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

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fie on Fanatics: Quotes to Live By

The first quote is from Brad Hirschfield's book You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. This is for those most strident supporters of the "New Atheism:
"Belief is more complicated than either the believers or the disbelievers among us are usually willing to admit. Too often I hear people referring to God as a delusion and religion as some kind of neurological disorder. All their qualms and suspicions are justified [in the wake of religious violence discussed just before this quote]. But if all they see is the ugly face of faith and the danger in spiritual connection, they have become as absolute in their disbelief as any religious fanatic. They have become fanatics of secularism who are as problematic as the fanatics of faith, because ultimately it is the fanaticism that kills, not the faith."
The second quote is for those faithful folks who use their religion as a weapon to beat people with, doing great harm. It is from the one-time atheist and later Christian writer C.S. Lewis and is found in his book Mere Christianity. He writes powerfully: 
"All the worst pleasures are surely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the animal self and the diabolical self. The diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."

I think that gives everyone a little something to think about before stepping up on the next soap box.  

Adventures in Fitness 22: One Guy's Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: Called Back to the Gym

It's been a while since I've posted under Adventures in Fitness. It's been a while since I've exercised regularly. What happened? Life in ministry happened. I began my new career as a minister in 2014. The first year was all consuming. Over half way into my second year, I've got the basics nailed down and can breathe a little.

Then, God called me back (sure, roll your eyes at the religious reference if you must, but I'm a pastor ... and it's true in my case). You see, yesterday my wife and I helped a member of our congregation move some of her clothes from the apartment she had been living in to her new place. She had to move because the building caught fire and was badly damaged. Fortunately, her things on the third floor were spared the destroying flames and the worst of the smoke. She needs to move her things out quickly as the landlord is looking to rebuild. I'm try to gather a work crew, but in the meantime, after church was finished, we changed into work gear, rolled up our sleeves, took our large van over and got busy.

The apartment was on the third floor. The only access was a winding staircase leading from the basement to the third floor. We "Stairmastered" for hours. I expected to feel crippled up today (lack of regular exercise and all ... or so I thought). Instead I felt limber, the feeling I remembered and welcomed after a good workout.

Not long ago, I discovered I'd actually lost weight on my job (there's a lot of walking involved in ministry). Returning to the gym I discovered I was not short of breath on the machines. Several of them I was better on than I had been last time I'd been there. Some equipment I had to dial back the weight as I had indeed lost muscle mass in my chest and back and arms. Sure, that was to be expected. The rest was not. It was a great workout and a return to old friends. It was a joy.

I'll be back again. I'll try to work in a regular routine as I hope to be in ministry for many years to come and I want to be able to help others as best I can. That means getting this particular aging temple of God repaired and in proper working order once again.

So, back to the gym, back to knocking off the rust, and back a little wiser. I learned an important lesson. It's a journey, this fitness thing. It is not one and done. It is not a situation that if circumstances work against regular workouts you have failed. No, it is an ongoing process and you can pick it up again. Your body will remember what you had done and will fall back into the routine with a lot less grumbling than you might imagine. You'll find joy in that ... and a lot of satisfaction. Just don't let the old ego get in the way. Accept the fact that you're going to have to do shorter routines with less weight than you were doing when you left. Those muscles don't go on pause and maintain while you were away from the gym (home or public gym). You don't have anything to prove to anyone. Don't delay exercise further by hurting yourself the first time back with overexertion.

Enjoy the journey. Maybe I'll see you at the gym.

If you want to catch up with my last post (lamenting lack of ability to keep up a routine, ironically), see:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Aging Beagle Transformed

Daisy celebrating New Years Day ...
I watched a transformation this morning that was impressive. It was 6 a.m. and I let our now fed beagle Daisy out the back door. I knew something was different immediately. Instead of slowly trotting out into the grass, her ears perked up, her eyes locked, her body lowered and she began to move forward with a sinewy grace I would not have thought possible for a 15-year-old dog. This transformation was caused by a young and foolish rabbit in the middle of the yard. I clapped and yelled (I had to do it twice, I don't hold a lot of hope for that bunny's future) to change the scenario's outcome. Daisy has dispatched two bunnies who disrespected her hunting skills over the years and I didn't want to see a third. With the rabbit gone, Daisy stood up straighter and gave me a reproachful glare before getting down to business.

Please do not think your dog "mean" if it goes after and kills a small prey animal like a rabbit. In our case, the beagle was bred for the hunt. Also, instinct kicks in when faced with such an opportunity. Some dogs listen to that instinct more closely when it calls than others. Our previous dog, a German Shepherd mix had an agreement with the local rabbits. She would pretend to chase them and they would pretend to run away. It was an amiable agreement. Daisy, however, sees things differently. 

Abandon Mean "Memes"

I am growing increasingly disturbed with "memes." So many of those pithy pictures and quotes are designed to divide people. So many memes essentially say, if you do not agree with me, you are subhuman. Making people into subhuman "others" is the first step toward violence against them. Before sending another hateful meme, we should all pause and ask ourselves, "Who do I know who is being unfairly tarred by the gross generalization here?"

Let's all do what we can to stem the tide of divisive hatred leading to violence.


Monday, August 24, 2015

50 Years of Mars Exploration -- And 1500 Posts!

I have covered a lot of the accomplishments of NASA, both human and robotic spaceflight and exploration, and I'm using this 50 year retrospective of our exploration of Mars to celebrate my fifth year with this blog and its 1500th post. I find it staggering to know that all of this exploration has happened within my lifetime. The science books are continuing to be rewritten by what is being learned by the dedicated men and women running these amazing robots. I have to say, Curiosity, the last rover landed had the greatest, most science fiction style landing mechanism ever. Looking forward to what the next few decades will bring.

Thanks to all of those who have been reading and viewing these posts in the last few years. Your interest and your visits make this happen. We've also passed the 150,000 page view mark. Thanks again.

Ten Alternate Ghostbusters Reboots -- Humor Courtesy of Glove and Boots

Brilliant, just brilliant. From the geniuses at Glove and Boots!

Could someone who knows Glove and Boots give me a Meh in the reactions, for Gorilla? 

Stone Age Chimps? Uh oh!

A recent article seen on Facebook courtesy of the British press harkens back to a 2007 article I found in stating that chimps have been using stone tools since prehistoric times. It's been a long time since I had my course on Biocultural Evolutionary Theory, but I wonder how one tells the difference between the early stone tools of our ancestors after the division between humans and primates and from possibly competing chimp tool users?

Still, that is not my chief concern. It seems chimps have been cracking nuts with stones since before we humans had agriculture. These tools go back to roughly 4300 years ago, corresponding to our late Stone Age. The sentence I found most extraordinary in the "Chimps use tools as early as the Stone Age: a study" in was "Julio Mercader, Christophe Boesch and colleagues found the stones at the Noulo site in Cote d'Ivoire, the only known prehistoric chimpanzee settlement." I have never seen that phrase before.

From the British press article relayed on Facebook, there was a very disturbing sentiment expressed at the end of the article. It was suggested that with this ongoing tool using behavior, our chimp relations are far more human than we have thought and we should treat them more like us.

My response: Run chimps, run! People want to treat you like humans!!!

As a damaged robot told Detective Del Spooner in iRobot ... "Run!!!"

The chimp response should be that of Caesar in the remake of Planet of the Apes: "No! Nooooo!!!"

Gather your tools and take to the hills, before we get you chimps mired in the upcoming presidential election mania. You deserve better than that!*

*Yes, I'm fully aware chimpanzees have been mistreated in animal experimentation and for our entertainment and this must stop. But, my knee jerk reaction was humor ... and intrigue. We'll get serious another time. And, if we humans don't get our act together, our tool making relatives just might inherit the planet after all.  

Observations at a Zoo

By 2 pm most of the denizens of the zoo were up from their
sensible naps.
Visiting family on vacation in Ohio, we ventured off to the Columbus Zoo. I won't bore you with all the different animals, issues of how they were kept (pro or con), blah, blah, blah. Here's what I noted that I found of interest.

We arrived at a little before noon. Most of the sensible animals were down for naps in the Midwest, midday heat. Up and about were we humans ... and the primates. What does that say about us? Mad dogs and Englishmen out in the noonday sun? Perhaps.

I wish I could relax like Red Pandas, hanging limp as dishrags from high up in trees.

There was one diva among the flying foxes, spreading wings for all to see and admire, turning this way and that, while the rest tried to sleep on and ignore their preening neighbor.

Now, I know that these are hard times financially for many people and organizations. Zoos need sponsors. But, I have to say, I did a double take at the Bob Evans petting zoo. Does that seem like a conflict of interest to anybody else???

Really? Petting zoo sponsored by a restaurant chain?

Nook Dictionary and Prolegomenon

I learned something new today about the mechanics of my Nook reader while exploring Dr. Craig Keener's book, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. I came across the word prolegomenon in the Introduction. Usually I'm pretty good at figuring out words in context, but this one had me stumped. I placed my finger over the word to highlight it so I could see a definition from online. Nook asked me if I'd like to download the dictionary. I did. That was a pleasant surprise for me. The second surprise was that prolegomenon is defined as prefatory remarks: a formal essay or critical discussion serving to introduce and interpret an extended work. This is a two volume set. These are prefatory remarks?! Phew, Dr. Keener!

There's also a nifty bit of dry humor about "intelligent design" and the book, also in the Introduction. 

Learning something new every day.

For more on the book, see:

Fat Bike Sighting: A First For Me. The Five Minute Response

I was in a department store the other day looking for who knows what when I saw it. A "fattie" ... that is a "fat bike" although I did not know it then. All I saw was a mountain bike with humongous tires. I stopped dead in my tracks. What the ... isn't that a lot of work??? I ride a completely outdated 12 speed with curled handle bars and really skinny tires. Those tires allow me to coast forever on roads ... but there is no going off trail with them ever. These huge tires look like you'd be peddling constantly to keep them moving.

So I looked them up, curiosity raised. They've been around for a few years now, these "fatties" and are now filtering down into the mainstream where us bicycle trend clueless people live. These tires are good for your butt over long distances as they are cushy in their girth. They also go like gangbusters in snow and sand (who knew?). Apparently, they shouldn't replace your regular bike according to one expert I read ... but they are a lot of fun to have in the stable.

Gotta say, on second glance, they do look like fun.

And that's the five minute response.

For more, see the people for bikes blog article:

Curiosity and Awe Essential

I find it endlessly aggravating and confounding when I confront those black and white people of the world who never see wonder, never puzzle about what is over the next hill or under the sea or in the depths of space, but insist on placing all our energies on only the dullest or angriest of ventures. Joseph Campbell, scholar of myths, felt the same way. He wrote:
There remain among us many still who are unmoved by what Goethe called "the best part of man [humanity]." These (the uncurious and unawed in the face of the unknown) remain, even now, in the condition of those prehuman apes who are concerned only with economics, sociology, and politics, hurling bricks at each other and licking their own wounds.
Me, I prefer to be evolved enough to have wonder, to believe in that beyond which can be seen and measured, and to take joy in this amazing universe in which we live. I will not wait around patiently for these folks to evolve. I'll be looking over the next hill, peering under the next rock, peeking through telescopes and microscopes, and doing what I can to help those who become collateral damage in the brick throwing exercises.

Hope to see you there!

See anything wrong with this view from the ISS? Just curious.
Courtesy of NASA

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Speaking Truthfully: Good News From Christianity

It is fascinating how God brings the messages we need, when they are needed ... and we are able to hear them. Such has been the case for me over the past few days. I have been appalled with all the terrible misbehavior of our politicians and pundits, making gross generalizations about groups of people, turning them from humans into "the other," those less than human things upon which we may heap violence or make war. I am horrified by the violence in the streets, especially the racially motivated hate crimes and murders, sadly including horrid cases committed by those we have entrusted to serve and protect.

My faith, I'm an American Baptist by the way, tells me I must speak up. I must find ways to add my voice and my beliefs in the ways of the Prince of Peace, along with my actions for peace, into this bubbling fray. I was pushed today during a visit to a local church (thriving and filled with powerful outreach programs) by the sermon. The minister told his congregants to stand up for what is right, for what the Bible tells us is truth, even if those around us do not like what we have to say. It was a useful message. Unfortunately, it took a very conservative turn that was quite harsh. Considering he was using an Old Testament passage as his text, it was also confusing when he implied a Jew was at risk of hell. Jesus was wise to claim the right to judge for himself and not to leave the judgment of people's immortal fate to human beings, I found myself thinking. About half way through the sermon, my wife took one of my hands to stop me from drumming my fingers in rising irritation. (Truth!)

That reminded me of the quote from Matthew Fox, an American Episcopal priest and theologian, and what he had to say about how we view, and act upon, our faith. Fox wrote:
There are two Christianities in our midst. One worships a Punitive Father and teaches the doctrine of Original Sin. It is patriarchal in nature, links readily to fascist powers of control, and demonizes women, the earth, other species, science, and gays and lesbians. It builds on fear and supports empire building. The other Christianity recognizes the Original Blessing from which all being derives. It recognizes awe, rather than sin and guilt, as the starting point of true religion.* 
Give me awe every time ... like these galaxies.

I will forever and always be on the side of awe and blessing. I think the assessment of conservative Christianity may be a bit harsh, but it has its place. But truth telling must be tempered. Truth cannot be used as a weapon of spiritual destruction. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians (knowing full well there are some humans who like nothing better than to employ cruelty under the facade of telling the truth out of "love for someone and for their own good" with a wicked gleam in their eye). Paul wrote, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” So, I will be speaking out and acting for justice, arguing against gross generalizations that demonize others, and working hard to present my faith to anyone interested--a faith that speaks of blessings, revels in the awe of God's love and creation, and works hard to uplift humanity and be good stewards of all creation. I'll be mindful of Paul's warning to make sure my truth-telling lifts up and builds strong community and does not tear down. When truth needs to be spoken to power, it will ... to build.

Have a blessed and truthful day.

For more on what Matthew Fox had to say, see: It is a provocative message, truth be told.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Beauty Where You Are

J.S. Brooks Presents has been on a short vacation with family, visiting family in Indiana and Ohio. It was a wonderful, spirit restoring trip that allowed us to reconnect with family we haven't seen in three years.

On the way, by car, I was inspired by the beauty of the world around us, even as seen from the highway (not known for going along the most scenic routes in most cases). If you pay attention, wherever you are, you can find beauty around you (yes, with some predictable exceptions, mostly inflicted upon the natural world by humankind ... I'm not entirely a Pollyanna here). This landscape photo speaks to me of the Midwest. Miles of crops, trees providing wind breaks along waterways, human habitations appearing small in the midst of it all, with everything crowned by endless sky. Go for a walk or a drive today and take a look for yourself. Be willing to take the time to really notice. Of course, you may have to leave your electronic devices behind to really see the world around you ... just for a little while. It wont hurt, I promise.

More on the adventure to come. Hope you all had a wonderful summer as well.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Job Opportunity for an Organist at Lansdowne Baptist Church

Lansdowne Baptist Church of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, is currently seeking a part-time organist to play on the first and last Sundays of the month. They have a beautiful 1960s era Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ waiting for you if you can play hymns.

For all the details, see:

EPIC View of Moon Transiting the Earth

To see that graceful transit of the Earth by the Moon from one million miles out is a treat thanks to one of NASA's newest observatories. Sorry, no secret bases on the far side of the moon ... not unless they have cloaking devices. Hmmm ...

Images of Earth that Changed Us

On December 24, 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 took this famous "earth-rise" picture from lunar orbit. Seeing our planet and all life upon it in contrast to the lonely, lifeless surface of the moon forever changed the way we viewed ourselves and our world.

In September 1996, Voyager rotated back to snap an image of Earth from 4 billion miles out. Our world and everyone on it was captured as the famous "Pale Blue Dot" as astronomer Carl Sagan called it. A tiny mote captured in a sunbeam. That was us. Again, our image changed. 
The Dark Side and the Bright SideNow, on July 16, 2015, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, one million miles from home, gives us Earth and the dark side of the moon together for the first time. It is a beautiful view we have not seen before and we are lucky to live in a time where we now get such a striking view of Earth and her constant companion.

Each view gives us a new perspective on our world, on life itself, on the fragility of this creation, and its stunning beauty.

For the video of the Moon passing in front of the Earth, see:

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Congressional Stupidity Regarding Commercial Space Flight

NPR reports today that Congress is cutting funding for the Commerical Space Flight program, hobbling if not crippling the efforts of Boeing and SpaceX to complete their manned vehicles, allowing the U.S. to return our astronauts to space without reliance on Russian rockets. This is short-sighted stupidity. Then again, I am not surprised since the "most intelligent" thing politicians seem to be able to say these days when confronted by any scientific information is "I'm not a scientist." Maybe not, but you can talk to scientists. Some of them are really good at using small words even YOU will understand.

That argument doesn't work. You create laws concerning many fields of which you are not a member. And if the recent SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket failure is on your mind, please try to learn from a historian (yes, I know, you're not historians either) that rocketry is hard. Rockets blow up sometimes. When they do, smart organizations learn from those failures and move on, building better rockets from what they learn. Yes, they investigate, take notes, make determinations (intelligent determinations) based on evidence, improve and move on. It takes cooperation, compromise, and flexibility of mind ... something you pols on all levels are just about incapable of accomplishing since you are focused on what you are NOT and not what you are, also focused on the moneybags you serve rather than your actual constituency.

This is all extremely frustrating. A robust space program helps the economy (all the money invested is spent here on earth, all the jobs are created here on earth) and drives innovation. Let me put this in simple terms, support our space programs (manned and unmanned) and you'll get a better shiny new Apple iPhone in years to come.

That is the five minute snarling response.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Reality Checks for Me

Two recent events have taken me out of myself and helped me to see life more clearly. They have been reality checks, little reminders of what life really is.

In the first, I have started leaving small invitations on people's doorknobs in our church's community, inviting people to join us, to celebrate with us, really. Before I started out on these trips, I had imagined all sorts of dire consequences. In reality, the people I have met have been friendly and pleasant. Not once have I had a confrontation with anyone and the gregarious self within me has risen up and come to enjoy this process. I went out at first with fear and now I head out with a far more hopeful heart. I realize much of my fear was generated by social media. The various sources tend to focus negative commentary and angry rhetoric. Before long, you can start to see the world through that angry lens and expect others you meet to be as reactive and hostile as the folks online. Most people are not. It has been a blessing to be reminded of this simple truth.

The second event was far more somber. A college friend I have become reacquainted with via Facebook (yes, social media does have it's cheery advantages as well) posted an obituary for a friend we both knew from those earlier days. It is sobering to see an old friend your own age has died. It takes you right out of life's petty irritations and the endless arguments over whatever hot button issue is being peddled today. I am praying for the family and friends of our college friend of years-gone-by and fondly remembering him and the antics we got up to together back in the day.

For a little more about those college days and the friends I hung out with, see:

Wishing you all positive reminders that life is sweet and we should make to most of it. Be a blessing to someone today and reconnect if you can with those friends of years past. Touch base with them again, instead of discovering their obituary.


For a different sort of reality check as the madness of the political season gears up, see: Written in 2010, sadly, this piece is still entirely practical.