Showing posts with label observations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label observations. Show all posts


N is for New

My uncle Ron once told me of one of his favorite hobbies: going into a book store, cracking open a new book, holding it up to his nose, and inhaling in a long and deep breath. New ink printed on new paper inside a new book. He said that scent was one of his favorite smells in the world.

It sounds crazy, but it is logical. I've heard others describe a similar satisfaction with the odor of a new car, new shoes, and new electronics.

We love the word new. It instilled with a sense of excitement and endless possibilities. We celebrate the birth of a new baby and party to welcome a new year. New is the anthem of optimism. Cloaks of hope and desire hang from the coat rack of new.

Unfortunately, not all new is good new. Sometimes the jubilation of newness is counterbalanced by the fear of the unknown. Sometimes the new is forced upon us through change or tragedy that is unwelcome and we find ourselves inadequately prepared for new.

When the nervous energy of a new job is replaced with the discouragement of a termination, a lay off, or corporate restructuring.
When young lovers and the honeymoon phase turns to infidelity, falling out of love, or divorce.
When vibrant health gives way to devastating terminal diagnosis or chronic illness.
When the joy of a new home is interrupted by foreclosure.
When a parent passes away.
When the kids grow up and leave behind a quite empty nest.
When you find yourself in a new city facing the overwhelming task of finding new employment, new friends, new housing, and ways to navigate the strange and unfamiliar streets.

New often means change. For many people, change is scary. Facing the unknown of new can be frightening. It causes discomfort and uncertainty. This kind of new strips away our identity and our security. It causes emotional and financial strain.

How do you cope? How do you get through the big scary new so that you can enjoy the fun and alluring new?

To be honest, I really don't know. I don't have any formulaic answers that can point your way through the difficulties of change. The past few months have been a difficult season of loss for me and because of that, I'm facing a season of new. While I'm no wise sage dispensing years of philosophical knowledge, I have learned a few things along the way.

1. Change is inevitable.
2. Sometimes, change sucks.
3. It's OK to feel like it sucks.
4. The pain of new is temporary.
5. This kind of stress is a lot like growing pains.
6. Change gives you the opportunity to truly connect with your identity.

Finally, my last observation is perhaps the most important: You are not alone.

You are not the first person to redefine themselves after the loss of a spouse. You're not the first to find yourself suddenly unemployed. You are not the first to to find yourself abandoned or alone. There are others who have gone before you and weathered your pain. There are others that are going through it right now just like you. And sooner or later, there will be coming behind you with the same stress of change. This is the kind of community that makes the bad new easier to experience.

Do yourself a favor, find that community and embrace it.


Dang it, what did I do now?

Quick show of hands - Anyone ever remove the word 'constructive' out of the phrase constructive criticism? The notion that someone is trying to help you improve yourself doesn't come across the way they intended. Instead you interpret it as some vindictive critique. It's OK if you raise your hand. This is the internet. I can't see you.

I ask because I do that. I hear their words and think, Dang it, what did I do now?

Maybe it's an inferiority complex. Or maybe I set my expectations for myself far too high. Or maybe it's a guilty conscience. Or maybe it's my self-deprecating sense of humor. Or my melancholic disposition. Whatever it is, it's not healthy. I am making efforts to change those habits but every now and then it happens. Someone says something that sounds vaguely negative and I assume it's about some mistake that I made.

My bad habits aside, when I read my bible it's nice to know that Jesus' disciples experience the same "crap, what now" feeling of disappointment that occasionally burdens me.

When you read through the book of Matthew, page after page you'll find the parables that Jesus taught. After many of them His disciples ask, "What does it mean?" Nearly all of the responses that Jesus provided went something along the lines of, "Are you daft? Did you really ask that question? Are you learning nothing from me?" But then he breaks the story down into language a five year old could understand. The bible doesn't often record what the disciples said after Jesus decoded his parables, but in my mind I imagine them collectively stating, "Oh ... now I get it." Then somewhere in the background, Jeff Foxworthy asks, "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?"

Most of these parables were delivered with Jesus talking to the crowds or given as an answer to trick questions posed by the pharisees. Then in Matthew 16:6, Jesus delivers a one line parable that is directed to the disciples and only the disciples.

He said, "Be careful! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees."

My optimistic side wants to believe that (if I were a disciple) I would have thanked Jesus for the good advice. Or I would have asked him to clarify what he meant. But I'm not an optimist. I would have reacted the same way as the disciples. "Dang it. We screwed up again."

They were on a boat, a captive audience when Jesus gave them this warning. The disciples had forgotten to pack bread for their trip across the lake. As soon as Jesus started talking about yeast and using words like "beware," They made the logical connection that yeast is in bread and they didn't have any bread. Rather than asking Jesus to explain how people could have yeast, they assumed the worst. Their first thought was, Uh-oh. We did something wrong. He's mad at us agian.

That wasn't the truth. Jesus wasn't talking about bread. But I can't blame them for missing the point the first time around. They were fishermen and tax collectors. They didn't have any experience baking bread; they bought it from the market like everyone else. Once again, Jesus had to spell it out like they were a bunch of kindergarteners.

Yeast is what makes bread rise. What made the Pharisees and the Sadducees rise? Their teaching.

When Jesus said, "Beware of their yeast," what he was really trying to tell the disciples was, "Beware of their words. It puffs them up like yeast does in bread."

The disciples, these guys were idiots. They had a hard time understanding Jesus' stories and they were quick to assume blame where no fault was intended. Truthfully, I'm an idiot too. Sometimes. While Jesus went as far to describe the disciples as dull, they were Jesus' closest earthly friends. That motley group changed the world. They got better.

If they got better, maybe there's hope for me. Maybe next time someone offers me some constructive criticism, I can reply, "Thank you, I appreciate the feedback."



Did you know:

The words venue and event come from the come from the same root word?

That means anyone who calls a building an "events venue" is being redundant.



What is better...                                                         

Well mannered incompetence?
Deviant brillance?

Note written in one of my journals about six years ago.


The unfinished story

There are legitimate complaints about Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. When taking on massive works of classic literature like those of J.R.R. Tolkien, filmmakers must take some creative liberties to bring those words to cinematic life. They must also make some difficult decisions on scenes and characters to omit in order to fit their adaptations into an acceptable film length.

The Hobbit has a different problem. It is one book. And it is short when compared to any of the three books that make up the Lord of the Rings saga. Where Jackson made one movie for Fellowship, one movie for Two Towers, and one movie for Return of the King - he has taken a different route for The Hobbit. For the simpler and noticeably shorter story, Jackson has built three individual movies. Now, instead of eliminating bits of literature, he's added stuff to fill out the time. That means you'll see extra characters, dialog, and other amusements in the film versions that were never a part of the book.

Legitimate gripes aside, there is one critique that is wholly invalid. Unfortunately, it's the one I hear the most.

"It ended with a massive cliffhanger."

Of course it does. Spoiler alert - there's a third movie. It comes out next Christmas.

The saddest part of this grievance is that it is uttered by people that enjoyed every other aspect of the film. They thought the special effects were brilliant and that the fight sequences were intense. They found Smaug to be a truly villainous villain. They were cheering for Bilbo and the band of Dwarves. They were horrified by the giant spiders and laughed their way through the barrel rides. In their minds, every aspect of the film was flawless except one. The cliffhanger ending.

This might be a little judgmental on my part, but I truly believe that people who weren't aware that The Desolation of Smaug was the second part in a trilogy are the kind of people who should stop going to movies. They ruin the magic of the theater for the rest of us. And don't even get me started on the people that didn't realize these movies were adapted from a book.

But why is the cliffhanger such a big complaint? Why is the unfinished story so unsettling? Is it because it reminds us that our lives are also unfinished stories?

Let's face the facts of our lives. Until the moment when we draw our final breath, the stories we live are unfinished. Today may or may not be our long dark night of the soul; however we have not yet faced our climatic battles - our final chapters have not been written. In a world as frenzied as ours, each night that ends in sleep is a cliffhanger. What will happen tomorrow? Will today's crisis find resolution or will it blow up completely? Will I overcome my challenges or just give up? Will this be my downfall or the catalyst to my greatest victory.

To find out, tune in next week at the same bat-time, same-bat channel.

This style of ending has been used by television producers and scriptwriters for a very long time. It leaves a hunger for more. The viewer has to return to find out what happened. It's called suspense. And not long ago, that was one of the most effective tricks of the trade. In the days before the internet, a good cliffhanger would leave fans talking for several months. Anyone remember who shot JR?

Even in more recent years, the cliffhanger is been an excellent spark for conversation. LOST, one of my favorite TV series, was the master of the cliffhanger. Season One ends with Walt getting kidnapped and the lights in the mysterious hatch turned on. Who took Walt? What's in the hatch? Season two ends with Jack, Kate, and Sawyer taken captive, betrayed by Michael. How will Jack, Kate, and Sawyer escape? At the end of season three, we find out that Jack and Kate were able to get off the Island and Jack wishes they had never left. How did they get back home? In season four, Ben tells Jack how to return to the island and we find out that the body in the coffin was Locke. Will they get back? How did Locke die? And the biggest cliffhanger of the entire series comes in the season five finale when Juliet admits her love for Sawyer and then sacrifices herself by manually detonating the nuclear bomb. Fade to white.

Consider the spinning top at the end of Inception. Or Captain Jack's death at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Or the brief glimpse of Thanos during the post credits scene of The Avengers. Or Jim and Pam's kiss at the end of The Office's second season.

Done right, the cliffhanger leaves us wanting more. It leaves us wondering what happens next. It brings us back again and again. It leaves us uncomfortable until the unfinished story has been resolved.

The same is true of our lives. We don't live in episodes of Saved by the Bell; the plots of our existence are never wrapped up by the time we lay down to sleep each night. Reality is more like LOST - every answered question creates more unanswered questions. Today is a cliffhanger. Tomorrow, the story continues.

When you go to bed tonight, your story might end like The Desolation of Smaug (spoilers) with you, the hero, asking yourself "What have we done?"

When you go to bed tonight, your story might end like the first hobbit movie, An Unexpected Journey. You've been rescued from peril but you know that you still have a long journey ahead of you.

Your story of today could end in elation of a first kiss, or in heartbreak and failure. It could end with confidence and anticipation, or it could end in doubt and regret. It could have been filled with unexpected plot twists, or deus ex machina. Today is an unfinished story and like all good cliffhangers, I hope that it makes you wonder what happens next. I hope it leaves you wanting more. I hope it brings you back again in the morning. I hope it leaves you uncomfortable enough to make tomorrow a better day.

My story is an unfinished story, and so is yours. A new chapter begins tomorrow. Be brave enough to write it.


An open letter to the ladies

Do you have body issues? Do you struggle with your self image? Do you believe that you're not pretty enough or skinny enough?

We live in a culture that as a twisted definition of beauty. Our starlets are photoshopped to look curvier and bustier creating this artificial standard that demands you sacrifice your self worth on the alter of Sexy. This culture tells you that you need a slimmer waist, bigger breasts, fuller lips, and shinier hair to be hot. Our movies and music tell you that you have to take your clothes off to to be valued. When you walk through the grocery store check out lanes, you are confronted with magazines that promise tips to have a better sex life, get the guy you want, and lose a few pounds - all while Katy Perry is the cover model ideal of perfection.

Very few people can live up to those expectations. Honestly, I understand how you could compare yourself to what our culture deems beautiful and find yourself falling short. And if you're following all those fashion tips and diet plans and still don't look like a Victoria Secret model, it makes sense that the way you view yourself suffers.

I could tell you that you should ignore those voices that are telling you you're not enough. I could tell you that you are beautiful just the way you are. Those are words that you've probably heard countless times before and will hopefully hear upon many more occasions.

Instead, I have a secret for you.

Guys struggle with our image too. We do.

We see the Calvin Klein ads featuring David Beckham with his sculpted abs. We notice you fawning over McDreamy while you watch Grey's Anatomy. We see the winning smile of Adam Levine as he's named the sexiest man alive. We watch as some of the strongest men on the planet pulverize each other week after week as we follow our favorite NFL teams.

The same culture that tells you that you're not hot tells us that we're unattractive. It compares our beer gut to Beckham, our receding hairline to McDreamy, our less than desirable appearance to Levine, and our physique to the Seahawks offensive line.

We can't measure up. We have body issues. Just like you, we often feel like we're not good enough. Between the expanding waistlines and the balding/graying hair, we're not the manly men that our culture expects us to be.

Our culture tells us that we're supposed to look like those shirtless guys on Abercrombie & Fitch posters. It tells us that we should be able to grow beards, eat bacon, handle a rifle with ease, and rebuild the engine of any vehicle we own. It tells us that hunting and fishing should be instinctual. It tells us that we should be able to hold our liquor. It tells us that we should be able to kick the ass of anyone that threatens us or our loved ones. It tells us to be a rock - an unmovable force.

Like pouring salt into an open wound, our culture takes this image issue with men a little further. When we can't be that guy, when we're a little chubbier, if we can barely change a flat tire, if we can't tell the difference between a .45 and a 9 mm, if the scent of alcohol makes us a little tipsy, if we choose to be a vegetarian or a pacifist, if we show any sign of weakness ... If we don't measure up to the ideal man, our culture tells us we're not allowed to be insecure. It tells us to man up. Throw some dirt on it. Bury your pain. Keep on moving on. Don't back down. If we admit any hint of insecurity, our culture somehow determines that we're less than a man.

This culture is unhealthy for you, but it's unhealthy for us too.

Sure, there's things that we can do to help or hinder your self image. We know that providing the wrong answer to "do these jeans make my butt look big?" can lead to disaster. We know that looking at porn makes you feel devalued. We know that you feel unloved when we forget to take out the trash. We could compliment you more. We could stop objectifying you in our movies and lyrics. We could be better boyfriends, husbands, brothers, and sons.

There are also things that you could do differently.

When you get together in your groups and engage in your girl talk, we hear you. When you're mocking your husbands and boyfriends - it might just be you venting with your girlfriends ... but we hear you. When we over hear you commenting about your husband's or boyfriends dunlap and widow's peak, it reminds us of our need for an extra couple of hours at the gym and a bottle of Rogaine. When we hear you laugh at jokes about your significant other's appearance, it cheapens the value we've placed in ourselves. If you are that mean towards the men in your life, we question what the women in our lives say about us when we're not around.

Insulting the way someone looks will never make them feel better about their appearance. Please stop. Just, stop.

You can do it. And us men, we can do it too.

ps: I realize this whole post is a generalization. There are men and women in this world that are perfectly happy with their bodies. To them, I say congratulations. I wish we could all be like you. I also know that there are women who could never imagine insulting their spouses while out with their friends. To them, I say thank you. We need more people like you in this world.


Faith & Pop Culture: Counting Stars

On the surface, OneRepublic's Counting Stars is an expertly crafted pop song. Shiny production, snappy rhythms, and virulent melodies. It was included in my summer soundtrack for it's infectious qualities and I remain unashamed to admit how much I love this song. Still.

Yet, that's just the surface. Dig a little deeper and you'll find lyrics aiming for a purpose higher than anything of monetary value. A conflict riding the edge between being young and being old. Hopes to defy the trend of what everyone else is doing. The struggle between the desire to do what is right against the tendency to do what is evil. It's the human existence in a nutshell. Which makes it the formulaically ideal pop song.

But dig deeper.

My oldest son listens intently to lyrical content of the music he hears. And then he picks them apart to figure out what those words mean and what the songwriter is trying to convey. He understands that music often speaks life into words that aren't always easy to arrange in simple conversation. His challenge is grasping the subtleties of similes and metaphors. Part of this is due to having aspergers. With the way his brain works, the typical literary devices of songcraft and poetry are often too complex or confusing without some sort of translation into language he can understand. When he and I listen to music together, he asks a lot of questions. This is also an aspie thing, but this is a demonstration of his thirst for knowledge.

We were listening to Counting Stars and the pre-chorus was one of those nonsensical word choices just beyond the limits of Christian's understanding.

"Dad," he asked, "what does he mean when he said he feels something wrong when doing the right thing? If it's right, why would it be wrong?"

Excellent questions. Here's where we begin to dig.

I explained that doing the right thing isn't always fun. Nor is it always comfortable. Sometimes, we do the right thing even when we don't want to. I asked him if he can remember a time when he hurt his sister's feelings and he had to apologize to her. Was that something that he enjoyed doing? It was the right thing to do, but it was hard.

Doing good is not always easy. Sometimes, it just feels wrong.

Now, he understands. And now that he gets it, he sings along with off-key abandon.

And I get it. This is one of the reasons I adore this song. Because I understand exactly how it feels. Sometimes, doing the wrong thing feels right and doing the right thing feels wrong. Sometimes, I really want to be a jerk because being a jerk would be so much easier and a lot more fun. Yet, I don't. I still aim for the high road even though I occasionally miss. Even though it's much more difficult and often painful.

Digging deeper.

Listening to this song reminds me of the words of Paul in Romans 7. "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing ... Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me." (full passage)

I know that Ryan Tedder comes from a religious background. So this connection may or may not have been intentional. Yet every time I listen to that song, I can't help but ponder those verses from Romans. I don't do want I want to do and instead end up doing what I don't want to do.

And in Tedder's words, I'm losing sleep and praying hard.


When normal is big

A kid walked by me today carrying a regular sized can of Monster energy drink. I've never seen this kid before, but as he approached me he smiled as if I was a good friend of his.

He held up the can of Monster. In a voice that was somehow both raspy and squeaky, he asked me, "Have you ever seen one this big?" His question was clearly one of awe and wonder.

I didn't have an adequate response so I just flashed an awkward grin as the following thoughts raced through my cranium.

How do you follow up a question like that?
Yes, I have seen Monsters that big.
That's their standard size.
They make them bigger.
The kid is stoned.
He is higher than Snoop Dogg Lion at a hemp convention.
What - in the name of all that is good and holy - did I just witness?

The moment my face was out of the kid's line of sight my half-smile was replaced with an expression of extreme stupification.

When did normal become big? And when was that cause to be amazed?


for the love of a cold shower

Yes, you heard that correctly. Cold shower. I take cold showers. Before you think I'm insane (and that is a distinct possibility), please understand there are reasons. Consider the following.

1. Increased production of cortisone.

The first that I heard of possible health benefits from bathing in cold water was about 12 years ago. There was a human interest story on some news program that interviewed the five oldest people on earth and asked them what they believed was the secret to their longevity. One of the subjects was a woman that lived in Russia's northern Ural Mountains. She smoked, drank vodka, and ate red meat. However, her little home was next to the Usa River near the river's source. She claimed to bathe in that river every morning. Researchers on the show theorized that the regular immersion in icy temperatures of the river stimulated the production of cortisone for this little old Russian woman.

Cortisone is a hormone released as a response to stress - and the sudden subjection to frigid waters can be stressful. The hormone typically prepares our body for either fight or flight, however it also provides short term pain relief and can be used to ease joint inflammation.

2. Helps overcome fear.

Serious about this one. Last fall I began reading through some of the writings of Joel Runyon and his Impossible Blog. He's a big advocate of Cold Shower Therapy. Yes, therapy. He proposed the concept that fear holds us back from getting started with big projects like opening a new business or losing some weight (a concept that has been seconded by Jon Acuff in his book Start). Joel's solution to conquering that fear is to start with cold showers because the thought of a cold shower could be scary, but once you start doing it you realize that it's OK. In his words, "You might yell out a few Tarzan type screams, but once you decide to do it, you lean into it and you’re not afraid of it anymore."

The act of taking scary cold showers changes the way you think because when you face something else that frightens you, you recognize that feeling because it's the same sensation. You experienced before taking cold showers. And if you conquered the fear once, you can do it again. Joel wrote a fantastic piece about cold shower therapy - you should read it, especially if your fear is holding you back from doing something you've always wanted to do.

3. It's better than coffee.

I know many people who cannot wake up in the morning without the assistance of coffee. I happen to be related to a few of those people. Please don't misunderstand me, coffee is good. I'm not trying to say you need to give up drinking coffee - I still drink it myself.

But, do you know what's cheaper than a daily Starbucks habit? Cold showers. You know what is more effective than any caffeinated beverage? Cold showers. Nothing wakes you up quicker in the morning than standing under a falling stream of water that feels like it has been teleported from deepest and darkest recesses of space (or as Joel Runyon phrased it "we-just-piped-this-water-in-from -Antarctica-because-the-penguins-won’t-swim-in-it-cold"). As a side benefit, it also encourages shorter showers and less less water waste.

4. Burn more calories while showering.

A few years ago, some researchers wrote and published an article through PLOS titled Human Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Uncoupling Is Associated with Cold Induced Adaptive Thermogenesis. It's an fascinating read (if scholarly scientific studies are your thing) that points out a few interesting ideas.

The article focuses on the role that brown adipose tissue (AKA, brown fat) plays in the human body. Some of it has tangible research. Some of it is theoretical. But the short explanation of the data shows that exposure to cold stimulates brown fat and increases energy use. In other words - it buns more calories. This suggests that cold therapies could be used as a weight loss strategy. Exposing yourself to colder temperatures increases the amount of calories being burned; it accelerates your metabolism.

Part of the reasoning behind the changes to metabolism is due to the difference between your body temperature and the water's temperature. According to the laws of thermodynamics, everything seeks equilibrium. In order to counteract the effect the cold shower has on your internal temperature, your body reacts by increasing heat. That thermogenic process means your body is working harder, improving your ability to burn fat.

5. No more after-shower shock.

Do you know what was my least favorite part of taking hot showers? That moment when I opened the shower curtain to the cold bathroom air. It doesn't matter if the bathroom is heated, the air outside the shower is always colder than the steam and water inside the shower.

But with cold showers, I'm all ready cold when I step out. There is no difference between the frigid water and the chilly air. No bracing shock as you step out of the shower. I'm all ready acclimated to the icy feeling during the shower so I can just step out, towel off, and carry on. Plus, the bathroom mirror isn't steamed over.

There you have it. Cold showers are a good thing. Facing fear and losing weight. I've lost 16 pounds over the past couple of months. Granted, cold shower therapy is not my only weight loss strategy. I'm eating healthier and exercising more. But I believe that my weight loss journey is more successful because I decided to turn the dial down from Mordor to Hoth.


Scary movies

It seems Netflixs thinks the documentary about Snoop Dogg Lion's pilgrimage to Jamaica and his transformation into a reggae artist is a horror movie - recommended for people who enjoyed the most recent Silent Hill movie.


Who's that cat?

It's the cat that keeps trying to ninja it's way into our house. Yeah, that one.


If the founding fathers were clairvoyant...

It was brave men who birthed this nation, went to war with Great Britain, and signed the documents that declared this land to be an independent United States of America; but if they had been able to foresee the future and predict a time when their descendants would celebrate freedom with pyrotechnic technologies invented in China; that these devices would be fiery, explosive, and bombastic; and that the flames and sparks would be as destructive as they are beautiful; I think they would have re-thought their timing - that they would have chosen a day that wouldn't be in the middle of the hottest season of the year; a day when our grounds would not be as dry as tinder; a day when the earth would not be so easily ignited.


In defense of blandness

In route to Seattle, somewhere between the frozen over Sprague Lake and the occasionally odorous Moses Lake, I looked out the passenger window and lamented over the dreariness of the scenery. If you wonder what scenery I speak of, I can only answer that you've proven my point. I have driven along that stretch of I-90 several times, and it's always been my least favorite section of road between Seattle and Spokane. In my opinion, it's missing something. Primarily color. More specifically, any color other than a sickly yellowish brown. It's somewhere along that uninviting expanse that I held my phone up to the car window and snapped the picture below.
I see this landscape and am overcome with an inescapable feeling of blah. Surprisingly, this section of freeway had just enough of a 3G signal for me to upload this to Instagram with the caption: "Dear Eastern Washington, you're boring."

I've always clung to the belief that everything north and west of the Columbia was the pretty half of the state. I've often considered the Puget Sound area to be God's country; from the Cascade crest to the Olympic Peninsula. Sure there are gems elsewhere in the desert wastelands like the wineries and vineyards of Walla Walla, or the rugged terrain where the Snake River divides Washington from Idaho. But for the most part, I think that the majority of the eastern half of the Evergreen State is anything but green. It is empty, monotonous, lonely, and unsightly. In a word - bland.

However, my judgmental opinion of the misshapen scablands west of Spokane is not shared by everyone. In fact, Eastern Washington has its own apologists. Shortly after I posted the picture, the admissions office for EWU tweeted the following message: "@niccasey Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. It's beautiful here! (We also think your photo is pretty stellar, by the way.)" They included a link to a Google image search for the Palouse.

I will say they've got a point - to an extent. The Palouse area is beatuiful. I have found a strange allure to the rolling hills between Moscow and Pullman that is nearly indescribable. Palouse Falls has a wild and dangerous grace that is easy on the eye and on the camera lens. The Columbia Gorge is also dazzling; from Grand Coulee Dam, to the Wild Horse Monument and Vantage Bridge, to The Dalles, the scenery there is audacious. But everything in between?

Maybe that picture above works for you. That flat arid nothingness. If so, congratulations. Good for you. This world needs more people like you. It's not for me. I grew up in the land of pine trees and mountains. Salt water and seagulls. Crowds and traffic. Fog and rain. Suburban paradise.

You can keep your bland land. I need to live somewhere with lakes and rivers and mountains. And trees - preferably the kind that stay green all year.


A weird night

Question: What goes on in this house while I slumber?

Hypothesis: My sleep is profoundly messed up.

Prediction: Something weird is happening at night.

Test: When I went to bed, I had a pillow under my head, I was covered by a single blanket, and I have a second blanket wadded up and stuffed under my feet to elevate my legs. When I awoke, the blanket that was my original source of warmth had been rolled into a ball and replaced the pillow. The blanket that was propping up my feet was pulled over the top of me and in it's place was a pillow. But not the pillow I first laid my head on - that pillow was nowhere to be found. I have no memory of how this rearrangement occurred.

Analysis: I need better sleep habits.


Responding to tragedy - doing it wrong

Social media has made me ill the past few days. All of the bitterness and arguing. For an outsider looking in, you'd never believe that we're all trying to cope with a massive tragedy. And I'm not innocent in it. I tried to steer clear of ugly battles, but at the same time, I'm human - and that person inside me wants to scream at all of the things that are wrong with part of this world and the way the other part is reacting.

Facebook and Twitter have brought out the ugliest aspects of our nature. It's fitting as social networks have given everyone of us the soapbox from which we flaunt our first amendment right to be obnoxious. But is that the right thing to do? Not that long ago, we would discuss horrific events from the relative safety of living rooms, churches, bars, and water coolers with people who were mostly of similar political or religious persuasion. Now, we step up to the world wide microphone and bleat whatever comes to mind to a much more diverse audience. From some other corner of the internet, a "friend" with little in common with us will rebut as if fate of all mankind rested upon their ability to fix the error of our ways. I'm no angel and I like to be correct just like most other sentient creatures on this planet. So please do not take this as a lecture from someone who is immune.

Over the past four days, as I've watched the slow-motion train wreck unfold in my twitter feed and in conversations on Facebook, I've made a few observations. I do enjoy to be faultless, but I also realize that I'm not always. So please, feel free to point out any perceived deviation in my musings. But please - if you do, do so with kindness.

Reactions to Friday's massacre - whatever the content - can be divided into a few categories. Granted, the words below are not quoted verbatim. This is a generalization of what I'm seeing in social websites, blogs, and comments on news stories.

1.Reactions of fear. These are the people who are debating pulling their kids out of public school because they fear another rampage. These are the people who wonder why our teachers are not armed. These are the people who fear the proliferation of fully automatic weapons.

2. Reactions of opportunity. This is a door that swings both ways. Guns are to blame. A lack of guns are to blame. Blame video games or television. Blame rock musicians. Blame a lack of mental health care. Blame mental health medications. Blame conservatives. Blame liberals. These are those that are trying to score political points - to capitalize on someone else's loss.

3. Reactions of demand. This is the call to action. These are the people that want an immediate repeal of the second amendment. These are the people who are demanding we allow people to carry weapons into schools and bars and courtrooms. These are the people who want reform and they want it now.

4. Reaction of superiority. These are everyone's least favorite words. I told you so. I knew this would happen. This wouldn't have occurred if we did things my way. Let me beat you over the head with how much I am better than you.

If you say that this nation needs to have some serious discussions about gun control or mental health, I'll agree with you. If you say that our nation needs to experience a drastic culture shift, I'll still agree with you. But if you come into those conversations from the perspectives of fear, opportunity, demands, or superiority, you're doing it wrong. Very wrong.

There is a fifth method I've seen used in reaction to Friday's shootings.

5. Reactions of grace. Respect for the grieving. Respect for those who don't share your opinions. #26Acts. Sensitivity. Tact. Hope. Kindness. Love.

This last approach is a rarity and it breaks my heart that I have not seen more of grace and hope. It pains me because I think this is the most appropriate way to react. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am.


Identity: Creature - a week of living second

What kind of creature are you? I believe with all of my being that you were created. (ps, I don't intend that to be a denial of all we've learned from science - rather that science confirms my faith and my faith spurns me to learn more... but that's a topic for another blog post at a later time). If we are created, we must be some kind of creature, but what kind?

Some days, I feel like a monster. Sometimes it's the good kind of monster like Mike and Sulley from that Pixar movie. But other times it's the scary kind. The one that hides under your bed or lurks in the shadows. Those feelings stem from a bit of depression and poor self esteem. Or the stress of work or parenthood or those pesky adult responsibilities. On a couple of previous occasions, I've talked about my love for horror movies, so monsters make sense to me.

Despite my feelings, I know I'm not a monster. I know because real monsters walk into schools, shopping malls, and movie theaters and start shooting people. Monster kidnap and hurt little kids. Monsters rape their girlfriends and abuse their wives. Monsters fly planes into buildings.

So what kind of creature am I? What kind are you? In his book Sex God, Rob Bell spends a chapter wrestling with this question of identity. He argues that we're neither angels nor animals. We're something in between. While some people claim that they're nothing more than animals giving into their animal instincts, others vie to be angels and bury the desires and emotions God has built inside them. The problem is that we don't belong on either end of that spectrum.

We are men. Or women. Forgive me if this sounds a little pompous, but we're better than than animals. However, we're not quite angels. One psalmist tells us that man was created to be a little lower than angels, yet crowned with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4-6)

Part of living second means that we know who we are. We have a healthy understanding of what it means to be human. The biblical story of creation tells us everything we need to know about how God sees us. "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."

We are good. Sure, sometimes we screw it up. We start wars. We find vices. If you're anything like me, we yell at our kids and forget to take out the trash. But underneath it all, mankind - as creatures created by a Creator - is good.

Note: This post was written in support of the Live Second book release. It is a fantastic year-long study and if you're looking for a good devotional in 2013, I'd encourage you to do Live Second. Identity is the ninth week and focuses on God as a friend, a father, and an advocate.

For more info on the book, go HERE or HERE.

For more on I Am Second, check out their site.


Oh, Idaho. You are a funny little state.

The election is over. The votes have been tallied. Campaigning has ended.

Are you happy now?

Of course, your answer to that question probably depends on which side of the political spectrum you buy into. Unless you live in Washington, then your happiness might exist because you're high.

Yes, Obama won the presidency, but Mitt Romney can stand proud knowing he won the popular vote in Idaho. Then again, that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. I could have told you Romney would garner Idaho's electoral college votes as soon as he earned the Republican nomination.

But I'm not here to talk about the president that is or the president that could have been. I really don't care about presidential politics as my choice there is clearly insignificant. In this reddest of red states, I can pick the winner or cast a vote that will have zero effect on how the rest of the state swings. As for the national picture, as far as DC is concerned, Idaho is of little worth. We'll never have a population strong enough to sway any presidential contest.

The local and state races are of much more importance, and it's in these races that my vote actually counts for something. It is in the state wide initiatives that we saw some very good news.

The Luna Laws were repealed. In other words, the wizard had given the scarecrow some brains.

Senate Bills 1108, 1110, and 1184, appeared on the ballot as Props 1,2, and 3. Tom Luna called them Student's Come First. Everyone else called them the Luna Laws because the reality of the legislation is that the Luna Laws put Luna's campaign donors first. These laws were horrible in more ways than I have the time and/or patience to list. Thankfully, we won't have to splunk the depths of how deep these laws would have cut into Idaho's tax revenue, nor will we see it's detriment to the nature of public education.

Yay! Chalk that up as a win for the people of our fine state. Lets take a look at some of last night's other winners.

Marv Hagedorn (R) of Meridian. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Mike Moyle* (R) of Plummer. Voted yes on SB 1108.
Reed DeMordaunt (R) of Eagle. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Lynn Luker (R) of Boise. Voted yes on SB 1108.
Chuck Winder (R) of Boise. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Joe Palmer (R) of Meridian. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Cliff Bayer (R) of Boise. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Steven Harris (R). Newly elected member of Idaho's House of Representatives stated "I like the objectives of the Students Come First initiatives."
Russell Fulcher (R) of Meridian. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Monty Pearce (R) of New Plymouth. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney (R) of Midvale. Did not vote on SB 1108 or SB1110. Voted yes on SB 1184.
Judy Boyle (R) of Midvale. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Ken Andrus (R) of Lava Hot Springs. Voted yes on SB 1108.
John Tippets* (R) of Montpelier. Voted yes on SB 1184.
Marc Gibbs (R) of Grace. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Tom Loertscher (R) of Iona. Voted yes on SB 1108.
Steve Bair (R) of Blackfoot. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Steven Thayn (R) of Emmett. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Lenore Hardy Barrett (R) of Challis. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Eric Anderson (R) of Priest Lake. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Sheryl Nuxoll (R) of Cottonwood. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Shannon McMillan (R) of Silverton. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Paul Shepherd (R) of Riggins. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Dean Mortimer* (R) of Idaho Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Jeff Thompson (R) of Idaho Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Linden Bateman (R) of Idaho Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108 and yes on SB1110.
President Pro Tempore Brent Hill* (R) of Meridian. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Dell Raybould* (R) of Rexburg. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
JoAn Wood (R) of Rigby. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Monty Pearce (R) of New Plymouth. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Patti Anne Lodge (R) of Huston. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Christy Perry* (R) of Nampa. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Curt McKenzie (R) of Boise. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Brent Crane (R) of Nampa. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Gary Collins (R) of Nampa. Voted yes on SB1110.
Scott Bedke* (R) of Oakley. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Fred Wood* (R) of Burley. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Jeff Siddoway (R) of Terreton. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Bert Brackett (R) of Rogerson. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Pete Nielsen (R) of Mountain Home. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Jim Patrick (R) of Twin Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Maxine Bell (R) of Jerome. Voted yes on SB 1108 and voted yes on SB 1184.
Steve Vick (R) of Datlon Gardens. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Vito Barbieri (R) of Datlon Gardens. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184. Vito also went on the record calling public schools a "Godless institution" and urged all parents that believe in Jesus to pull their kids out of public education.
Bob Nonini (R) of Coeur d'Alene. Voted yes on all three and was the sponsor of the bills in the House.
Frank Henderson (R) of Post Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
John W Goedde (R) of Voted yes on all three, helped Luna write the bills, and was the sponsor in the Senate.
Kathy Sims (R) of Coeur d'Alene. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Jim Guthrie (R) of McCammon. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Lee Heider (R) of Twin Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Stephen Hartgen (R) of Twin Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.

* Ran unopposed

All of those listed above (except Steven Harris) voted yes to one - if not all three - of the Luna Laws. All of these Senators and Representatives (except Steven Harris) were up for reelection yesterday. All of them won another term in Boise.

So it seems that Idaho has healed the symptom (bad legislation) but hasn't cured the disease (bad legislators). Now that Luna's laws have been overturned, he's doubling down. He is convinced that the citizens of Idaho still wants radical reformation in public schools. Lucky for him, he still has the same group of people around to pass whatever pile of dung he presents during the next legislative session.

I can collectively hear the people of Idaho singing, "I would dance and be merry, Life would be a ding-a-derry, If I only had a brain..."


Whoever wins

A week from now, we will be wrapping up election day. We'll be finishing up the crazy season and awaiting the official tallies to see who will be the next president.

No matter who wins, here are a few things I know for sure.

1. Roughly half of America will not like the results. That same half will criticize every action taken by the winning candidate for the next four years.

2. It will be a close election and a small but vocal group that supported the loser will cry foul, ask for a recount, or levy accusations of voter fraud. They might be a fringe populace, but they exist and they will seek attention.

3. The next president will not be able to solve our problems. They might be able to improve some things, but we live in a broken world and there will always be issues. People will still be unemployed. Poverty will still exist. Terrorists will still be carrying out their jihad against their perceived foes. Disasters will still display nature's strength and fury. No president will ever be able to erase those woes that ail us.

4. Four years from now, we will be hearing about the same issues debated ad nauseam. Jobs. Economy. Foreign policy. Medicare. Abortion. Gun rights. Gay marriage. These topics will not go away.

5. Pollsters will glorify the accuracy of their election predictions. Pundits will either revel in victory or preach gloom - whichever will give their ratings the biggest boost. MSNBC will still be liberally biased and FOX will still be biased to favor the GOP. That's how they make their money and complaining about it won't change anything.

Regardless of who wins the presidential election, I hope to see these few things.

1. That the losing candidate will concede gracefully.

2. That the losing candidate will find strength and comfort in his wife, family, and whatever support network they've built for themselves.

3. That both candidates will strive to be good husbands and fathers and pour out love onto their wives and kids.

4. That the winning candidate will seek wise council for the next four years, that they will be open to the input and advice of their predecessors, and that they show a willingness to work with their opposing political party.

5. That the winning candidate will place the needs of this nation ahead of the desires of their party.

I know, I may be asking for a bit too much.


Five things we need to stop doing. Now.

It's the election season. The crazy times. The maddening. Or whatever you want to call it. It seems the weeks leading up to the first Tuesday in November always brings out the worst in people. It might be the over-zealous passion for or against a particular candidate. It could be that this is the only time people dig deeply into hot-button topics. Whatever the reason, I know that we can do better.

Perhaps, if we can survive the vicious political pandemonium that has become a semi-regular celebration in America without breaking hearts or destroying friendships, we might be able to carry on normal conversations with a hint of greater civility.

In the Mars Ill song 'Love's Not,' ManChild raps, "I know what love is and it just don't stop, but I can explain it better when I say what love's not." In a similar manner, I could explain things to do that would create a better world, but I can explain it better when I list the things we should stop doing.

Not only are these actions that should cease - but things that need to end immediately.

1. Stop calling things/people/places gay or retarded. In my experience, these terms are only used to deride something or someone that doesn't hold up to our expectations. Your buddy isn't gay because he missed a jump shot during a pickup game of basketball. Your computer isn't retarded because you lost a file before you had a chance to save it. When you use these two words, not only are you insulting the object of your ridicule, but you are also degrading any one who is gay or afflicted with mental retardation. I'm guilty with this one because I frequently called anything that didn't work the way it was supposed to "retarded." That was until my son was diagnosed with Aspergers. Now I'm probably over sensitive to its usage. Regardless of my personal feelings, this world would be a better place if we found better adjectives.

2. Stop demonizing people who disagree with you. Opinions are abundant in our world and truth is often an issue of debate. Someone somewhere will always disagree with you. Having a different set of values or beliefs doesn't make someone an enemy. Your opinion might be grounded in facts while theirs is rooted in emotion. You might be right and they could be woefully wrong. But the rightness of your argument does not make you better. Not liking Obama does not make someone a racist. Being pro-choice does not make someone Hitler. No one hates women just because they're pro-life. Not everyone who rallies for social services is a free loader. We can't continue vilifying everyone who holds a different view than ours. Doing so devalues the person you reject. It undermines your own beliefs. It cheapens the weight of your insult. Racism is still a problem in our world, but the more we call people racist just because they disagree with us the less impact that word will have when confronted with real racists. Free loaders exist, but that term becomes meaningless when we start calling everyone a free loader. Cooperation would be much easier if we stop creating enemies where none exists.

3. Stop labeling everyone. Labels can be useful when trying to find someone like a real life version of Where's Waldo. But labels lie. A person's identity and personality are far more complex than the labels we give them. Fat people are more than their weight. Gay people are more than their sexuality. Junkies are more than their addiction. Racial minorities are more than their melanin (or lack thereof), autistic kids are more than their diagnosis, fast food workers are more than their job. Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and the first step is to look beyond the labels. Get to know people for their dreams and aspirations, not their label. Describe people for their better traits and not their flaws.

4. Stop living beyond your means. I think it's unfair for many Americans to demand a fiscally responsible government while they're living on maxed out credit cards, wearing name brand clothing, and buying cars that are clearly out of their price range. I marvel with a mix of amusement and revulsion when people complain about the economy while eating expensive fast food and updating their twitter feed from their brand new iPhone. Opportunities exist to get your house and money in order (and I highly recommend Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University) that don't require a degree in economics. If more people could control of their own finances, we'd be better prepared to elect people capable of handling our nation's budget.

5. Stop giving up. There are valid reasons to quit and move on. A better employment opportunity. Infidelity. Reasons exist. But they are few and should be an exception - not the norm. Too many people quit jobs because "the work sucks." Then they move on to an new job that they'll hate just as much as the last one. Too many people give up on marriage because they've lost that loving feeling, money issues, or irreconcilable differences. It's a cop-out. Too many turn to suicide because they've lost hope. Their addictions or mental health issues remain hidden or unaddressed. We live in a nation of people who quit for the wrong reasons. What we fail to realize that we can learn to like jobs we don't love. We miss opportunities to build healthier marriages. We ignore the blessings of life and focus on the here and now. The problem is that being in a loving relationship is hard work. So is making the most of your current employment when it's not what you want to do for the rest of your life. So is looking forward to life when suicide seems like an easier option. Living life, being married, and any job can be rewarding if we put in the effort to make it worthwhile. CS Lewis said it more eloquently than I ever will: "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."


Some kind of kid's book

I found this delightful book while shopping at Fred Meyer.

This monkey like creature extols all of the wonders of a book to his friend, a donkey. The donkey keeps asking if books have all of the same features of electronic devices. And while the monkey thing verifies that books don't play games, don't scroll, don't have mouse buttons, and you can't blog from one, the monkey still convinces the donkey that books are better than electronic devices.


By letting the donkey read the book.

Like I said, a delightful book. But then there's the last page.

Yes, that does say what you think it says.