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

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cure for the iPad Playback Error: 5 Minute Response

Not long ago, I was mystified by the iPad's annoying Playback Error on videos that jumped up at improbable moments as the battery heats up.

I solved this issue by watching videos on the iPad with said iPad plugged into the wall. This keeps the battery from heating up from use, keeps it well fed, and somehow, I don't know how, keeps the Playback Error way. It works for me. It might work for you. I don't have a better solution and haven't found one yet by Googling.

That's it, with two minutes to spare!

For the previous 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:

We May Be Martians and Other Unusual Science Stories from Flipboard: 5 Minute Response

The Flipboard App, that colorful, high tech, self-selected multi-subject tablet magazine available from the Apple Store and Google play, provided a number of startling short articles under the Space heading. Here's the 5 minute rundown.

  • We're Martians! So speculates Steve Benner, molecular biochemist and biophysicist from the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution at the Goldschmidt conference. The short, short version is that early Mars was drier and better supported one of the early elements necessary for life. Here on Earth with more water, we end up with tar instead of life. Life gets blasted off Mars's surface in meteors and arrives on Earth and finds things friendly enough to continue while Mars dries out. Is that why we look to the skies at night and feel lonely ... and want to get back to Mars so badly. ET phone home???
  • Space X will experiment with their new Falcon 9 1.1 rocket, which is more powerful AND begins their strides towards a fully reusable rocket. It'll slow itself down after delivering a Canadian satellite and bring itself down to a soft, reusable landing in the Pacific Ocean. First step toward their Grasshopper experiment where all parts land back on a landing pad on pillars of fire. 
  • LADEE satellite heading to the Moon to seek a very thin Moon atmosphere evidenced by astronauts back in the 1960s and 1970s who say streaks as the sun sets, suggesting something in the void other than vacuum. Further, it will have a wonderful high tech laser system on board that will download huge amounts of data on beams of light. If this system succeeds, it will lead to astronauts floating in comfy ships over planets to explore while they search out the surface with sturdy, robotic avatars using telepresence guided by those laser beams! 
  • New Horizons robot probe headed for Pluto (yeah, it's still going and will arrive in 2015) has photographed her largest moon while still a couple years out. It's a good sign for the big flyby of 2015. 
  • Voyager 1 may or may not have yet reached the far edge of the solar system. 
  • We lost a great man with the death of Neil Armstrong, our first man to step on the Moon. RIP Neil. Thanks for the wonderful adventure! 
Check it out. There's a lot more ... and life just keeps getting stranger!!!

That's the 5 minute response!

For more unusual news, see:, and

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:

Tunein Radio: Further Exploring the Power in Your Tablet and Smartphone: 5 Minute Response

I've been able to check the Tunein Radio App further on my iPad. I'm hooked. That's the short and sweet of it. With over 70,000 stations worldwide and a huge number of podcasts at your fingertips and earbuds, it's sweet. Here's two examples.

In the sports department, I just caught up with my favorite football team's preseason with a few wrap up broadcasts. I found out they kicked butt and took names all through the preseason, in game 3 winning 30 to 7! Now, the season opener is against the local boys and, for suspense, the power house quarterback injured last season seriously when the coach boneheadedly kept him in the game playing a little bit injured for FAR TOO LONG may return as the starter! This I discovered through the Tunein Radio Search engine.

Browsing by genre, I found under Sci-Fi  and found the Slice of Scifi show with all sorts of goodies for the sci-fi geek like me, including episode titles such as "JJ Abrams gets Stranger," "UFO Road Trip," "Cows in Space," ... and on and on.

Highly recommend the app for whatever smart system you use. For a small monthly fee, you can upgrade to a version that allows you to record your favorite shows for future play.

My 5 minutes are up!

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, August 29, 2013

Spreading Joy: Look for the Chances

I am a strong believer in joy--in its power, its ability to strengthen oneself and others, and its contagious and beneficial nature. I've always been a strong advocate of joy, even in difficult times. This is no surprise since, as a Christian, my Bible contains over 400 references to joy and speak again and again of the main roads to joy. Those reliable, well traveled roads include: knowledge of God's Word producing joy; worship evoking joy; obedience discovering joy; and work fostering joy! (See Dictionary of Biblical Imagery for more on joy.) I so believe in the power of joy, I wrote an final term paper in a seminary course which became a professionally published paper titled "Joy in Evangelism." (I know what you're thinking ... joy, evangelism, how do THOSE two go together?!) The paper began: "As the story of Jesus is declared in Luke 2:10-11 to be "good news of great joy for all people," Christian evangelists really should provide a joyful witness to the world. Years ago I donned grease paint, a crazy quilt outfit, and hit the boards as "Joyful Noise," a Christian clown. Using a "joyful witness," integral to the very definition of evangelism according to American Baptist Churches USA, I was able to invite people to accept the messages of God's love and Jesus' redemption while we laughed together, sharing the joy I feel in my faith." To sum up, I'm a real believer in the power of joy ... even in the midst of sorrow.

Last weekend, after performing a eulogy for my 98 year old grandmother and helping her walk her final mile in dignity, God presented me and my family with an opportunity to spread a little joy ... and in doing so receive some joy ourselves. My father's porch, where we were all gathered, was built in 1929, back when they really knew how to build porches. We were there enjoying the almost always present breeze that gently moves across that artfully built porch. As we worked to keep our spirits up, a lively, roughly four year old, blonde neighbor's grand daughter bounced onto that porch full of energy and asked us if we wanted to buy some cupcakes. "They're good!" she added with much energy. We suggested we might buy some after dinner and she ran back down the street yelling to parents and grandparents that the folks up the street WOULD buy cupcakes after dinner.

Her enthusiasm and joy for her and her little brother's business was contagious. I was reminded of the scolding Scrooge took from the Ghost of Christmas Past when he poo-pooed the idea of being able to spread joy with the expenditure of a few coins as Fezziwig had done with all those Christmas feasts back in the day. I reached into my pocket and realized I had the means to spread a little joy myself ... and could really use it after saying that last goodbye to a wonderful grandmother (the last goodbye this side of the new heaven and earth that is). I sent my wife and daughter down the hill with thirty cents (cupcakes at 10 cents each ... what a deal, huh?!). That little girl exploded with excitement when they showed up. So did her parents and grandparents. We were really creating a joyful moment ... and so simply.

As for me, always looking for that moment of joy, I pried myself loose from my chair (recovering from an upper respiratory tract infection made that an interesting challenge in itself ... but a non-contagious one ... I suffer alone when I get sick ... and consider that a blessing actually) with the remaining quarter in my pocket and went down the hill myself to buy a couple more cupcakes we really didn't need (one for my dad) and handed over that quarter to even more joy from the family ... and more joy for me in their reaction. When that little girl asked me if I had another "money" for her little brother, I told her the money I gave her was worth "two monies and a little bit more." She was pleased but went to grandmom anyway for another money for her brother so they'd have the same.

After that, with joy spreading around, that little business woman ran up the street hollering, we have one last cupcake! One cupcake! She sold it to a neighbor lady out for a jog with a friend. Exercise and a cupcake, what could be better.

The cupcakes were good, really good, but the joy spread both ways was far sweeter. I didn't expect to be able to give and get joy on that difficult weekend. But the wonderful thing about joy is that, unlike happiness, it can even be present in grief. Now, that's a gift from God. Being a big believer in joy, I'll keep looking for those little moments to spread joy wherever I go.

The theologian Henri Nouwen has a wonderful observation about joy in his devotional book Bread for the Journey. He states, "Strange as it may sound, we choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently from the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it. What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice."

I'll choose joy every time. How about you?

For a post on a similar theme, see:

For more posts on joy, see:,, and

There's more if you like these. This subject is very near and dear to my heart. Wishing you a joyful life.

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:

I Have a Dream Speech, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, I commend the original, historic speech to you. You may read it for yourself at:

Take your time with this momentous speech. Read it, consider it, let it sink in. See how far we have come as a nation and how far we have yet to go. Let Dr. King's words revitalize you today. Let your determination to see justice for all in this land rise with these stirring words.

Insist that your public officials do all they can to ensure equal justice for all, equal voting rights for all (despite the Supreme Court's odious decision and the wretched, highly political response of some states to create bogus voting rights legislation designed to limit votes rather than protect them), and equality in judicial rulings (which seem grossly out of kilter even now). Live out the cry, Let justice flow down like water ...

Relive the dream. Let the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak to you directly and inspire you to action. The best writing always does.

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, August 27, 2013

Tunein Radio App and Mission Log Podcasts

I have just discovered two good things at once. Together they make me happy. The first is the Tunein Radio App, available for the iPad from the Apps Store. This app allows you to tune into 70,000 live radio stations worldwide and 2 million podcasts, concerts, or shows. It all comes in under the magic word I look for in an App (with a few excellent exceptions) and that word is "free." There is a more robust version you pay for ... but at least for now I'm happy with free. One of the things I enjoy about Tunein Radio is it comes with many podcasts already suggested and ready to run, including Radiolab, which I find vastly entertaining and informative. When a podcast is picked, you are also given a list of other podcasts you might like to hear, along with suggestions listed under genres. So far, it seems to be superior to another service I tried that wanted to load previous episodes of the podcasts you selected into your iPad's memory, thereby taking up most of your valuable real estate very quickly. That hasn't happened here and hopefully it won't. I'll let you know if that changes.

On to the podcast my brother clued me into. Mission Log: A Roddenberry Star Trek Podcast, created by Gene Roddenberry's son, who goes by "Rod." It's a wonderful podcast for Trekkers of all sorts from the laid back viewers to the hardcore fans. The purpose of the podcast is to cover each episode of all six Star Trek TV series one at a time. Each episode is a "mission log." Ken Ray and John Champion are the hosts. Each has a track record with podcasts and both know their stuff about Star Trek. The episodes provide you with all sorts of trivia to keep you happy. For instance, I've listened to just a few minutes of the "Assignment Earth" episode from the original series featuring the character Gary 7. In that few minutes, I've found out that "Assignment Earth" was a vehicle to possibly launch a spin off series from Star Trek since Star Trek itself wasn't doing all that well with the network. The scenes with Kirk and Spock interacting with Gary 7 were few and could be removed to create a 20 minute promo reel. Also, there was speculation that Gary 7 was directly influenced by Dr. Who, which made our daughter really happy ... Dr. Who fan that she is. The engaging hosts discuss the pros and cons of each episode, pointing out some of the more peculiar moments, but all handled well. At no time does it feel like it's descending into a gripe session in someone's mom's basement, I'm happy to say.

You can also listen to episodes on your computer, whether it will take your voice commands or not. Once it's done "working," find Mission Log at:, beam in, and enjoy yourself. I hope this venture lives long and prospers ... and that you do too!

Update 8/28/13: I update my assessment of Mission Log with considerable regret. Having listened now to several episodes, there is a certain disturbing trend among them. There is a definite bias against religion in the podcasts that is really out of bounds with the inclusive message of Star Trek from the 1960s onward. I say this as someone who is trained as a social scientist and a minister (for me there is no contradiction here). The hosts have characterized religion as a primitive throwback to an earlier age, using "thunder worship" as their basis for all matters of faith and suggesting those who believe are ... well ... social neanderthals. I went from thorough enjoyment to abject annoyance to that feeling as a geeky kid of being picked reluctantly and last for the sports team I really did not want to play on but wanted even less not to be included in. You'd think people broadcasting from the platform would be a bit more sensitive to that feeling. Ah well, I hope that someday Mission Log will see the light and their hosts will become as inclusive as the shows they explore.

For other iPad Apps, see:, and

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:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reminder of the Pastor's Many Roles: Letter of Note

A single paged letter was kept by my grandmother that was addressed to my great grandfather, the pastor Martin Luther Hall. The document was dated 1931 and signed by West Virginia's governor William G. Conley. The letter acknowledged Reverend Hall's request for the clemency of a particular doctor (name redacted here out of consideration for any remaining family) who was convicted in the circuit court. I have no idea what came of this, but it reminds me that pastors are called upon to fulfill many roles in their careers.

Before receiving this letter and Reverend Hall's book of sermons and lessons, I did know one family story about him. It appears back in the day, the Ku Klux Klan paid my great grandfather a visit after church one day. Now a pastor represents and protects his flock. He did so this day. He protected them from a terrible evil and showed them by example that they should resist it. When the Klan members suggested strongly that Reverend Hall should join their band (and no doubt some powerful people in the area were members), my great grandfather told them they could all go to hell. I'm proud of that and will do my best as a minister to follow my great grandfather's example. 

For more on helping others with the written word, see:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Treasure From My Past: My Great Grandfather's Sermon Texts

There is joy in the midst of grief at times. God finds ways to buoy our spirits. This often happens through the actions and words of other people. Several people made that happen for me. My mother, now gone on to new life with God for almost a year, saved for me her grandfather's sermons, which he kept in a small binder, some sermons neatly typed and others written in his own hand. My father passed that long saved treasure trove on to me yesterday.

It has been wonderful to read the sermon texts (in outline form and more fleshed out in some cases) and discover that my great grandfather, Martin Luther Hall,  and I share more in common theologically than I had imagined. We not only share a midlife call to ministry (I once thought that was a deeply mysterious and perhaps suspicious aspect of the man's life ... a man once a cowboy who came back to West Virginia to be a circuit preacher ... now I know better) but also an emphasis on the work we are to do in this world to bring peace and justice for others. It has lifted my spirits after suffering the passing to new life of my grandmother, following Mom, less than a year later. Those were two cruel blows ... followed by this wonderful kindness.

I'm going to excerpt two small passages I discovered in a first search of this wonderful notebook. We'll start with reflections on old age from a sermon entitled The Crown of Glory, based on the text Prov. 16:31. It was delivered in both a church in Sabraton and Goshen, WV on August 21, 1938. This portion of the sermon explores old age and is in note format, which I will repeat. You can flesh out what is shown here with your own experience:


Old Age.
1. It is just as much a part of life as childhood and youth.
(1) Life to the aged is sweet as ever.
(2) Age is no mark of shame.
(a) The hoary head only adds a crown of glory.
(b) In age one should say with Browning, "Grow old along with me."
(c) Youth is just the half of life. Age should complete it.
2. Age does not make one impotent.
(a) Contributions of men of age to the world's art, literature, science, etc.
3. Age not in the way of righteousness shows a life
(1) Misspent;
(2) Lacking wisdom;
(3) And it shows that the individual is a victim of his fears.

That last sentence, point 3 (3), resonates with me well! I'd add women to that, but I'm sure M.L. Hall was using "men" in the older, larger sense ... like the royal "we."

Here are a few excerpts from the sermon The Man at Fortune's Wheel, Matthew 6:33.

Life is not a chance and haphazzard existence. From the atom of oxygen in the ocean's depth to the molecule in the granite boulder of the mountain and from the tiniest insect that floats in the sunbeam to man in the image of his creator, the universe is goverened by the immutable law of God.
There are three ways of finding one's self: (1) feeling a strong inclination for some particular kind of work, (2) consult your friends, (3) "Doubt of any sort cannot be removed except by action, ... Do the duty that liest nearest you that you know to be duty! The second duty will already have become clearer."
I'll return t this wonderful gift passed down through the generations again later. Again, that last sentence matches my sentiments well. Doubt removed by action. I like that!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Taking Writing Risks

There are times when every writer has to judge for her- or himself whether to take risks in writing. And by this I mean informed risks, well researched risks, risks when you are sure of your facts, not the risks of writing off the cuff and hoping your recollection is correct.

I took one such risk with the eulogy I wrote for my Grandmom. It was a small risk, I grant you that, but a risk none-the-less given the audience and the situation. You see, my Grandmom was a Stephen King horror fan, like me. My parents let me know this was so when she was 88 and I took great delight going to bookstores and letting clerks know I was seeking the latest horror novel for my Grandmom. That was a lot of fun! I decided to take the risk of including that story in the eulogy because, as the author of that document, I felt I had some latitude to include something I wanted to say personally. Now, as the moment approached, I began to have my doubts. The service was in a church and the gathered crowd was mainly older folks. I began to wonder if I should take the risk at all. Emotions were running high and the chance of causing offense was equally high. Still, I have a stubborn streak and took the risk. It paid off. After the service at the reception I heard more wonderful stories based on that story than any other in the eulogy. I even met a one time next door neighbor of Mr. King from Maine. I was glad I'd taken this particular writing risk.

I think now of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail risked a great deal more and managed to change the way many in the United States felt about his role in positive, non-violent action for civil rights. He risked much and gained greatly. We'll return to him at the end and give the great man the last word.

We can apply this lesson to much larger issues with much greater stakes at play. These days there is a dangerous trend afoot (and not a new one although the methods of its dissemination have advanced). Many good people who mean well are being cowed into silence by a noisy fraternity/sorority of cynics who make a buck by denigrating positions they are not paid to uphold. Rather than advancing a position by informed argumentation in which an opposing side might learn something valid of the position advanced and by which both side might have a constructive dialog and perhaps reach some valuable compromise, these folks prefer to attack the character of all who hold positions opposed to their own. They prefer to make spurious, ridiculous attacks with such vehemence and repeated so often that the absurdity of the charges are lost in the repetition of such vitriol. Sadly, this terrible trend has trickled down to everyone else and today constructive argument has been replaced by empty talking points created by others, which create alienation and terrible divisions amongst people. Worse, it has scared many good people into silence, fearing they will be the next target of a McCarthy-esque attack on their character. In that silence, we lose much. Writers must take the risk of opposing this terrible trend and speaking out through every media available. Speak out for justice for all, for a fairer, more open society living in peace and helping each other.

Martin Luther King wrote of this in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. He told of those who were silenced and who struggled to maintain a status quo and false sense of order rather than strive for justice. Sadly, what he wrote is equally applicable today. In one of the most powerful portions of his writing, in which he takes far greater risks than many, he stated:

must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I'm so glad Dr. King took the risks he did in that dark moment in his life. His risk taking changed perspecives and gave us a more just futue. What will you do, fellow writers?

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:

Communities to the Rescue: Virtues of Helping Each Other

When we had a family funeral recently, several communities came together to support us in our loss. The church community where my Grandmom worshipped since the 1940s gathered for the funeral to express their respect for Grandmom, provide their sympathies for our loss, share wonderful stories of the special person who has passed on, and the women of the church threw a luncheon after the interment ceremony was complete. I have to say, after the funeral and internment, part of me wanted nothing more than to return to my Dad's house, curl up, and sleep in my grief. However, returning to the church for that lunch was a much needed tonic. The food was terrific (American Baptists are good for that ... as I'm sure most if not all denominations are), the conversations wonderful, and the support ever present. Tears, stories, and laughter were shared along with the meal. For an extrovert like me, such a gathering is very hard to resist. My desire to just hide in my grief vanished when I saw all those people gathered for a singular cause, supporting us in our loss, and before I knew it, another two hours had passed and spirits had been lifted.

Another community gathered was the small group of men who acted as pall bearers. We came in various ages, sizes, and with lower backs ranging from fully functional to very cranky indeed. With the guidance of the funeral director and his team, we got Grandmom's steel casket up the steep stairs to the church, back down again, and helped her walk her last mile with a grace and dignity none of us could have handled on our own.

Then there was the community of professionals gathered to help. There was the retired pastor who stepped in to lead the service and provide a calming presence so necessary at such events. The two eulogists (if that is a word) who reminded the living of a few of the wonderful reasons the gathered mourners were blessed by the life of the person now gone from our midst but who will not be forgotten. Finally, there were those funeral home people, the dedicated director and his staff. During the service several of them stayed outside the church to shoo away callus downtown shoppers who thought it would be alright to ignore the fact that the meters in front of the church were hooded and reserved for the use of the grieving, a few attended the service, memorized family members names, and provided a level of comfort through gentle guidance and small, gentle humor that made the day more bearable. They earned their fee that day and we appreciated their professionalism and their kindness.

That funeral was a powerful reminder that we are all in this together. I may live in the most individualistic nation on earth in these United States, but it is moments like these that remind us that we really do need each other.

There was one final community that was a great help that difficult day. I let my Facebook friends know what was going on. The influx of well wishes, prayers, and support was wonderful and uplifting as well.  Friends, colleagues, professors all rallied and lifted my spirits.

Do what you can to build community around yourself. There will come a day you'll need their help and you'll discover it was well worth the effort.

For another form of help from a singing community in the form of a hymn, 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:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Technical Difficulties with This Blog

Right now, J.S. Brooks Presents is experiencing technical difficulties. Once a post is written and published, I cannot return to it to make edits sometimes necessary after writing under the 30 minute deadline rule. So, dear reader, if you see flaws in posts for a while, be a little understanding, be patient, and we here will try to get the problem solved as soon as we can.

If anyone knows why a Blogger blog site would get into a situation where after a post is published, if you return under edit, you see the title only followed by a blank page instead of the published text and images, this author would love to know. Better yet, I'd love a solution left in the comments below. Your help will be greatly appreciated.

Until then, I'll keep writing ... but without the editorial safety net.

Update: 8/24/13: Somehow the issue has resolved itself. I guess it was more a problem the the Blogger server than with my particular blog. I did some research and found the first suggestion to cure the problem is to clear the search engine's cache. This didn't work for me as the same situation occurred no matter which computer I opened the blog on. 

Joy in the Eulogy

When a loved one passes away, someone is tasked with writing a eulogy. It is the writer's job to remind grieving family members and friends how blessed they were to have that person with them (we won't even delve into the dead person who wasn't any sort of blessing ... I'm praying I don't have to write a eulogy for such an individual ... ever!).  For me, this has happened twice within less than a year's time. In each case, the person who has passed has been a beloved, close family member. That makes each of these first eulogies special, very special, and very serious undertakings. And yet, I've discovered the truth about the joy in the process.

In seminary, they teach you how to work with a family to prepare a eulogy. You meet with the grieving family, you sit down with them calm and relaxed as you can, and you encourage them to tell you stories about the departed loved one's life. At first there may be some hesitation, some awkward pauses, shuddering breaths ... and you wait, silently, patiently, as each individual gathers herself or himself for the endeavor. It's worth the wait. Because, then the stories begin to flow. First it's a trickle, then its a stream, and finally a torrent of memories feeding off of each other, sparking new memories around the room, and before long eyes are glittering and the family is startled to hear themselves laughing as they celebrate the life of the person so recently lost. That person is drawn closer through the warm memories and shared laughter. It is a wonderful thing to be able to spark, to watch develop, and to take notes on as you listen ... so that later you can get a fraction of that down on paper if you are the pastor tasked with the eulogy rather than a family member. Me, of course, I'm in the unique position of being both pastor and family member.

Last night, I called my brother and we shared. His wife joined in. Afterwards my wife and daughter added their recollections. I took a page and a half of very shorthand notes (I didn't need much more than one or two word reminders to get the memories flowing). Together we laughed, shared, and drew closer. Together we reminded ourselves in our grief just how blessed we were to have this wonderful person in our lives for so very many years and all this individual taught us ... and we were then and remain now grateful. There's a lot of joy to be had in that conversation, in that task of calling the departed person back with story, and being the privileged one who gets to take it all down.

For another form of joy, a more aural form, see:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Trekker Takes on New Meaning With Google

I've been a "trekker" since my teen years ... but not this kind. Google Maps is taking "trekking" into a whole new dimension far removed from Star Trek. If you are physically fit and don't mind walking around with a 40 pound backpack that looks a bit like C-3PO after his encounter with hostile storm troopers on the Death Star (yeah, my geekiness knows no bounds), then you too can go where no Google car has gone before.

Google Maps is seeking your ability to walk where they cannot drive in their attempt to make Google Maps and Google Earth the most complete maps of the world possible. If you've used Google Maps or Earth, you know how much fun the ground level 360 degree views of sites can be. Well, Google is looking for men and women to boldly go to those places that may only be reached by foot ... public places or places where they have permission to go that is ... no sneaking into your neighbor's backyard now!

Apparently the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau was the first to take Google Maps up on this offer. I'll look forward to vicariously seeing those Hawaiian sites. A "trekker" has also taken in the Mall in Washington, D.C., going into the memorials and down the pathways cars can't reach. That'll be a worthwhile trek. I know. I've walked those paths and entered those memorials myself.

So, if you've got the spine (and the legs) to boldly go where Google Maps has not gone before, you can sign up and might become a whole new sort of "trekker." See:  for a look at the gadget and to follow through to the sign up page.

For more on Google Earth and Google Moon, see: and

If you are that original sort of "trekker, you might be interested in this:

Monday, August 19, 2013

CIA Admits Area 51 Exists! What Next?!

This is the sort of news report that bubbles up, fires the imagination for a moment, and then disappears as mysteriously as a UFO over a trailer park, a specter in the cemetery at midnight, or a chupacabra glimpsed along the roadside as you drive past. A 407 page report recently declassified tells much of the Cold War test site on the dry lake bed, Groom Lake. There are stories of testing the U-2 spy plane, the amazing SR-71, and a number of other exotic aircraft ... sadly none of them saucer shaped. Of course, the SR-71 has that triangular formation so often mentioned in sightings. For those who believe aliens and saucers remain on site at Area 51, it is believed this is just the first admission that anything happened at the well known and much storied site. If this goes down well with the public, the more extraordinary admissions will follow. It is generally felt among UFO followers that if the truth (Scully and Mulder style truth) were blurted out there would be global pandemonium. This large document contains plenty of redactions to keep enthusiast's fires stoked. For more, see: It's all in the National Security Archives and downloadable with torrent. Enjoy the read.

This story takes me back. In the 1970s when I was a teen there were a slew of articles and shows dealing with all sorts of strange occurrences and odd sightings. There was a whole series of UFO reports, Bigfoot articles, and Mothman tales appearing in papers as venerable as the Washington Post (or as long gone as the Washington Star) and I found the whole thing intriguing. Then there were the ghost stories for Halloween, the best coming from an annual radio broadcast on Halloween night on local station WMAL. It was called Washington Revisited by journalist John Alexander. He penned a book by the same title worth tracking down. That's one source from which the tales don't just disappear the next day, never to be heard from again, as with so many of these tales.

While I loved the idea of aliens among us, aliens flying from distant stars to meet us, there were certain aspects of the stories that bothered me. What's the idea of these brilliant astronauts from elsewhere who could leap fantastic distances showing up all small, gray, shriveled, and naked on our doorsteps?! Didn't they read H.G. Well's War of the Worlds? From that they would have known you don't go into somebody else's alien backyard without the extraterrestrial equivalent of a HAZMAT suit. Then there was the whole alien probe thing. How is it these creatures build fantastic spacecraft ... and then use rather primitive 20th century technology to make kinky medical studies of the humans scooped up in their ships??? Come on aliens. From Star Trek you should know you need tricorders, scanners, and small whirling medical devices, not invasive needles! Then these little gray naked guys show up in one of the most heavily traveled and armed countries on earth and none of them, not one, ends up either as road kill or a hunting trophy? Seems unlikely to me. Finally, with all the alien abductions how is it that not one single sticky fingered human didn't manage to lift a single alien souvenir off the ship. I mean, that's what we do, right???

Frankly, with some of the stuff we broadcast on TV and radio, I imagine aliens approaching our solar system, picking up some of that "entertainment programming," translating it, and deciding to just move on to some other system where the locals are a little friendlier and a whole lot saner.

Still, thanks for the article journalists. Thanks for the declassified, redacted documents CIA. You really took me back to the day when I kept a file on such stories ... a file that mysteriously disappeared some years ago! You've left me eagerly anticipating what's next. The truth remains out there X File aficionados ... and with any luck some more of it will surface soon ... and be wonderfully weird!

For my own personal theory on things UFO and monstrous, 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, August 17, 2013

Everyone Stop Being So Primitive: Judge Not!

Over the last week, conservatives and progressives alike (religious folks and atheists too) in one way or another have questioned my intelligence over some aspect of my beliefs that they just didn't much agree with, or worse, suspected they wouldn't agree with even though they refused to listen to (or accept if they did listen) what I actually had to say about my beliefs. Then came a "scientific" article shared on Facebook claiming those of an atheist belief system were actually smarter than those with a more God-oriented (religion oriented ... however you want to say it) way of perceiving the world. That was one step too far. Come on folks. Do you really believe this? What has experience showed you (not TV, not YouTube, not Facebook, not talk radio but actually boots on the ground experience)? As for me, I've met brilliant people who hold all the different belief systems humanity has to offer that I've run across so far (yeah, that's all inclusive guys as I've met A LOT of people in my business).

Now look folks, it's way past time to stop using our primitive, caveman minds to order our relations with others. The old way of doing things, the primitive approach to social dynamics, that we seem unable to shake, is to assume that everyone outside our own little group (our brains are happiest with groups of under 150 people that we communicate with directly ... this doesn't include copious Facebook "friends" or others in social media land) is the "other" and the "other" is alien, never to be trusted, and perhaps downright stupid for not believing as the members of our own little band believe. This is the twenty-first century. Don't you thinks it's a little past time we put this primitive way of thinking to bed once and for all and try (struggle, grapple with, and force our stubborn minds if need be) to see people who believe differently from ourselves as competent human beings from whom we might actually learn something?!

Let me paint us all a picture. If we don't, then every time we dismiss someone or some other group and label them in some way inferior, they WILL return the favor and treat us in kind. I don't think that's what we really want, is it? I can't imagine we really want to spend the rest of time on the primitive mind merry-go-round of suspicion, distrust, and denigration of all the BILLIONS of people outside of our tidy little 150 member group, can you? (As it says in MY belief system, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. [Matthew 7:1-5] That's Jesus, a really smart guy who lived way back when ... and liked to use humor to make his point from time to time as seen here.)

Now in my belief system, as a Christian, Protestant, American Baptist, the Bible (foundation upon which belief is informed and built) states in at least 70+ examples that we should be humble with each other and before God. We should show humility. Try Matthew 18:4: Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps if we all practiced a little humility, setting aside that notion that OUR little group has the inside track on all that is worth knowing, we just might get along a little better. We just might stop treating others with such disrespect ... and in turn all those other people just might return the favor. Who knows, it might be worth trying. I can't see that we are currently giving it much of a shot. What do we really have to lose? 

The early Christian monastics felt that other people were a sign of God's grace (i.e., God's love for us) in our lives. These monastics felt particularly strong signs of God's grace were people who actually didn't believe as the monks themselves believed. Why, you might ask. The reason was because these folks were people they felt God had sent their way so they could learn something NEW from them. And we think we have all the answers today. Pfft. These guys way back when had a much healthier view of those people outside of their own little tribes (monasteries) than we do today. 

So, what say you? Willing to give those people outside of your own little belief system (whatever that might be) the benefit of the doubt? I hope so. If we all do that ... well, we all just might learn something. 

For a challenging article on a scale of human spirituality that might give us all a dose of the humbles, 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:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Bikers Against Child Abuse

I heard this story on StoryCorps this morning on NPR. I'm in a lot of pain right now, both physical and emotional. The day after we left from our son's wonderful wedding, I developed an upper respiratory tract infection and a senior member of the family was struck down by a stroke that is a terminal event. So, I'll take what uplift I can find from any source ... and this morning it was the following story about the international organization Bikers Against Child Abuse.

Please listen:

These bikers say they are scarier that any adult and are willing to come to the aid of any abused child to "break the chains of child abuse." Children are recommended to them by referring agencies or individuals. These dedicated bikers help children who fear that further abuse will be part of their lives. These children are made part of the organization and understand their fellow members will come to their aid and stand against the abuser with that child.

For more information, please see:

The organization's motto is "No child deserves to live in fear." They are working hard to make that belief a reality. It lifts my spirits to know they are at work.

My faith informs me that humanity is good as all of creation is good. God made us that way. At times we lose our way, we become sick and twisted when we succumb to evil, we fail to follow the great commandment to love others as God loves us, we become agents of evil. I use the royal "we" here, not accusing you dear reader of evil, let me assure you. I will never be a cynic. I will never succumb to despair, despite even my current pain. Organizations like this one help me keep that faith that down deep humanity is good, as humanity was intended by a loving, merciful, grace-filled God. Now, if each of us could find a way to be a light in the darkness for someone else, like the members of this organization do, what might we accomplish together? Together we could all do great things.

If you have a child who is afraid of becoming the older brother or sister, the following book is for you. 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, August 15, 2013

Hot and Bothered: Human Violence to Rise with Global Temperatures

On August 2, 2013, an article by Sandy Bauers caught my eye. It was titled, "A warming world and heated humans: Look at 60 studies reveals a pattern of violence." The upshot of the article is, in short, that as global temperatures rise, so will our tempers. Published in the journal Science, the study looks back over 10,000 years of human history to times of heat related crisis (drought) and resultant human behavior. Here are some examples: when the heat rises, domestic violence goes up, people honk more in traffic (which in some cities will lead to more shootings ... did you know that in Russia people have car dashboard movie cameras to document cases of beat downs between motorists who are mad at each other for court cases?), police officers in the Netherlands shot people more when they were hot and bothered, and civil war increases in the African tropics. What really caught my eye, as it relates to an article that stuck with me from decades ago, was the archaeological evidence that drought brought Mayan city states to their knees, leading to crop failure, economic collapse, violence, and civil war.

In the aforementioned old article, I read of one city state among the Mayans where the ruler sent his citizen soldiers on far too many wars of conquest, poorly managed his farm lands (sending his citizen soldier farmers ever further up the surrounding mountains to farm increasingly poor fields), and led those citizens to lives of increasing hardship where they could no longer enjoy any of the benefits of civilization (see the older post on happiness having a $75,000 price tag) and in time stopped believing in their government entirely. First the center of the Mayan city state (the government) was abandoned. No one followed the ruler and he was out. A stella in his name was never finished by the artist, who just walked away one day. For 300 years the rich hung around (probably behind armed enclaves) and then for another 800 years farmers alone remained in the once powerful city state. Rising heat could bring this cycle back. We already have several of the other components in place in many areas.

Security experts are currently sweating over the implications of a rising global temperature. They state climate change could lead to shortages in food, water, electricity, and other resources, leaving people very, very angry and security for the nations increasingly weak. For those arguing that taking on the rising global temperature is bad for the economy, think about how bad these scenarios will be for the economy. From these studies, you can't afford not to act.

I wonder what other weird behaviors might be explained by rising temperatures and fever heated human brains. Could it be that politicians refusing to compromise and people expecting them not to (which makes no sense) are byproducts of rising global temperatures? Could it be that the more inane rallying cries of those politicians and their brain trusts (blaming all bad things on one minority group or another) are results of heat addled minds? What will become of our decision making capabilities as the heat rises? Will terrorism continue to rise, will civil wars become everyday events, will powerful nations become sucked into ever increasing numbers of conflicts over perceived threats that may be the product of overheated minds more than reality? The article ends with the very disturbing prediction that the world will become a very violent place by the middle of this century if climate change continues as predicted.

I don't know about you, but that is not the world I want to hand over to my children and grandchildren. If ever there was a call to action, a call to work to save each other and our planet, this is it.

For the article referenced on happiness's price tag, see:
For another article on violence, 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:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Leap of Faith for the Wedding Day

Our son married a wonderful young woman. On the wedding day, God gave them an interesting leap of faith to take. No, not the marriage vows (which does indeed require a leap of faith in each other's love and the institution itself), but in the weather. The morning service in an open glen in a mountain top state park was scheduled for 10:30 AM. At 9:30 AM it was still drizzling ... and an enclosed back up site was available. The challenges of informing all the guest of the changing venue would have been formidable ... but soaked guests, especially some of those in advanced years, could have been dangerous. Yet, they went ahead. They took the leap (aided with smart phone forecasts of clearing skies) and stuck to their site. They were rewarded. At 10:30 in the morning, the clouds parted, the sun burst forth and was filtered through the tree leaves to beautiful effect. The rest of the day and evening were gorgeous with weather in the 70s and that beautiful, gentle sunlight all day long.

It felt, at least to me, like a leap of faith well taken and amply rewarded. Of course, as father of the groom, I'm biased.

Here's to the young bride and groom and to all the leaps of faith they will take in the future. I wish them all the best and additional rewards for their faithful efforts down the road. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jesus and "The Door Open to Anyone": Good News From Christianity

In Henri J.M. Nouwen's inspirational devotional book Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, the author has the following to say about what Jesus has done and for whom:

Jesus is the door to a life in and with God. "I am the gate," he says (John 10:9). "I am the Way; I am Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). [Please keep reading. I know this verse has been used to painful, negative, exclusionary effect.] Still, many people never have heard or will hear of Jesus. They are born, live their lives, and die without having been exposed to Jesus and his words. 
Jesus opened the door to God's house for all people, also for those who never knew or will know, that it was Jesus who opened it. The Spirit that Jesus sent "blows where it pleases" (John 3:8), and it can lead anyone through the door to God's house.
Don't respond to this right away. Sit with it for a while and let it work on you. See where it takes you.

For more thought provoking spiritual reading, 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: