The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Review: Spunky: Memoirs of a 1940's Kid

6" x 9", 118 pp., $10.00 paperback
I know this will shatter the suspense right up front, and some may stop reading, but I have to be truthful. I never review books I don't like and don't want to share with others. For me, life is just too short to bother complaining about those books I didn't like. I'd rather forget them and move on to the next good read.

Spunky is a good read. It is also quick and entertaining. It is the story of what we would call in my family an ornery kid growing up in World War II in the coal country town of New Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Spunky is the author's nickname from back in the day ... a boy of "boundless energy in a constant quest for adventure." The memoir covers the years from 1942 to 1950, taking Spunky from a little kid to a big kid, from a kid with a nickname to a kid who drops it.

For the cautious parents of the twenty-first century, this will be a hair raising read. The opening chapter sets the scene and is titled "The Cat Caper and the Devil's Hole: Spring 1942" and it truly sets the scene for what is to come. The adventures are wonderful, the kid games will take some of you back to the day, and the really stupid stuff to use the author's terms will remind you ruefully of the ridiculous and truly dangerous things you did as a kid and survived ... even when you had no right to do so!

This story will take you from Beer Street's (Water Street renamed for the number of bars along it) watering holes to the big and little kid's baseball fields (the big kids had it much better in terms of quality), to the Cats swimming hole with water as yellow as the clay it floated over. Discover the day when the girls and their moms invaded the all boy Cats skinny dipping session, wonder at the dump wars and their burning fortifications, come along for a game of tag among the coal bunkers, find the stairway to heaven, and ride three on a sled. Through it all, Spunky and his pals remained a close band of adventurers. There are also tensions in the town discussed, which keeps the story grounded.

It's a great read for a rainy afternoon. But you might want to keep it away from your little kids. Oh the ideas they might get!

You can get your own copy through Barnes and Nobles and Amazon. It's a ten dollar book in paperback, but the electronic version is considerably less. It's worth it. Trust me.

Dealing with iPad Video Playback Errors

I'll start with the disclaimer: I'm not a computer expert. I can only tell you what worked for me.

Here's the situation: you've been watching videos on your iPad when suddenly the action stops and that little revolving loading icon takes the screen. It spins for a while and then you get the dread Playback Error message. Your viewing is done. What do you do?

I've searched the Internet for answers and come up with few directed to this issue. So, here's my two cents worth ... assuming others have the same issue.

Here's what I've done, from least to most helpful.

  • Grumble profusely ... it never helps but it makes you feel better. However, never do this around someone else ... or you won't feel better after they have a few choice words for you and your "first world problem." 
  • This playback error tends to happen when I've been watching for a while and the battery is warming up. What this has to do with download and playback ability I'll never know. So, first, you can walk away and let the iPad cool down for about an hour. At that point the error will be gone and you can continue. To keep the battery cooler longer, take it out of whatever case you're carrying it in. Remind yourself that this is not a truly serious situation as you walk off muttering. 
  • Second and final option, remind yourself that this shiny gadget in your hands is a computer. Turn it off, actually, completely off ... like you would a PC or a Mac that's frozen in the midst of some program. Wait ten seconds or so, counting slowly, and turn it back on. By the time it has recovered itself, I've found the iPad to be willing to venture on with the video, warm battery or no warm battery. I don't know if this will work every time, but it has worked for me. 
If you've found better solutions ... and a good explanation for this iPad behavior ... please let me know. Good luck!

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Who Should I Help ... and How? Good News From Christianity

For Christians looking to follow the two great commandments to love God and love neighbor as self, the questions arise, who are those neighbors and how do I serve them? For the answers to these questions, I suggest turning directly to Jesus, the head of the church, our leader in all things faithful, and our reliable trailblazer who has gone ahead of us and beckons us to follow. When the lawyer in Luke stand up and asks Jesus this very question, he is told the following parable. 

Luke 10:25-37 25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

From this parable, we discover our neighbor is anyone who needs our help and who it is within our power to help, even an enemy as shown in the actions of the good Samaritan. From the Samaritan we also learn we should take that aid just as far as we are capable. The Samaritan undid all the harm done to the wounded stranger by both the bandits and the religious leaders. That's a powerful message. So, now we have a basic and BROAD understanding of who, thanks to Luke and Jesus. 

To put a finer point on it, we turn to Jesus in Matthew near the beginning and the end of the book, seeking out the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (what has been termed Jesus mission statement) and the apocalyptic vision in chapter 25 where we receive some very pointed suggestions on who we should seek out ... and what sort of help we should offer. 

Matthew 5:1-12 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 25:31-40 31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

This leaves a lot of territory to cover. It is tempting to throw up your hands and throw in the towel before you even begin, saying its all just too big for me! But, wait, here's some further help from a seminary professor I had not too long ago. He stated you need to turn to the issue that makes your blood boil, the injustice in the world that really upsets you (and falls within the parameters listed above), and act upon that in whatever small ways you can. You'll soon find that once you start, unexpected opportunities in that field will quickly crop up for you. 
Please take note of the fact that in all three readings, the call is to take positive action to help some suffering individual or group. It does not call for us to argue endlessly rather than act. It calls for us to reach out a helping hand and really do something. Today, in my humble opinion, we are having our efforts and our time sidetracked from doing good to arguing over what or who isn't good according to one perspective or another. I don't see Jesus saying blessed are those who successfully argued how many angels can dance on the head of a pin definitively for their generation. I suspect we spend as much time arguing as we do because to actually do the things listed above involves a lot of personal risk in one form or another ... and that's scary. However, from what I read here, the risks are well worth taking ... and they are risks Jesus is calling us all to take. Here in the twenty-first century, there are a great many people who need our positive response today. Jesus calls. Will you answer? 

For a useful, associated, scriptural article, see:

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at:

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Boeing's CST-100 Unveiled to the World

 Boeing is vying to gain the NASA contract to take crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS) as a commercial enterprise. Also seeking the job are SpaceX with the Dragon capsule and Sierra Nevada with their mini shuttle. So, here's another capsule destined for space ... even if it is only low earth orbit space.

The goal here is 2016 for a three crew member test flight and 2017 for the first docking with the ISS.

For more on capsules in the future of crewed flight, see:

What's coming up in the next two years of crewed spaceflight for the U.S.:

Mission change for Orion, NASA's other crewed capsule:

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing Without a Net: Surviving the Dread Mistake: Sloggin' Thru Blogging

Blogging is a peculiar business made even more so by my self-imposed thirty minute deadline.

Sure, you line up your facts ahead of time, reference whatever source(s) seem right for the topic at hand, but in the end you sprint along to beat the clock and get out your point in what you hope will be an engaging manner.

In doing so, some little "fact" or other is bound to be wrong from time to time. Your hope is that you catch it before you hit publish ... or so soon after that very few readers ever see it. For instance, in my happiness post, I at first stated that the pursuit of happiness is written into the Constitution. Within an hour I realized (I have a degree in history for heaven's sake) it was the Declaration of Independence and winced when I saw a few readers had already seen the post. My mistake was exposed to a few (a very kindly few who pretended not to notice ... for which I thank them profusely). I'd fallen off the factual high wire under which there was no net (blogging going straight from screen to public with no editor other than one own poor self) ... well, except for the quick edit and "nothing to see here, move along" feeling you have when you do so. Nice thing about writing without a net is that you don't physically die when you fall off that high wire ... only your ego does ... a little.

Which brings me to a second and last point. For all the new writers out there, especially new book authors, take heed. The format doesn't matter, the deadline doesn't matter, you can have a lifetime to write and in the end you are still going to make mistakes. Books are long, complex, and full of details, each and every one of which is another possibility for a mistake or three. And sure enough, somebody is going to call you on some mistake or other ... and it might be a critic writing for some paper or magazine.

Know this, the first time it happens it is going to crush you emotionally. It may make you feel physically ill. You swear you are never going to write again and put yourself through this level of emotional abuse. But you will. Writing is what you do. And next time, it'll be a little easier. Your skin will thicken. You'll learn some helpful response and move on. You may also discover through that critic a blind spot in your research and/or writing process which you can then correct and be a better writer for it.

If I may plead with you, new writer, I would humbly ask you to avoid one powerful temptation: don't edit out of your fear of being wrong. I've seen too many authors take potentially wonderful material and edit the very life out of those manuscripts in an attempt to be absolutely right in every detail. Believe it or not, your manuscript is a kind of living thing. Edit it too much and you can suck the life right out of it and leave yourself with a factually accurate document that nobody will ever want to read. In your panicky desire for accuracy, you will have destroyed the personality and removed the humor. Instead, if you're publishing professionally, do your best, edit your manuscript carefully once you have finished writing (and only then, allow the artist to work first all the way through), bring it up to whatever standards of formatting your publisher requires, and then trust the professional editor to look for errors and to correct those mistakes you've left behind because you're human without killing the manuscript itself. Even then, sometime, someday, some error is going to get through because writing remains a human enterprise. May it always remain so!

When dealing with serious critics, you can tell them that "No book is more that the distillation of the author's knowledge on the subject at the moment in which the author stopped writing."

For the annoying, petty critic who is just trying to make himself or herself feel better about some personal deficiency, and intends to cause you pain (you KNOW who you are) you can say what nineteenth century artists used to say, "Oh good, you've found my one mistake. I always include one because, as we all know, only God can be perfect."

Good luck!

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Real Happiness and Its Uses ...

What do you know of happiness? It's written into the Declaration of Independence as something the individual is free to pursue ... but what is it, really?

Is it the next shiny thing parked in the driveway or beeping for your attention from your pocket or purse?

Is it that great meal? That special vacation? That diamond ring?

Nope. Real happiness is none of that. Real happiness is quite countercultural. It's shocking really ... and that makes me happy!

In the nuts and bolts definition department, happiness is subjective; it is a determination that a person's current situation and concept of the good life are getting along nicely. So, how does that preclude the shiny things above? Now there's the rub. You see, true happiness comes from positive relationships, not stuff and not special places to go. In fact, to be truly happy, you need to make other people happy (isn't there a catchy tune or three on this subject ... and Bible verses abound). Happiness is a byproduct of a life well lived with others, reaching out that helping hand, lifting up the folks around you, and being willing to accept others attempts to make you happy (accept the compliment graciously, don't be too proud to humbly accept help offered out of the goodness of another's heart)! Above all, true happiness can never come at the expense of others. Real happiness has a very moral component.

Happiness as so defined will elude those who seek it in consumerism (sorry advertisers), in fleeting and ephemeral pleasure/thrill seeking, and ruthless competition for limited resources against others in a pitched battle for dominance. No long-term happiness there. See how countercultural happiness has become?

Viewing happiness through this lens, unhappiness can become a very useful gauge of what is going on in the world around you. If a person is persistently, chronically unhappy, it's time for the individual to look around and assess his or her relationships with others. Has too much time been spent at the office? Have social relations with friends and family deteriorated? Has too much emphasis been placed on the next shiny thing or the accumulation of wealth for its own sake? Be objective here with your subjective state ... you'll learn something useful.

On a larger scale, if unhappiness exists and persists in a group you are a part of or a group near you, it is likely that group is suffering from some sort of injustice or abuse ... and could use a helping hand.

Returning to that nuts and bolts definition, it seems to me that if your concept of the good life is skewed to either the bright and shiny thing end or to the I must martyr myself for others end, happiness will always elude you. Happiness as defined and explored here requires resetting that concept of the good life to include positive relationships with others. This leads me to a fascinating link with the Old and New Testaments. In both righteousness is defined as being in right relations with God and each other. It's about loving others as self, being willing to serve others (and humble enough to be served), and having faith enough to trust others. So, I guess, the righteous person in the Bible is a happy person, not a hectoring, forbidding person.

It's interesting where these definitions can take you. Surprising too. Sharing that surprise with others ... well, that makes me happy.

Hoping your happiness and that of folks who you encounter today will grow as you help each other through the challenges life throws your way.

For more, see the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, p. 494. 

For more on happiness and its power, see:

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Delighted to See the Capsule Returning to Crewed Spaceflight

Apollo capsule atop its Saturn V rocket as shown on this original press kit ...
For those of us who were kids in the 1960s and 1970s, the shape of real outer space adventure, of manned spaceflight out farther than humanity had gone before, was the capsule. First the small capsules of Mercury and Gemini, and finally the bigger Apollo capsule carrying three astronauts to the moon and back ... along with the spider-like LEM lunar lander. Of course, the Apollo blasted off on top of the mighty Saturn V rocket, the single most powerful craft of its kind. It was a joy watching one of those lumber off the launch pad and head for space.

After that, we had three decades of low earth orbit airplane-shaped spaceships that embodied the next generation's shape of space adventure ... although at much lower altitudes. For that generation, Sierra Nevada is building the Dream Catcher to take crews back to the International Space Station in shuttle-like style (although at a smaller scale).

The last capsule got us to the moon. The next one ... farther,
just where, only time and our national backbone will tell!
Image courtesy of NASA

For us older, more grizzled space fans, it's a joy to see Lockheed Martin's Orion space capsule being tested. It's the next generation capsule, larger, capable of longer duration flight, and destined to take crews farther than ever before. Along with it, SpaceX is developing the crew capable version of the Dragon capsule, which takes the enterprise a little farther, providing us with the very science fiction like landing on a pad on pillars of flame rather than in the ocean on parachutes like Apollo did and Orion will.
The shape of things to come ... Orion ... Image courtesy of NASA/Bill Stafford

... Dragon ... Image courtesy of NASA
Of course, all the while, our robotic explorers are beckoning to us from much further afield ...
Will there come a day when humans look back upon Earth from Saturn themselves?
What shape will that spacecraft take? Earth is the brightest dot below the rings to the right.
Photo courtesy of  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
For more on Cassini at Saturn, see:
To see what the next two years will bring for Orion and Dragon, see:

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at:


All of Us as Seen from Saturn

Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

There we are, all of us, on that bright blue dot as seen by the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. That's our family portrait as captured for only the third time from the outer solar system. The earth and moon system floating in the blackness as seen from 898 million miles away.That's us, the brightest spot off to the right below the rings and above the bright band crossing the image. Fainter points of light in the photo are nearby stars.

The view includes the Saturn's dark side with rings E, F, and G visible.

The group picture was taken on July 19, 2013, and was billed as a group photo social event and celebration for all the people of earth. Everyone who could was supposed to stop and wave for the camera at a specific time that evening. Unfortunately for me, I was captured driving home at that moment. Ah well.

Cassini made this picture with her wide-angle camera as part of a composite of 33 pictures covering all of Saturn's complex rings and the gas giant itself. This is the one and only image in which we appear. It's unique and well worth taking a few minutes to ponder.

The Cassini robot has been doing her thing at Saturn since 2004, collecting tons of scientific data and fantastic imagery of Saturn and its many moons. Back in 2004, Cassini successfully dropped off the Huygens probe to check out the lay of the land on Saturn's fascinating moon Titan, not only Saturn's biggest moon but also the only moon the solar system has with a thick atmosphere and weather. Huygens carried out its mission quickly and successfully.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. Good work everybody! Thanks for giving us a great group photo ... and a little eye-opening, awe inducing perspective.  

Building Relationships, Not Arguments

You know the situation. You encounter a person who is absolutely, insistently right about some issue.* It's black and white all the way with them ... where you may see some shades of gray. An argument ensues. You both leave with high blood pressure, throbbing temples, and a foul mood. Nothing positive is accomplished. You call the person "self-righteous" and stalk off ... sometimes carefully marshaling what you hope will be devastating proofs of your position for the next encounter.

Let's not have that next encounter with the marshaled proofs. Let's look at the situation more dispassionately and see what might be lurking behind the scenes. Psychologists tell us that those who are always and forever insistently "right" and vocally defending their correctness in a self-righteous manner tend to be people who are, underneath it all, feeling shamed, lonely, and rejected. They often focus on what is "right" in a situation to avoid dealing with their own pain. They may feel terribly, horribly wronged and insist on seeing themselves as in the right. In doing so, they place all the blame for what's hurting them on someone or something outside of themselves entirely.

Rather than getting involved in the next argument over who is right and who isn't under such circumstances, we can choose instead to develop and strengthen a relationship with the wounded person. Look past the insistence to the potential pain underneath. Try to build instead a bond of friendship, a way to grow some understanding between you, and provide a safe, listening presence in which over time that pain might be teased out, heard, understood, and perhaps even healed. Allow the hurting person behind the facade of self-righteousness to be raised up, rather than dashed down in another blistering debate. You will definitely have to take the road less traveled to do so, acting counter to the prevailing culture. You will be in for some hard work. But, you may gain a new friend. You may also learn something new.

The next time I feel the urge to rise up and argue how right I am over some issue, I'm going to stop for a moment and ask myself if I am not responding out of pain--loneliness, rejection, and/or shame--that I would rather place somewhere outside of me in some adversary who I am labeling as absolutely wrong instead of coping with what is hurting me ... Taking that moment to breathe and be honest with myself might just spare me and others some heated, often pointless, painful argument. How about you?

* I'm not suggesting here that people not stand up for justice, by the way. That's not the issue at hand here .... and you KNOW I'm right (humor).

For more, see the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling

You may also encounter sarcasm in this situation, and here's a suggestion for coping:

A different perspective helps as well:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Toilet Seat Replacement Tips ... It Seems SO Simple

Toilet seats are not complex technology. The fasteners that hold them in place are straightforward enough.

But there are a couple little details that will really cause you trouble if you aren't aware of them.

  1. Toilet bowls upon which your new seat will sit are either round or oval. It has nothing to do with the look of the interior opening, which can be oval in a round bowl. 
  2. To determine if the bowl is round or oval, you should measure from an imaginary line between the mount holes for the seat in the back of the toilet bowl to the front, outer rim of said bowl.
  3. Round toilet bowls measure 16.5" from hole to bowl front edge; oval bowls measure 18.5". You don't have to get too accurate with your imaginary line as your starting measuring point as the difference is great enough between the two bowl shapes that you'll be able to tell, even if you are a little off. 
  4. Toilet seats in the store will state whether they are for round or oval bowls, often providing the measurements I just gave you. 
  5. When you bring your new seat home, open the box and remove the seat from the box without removing the plastic from around the seat. Place it on the bowl for one last check to make sure you picked up the right seat. The reason for leaving the plastic in place is that if you were wrong and take the perfectly good seat with the open box lid back to the merchant, the store can resell the returned seat IF and only IF the plastic is intact. If you opened the plastic bag inside, they must throw away the returned item that is otherwise in fine shape. Sad ... but true (or at least true for the big box store I frequent).
  6. If the previous seat on your toilet that finally gave up the ghost was plastic, take this into consideration when purchasing your next seat. Seats come in plastic or enameled wood. If you decide to go with enameled wood instead of plastic, be aware that the enameled wood has a "firmer" feel to it, with none of the give you've gotten used to. Just a little something to keep in mind. 
With this information and a little measuring, you should be able to save yourself multiple trips to the hardware store and all the muttering that ensues. With a single screwdriver, changing the seat should be simplicity itself. 

Good luck, DIY guys and gals! 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sarcasm: Dealing with It: The Five Minute Response

I'm often dismayed when I read an articulate, well thought through article online and make the mistake of allowing myself to drift down to the comments below.

So often, the majority of the response is nothing but pure sarcasm from those who disagree with the author. By sarcasm, I mean: those nasty, wounding, irony tinged "comments" designed to bring pain, contempt, and ridicule to the victim. When poorly used, this form of "wit" is ... witless, cruel, and bullying.

I find it infuriating when the author whose work has just been lampooned is someone who has spent many years gathering the knowledge distilled in her/his article and the commenter puts forth no reason at all for her/his knee jerk fusillade of rage, reactionary name calling, and dismissive contempt ... and feels no need to apparently. Well, I'd better stop that before I descend into sarcasm myself. It's so very easy and popular in today's culture.

How to respond when sarcasm is leveled upon you? Keep a clear head. Do not take the bait and respond in kind. Seek a reasoned response from the user of sarcasm. Ask questions about why she/he feels the way he/she does. Insist on turning an impromptu comedy club routine designed to belittle you into a conversation. Gently and with actual humor try to tease out the points that might be found within the complaint and ask for an explanation of those points and some valid proof that supports them. It's hard, often incredibly so, but it might lead to a real conversation, one that could turn out to be worth having.

Well, my five minutes are up. Good luck!

Reading ... the Forgotten Joy

When was the last time you really sat down and read? For hours? For the pure joy of it?

Yeah, me too. It's been a while.

Not long ago, I had the chance to sit down with a good book for a couple of hours and just read. All in one sitting. A physical book, a comfortable couch, a faithful beagle sleeping by my side, and a beverage of choice close at hand. My wife was doing the same on a love seat not far away (sans dog), which made it all the more companionable.

About an hour in, it hit me. In my busy days and hectic nights, I'd forgotten the pure pleasure of sitting down with an author and exploring her/his ideas at a slow, easy pace. It felt like the author was right there next to me, sharing ideas, exploring concepts, making intuitive leaps, and asking me how I felt about that. Time slowed, the world backed away, the nagging to do lists in my head fell silent, and life grew richer as I came away with several new ideas to play with ... and I'm still playing with them now.

What a rich experience ...

I intend to carve out some more time to do it again soon. I have a whole stack of books waiting to be read. That's a whole pile of authors just waiting patiently to share their views of the world and possibly expand mine. I'm looking forward to it now ... now that I remember the simple joy of the act.

Make the time when you can. I highly recommend the experience.

Here's a few books I've been reading lately:

The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace by M. Scott Peck. (This is the one I was reading when I rediscovered the joy of it all. A book on community building that is as relevant now as it was when it was written in 1987.)

Finding Faith by Sharon Gallagher. (Powerful individual stories ...)

Jesus Laughed: The Redemptive Power of Humor by Robert Darden (Highly recommend this one as it explains how over hundreds of years "the Christian church" has leached humor out of our proceedings and why we need to reclaim it).

Sadly, those were read over many months.

One of the best books I know for giving you that sense that the author is right there with you is the masterfully written, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. That wonderful, short book really makes you feel like the author has taken you out to a comfortable tavern for a beer and a conversation. Whether you like to write or not, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Egyptian Statue Moving and Other Inanimate Objects Messing with Us

Last month (I know, "that's so June," but I have a point, so relax), the Manchester Museum in the U.K. reported that the ancient Egyptian statue of Neb-Senu has been turning 180 degrees on the staff, all by itself. Apparently, standing quietly on its glass shelf since 1933 has become a bore for Neb and in broad daylight, with security cameras running, the ten inch steatite wonder has been slowly turning his back on the public ... a back which is inscribed with a request for sacrificial beer by the way, among other things. Scientists have jumped up immediately to proclaim it all to be perfectly natural ... just some friction and vibration issues set up by foot traffic, etc., etc., etc. Nothing to see here, folks.

Well, let me tell you, I've got a different idea. I've seen the close up of that statue and the little guy seems to have a impish grin on his face. I think old Neb-Senu is simply messing with us. None of the other statues on the shelf are being turned by all that differential friction and daily vibration. Neb himself was impervious to the vibrational influences for decades. No, Neb is messing with us, pure and simple. Inanimate objects just like to do that, sometimes.

For instance, tonight, I dashed into one room to answer the ringing phone. The room was dark. I reached for the overhead light's switch, which I've hit thousands of times flawlessly in the dark ... and it wasn't there. I lunged for the ringing phone ... and it wasn't where it should have been either. That wasn't an issue of friction, vibration, and foot traffic. No, those inanimate objects were messing with me and messing with me good. It was a tag team messing! I had to dash off and find another phone in a lighted room to take that call. I could almost hear faint giggling behind me from the darkness.

Others say Neb-Senu moves because it's the curse of the mummy. If that's so, the mummy's curse sure isn't all it's cracked up to be. "You have been cursed by the mummy! One ten inch stone statue will now rotated unexpectedly in your museum ... forever! Bwa ha ha!" No, not too impressive at all!

I predict, now that he's gotten some good attention and media coverage, Neb-Senu will mysteriously stop turning entirely, passing the baton off to some other inanimate object to mess with us in some very different way. Yeah, you just can't trust those inanimate objects. They're out to mess with us.

Just ask Battlestar Galactica fans about toasters if you doubt me!

For another theory of mine, see:

X-Minus One Radio Episode "Skulking Permit" Remains Relevant

X-Minus One was a radio science-fiction drama show that was on the air from 1955 to 1958. You can catch up with these old episodes on the Internet Archive. Some big names had their work appear on X-Minus One. The episode that caught my attention was "Skulking Permit." Give it a listen and come back:

Did you enjoy that episode? Good science fiction reflects the concerns and issues of the time in which it was written. However, this episode has a timeless quality. What particularly struck me was the fact (and I won't be giving much away if you haven't yet listened to the episode) that the representatives of Imperial Earth, visiting a pastoral colony world trying hard to masquerade as "civilized" based on an old book in their library, felt threatened because a certain aspect of that very peaceful colony just might be catching. Panic ensues.

I can think of at least one situation in which certain elements of our society think, falsely, that an aspect of another element of society just might be catching and they are panicked. Their response is a little different from the representatives from afar in that they can't climb into a waiting rocket ship to escape, but I bet they would if they could ... or they'd force the other element of society to emigrate. It seems some things never change ... especially human nature.

I also get a kick out of listening to old 1950s radio sci-fi dramas on my own computer or tablet, a device that is definitely from the world of tomorrow.

As intended, this science fiction, as all really good science fiction does, makes me reflect on life as it is today and as it could be tomorrow. I'm hoping that certain aspect of that pastoral colony world one day does rub off on the rest of us. It would be nice if it were catching and dangerously infectious (and no it wouldn't lead to the zombie apocalypse). 

You'll also find at least one work by this sci-fi author available on X-Minus One:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Some Wonderful Reads on God's Love for Us

One of the wonderful things about preparing a sermon is doing the research! (That sentence alone tells you a lot about me and my attitudes ...) I get to spend a lot of time with some wonderful, deep thinkers who have written some really impressive literature on a wide variety of topics. Here are a few books that will give you some wonderful insights into just how much you are loved by God. See for yourself:

Let's cover the obvious source first so no one can accuse me of leaving it out:

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV): the 66 book library that speaks consistently throughout of God's love for us all ... and I do mean to be inclusive here! If you like research there are plenty of reference notes and explanations of each book to keep you happy.
Luke 15:1-10
 15Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
3 So he told them this parable: 4‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
8 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins,* if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
Now on to a variety of other books on the topic ...

Life of the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen:
The unfathomable mystery of God is that God is a Lover who wants to be loved. The one who created us is waiting for our response to the love that gave us our being. God not only says: "You are my Beloved." God also asks: "Do you love me?" and offers us countless chances to say "Yes." (p. 133)
Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love by Laura A. Smit.
Because God is love, you can know that he loves you. The children's songs are right. "Jesus loves me, this I know." You need not doubt that you are loved completely by the very one who most deserves your love. (p. 28) 
To Love as God Loves: Conversations with the Early Church by Roberta C. Bondi.
[The early monastics] also expected all sorts of people to be real sources of grace [defined here as help from God in seeing and knowing the world, i.e., a sign of God's love] , too. There are touching stories of monks (unfortunately women would never have been encouraged to encounter a wide range of people) learning important lessons from even pagan priests. As for us, we often miss such opportunities because we dismiss quickly people who are not like us, or who make us socially uncomfortable. (p. 38)
Let's not leave Jesus out of the mix here:

Finding Faith: Life-changing Encounters with Christ by Sharon Gallagher. A series of collected stories of encounters with Jesus by a number of persons but historic and present day. From "The Panther" by Amy Sullivan:
Sometimes I could feel this presence, like a panther, a black panther, watching me and following me. It was definitely something good and definitely something persistent. I literally felt followed by Christ. (p. 131) And: God has set everything right between him and me. Scripture reassures us that no one who trusts God with heart and soul will ever regret it. It's the same for us all; God will act in the same incredibly generous way to anyone who calls out to him for help.
I could go on and on, but my time is up; the clock tells me I've hit the 30 minute mark and must stop. Enjoy the reading. I hope you find it both uplifting and challenging.

For more on this topic, see:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Articulate Article on George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin Ruling

I have no words to express my feelings in regards to the ruling in Florida on George Zimmerman's case. Fortunately, Jim Wallis has no such problem. I commend to you the following article for your consideration: All I will add is that the dream of "post racial America" has been postponed ... long postponed by recent events. To my African American brothers and sisters out there, I'm sorry. I cannot begin to imagine the pain associated with having to tell your children, especially your sons, to be wary of anyone who approaches them and might consider them a threat while they are out of the house, especially in states with those misbegotten stand your ground laws (see: For all those who are armed, live with the "what if?" psychological mindset (see;, and have watched too many vigilante justice films, please consider the life George Zimmerman will be living moving forward, always looking over his shoulder and wondering if someone will be coming after HIM with a gun now, as his brother recently stated. What a painful irony. It reminds me of Jesus' admonition in Matthew 26:52 (although the circumstances are far different): Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'

I am praying for everyone as we have all been impacted by this case and its multi-level tragedy. I am praying that in some way this case will lead us (kicking and screaming probably) toward the day that the prophet Amos (5:24) cried out for when "justice will roll down like water and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." We aren't anywhere near there yet. I pray that one day, we may all reach the bright moment when, as Jesus prayed for us in John 17:20, "they may all be one."* I pray for the day when everyone may walk down the street without fear, no one feels the need to be armed, and all may reach out to the other in love as we have become one. I'm afraid we have a very long way to go.

Looks like I had a few words after all.

*Please go and read these Scripture readings in context to consider their broader implications ... and to judge for yourself if I have used them properly. These are from the NRSV translation. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Saying No to Fear-soaked "What If" World

In M. Scott Peck's book A Different Drum, the author speaks of people living under a "control mentality" or "what if?" psychology. Such people are described as believing that they can and must live in a world where every aspect of life is under control, a world without risks. Such folks like to describe themselves as "realists" but refuse to face the glaring reality that life is full of "what ifs?" they cannot control for in any way. These are not the useful "what ifs?" of the novelist, who imagines a fictional world in a certain state of being that helps her or him make a point. No, this is the fear-soaked world of total distrust of any and all perceived in any way as "the other." Dr. Peck describes the resultant behavior of living fully in the dark "what if?" world to be that one becomes a rigid, one-dimensional person who is totally risk aversive and aggressive in defending her- or himself against the perceived hoard of dark "what if?" threats skulking all around.

You can see the results of living in this world all around you. Laws passed allowing more and more citizens to run around armed to the teeth and to use those lethal weapons on the "what if?" contingency that they might be attacked (we see where that went with Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman ... and will be long suffering with the consequences of those dark events), in gated communities fearful of the imagined hoards, of ever increasing electronic security, skyrocketing gun sales, survivalist groups ... and so much more.

We cannot control this world. The microburst weather event in my hometown was a vivid reminder of this not so very long ago. We cannot keep all bad things from happening, at times our technologies will fail us, and sometimes we will fail each other. We are blessed with big brains and agile bodies to deal with disasters as they happen and to assess risks as they arise (without viewing them through dark, fear-colored glasses), not to arm ourselves to the teeth and live in terror of what might be around the next corner or in the dark shadows ... or walking through our gated community from the convenience store. We are blessed with the company of others to help us along life's difficult trail, so long as we have the nerve, honesty, and humility to reach out in vulnerability for their help, their knowledge, and their gifts. I prefer that more honest, more challenging world in which not everything has to be accounted for, controlled, and feared.

I prefer the world in which people feel empowered to help one another, the world in which we each can make a difference for the good of ourselves and of others. In this world, two young African American men in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, had seen the news of a young white girl's abduction, including her picture, and saw her in the back seat of a car two hours later. They pursued the car on their bikes, the driver became aware that he was being followed, and he hastily let the girl out of his car and sped off. Yes, bad things do and will happen, but we all can help reduce the risks and rise up to help when someone is threatened by truly evil or sick people. For more:

I refuse to live in that dark, fear-soaked, heavily controlled, "what if?" world.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Believe In Yourself and Act

With enough belief in
yourself, you'll overcome
the obstacles!
The world needs you.

The world needs your gifts, your talents, your passion, and your beliefs.

By the world, I mean the people of the world, the animals and plants of the world, and/or the planet itself, depending on the talents and passions you have been gifted with and developed.

But before you can act on your gifts and your passions, you have to believe in yourself. In an age where you see shows constantly depicting less than skilled hopefuls booted off one stage or another in public humiliation, it is easier to believe action just isn't worth the risk and take those televised embarrassments to heart ... but they only tell part of the story, really only a moment in the story.

You will act and fail, repeatedly. That's how we learn what we do in this imperfect world. We don't get things right the first time. Just keep trying. Think of the toddlers you've seen. They get up on wobbly legs, take a step or two, holding on to some piece of furniture, and then fall down. But they don't stay down. They get up and try again, and again, and again, until eventually they walk across the room like a drunken sailor into the loving arms of a happy parent or grandparent or caregiver with beaming smiles on their faces. Not long after that they are running with amazing speed on those little legs (and man can they corner with that low center of gravity ... and how exactly do they accelerate like that???).

To help you believe in yourself, keep that toddler in mind. To put those skills of yours to work, you have to crawl, toddle, and walk like a drunken sailor before you can run and eventually fly.

You have gifts, talents, and passions for a reason. You have a big brain and opposable thumbs for a reason. You have the gift of speech for a reason. That reason, I believe, is to help you leave this world a little better place when you exit the stage than when you entered it. I'm not talking giant, earth-shattering, history making ways. I did say "a little better." That may mean that you were a blessing to those around you and helped a few people on this difficult journey of life. It may mean you wrote a pivotal article that changed the direction of someone's life or a song that kept someone from pulling the trigger in despair. It may mean a whole lot of things.

But it all starts with belief in yourself. That belief allows you to act.

When you start to act, take it slow, do little things and be open to the now possibilities that will arise from those little things. Be willing to explore, be willing to find out what others in that field of endeavor have done before you (no sense in recreating the wheel) and what is currently being done, so that you can add creatively to that field yourself. Do not be shy about standing on the shoulders of the giants that have gone before you (and giving them their due as you do).

Also, in this world of the adversarial talk show, the aggressive and angry news opinion show, and the furious radio call in fest, be kind, be gentle, but be confident. Speak of the issue that inspires you with passion, but never stoop to the low tactics of meanness and name calling that pass as a poor substitute for dialogue today. Be brave enough to listen to and consider those who have a different point of view than yours. Be willing to learn from everyone, to admit when you are wrong (remember how often the toddler stumbles and falls), and to take the risks required to do what you intend to do well.

As one TED Talk speaker stated, be willing to do the things that scare you. That way you'll stretch and grow (do them safely, but be willing to take the risks whether they are physical, mental, or emotional).

Start with that belief in yourself. Believe that you really do have something to offer. Discover your talents by discovering those things that give you the greatest joy when you work at them. Trust and follow your passions (when you're looking for places to help, follow your gut, respond to the injustices that make you the maddest and do something about them). Who knows where you'll end up? Who knows what friends you'll make along the way, what organizations you'll join and influences, what lives you will brighten or may save, who else you will inspire to help as well, or what creatures you may save from extinction. There's no telling where you'll end up once you start the journey?*

To start, you have to believe in yourself enough to take that first, wobbly toddler step.

Imagine if all of the 7 billion plus of us (see for the current count) had enough faith in our talents to work to make this world a better place. Imagine what we would accomplish. It starts with you. It starts small. It grows.

*Personal note: this blog helps me on my journey. Here I practice speaking out on the issues that mean a lot to me. It didn't start that way, believe me. the first purpose for this blog failed miserably. This second purpose grew out of the first. Now, blogging allows me to practice speaking up about injustices that anger me, to practice speaking out about the faith I hold dear, and more. It allows me to discover that speaking out won't get you swatted down like a fly or voted instantly off the island. So, now I blog first thing in the morning for 30 minutes and no more. That discipline is helping me develop those talents and strengthen that belief in myself and what I have to offer. I never expected it to serve that purpose ... but you never know where believing in yourself and acting will take you. Good luck and God bless you on your journey. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

NASA Changes Orion Spacecraft's First Mission

Stepping into the Orion Crew Module
The Orion space capsule gets a visit.
Image courtesy of NASA/Bill Stafford

In 2017, NASA plans to send the brand new Orion spacecraft, the future of NASA's crewed spacecraft with the classic gumdrop shape those of us who miss Apollo love so well, boldly farther than we have gone before. The first flight (not a test flight), planned for 2017, will send the uncrewed spacecraft out 40,000 miles beyond the moon. Its purpose is to allow the team's engineers to check out the vehicle's performance, along with that of the Space Launch System (SLS) designed to get it there. Consider this a 25 day shake down run to make sure the system is fit for people.

This location is a stable point near the moon. But why there, you ask? Because, as early as 2021, NASA intends to send a crew out in this vehicle to a near earth asteroid that would be roughly in that general region. So, if all goes well, the next decade will see humans boldly go to an asteroid.

This plan replaces the previous 10 day mission as the first flight. That trip was to go to high lunar orbit. Now we're going further and making history in the process.

NASA also plans for the first test flight of the Orion and its SLS in September of 2014. That trip will be  a short hop and a jump compared to the first flight, extending a mere 3,600 miles above earth. But it will be no cake walk, as the Orion capsule will reenter the atmosphere at 20,000 mph and survive 4,000 degrees of reentry heat, making sure it is up to the task.

So, big steps ahead ... provided the budgetary overlords in Congress and the "infinite wisdom" of subsequent administrations stick to this game plan. Time will tell.

For more information straight from NASA, see:

For news of the big years ahead, 2014-2015, in crewed spaceflight testing, see my post:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Homosexuality as Explored by Pastoral Counseling Experts

Bolding, emphasis, and insertions are mine and not the work of the scholar (one of nearly 600 experts from Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish contributors) to the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling: 

Historical Context

There have been extensive studies on homosexuality since WWII. Among the important findings to date are the following:
  • There is no evidence to suggest that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to seduce minors or to engage in coercive or violent sexual behavior.
  • A person does not become homosexual (or lesbian) either by exposure to homosexual role models or by being seduced or raped by a homosexual. A homosexual teacher in any setting cannot make your children homosexual (repeat that, please). 
  • The origins of heterosexual and homosexual (and bisexual) preference are not clearly understood but appear to be deeply rooted and, for the most part, unalterable
  • There is no evidence of increase in recent years in the relative size of the homosexual population, but a number of factors have contributed to the growing visibility of homosexuality in our culture (5 to 10% of Western culture is homosexual). The expert postulates these contributing factors may include urbanization, democratization, effect of various civil and human rights movements, and increased attention to sexuality and to the availability of diverse sexual expressions. The result is a changing perception of the status of homosexuality in our culture, not an overall increase in the population. Again, homosexuality is not catching. 

Biblical Scholarship:
Let's get down to brass tacks ...
  • Homosexual orientation is not mentioned in biblical literature, although variety of forms of homosexual behavior are occasionally made subject of narrative or legal instruction. 
  • The narrative concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah includes a scene of threatened homosexual rape of God’s representatives. Contemporary scholarship suggests that most and perhaps all other authentic references to homosexual behavior in the Bible refer to the practice of homosexual cultic prostitution. Apart from rape, cultic prostitution and unbridled sexual self-aggrandizement, no specific references to homosexuality are to be found [although the word is used in the NIV translation where the NRSV uses sodomy ... interesting.]. [Leviticus 18: the reference to men and women sleeping with each other is found among various prohibitions of heterosexual family members against various sex acts with others that would violate the security of the family; Romans 1:26: degrading passions: Paul’s Jewish contemporaries criticized a range of sexual behaviors common in the pagan world. Although widely read today as a reference to homosexuality, the language of unnatural intercourse was more often used in Paul’s day to denote not the orientation of sexual desire, but its immoderate indulgence, which was believed to weaken the body. The debasements God gave them up to in verse 28 immediately following include: every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossip, slander, God-haters, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, inventors of evil, rebelliousness toward parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness. The author seems intent on making sure none are left who could claim to be spotless of heart and free of sin in this situation.] 
Theological Ethics:
Two points of view: 

  • Traditional view: perceives homosexual behavior as a more or less serious departure from divine will. This position does not maintain that homosexual orientation is itself sinful. [The next part refutes the more vitriolic language some extreme organizations use and needs to be used whenever this happens ...] Concerning salvation, sexual orientation is as irrelevant as race, gender, or even hair color. What is in question is homosexual behavior, rather than orientation. Since this view holds that the only appropriate form of sexual behavior is that which occurs within the context of a relationship of love and loyalty sanctified in the marriage of a man and a woman, it follows that homosexual sex acts have the same standing as premarital or extramarital sex (or sex acts within marriage which violate the covenant of love between two spouses). Such acts although by definition sins, by no means exclude one from the covenant of grace, but rather must be made the subject of confession and repentance. Not all sexual acts outside the sphere of marriage are on an equal footing either. Rape is not the same as sex between unmarried but mutually caring lovers. [Now comes one of the most important notes in this review of the traditional view] A traditional theological ethics that characterizes homosexuality as sinful is thus to be distinguished from the caricature of this position, which uses religious language to express an extreme hostility toward homosexuals. 
  • Revisionist view: with the growth of the social scientific understanding of homosexuality, there is a growing body of theological opinion that rejects the a priori classification of homosexual activity as sinful (Pittenger, McNeill). Instead, sexual orientation is understood as a gift that is to be expressed in ways that embody the values of commitment and mutuality characteristic of genuine love. This means that all persons, whether homosexual or heterosexual, are called to form a style of sexual behavior exemplifying these values and to renounce styles of manipulation, depersonalization, self-aggrandizement, and destructiveness. Marriage and celibacy remain paradigms of appropriate sexual style, but are not taken to be the only possible ways of living out this commitment.
  • The debate between the two sides goes on ...
  • As the debate goes on, suffering ensues: Homosexuals regularly encounter from church and society the judgments that their sexual orientation (and especially any acting on this orientation) is sinful, shameful, pathological, or maladjusted. This collision between a homosexual orientation and an anti-homosexual ethos produces a condition of conflict, which is apt to color other conflicted or painful situations.
Please see the following post for a powerful perspective on those with differing views from your own in the following post: