelphia Eagles. B.I. rank: 9 – I have no love for the team from the City of Brotherly Love.
24) New York Giants. B.I. rank: 19 – My reasoning here is the same as for the Jets. However, the Giants are the greater of two evils.
25) San Francisco 49ers. B.I. rank: 29 – This team used to be in my middle list. And they went into the list of teams I don’t like for two reasons: Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh. Those two killed any ability I had to cheer for this team. Harbaugh is gone and as soon as Kaepernick has moved on, I can move this team back to a higher ranking.
26) Denver Broncos. B.I. rank: 5 – Historically speaking, the Broncos were the Seahawks biggest rival. They’re also my mom’s favorite team. I feel morally obligated to dislike them. Sorry, Mom.
27) New England Patriots. B.I. rank: 3 – The Patriots used to rank higher in my list. Much higher. They were my favorite to win the Super Bowl in 2002 and they did it. But in the years since, I have grown to understand why so many other people love to hate this team. Spygate. Deflategate. Belichick’s angry stomping up and down the sidelines. Belichick’s general contempt for well, everything. But the final nail in the coffin that moved them from the top of my list to the bottom was not their win at XLIX but their behavior afterwards. They are nothing more than an out of control drunken frat house. They are the Alpha Betas.
28) Dallas Cowboys. B.I. rank: 7 – Is it trendy to hate the Cowboys? Regardless, I cannot stand them.
29) New Orleans Saints. B.I. rank: 21 – Dirty south. The team fits the image.
30) Pittsburgh Steelers. B.I. rank: 12 – If your rally cry is a terrible towel, you must be rooting for a terrible team.
31) Oakland Raiders. B.I. rank: 28 – Never liked them. Never will. I do not understand how anyone could favor this team.
32) Washington Redskins. B.I. rank: 30 – I can’t. I just can’t.



No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.

While I hate speaking in absolutes, those are two lessons I am trying to impart on my kids. Words like always and never and no one and everyone are often clues to exaggeration, but in the instances of error these statements are universally true. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.

This is my hope for my kids, that they do not grow up believing they are not good enough or are incapable of doing anything right. I want them to know they are capable of greatness and they are not defined by their failures. I want them to be beacons of light and inspire everyone who knows them.

Maybe I have too high of expectations. After all, we live in a world that is burdened by our perceived inadequacies.

We live beyond our means, swimming in debt so that we can have nice things and keep up with our neighbors who seem to have it all. We binge through every fad diet and infomercial exercise invention to conform our bodies to an artificial standard of beauty. We convince ourselves to abandon our dreams because they're too scary, too audacious, or too far out of our grasp. We give a megaphone to the negative voices of our past.

We live in resignation and mask it with our vices. Breathing. Existing. But not really living.

These are our demons. Chemical addictions. Depression. Lust for power, wealth, fame. Insecurity. Pride.

We all wrestle with demons. A good friend of mine has been clean for almost two years and he is now trying to figure out how to live life in sobriety. After a devastating divorce, one friend felt like she would never again find love but she is now in the early butterflies and goofy beginnings of a wonderful relationship. Another friend is mourning the death of her husband after an ugly battle with cancer. All three of them are bravely fighting and winning their battles.

We all wrestle with demons; I choose to wrestle with mine in a public venue.

This blog first evolved into a quick and easy way for my out-of-town family to keep track of what was happening in my world. Soon, I began to treat it as a farewell gift to my kids so that if I were to go too soon they would have an option to know who I was.

Along the way, I have trudged through what makes me me and embraced my God given identity. Within the past couple of years, I have developed a platform marrying my faith to my nerdy ways. My heart wants to cheer for the freaks and geeks, the overlooked, the left-out, the last ones picked. I can think of no better place to do that than in this corner of cyberspace.

So I fight my demons here. My greatest fears. My most embarrassing moment. My insecurities. The joys and pains of raising a son on the autism spectrum. Similarities between me and Charlie Brown. How I struggle in conversations.

Words are my weapon and I will bludgeon my demons until they fear me. I wrestle with my demons here and shine the brightest light possible on them because darkness runs from the light. I fight so that my kids can see how I refuse to be defined by my mistakes and failures.

No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. We all wrestle with demons.


In defense of Megyn Kelly

If there is one thing I thought I would never do on this blog, it is writing as an apologist for any FOX News personality. For starters, I consider FOX News to be more of an endless stream of editorialism and shock-jock entertainment than actual news. I am not a fan of any of the 24 hour news networks, but I think FOX is the most rotten apple in the barrel full of bad Granny Smiths.

Within the partisan halls of FOX News studios, Megyn Kelly seems to be more grounded in reality than some of the other on-air talent employed by FOX. Sure, she speaks in double-standards, hyperbole, and rhetoric - but that has become standard for any major news network. She comes across as snide and judgmental, but that might be an expectation from her employer. She is one of the rare voices in her environment who was critical of the anti-vax movement, appearing on The O’Reilly Factor to discredit the link between vaccines and autism. For that alone, I thank her.

photo courtesy of Business Insider

That being said, her show is not one I find informative or entertaining. She is not (as FOX News chairman Roger Ailes claims) "a brilliant journalist." She is articulate and can toe the party line, but reading from a teleprompter hardly translates into brilliant journalism.

Then came last week's debates.

I did not watch it live. Cooking dinner and hanging out with my kids ranked higher in my priorities than watching a flock of campaigning hopefuls berate each other.

There were highlights which I watched on replay. And one flap that has dominated news-feeds every day since: Trump vs. Kelly.

The drama stems from questions Kelly asked of Trump and Trump's opinion that the questions were unfairly stacked against him. Is this his narcissistic attempt to martyr himself? Perhaps. Is this the manifestation of political ego taken to the furthest possible extent? Possible. Is this a clash of strong personalities? Most likely.

Regardless of your opinion of either feuding celebrity, there are a few observations that I hope do not get missed.

1. Megyn Kelly was just doing her job. You cannot hold the questions she asked against her. She did not choose the questions. She was given a list of what to ask of which candidates. Holding her responsible for the selection of inquiries is akin to blaming a waitress when a chef's food tastes bad.

A friend of mine brought up a point about the contentious exchange; she lost the professional high ground by allowing her emotions to show. She may be guilty of being unprofessional, but you cannot blame her for being "astonishingly biased" or having a "hidden agenda" as Trump alleged when she was following a script handed to her by her bosses.

2. No one deserves to be treated the way Trump has treated Megyn Kelly. For a moment, assume the worst of Kelly. Accept Trump's accusations that she bombed and did not do a good job, does that earn a ranting stream of consciousness series of venomous tweets at 2:40 in the morning?

These are the actions of a teenaged bully. This is the result of of an abusive temperament that has ran unabated for far too long. Such behavior is an affront to human dignity that should be actively discouraged.

3. Misogyny is ugly. Menstruation should not be the punchline to a joke nor used as a tool to demean female opponents. No woman should ever be called a bimbo.

4. You don't have to like someone to show them respect. This is the most basic lesson in humanities that every kid has been taught since they were old enough to talk and walk. We call it the golden rule: treat others in the way you wish to be treated.

Let me be clear, I do not like Megyn Kelly. But I do respect what she has been able to accomplish. I respect that she is an intelligent and influential woman. My personal preference against her does not detract from the fact that she deserves the same level of common courtesy as any other person on this planet.

5. When you demand others show you respect but refuse to treat others with respect, there is one simple word to describe you: Hypocrite.

6. When did kindness and courtesy become political correctness? There is such a thing as being politically correct, and there is a valid complaint that some people take political correctness to absurd levels.

But to castigate every person or group of people that you eschew is not being politically incorrect, it is being rude. Clinging to every racial and sexist stereotype to justify your biases is not being politically incorrect, it is racism and sexism. Shooting from the hip is not expediency, it is recklessness.

7. Arrogance and selfishness are not virtues. It might make you wealthy. It might grant you notoriety. But a jerk is still a jerk regardless of whether they are rich and famous or unknown and balling on a budget.

When people say that they do not have time to be politically correct, what I hear is that being nice takes too much effort. At the root of such sentiment is a self absorbed belief that you are entitled to act like an ass because you are better than everyone else.

8. Showing kindness and respect does not exclude the possibility for criticism. Pointing out fault or error does not require insults.

If someone misstates the facts, it should be called out and corrected. If someone behaves inappropriately, it warrants admonition. However, misbehavior and dishonesty should not be counteracted with derogatory comments.

In the wake of last week's spat, Roger Ailes is trying to smooth things over with Donald Trump. The war of words between Trump and Kelly will settle down, but Trump will continue to dominate headlines for the foreseeable future. Why? Because he is brash and spiteful. Half of America applauds his arrogance with a hint of jealousy that that he can say the horrible things they think without consequence. The other half of America observes in amused horror like watching a car crash in slow motion.

It makes me sad. It is a pathetic testament of our culture when the most obnoxious and vitriolic find the most frequent recognition.

For that reason alone, I will side with FOX News for the first and possibly only time in my life: "Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?"


Crutch Words

There are habits among those who talk publicly for a living. Teachers, preachers, motivational speakers, politicians, used car salesmen, television personalities. It is most apparent in novice speakers - those who lack experience. But do not fool yourself, anyone who gets paid to stand in front of an audience and deliver words of any variety does this. Whether they are speaking from the heart, a teleprompter, or prepared curriculum, they all have habits.

I call them crutch words. Is there an official term for this custom? Probably. But I like the mental image of someone being propped up by vocabulary.

Crutch words are words or phrases repeated over and over again by anyone giving a verbal presentation with enough frequency to become a pattern. Most of the time the speaker is unaware of the usage of their specific crutch words. Once cognizant of their quirks, experienced speakers make mindful effort to avoid their crutch. Either that, or they use it intentionally - at which point it becomes a catchphrase.

Public speaking is not something I crave, but it is something I enjoy. From the speech and communications classes in high school that everyone else seemed to hate, to my time in school and community theater, to my brief participation in Toastmasters - glossophobia is a foreign concept to me. And for a brief stint in my professional career, I was a corporate trainer. For nearly four and a half years, I stood in a classroom and taught people how to do their jobs. It is in this environment that I first learned of crutch words, mostly because I suffered them.

Mine was the phrase, "All right, so ... " I would say it any time we would start talking about something new. I would say it at the beginning of the day, after returning from breaks, and after lunch. I would say it after awkward silences. I would say it when wrapping up one topic and moving on to the next. I said it so much without realizing it until one class noticed my repetition. They caught on and (as respectfully as possible) teased me for my habit. One employee took a tally and provided me a count of how many times I said it during the day. Some would giggle with each utterance of the phrase. They predicted my pattern and started saying it with me.

This is the place I began to break the habit. Although, I am sure that another crutch replaced the old one I conquered. Those kinds of things happen.

Graciously, I know I am not alone. This past week, I spent some time in one of our classes speaking with a trainer. It was early in the morning and her class had not yet started. When I left, she welcomed her group to the start of their day. As I walked away, she said to them "All right, so ... "

I smiled.

Then as I walked by another classroom, I heard the trainer in that room greet her class with the same phrase: "All right, so ... "

Smiled bigger. I could not help it.

I wonder though if this is something more universal than only those whose job is talking.

Is this an issue for writers? A while back I recognized an over-use of the word "just" and have since made conscious attempts to avoid continued usage. I have read articles over the past few months encouraging writers to discontinue particular words in order to be taken seriously; words like "that." Then there are writers who use certain terms and phrases to the point that it is both sad and comical. (Am I right Stephenie Meyer?)

What about outside professional environments? Do we have crutches in our casual conversations?

How many times have you greeted an acquaintance only to be asked, "How are you doing?" Your most common answer, "Fine." Even when you are not fine. How many times have you met someone new and the first question you asked them was, "What do you do for a living?"

What about in more intimate relationships? Do we have crutches with our friends and families?

How many times have you stolen a glance at your phone when feeling nervous or awkward? How frequently have you changed the topic to evade answering an uncomfortable question? Do you anticipate what your friend, spouse, offspring is going to say and have a quick response prepared before they can finish their sentence?

Can you imagine how much better we could communicate with those close to us if we could improve our vocabulary - if we were more aware of our crutches? Speakers have crutch words, but the malady is not their exclusive property. We all have them.


An Audiophile's Most Frequent

It’s Friday and I’ve been talking and writing and thinking about music a lot lately. Instead of the introspective tenor of my previous few posts, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into what is often playing at this audiophile’s house.

The most frequently played songs in your iTunes are supposed to say something about you. Or so I’ve heard. I don’t know what yours says about you. For that matter, I don’t even know what mine says about me.

In case you wish to interpret, here are the top 25 most played songs in my iTunes.

Paradise by Coldplay
Restart by Newsboys
Eastern Hymn by David Crowder Band
Paycheck by Family Force 5
Weaknesses by Blue October
Still Fighting It by Ben Folds
I Wish by Skee Lo
Galaxies by Owl City
Alive by Hillsong Young & Free
Edge of My Seat by Switchfoot
Motorcycle Drive By by Third Eye Blind
If I Can Dream by Elvis Presley
Wonderful by Everclear
Get Back Up by TobyMac
Everything Glorious by David Crowder Band
My Oh My by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Holding On by Mr. J. Medeiros featuring Tara Ellis
Alligator Sky by Owl City featuring Shawn Chrystopher
Everything Will Be Alright by All Star United
Waiting For the End by Linkin Park
In Repair by Our Lady Peace
In Crowd by Rapture Ruckus featuring Soul Glow Activator
Muzzle by Smashing Pumpkins
Let That Be Enough by Switchfoot
Lucky Man by The Verve

The top two are there because of my kids. Many of these songs are in the “My Soundtrack” or “Happy @ Work” playlists on my iPod. But I have no idea how Eastern Hymn became the third most frequently played song. I could not think of the melody or lyrics of that song until I wrote this post.

See any personal favorites in this list? What is the most frequently played song in your iTunes?


Don't Get Me Wrong

Last night, I spent my time writing and listening to music. After publishing yesterday's post, I let iTunes play on while I cleaned and tried to process some thoughts.

The last song to play before I turned it off was Don't Get Me Wrong by The Pretenders. It is such a sweet song of a girl expressing a new-found infatuation and not wanting her behavior to be misinterpreted. "If I'm looking kind of dazzled ... If I'm acting so distracted ... If I split like light refracted ... If I come and go like fashion."

Songwriter Chrissie Hynde deftly penned lyrics that conveyed silly feelings of butterflies after meeting someone. She expressed the tension between wanting that person to know she was interested in them and realizing that her actions might communicate a differing intention. "I might be great tomorrow, but hopeless yesterday."

As I laid down for the night, I caught myself humming the song's melody. But that the tune did not last long. Soon, I started humming another song with a similar theme - one that is about 20 years older than Don't Get Me Wrong.

"I'm just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood."

The Nina Simone song. Although, it was the version recorded by The Animals that I heard playing in my head. A song of someone not wanting their mistakes and flaws to not overshadow the real person inside.

And that led me to think of yet another song - one that has made its way into what I consider the soundtrack to my life. It was Pyro Sets a Wildfire by The Swirling Eddies. I have embraced its lyrics as a personal mantra: "If I played my role as diplomat, you'd know it wasn't just an act. I couldn't stand to stand in back a faded little wallflower."

The verses of Pyro Sets a Wildfire are filled with repeated lyrics "I never meant to ..."

I could hear myself repeating lines that I ask my kids much too frequently. "Got it?" or "Do you understand?" Then came words that I used when I was a corporate trainer several years ago: "Is everyone with me?"

These are the thoughts that kept me up far later than I should have been awake.

Don't get me wrong. Don't let me be misunderstood. I never meant that. Got it? Do you understand? Are you with me?

There is a pattern.

I want to be understood. Sometimes I will go to extreme lengths to get my point across - perhaps even to the point of over doing it. I fear being misinterpreted, misrepresented, or being taken out of context.

I am not typically a fearful man. I am not frightened by clowns, heights, public speaking, darkness, spiders, or enclosed spaces. I am not scared of monsters. I love scary movies. I do not fear ISIS, the NRA, the GOP, or North Korea. I am not worried that a lone gunman is going to take his vengeance out on my workplace or at a park while I am there with my kids.

But being misunderstood? That actually scares me.

Is this a writer's greatest fear? We spend so much time committing words and phrases to ink (or pixels) to express an idea or a story. We employ similes and metaphors. We bare our hearts to instruct, encourage, or entertain. Our energy is devoted to this passion of language, syntax, wordplay, and structure.

At the end of the day, the worst feeling I can imagine as a writer is for someone to read my work and hear them say, "I don't get it."


Scenes from a movie: The Matrix

My friend Jeff and I went to see The Matrix on opening night and it was unlike anything we had ever seen. We went straight to his house from the theater to hang out for the rest of the night. While there, his mom asked us what it was about. Neither of us could find words to describe what we had just watched so we quoted a line from the movie.

“No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

Pitch anything like The Matrix to a studio today and the executives with power to green light a project or send it to development hell will shrug their shoulders and say “meh.”

These days, explaining The Matrix is simple. Humanity experiences the world through a computer program in their mind while their bodies are converted into batteries for living machines in the real world. Some people have escaped and are able to transfer between the real world and the matrix through a giant cable jack in the back of their heads; these people seek to free the rest of humanity. They learn kung fu, they do stuff in slow motion, explosions happen, Laurence Fishburne wears glasses that defy the laws of physics, and Neo is The One. Everyone is a hacker. Alice in Wonderland is frequently referenced. There are allusions to Christian theology, classical philosophy, and Eastern mysticism.

But sixteen years ago, this movie was not easy to describe after watching it for the first time before anyone had the opportunity to spoil the plot. How could we have possibly detailed the complexities of this masterpiece to Jeff’s mom? We had no words available to elaborate on the red pill/blue pill question, surgical removal of the tracking bug, shape shifting agents, telephone exits, Trinity’s latex suit, bullet-time.

The Matrix was a memorable movie for a host of reasons from the religious allegories, killer soundtrack, twisting narrative, and revolutionary special effects. It is a story that has stayed with me over the years.

In one iconic scene, Morpheus and Neo visit the Oracle. Once there, Neo encounters a young boy who is holding a spoon that bends without any recognizable force. The boy hands the spoon to Neo and tells him "Do not try to bend the spoon, that's impossible." The kid's message is wrapped in Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and encourages Neo to change himself rather than change specific objects. The trick – what the boy calls truth is one of the most quoted lines from The Matrix.

You want to change something? Realize that thing does not exist. It is the self help staple - changing yourself is the best method to change your circumstances. "Then you will see it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."

Could I propose a slight change of words? Replace the spoon? Try this.

"There is no normal."

I gave up on normal a long time ago. That happens when you're the artistic geek an a family that thrives on ESPN. When you're the odd man out among your peers. When your father suffers a debilitating workplace accident. When all of your friends are wealthier, better looking, and more popular than you. Throughout my childhood, I was given constant indications that I was not normal. Yet I still believed that normal existed somewhere else. For other people, but not me.

Then I grew up. I hung out with musicians and creative people. Like me, they were not the paragon of normality. They affirmed my weirdness and gave me room to indulge in my eccentricities.

Then I became a parent. Maybe I should try to be more normal. Maybe?

But my oldest was diagnosed with Aspergers. Once again, the possibility of normal evaporated. When parenting kids on the autism spectrum, you begin hearing words like neurotypical to describe other kids - those who are neurologically typical. Every utterance would remind me that my son's brain was not typical. It was something different.

Then I became a foster parent. And then an adoptive parent. Each step another hint that my path is one that wandered away from normal.

The sum total of life experiences not only rejected the idea that I could be normal, but also questioned if normal actually exists.

The older I get, the more I am convinced: there is no normal.

My oldest son will tell me that he wants to be like everyone else. He wants to fit in. But he is not the only kid I hear voice such aspirations. That was something I heard from a lot of my classmates when I was growing up. I hear it today from the kids that hang out with my kids. The desire to be normal and fit in has been a plot line in every family oriented sitcom; from The Brady Bunch to Modern Family, you see characters that feel weird and out of place. We see these TV tropes over and over again because it is one of the most universally experienced feelings of childhood and adolescence.

How could normal exist if everyone (at least at one point in time) felt abnormal? How could normal exist if one of the most common driving forces in child development is the quest be normal?

Here is what I have come to realize and accept as truth: there is no normal. Normal is a construct of our imagination. It is a word we use to describe something that is not us. It is always someone else.

Those that feel they are normal are that way for one reason. Like the child in the Oracle's apartment encouraged Neo to bend himself to bend the spoon, self-declared normal people do so because they defined their own normal. They bent themselves in order to bend and redefine what it means to be normal.

Honestly, those people are some of the most peculiar and awesome people on earth.


God reaching across the cosmos

While listening to the Ask Science Mike podcast, Mike was talking about how language and mathematics are completely inadequate to describe what existed before the big bang. That God, existing as a singularity when laws of physics and time and space were one. We as humans have been trying to define and understand it, yet not quite getting there. As our knowledge grows, it changes and it will continue to grow and change. Despite our increased understanding, words will always fail to fully describe God.

During that bit, Mike said the following, which I found absolutely beautiful.

Even in the bible our understanding about God has evolved.

First, God was a man who walked with us in a Garden. He said that it was good and He showed us how to live. But there was trouble in paradise and we moved on.

Next God was a stranger we wrestled with. An unknown face who looked like a man and only after difficulty, could God be known and be revealed.

But God continued to grow in our eyes. And God became a burning bush that was not consumed by its fire who said simply that, "I am."

God continued to expand beyond just a bush, and after the people of God left Egypt, God was a pillar of cloud during the day and fire during the night that showed the people where to go in the wilderness.

After that, God dwelled in an ark that traveled with the people of God in the fields of battle, and who rewarded His followers with the social currency of that time: military conquest and victory.

When the people of God settled down into their own nation, God became a dwelling Spirit within a temple that denoted Yahweh's rule over a specific geographic patch of the earth.

After that nation was overthrown, and the people of God were in exile, God returned as a man. This time, a man named Jesus. An incarnate face on the mysterious spirit from the temple.

But this time God spoke of a greater and more expansive love than had been part of the faith before.

This time God said, "The most important thing is to love Me, and the next most important thing is to love your neighbor, and all that I say hinges on those things."

And then, this Man left. He ascended into Heaven.

And suddenly, God was a spirit that dwelled within our hearts. A universal force that dwelled not within one temple but every body of every believer.

Potentially, a temple everywhere in world. Everywhere humans traveled.

But our understanding of God was not done evolving still. Because next the church established God as a triune God, three in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Which one of these Christian Gods accurately reflects reality? They all do. They are all metaphors that point to the source of all. They are all pictures of a God that somehow reaches out to us across the cosmos.

As a Christian, I do not feel threatened by science. Rather, I am excited by the new discoveries found by scientists. Groundbreaking, mind-blowing, and endlessly fascinating. My oldest and I will have some of the deepest and most important conversations about faith and life that were born from discussions about alternate universes and time paradoxes.

It bothers me that so many other Christians view science as a bunch of gobbledygook. They're missing out. Science is not an art that should lure us away from our belief in God, but fill us with wonder and awe of the complexities and beauty of His creation. From microbiology to astrophysics, God's fingerprint is present. God is reaching across the universe, screaming our names.


The Trump Predicament

I may be a week late to this dump on Trump party but it has taken me this long to formulate a collection of words that resemble anything more than blundering gibberish.

How is this bully the number one polling GOP candidate?

Perhaps we could understand the perspective of Donald Trump's words if we substitute the objects of his ire.

For example:

"Billionaires are not pleasant people, they’re not the best. They’re not you. They’re people that have lots of problems, and they’re making you pay for those problems. They do drugs. They’re white collar criminals. They’re narcissists. And some, I assume, are good people."

or ...

Me: "Donald Trump has the worst toupée I have ever seen."
Trump: "This is real 100% authentic American grown hair."
Me: "It's not a toupée - Donald swears it is real."
Trump: "How dare you call it a toupée you moron."
Me: "I never said it was a toupée. I just prefer hair that doesn't look like a wig."

It baffles me to see so many people excited about the possibility of President Trump. Is it the irresistible allure of watching a car crash in slow motion? Is it a fascination with offensive material? Do people like Trump for the same reason that they watch the Saw movies, get slobbering-all-over-yourself drunk, or laugh at Triumph the Insult Comic Dog? Is cheering for someone who is meaner and uglier than you something that is supposed to make you feel better about yourself?

Photo courtesy of UPROXX

Why? Why is Donald Trump leading leaps and bounds above any other Republican presidential wannabe? Those are questions that I am unprepared to answer - and possibly incapable of explaining.

I don't understand the popularity of the Trump campaign. But here is what I do know.

Speaking truth and speaking your mind are not the same thing.
Honesty without kindness is rarely beneficial.
Dishonesty masked by arrogance is still dishonesty.
It is possible to recognize the accomplishments of people you don't like.
It is possible to express dissatisfaction without denigration.
There is a fine line between being politically incorrect and being a jerk.
There is a finer line between being a smartass and an jackass.
Anyone who sets out with the intention to offend will succeed in offending.
Rewarding the rude behavior of one individual will encourage others to be equally rude if not more so.

Considering the above observations, you need to ask yourself if Donald Trump is the kind of person you want representing our nation. Is he the kind of man you want negotiating foreign policies with dignitaries and world leaders? Would you be comfortable knowing that Trump is the most powerful person in the world?

For me, the answer to those three inquiries is one simple word: No.


Gun Up or What?!?

Another day another shooting. Am I right?

Ugh. That sounds horrible. Callous at best, sadistic at worst. It is, however, an honest assessment of American life. Not even two months since the attack at the AME Church in Charleston, and we've seen at least a dozen more mass shootings grab headlines since then.

Motivated by one form of hatred or another. Racism. Misogyny. Islamic extremism. Xenophobia. Gang rivalries. Revenge. The only other common element in these incidents is the weapon of choice: firearms.

The political aftermath of these shootings follow a predictable approach ad nauseam providing endless fodder for 24 hour news outlets to argue in the days that follow.

One side says that the appropriate response is to enact stricter gun laws. The other wants to loosen gun laws. One side wants to restrict access to guns. The other wants everyone to get a gun. Forgive my bluntness, but both of those responses are utterly ridiculous.

We can debate these opposed ideals until modern society collapses but such an endeavor would only prove fruitless. It would solve nothing while the body count increases at a rate that would discourage the most cheerful optimist in America.

We as Americans have a problem with guns. Denial of such problem is either foolish, willfully oblivious, or perhaps both.

However, it is not the guns themselves that is the source of our woes. Our problem with guns is our attitude toward guns. The idea that an armed society is a polite society is hyperbolic nonsense; apprehension and civility are not synonyms. The claim that anyone who open-carries a side arm is a nut with violent tendencies is nothing more than fear-mongering. The belief that any attempt at gun control regulation is a ruse to take away our guns is a slippery slope fallacy. Thinking that better gun control will eradicate all mass shootings is wishful thinking.

The arguments on both sides of the second amendment debate are so mired in rhetoric that everyone needs to sit down and shut up.

Our problem is one of attitude. We live in a culture that glorifies violence. We view our personal collection of firearms as an idol but no one is brave enough to admit it. We are so caught up in our own personal liberties and the pursuit of self preservation that we no longer give a damn about our neighbors. We mask our faults with weaponry and label it security.

These mass shootings are not the fault of gun availability alone. It is a cocktail mixed from entitlement issues, family dysfunction, greed, jingoism, generations of people turning a blind eye to injustice, unwillingness to support the underprivileged and at-risk members of society, and constant political vilification. Toss a loaded weapon into that volatile concoction and bad things will happen. It is inevitable.

Same thing but shorter: Our attitude problem with guns is a moral dilemma. Unfortunately, it is impossible to legislate morality.

We need to enforce existing gun laws. We might even need new laws. Still, neither of those options will solve the issue. They are nice gestures but will only serve as a band aid on a gaping gunshot wound.

If the problem is our attitude, then the solution would be a changed mind-set. What we need is a massive cultural shift. That is something that the law is powerless to enforce.

There is a funny thing about social shifts: culture can shape the government, but the government cannot shape culture. It is a one way street. Yet, in order to make those changes, it requires culture to make an effort.

If we are to fix this gun problem, it means the responsibility for change belongs to us. To me. To you. Our friends, our family, our churches, our neighborhoods. It is time we live out the biblical commands to love our neighbors, to forgive freely, and reconcile this broken world in which we live. We need to love our kids unconditionally and teach them to love others in the same way. We need to rebuke any semblance of hatred.

That is a power that belongs to individuals and if we were to wield that power, I guarantee we would see less nuts with guns killing in public places.

So, maybe – just maybe, we need a little less “F-yeah! Guns! Whoooo!” And a little more, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?


My Top 5 (+1) Musical Movie Moments

From my previous post, one of the podcasts that brings me joy is the Deucecast; it's all about movies. I thought I was a film buff until I started following David Dollar's blog and podcast; he makes me look like a casual fan in comparison. It is satisfying to listen to someone so passionate about something I enjoy. Additionally, I don't get out to the theater as much as I used to, so David and his friends provide insight to movies that I probably will never have the time to see.

A few weeks ago, The Deucecast had an episode about their favorite musical moments from film - the best I have heard from them so far. Music is one topic over which I will gleefully geek out. They combined two of my favorite things and that awesome Deucecast episode, so here is the countdown of my favorite musical moments in cinema.

Honorable mention: Mariachi lessons from Desperado. Desperado is a dude's movie. Shootouts, explosions, guitar cases filled with guns, and Salma Hayek. The Chicano rock and Latin music infused soundtrack helps make this one of my all time favorite movies. The movie's premise is simple: a man on a quest for revenge. On the way to the Tarasco bar to confront his enemy's goons, El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) meets a kid who is struggling to play a guitar. El Mariachi provides some tips and a quick lesson to help the kid improve his technique. It is a tender moment in a hyperactive movie, a glimpse of kindness and compassion from a man preoccupied with violence.

Now ...

Five. "Step in Time" from Mary Poppins. If I am honest, I strongly dislike this movie. It and the Sound of Music are two of my mom's favorites; I cannot count how many times she forced me to watch them when I was growing up. Even though I cringe at numbers like "A Spoonful of Sugar" or "Let's Go Fly a Kite," there is a certain oddness to the rooftop dance routine and the pub-like quality of "Step in Time" that I do appreciate. It is the one scene from Mary Poppins that I find entertaining. It's a daft blend of absurdity and danger with a dark streak that suits my preference for scarier and more action filled movies.

Four: "Johnny B. Goode" from Back to the Future. Seeing Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travel back in time to meet his parents is the stuff that inspired the wildest dreams of my 80s era imagination. If I ever found myself transported back to a time when my parents were in high school and was thrust upon a stage at a school dance to play with the band, I would play a song they've never heard. It wouldn't be "Johnny B. Goode," perhaps "Wonderwall" from Oasis or "Today" from Smashing Pumpkins. But I would not be able to resist doing what Marty did: get a little carried away.

Three: "You Make My Dreams" from (500) Days of Summer. This quirky movie is both depressing and optimistic as it traverses the highs and lows of a dysfunctional romance. And somewhere in the middle of it, between the butterflies and the heartbreak, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has a moment of bliss. Along his walk to work, a tune from Hall & Oates plays. There is an extra pep in his step as he starts dancing. Then the crowd on the sidewalk dances with him. A little cartoon bird perches on his shoulder. He walks into his office; the elevator doors close to end the scene. Just about every guy I know has felt like this at some point in their lives. I know I have.

Two: “Sweet Caroline” from Beautiful Girls. This is my favorite movie ever. From the melancholic title song by Pete Droge to the bittersweet tone of the movie. So many memorable scenes: Rosie O'Donnell’s anti-pornography rant; Michael Rapaport’s creepy monologue about the power of a beautiful girl; the conversation between Timothy Hutton and Natalie Portman about love, The Wizard of Oz, and Winnie the Poo; the argument over champagne colored diamonds. It’s endlessly quotable and bits of dialog from this film have worked their way into my conversational repertoire. When I tuck my daughter into bed and give her a bedtime kiss, I tell her four words from this movie: “Good night sweet girl.” The one musical clip that stands out above the others is when the guys gathered at the bar convince Willie (Hutton) to play the piano and it devolves into a group sing-a-long of the Neil Diamond classic. Everyone is off key and reveling in the moment. This scene demonstrates the best that a good group of friends can offer.

One: I Want Joe's Money from Empire Records. Of course, a movie set in a record shop would be filled with great musical moments. Most of it centers around the store staff dancing and singing while cleaning or stocking shelves. Then there is Rory Cochrane’s banishment to the couch, Ethan Embry’s breaking of the fourth wall, Robin Tunney shaving her head, the shoplifter chase, and subsequent mockery of the shoplifter’s musical tastes. The soundtrack is as much a part of this story as much as the characters. You can see it in Embry starting a mosh pit during a Suicidal Tendencies song, The Cranberries playing in the background as AJ (Johnny Whitworth) confesses his feelings to Corey (Liv Tyler), or Renée Zellweger and Coyote Shivers singing Sugar High in a rooftop concert at the end. Most of the music is there for flavor but one song serves to further the plot. That is Flying Lizards cover of Money (That's What I Want). The song and an employee’s lyrical change prompt Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) to inform his staff of the impending transition to a big-box music retailer. Everything about this scene is the kind of thing we would do when I worked in a record store.

Those are my favorites. What are yours?


Podcasts - Stick It in Your Ear

In pursuit of better mental health, I have improved my learning habits. Reading more. Writing more. Actual study. Another learning tool is found in consuming podcasts. This is a deviation from my natural inclination to spend my day listening to music. I still believe in the therapeutic benefit of hearing a collection your favorite songs, but podcasts are something different.

I am using podcasts to keep my mind active. These are opportunities to learn something, to challenge and inspire myself, to support my geekier tendencies, and stimulate thinking beyond my daily routine. And occasionally, these podcasts provide much needed reason to laugh.

Here is my list of Podcasts - divided up in three sections.

Group 1: Thinkers

  • Live Your List: A leadership podcast from Ryan Eller and Jerrod Murr with an emphasis on bucket lists and intentional living.
  • The BadChristian Podcast: Matt and Toby of Emery with their friend and pastor Joey talk about church culture and taboo topics through irreverent conversations, interviews, and bizarre news stories in hopes to challenge the church to talk about stuff that actually matters.
  • Never Was: Former Stavesacre vocalist Mark Salomon reminisces over his career while interviewing his friends and fellow 90s era musicians.
  • NPR's TED Radio Hour: A showcase of TED keynote speakers with interviews and clips from their TED talks.
  • Ask Science Mike: Mike McHargue answers questions about science and faith submitted by show listeners - grounded in both scientific and biblical study.
  • RELEVANT Podcast: The weekly podcast mixing indie music, culture, interviews, and faith from the group that publishes RELEVANT Magazine.

Group 2: Nerds

  • Fat Man on Batman: Kevin Smith discusses his Batman fandom and general geekery with filmmakers, comic books creators, and other Batman fans.
  • The Weekly Planet: The two Australian guys behind comicbookmovie.com chat about movies, TV shows, comic books, and related geek news.
  • The Deucecast Movie Show: David Dollar and some of his friends talk about their favorite movies with topics ranging from romantic comedies, to musicals, summer blockbusters, and Disney classics.
  • You Hate Movies: Josh Dies of Showbread gather friends together to argue about movies.
  • It's a Duck Blur: A husband and wife team from Australia spend an hour to an hour and a half talking about each 22 minute episodes of Duck Tales - all 100 of them.
  • Doug Loves Movies: Comedian Doug Benson performs with his comedian friends before a live audience in a show that is equal parts stand-up comedy and trivial game show.

Group 3: Preachers

  • The RobCast: The weekly podcast from Rob Bell featuring interviews or topical discussions to connect Jewish traditions of the ancient world and our modern society.
  • Daily Audio Bible: Daily scripture reading from Brian Hardin that goes through the entire bible in a year.
  • Hillsong: The weekly sermon from Brian Houston's Hillsong Church in Sydney Australia.
  • Bethel: The weekly sermons from Bethel Church in Redding California.
  • North Point: The weekly sermons from Andy Stanley's Atlanta area church.
  • Beautiful Struggle: B3ar Fruit artist Octavious interviews hip-hop artists about the origins of their faith and artistry.

That is what fills my ears and brains, and I am always up for suggestions.

What podcasts do you enjoy?