Friday, December 30, 2005

The PBB 2005 Reading List

[Remember, we're still taking Slackie nominations--but time's running out!]

Another year draws to a close. Here's what we here at PBB have been reading. Listed below are the date the book was finished, name, author, and length. After that, some analysis and the top-five recommended titles. Here we go.


January 9--Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis (227)
January 18--She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb (465)
January 25--About a Boy, by Nick Hornby (306)
February 13--Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathon Safran Foer (276)
February 18--Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller (242)
February 21--Falling in Love for All the Right Reasons, by Dr. N.C. Warren (232)
March 11--Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathon Lethem (311)
March 20--A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis (151)
March 29--Neuromancer, by William Gibson (271)
April 22--A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving (616)
April 28--Still Life with Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins (277)
May 5--Sixpence House, by Paul Collins (216)
May 19--Monster, by Frank Peretti (429)
May 24--A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (216)
June 19--The Friendly Dickens, by Norrie Epstein (405)
July 2--Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (247)
July 12--The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis (767)
July 28--What's So Amazing about Grace, by Phillip Yancey (288)
July 30--Cubs Nation, by Gene Wojciechowski (417)
September 8--Get a Date Worth Keeping, by Dr. Henry Cloud (235)
September 12--The Moviegoer, by Walter Perry (243)
September 23--The Jesus I Never Knew, by Phillip Yancey (275)
September 28--Searching for God Knows What, by Don Miller (239)
November 5--When God Writes your Love Story, by Eric Ludy (250)
November 17--The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (936)
November 23--Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott (237)
[unfinished--Anointed to be God's Servants, by Henry Blackaby (about 100)]
December 7--Passion and Purity, by Elizabeth Elliot (188)
December 14--Boy Meets Girl, by Josh Harris (228)

[Currently reading (but not counting): Disciplines of a Godly Man, by Kent Hughes; and Cash, by Johnny Cash. So far, i'm a combined 350-400 pages in those.]

Total Books Finished: 28 (same as last year)

Total Pages of completed books for 2005: 9432 (not counting unfinished books). That's about a thousand less than last year. Like I said then, you gotta make time. Or read longer books.

Average Length: 337 pages
Average Length Not Counting "Karamazov" or "Narnia": 297

Most Read Author: C. S. Lewis. Even if you count the Chronicles as a single book (which I did), I have three of his. Runners-up: Don Miller and Phillip Yancey, each with two.

Most Popular Topic: Dating, apparently. I didn't realize exactly how many such books I read (5). Well, hopefully, I'm better informed, better prepared, and more circumspect. (That sounds so much better than "desperate," doesn't it!)

Most Disappointing Read: "She's Come Undone." Not only was it not a particularly great book, but it was just dreary and depressing. The protagonist was tiresome, and I kept waiting for her to "snap out of it" as Cher would say--but she never did. Why anyone recommends this book, I'll never know. So yeah, thanks, boss. Good call--jerk.

Most Unexpectedly Enjoyable Read: "Sixpence House" and "The Friendly Dickens" were both a lot more enjoyable than I expected, but the winner here is "Motherless Brooklyn." Just an excellent novel. Well-written, well-characterized, fast-paced, and interesting. You really get a sense of the frustration the protagonist has, living with Tourette's. Great crime story (not even a genre I usually enjoy, either).

Top Five Recommendations from the 2005 PBB Reading List:

5) Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathon Lethem
For all the reason stated above. It's just a well-executed novel.

4) The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Such a beautiful, rich, full story about law and grace, about the human heart, about love and jealousy and revenge. Alexi/Alyosha is my hero, in many ways, though I often can relate more to Mitya. Wonderful novel.

3) A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
A gorgeous, gut-wrenching, funny story. The ending of the book made me choke up a little. Such a great story.

2) Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Deserving of every honor and prize it's awarded, including the Pulitzer it rightly received. An wonderful story, it's the diary of an aging midwestern minister, recounting his life to the seven-year-old son who will surely lose his father before he becomes an adult. This book is full of hope and faith and sadness. Short, but so powerful.

1) Anything by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters--it seems like everything he wrote was just awesome. Find his work and read it.


That's all I got. Have a great New Year's celebration. Be safe. If you partake in adult beverages, don't drive afterward. Peace and grace to you all.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Soundtrack to 2005: "Out of the Desert and Into the Sun"

Here we go. Songs that I've loved, songs that have meaning. Stuff I dug this year.


"Chelsea" by Counting Crows
I never had light in my eyes anyway/Maybe things are different these days...
My favorite song from "Across a Wire." I love the beginning, the horns. The song is sad and tired and resigned. The way I feel sometimes.

"Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" by Jack Johnson
I can't always be playing, playing your fool...
I like Jack Johnson a lot, and this single from "In Between Dreams" is a catchy tune. I also like the second verse: "I sang your songs, I danced your dance/I gave your friends all a chance/Putting up with them wasn't worth never having you." Awesome. The words of a man who wants to know where he stands.

"Landed" by Ben Folds
I've been on some other planet/Come pick me up, I've landed...
Ben's second solo album was kind of a mixed bag for me, for reasons I've already mentioned. But I loved this single from the moment I heard it. And the story of a man coming out of the fog of a bad relationship is one I can appreciate. Great tune, great lyrics, and like the best of Ben's work, it makes me mash my fingers on my desk in mock-piano playing during the chorus.

"Last Episode Heartache" by Me
And the same dark fate that pulled at Luke now pulls his dad, and it draws him in/Last Episode Heartache...
I was rather proud of this parody, so I'm including it here. I think it's almost as good as my "fake emo song" from last year.

"I Will Not Take These Things For Granted" by Toad the Wet Sprocket
And if I'm lonely here, I'm lonely here/On the telephone, you offer reassurance...
I'm pretty sure I bought TTWS's "Fear" album this year. Though "Walk on the Ocean" and "All I Want" are my favorite tracks, this one has become more meaningful to me. There are so many things in life that we let pass by unnoticed because we are so busy wanting something we can't or shouldn't have. It's such a waste. We need to be more grateful for the simple joy of being alive.

"By My Side" by INXS
In the dark of night, those faces they haunt me/And I wish you were so close to me...
I admit it freely: the clever idea worked. Thanks to the TV show "Rockstar:INXS," I became a fan of their music. This song is my favorite (followed by "Mystify" and "Never Tear Us Apart"). And I still think Marty Casey was ROBBED.

"A Million Pieces" by Newsboys
Why you holdin' grudges in old jars? Why you wanna show off all your scars?
This song is so reassuring for me. Whenever I feel myself get burdened by stuff in my life, whenever I get distressed, it's likely that at some point, I'll put this song on, close my eyes, and just breathe in and out. Such a relief in this truth. Just lay the burden down.

"Undefeated" by Audio Adrenaline
Like a band of gypsies we go rollin down the highway...
The whole album, "Until My Heart Caves In," is just great. But this song is my favorite from it.

"On Your Porch" by The Format
what's left to lose, you've done enough/and if you fail well then you fail but not to us...
I've mentioned this one recently. It means a lot to me for a lot of reasons, the most important of which is, it's a sad-sounding song about hope. That alone, I can relate to. I sound sad often, but I'm more hopeful than I let on.

"It'll All Work Out" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
It'll all work out eventually/Better off with him than here with me
One of so many great songs on the "Elizabethtown" soundtrack. Great Tom Petty track.

"Hard Times" by eastmountainsouth
Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears/while we all sup sorrow with the poor...
Another beautiful track from the soundtrack. I find that my musical tastes are shifting this way. Very old-timey.

"Jackson" by Johnny and June Cash
We got married in a fever/hotter than a pepper sprout...
I love the interplay between Johnny and June in this song. There's so much joy here. And it's a fun, bouncy tune. I fell in love with Cash's music this year.

"Hell Yes" by Beck
Now i'm cleaning the floor/my beat is correct
Another fun song. I love that it's Christina Ricci in the background saying "please enjoy." Hopefully, Beck's alleged Scientology interests won't funk up his music, cuz i'm diggin this.

"Colorful" by The Verve Pipe
You are more beautiful when you awake/Than most are in a lifetime
This song is from the "Rock Star" soundtrack (yes, the film with Mark Wahlberg). It's from the end of the movie when he cut his hair and started playing early-90's singer-songwriter rock at coffee houses. I know, it's cheesy and goofy, but I like the song. So there.

"Square One" by Coldplay
From the start in your own way, you just want/Somebody listening to what you say
I know, I know. Try to stifle your Coldplay-gag-reflex. The whole album is gobbledy-goop lyrically, but every once in a while, Chris Martin strings together a few lines that make sense. One such instance is the line quoted above. My favorite song on a halfway decent album.

"Chicago" by Sufjan Stevens
you came to take us (all things go, all things go)/to recreate us (all things grow, all things grow)
How was I not on the Sufjan wagon sooner? Why didn't I listen to you people? "Illinoise" is a great album, and this song is one of my favorites from it. When I first heard the song online, I was convinced about halfway through that I needed to buy the album as soon as possible. Money well spent. Looking forward to the other 48 states.

"Mushaboom" by Feist
And we'll collect the moments one by one/I guess that's how the future's done
I defy you to not like this song. DEFY. It will get stuck in your head, and you'll spend the rest of the day bopping around to it's beat. You'll even catch yourself saying "mushaboom, mushaboom" under your breath. No, I don't know what it means either, and I don't care. I love her voice.

"Change" by Tracy Chapman
If you knew that you would die today/If you saw the face of God and love/Would you change?
I heard this song several months ago, and it stuck with me. Tracy Chapman is one of those artists that never seems to really be wildly popular, but her material is always good. I loved "Fast Car," I really liked "Gimme One Reason," and I really like "Change."

Slackie Nominations are Open

Here are the Categories thusfar:

  • Movie of the Year
  • Album of the Year
  • Book of the Year
  • TV Show of the Year (returning)
  • TV Show of the Year (new)
  • Worst Movie Remake of the Year
  • Underrated Artistic Endeavour of the Year (any medium)
  • Overrated Artistic Endeavour of the Year (any medium)
  • News Event of the Year (serious)
  • News Event of the Year (ludicrous)
  • Sports Story/Athlete of the Year
  • Government Screw-up of the Year
  • Ice Cream Topping of the Year
  • Beverage of the Year (adult)
  • Beverage of the Year (non-adult)
  • Board Game of the Year
  • Burrito of the Year
  • City of the Year (American)
  • City of the Year (International)
  • Post-It Color of the Year
  • Buffoon of the Year (any arena)
  • Bogus Celebrity of the Year (new)
  • Bogus Celebrity of the Year (lingering)
  • Blog of the Year

Nominations will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on January 1. Feel free to give several per category. Ballot will be compiled and posted by next Tuesday.

Drop your noms and any more category ideas in the comments.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On Writing and Feedback

Be more personal, she says.

Okay. I can do that.


I just slogged through a friend's blogroll in the hopes of finding news of old college chums. That was a wasted twenty minutes.

When I websurf, there are some links that I have gone to so many times that it becomes habit. I'll think, "I've already looked at this," scroll down the list, and click the exact same link, out of habit. Sometimes I do this two or three times in a row.

There are other links I try very hard not to chase down. Some buttons require an act of will to avoid. It's better that way.


I'm writing again, a little. That's very exciting. To me.

I've read many times in many books that writing is a lonely business, and not for those who feed on feedback. I would chuckle, shake my head. It's true, though. Unlike blogging, "real" writing occurs in a silent, airless void, emotionally.

For one thing, I don't feel like I have the support of my loved ones. They have said they support me, of course. And I have no doubt of their love, of course. But I don't believe that they believe I will actually accomplish what I've set out to do.

My family is much too realistic to have faith in my writing abilities.

I showed my father a short story of mine once. This was in high school, back when my creative writing skills had yet to advance from "atrocious" to "mediocre" (a blessed transformation that occured sometime during college, between the late-written term papers and late-night makeout sessions). I handed my father the short story--very short, two pages--which he dutifully read, as I stood and watched.

At the end, he handed it back to me, brow furrowed. "That's kind of depressing, isn't it?" I shrugged. "I guess."

I went back to my room, a little ashamed. Of course it was depressing. It was a first-person, present-tense, sensory account of a first-century Christian martyr being led to the chopping block. The title itself said, "Martyr." Yes, "depressing" would be one way to describe it.

I don't think I've showed him anything I've written since.

I remember times in the last few years, when my dad has said, "Man, you need to get on that writing thing." But I think, in those times, that was really coming from more of a financial/vocational standpoint. He has had nothing but miserable jobs throughout his adult life, and his hope is that I find a job I'm happy with and can pay the bills doing. You could replace "writing" with "veterinary" or "accounting" and it would have meant the same. I don't think it's that he's convinced of my "talent," because he doesn't really read my stuff. He just supports me as his son. I'm very grateful for that.

I showed some poetry to my mother once. It had won "honorable mention" in a intramural contest at college and was published in a yearly collection. After reading it, she smiled, and said it was "nice."

Mom's not a reader. Not at all. She's a pragmatist. I guess expecting her to geek out about it is as fair as one of my computer-intensive friends showing me a new batch of code he'd just created. All I could say is, "nice," because it wouldn't mean as much to me as it would to them.

[I feel like I should be rewriting all this, showing my parents in a better light. They're incredible people, kind and caring and cool, and I would not trade them for anyone, anywhere, anytime. But it's like, they don't "get" this part of who I am. And I don't know how to explain it better than I am doing right now.]

My parents "believe in me" the way all well-enough-adjusted parents "believe" in their kids. They want the best for me, they believe that I believe, but they aren't convinced, I think. Not much more than the parent of a ten-year-old with a easel and brush who calls himself an "artist."

I'm pretty sure they would vehemently disagree, if they read this. Probably get upset that I characterized them so. (They're wonderful people, sweet and loving, I hope you believe me.) But over the years, their support of my creative work has always been abstracted. When I talked about wanting to write full-time in the future, they would nod their heads and say nothing. Then we'd talk about more practical things, like paying the bills.

I think their support has never shifted from "their son" to "their son's work." And that bugs me, because it makes it easier to second-guess myself.


That second-guessing occurs, despite the praise of my friends, too. I love you all dearly, and appreciate your kind words, but forgive me if I don't believe it fully. Even you faceless cyber-friends are not impartial. I think I'm waiting to receive some kind of praise from someone who doesn't especially like me. Maybe then, I'll believe it.


I don't know. The biggest struggle for me as a writer, outside of the time discipline, is believing that this is not a colossal waste of time. I'm a farmer who doesn't trust my own seed will bear fruit. This makes the hard months of planting and weeding and watering seem long and empty.

I read about some writers writing because they were "compelled" by some inner force to do so. I wouldn't describe myself as compelled. Frankly, it's easy for me to be distracted. There is always a TV show or movie or video game or book waiting to steal my free time and attention. Writing is work for me right now, work that I want to do, work that I'm trying to stay committed to doing. But work, nevertheless.

I don't write because I'm compelled by unseen creative forces. I write because I've committed to this dream I had years ago of being a writer. It was a dream I've had ever since my sixth grade teacher praised a silly page-long story I wrote about Russian spies, using our weekly vocabulary words. I've wanted to tell stories ever since. Despite various ideas and passing notions of what to do with my life, this love of story has remained.

To put it another way, I think for some writers, writing is a passionate love affair, burning hot and lively. For me, writing has become a longish marriage, of sorts. I excitedly fumbled around with it at the beginning, made mistakes, got distracted, and then, for a season, neglected it, not giving it the attention it deserved. Now, years later, I want to make it central to my life again, because of our history together, me and writing. And because I owe it my best effort. It's worth that much. And deep down, I still love it.

The last question, after all this time, is: Does it love me back?

Prayer Request

For those of you who are so inclined:

I have a friend from church named Nick, whose mom is right now undergoing surgery to remove a mass from her abdomen. She will be on antibiotics for a while, and recovery may be tricky. Please keep her in prayer, for a safe surgery and speedy recovery. Please also lift up her family.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Film Review: Syriana

[Maybe not a "review" in the traditional sense. I'll briefly address the plot (good luck, Dave) and then make some observations.]

First, the story: Hard to explain. The short version is that it is about the interplay between the oil and gas industry and the political structures and changes in the Middle East, and how the U.S.'s involvement in that process could effect both positive and negative change. However, to sum it up so succinctly (believe me, that really is the short version) loses so much in the translation. It's also about how outside perspectives can be false, and how actions have ripple effects. It's about a lot of things. It has been compared to Traffic, a brilliant film with the same writer (who directs this film). Stylistically, there certainly are similarities, in terms of how the story is presented. All in all, this is a movie that requires you to chew on it for some time afterward. But this extra effort is rewarding.

Now, my thoughts:

[Needless to say, consider the rest of this post to be under MAJOR SPOILER WARNING until the red text at the end.]

--I thought the acting was outstanding across the board. Really great performances, even by the few actors given card-board cut-out characters (poor Tim Blake Nelson). I was convinced that each of these characters (though, admittedly, some more than others) were real people, instead of characterizations. I enjoyed George Clooney's befuddled and increasingly desparate ex-CIA operative, especially when the walls started closing in around him. I loved Matt Damon's heartfelt portrayal of the energy analyst who invests himself in a dream of democracy that's cut short. I liked Jeffrey Wright's lawyer, who always seemed to evade me when I tried to pin down which 'side' he was really on. Good work on all accounts.

--I appreciated how deftly the filmmaker handled Damon's son's death. (I won't be able to remember character names often, so i'll use actors' names when needed. Just so you know.) The turning on of the lights. The shot of the broken bulb and exposed wiring. The kids by the pool, about to jump in. And then the lights flickering elsewhere. Really well-conceived series of shots. I don't know if that little light could create enough of a current through the water to electrocute the boy (at least enough for him to drown). But I bought it completely, as I sat there.

--There were only a few clear "villains" in this movie. TBN's oil tycoon is one. I'd classify the CIA guy who called for the airstrike as another. Maybe a few more of the oil people, but they were played as buffoons, rather than evil and conniving. Sadly, the jihadist suicide bombers were not played as clear villains either, though their "teacher" certainly was menacing to me, in that overly kind, spider-to-the-fly way.

--I'll agree with one reviewer that, in retrospect, I was a little uneasy with how benign the terrorist group Hezbollah was portrayed. As one blogger put it, remember that in terms of terrorist groups, they have killed the second-highest number of American citizens (after Al-Quaida). So for the leader of this group to be the "kindly old man" that Clooney goes to see, it didn't get through during the movie, but it bugged me afterward.

--The nail-pulling scene was just tough to sit through. Poor Bob. Dude turned his back on Bob like a cold-blooded gangsta.

--On a related note, I will say that they showed two different portrayals of "true believers," though the benign jihadists were more sympathetically portrayed than Bob's turncoat contact who announced he was going to "cut his head off." It was like the film couldn't decide if they were "bad" or not.

--There's a political undercurrent in this movie that's hard to pin down. Many conservatives have reacted to it negatively, saying it's anti-business and anti-Administration. I think this is a somewhat glaring overstatement, but I understand where it's coming from. Conservatives have been conditioned over the years (by the words and actions of both sides) to be distrustful of any piece of art that is overtly political, because overwhelmingly, it is anti-conservative.

However, this film goes beyond party lines a little bit, I think. Granted, it is steeped in the mistrust of the CIA that is most often found in the Left. But there's so much more to it than that. Clear and Present Danger had nefarious CIA operatives, but no one would call that a "liberal movie." Syriana has a lot to do with how we look at other governments, and how the choices we (as a foreign power) make can affect these other governments. It asks questions about whether our foreign policy choices are based more on the interest of our economy or democracy in general.

(Side-note: I would like to point out that, in this film, Big Oil was actually "opposed" to a democratic regime, and preferred a monarchy that was well in-pocket. The thing about sovereign democracies is, not only can the people elect whom they will, but they can do business with whom they will. So, if a Western leader wanted to wage a "war for oil" [hypothetically speaking, of course], would he or she want to install a sovereign constitutional democracy or a monarchy ruled by a crony? Hmm. Food for thought, that.)

--As I said, the film doesn't portray the suicide bomber in a negative light. In fact, he is almost a sympathetic character, though this isn't explicitly stated. I disagree with and reject this thought completely. However, his storyline brings up an interesting question. He was working for an oil company when a merger resulted in massive lay-offs, him included. Left with no job and no future, he was suckered into a cloistered cult-like group of jihadists who wore white and spoke of purity and devotion. In this group, he was given a sense of meaning. He was so desparate for honor and purpose that he was willing to do anything, and he did just that. So the question that his story raises is: shouldn't we consider more carefully the repercussions of our actions? The "evil" corporate giants see financial gain in a merger that leaves thousands without work. Some of these find purpose by joining suicide bombers.

I'm not in any way assigning blame, though. Don't get too excited. Each person is responsible for their own actions. The oil company is to blame for the lay-offs. The boy himself is to blame for his terrorist actions. I'm not about to go anywhere near that other line of reasoning. What I'm simply saying is that we should look a little farther down the line from our bottom line to try to see what our choices could mean to people in other countries. There's nothing wrong with a little more consideration. That's not a Liberal value; that's a human value.

--The two brothers in the (Iranian?) royal family. From the outside, the CIA saw an older brother rightfully ascending the throne, and a younger brother attempting a military coup. From the inside, from Damon's character's perspective, we see an older brother willing to pursue the safety of status quo government, versus the younger, well-educated brother wanting to pursue actual democracy, restored infrastructure, and gender equality. Now, in the film, the younger brother is killed by a CIA airstrike, because the CIA is in bed with Big Oil, who wants to do business with the older brother. While this seems a little too pat, it brings up an interesting issue: is it possible that some of our choices about how we address regimes in the Middle East have more to do with maintaining status quo and good business, rather than the best interests of our country and theirs? (Ahem, Saudi Arabia.)

[Second-side note: Which is better for US economically? Spending incredibly large amounts of money overthrowing a despotic regime and replacing it with a democracy that could still turn against us? Or lifting sanctions against a tyrannical ruler so that we can do business with him? Hmm again.]

These and other questions make this film worth viewing. Of course, the fact that I'm raising these questions would make me a "liberal" in my parents' house, but clearly I'm still very "right of center." I refuse to demonize "Big Oil" or the government across-the-board, but I will admit that there are problems, and there are people who refuse to address these problems.

But as I said before, asking questions is not a party-issue. It's a critical-thought and being-well-informed issue. The problem lies when you force the answers to your questions to be filtered through your preconceived notions about what the truth is. When you refuse to admit that the political or media figure you've demonized may not be the boogie-man you've made him or her out to be. Or when you can't admit that the person you've admired turns out to be a bigger turd than you expected. That's where the problems start...and where communication stops. Oh well. I'll get off my soapbox now.

Final Summation: I think this is a thoroughly worthwhile film to see AND DISCUSS. While you may not agree with everything it seems to assert, there are many important questions asked in the story that should be considered. All in all, recommended. Rock on.

"In Which Johnny Apple-Pie Gets Kicked in the Balls By the Realization of His Own Mortality in the Drive-Thru Lane of the World's Oldest Dairy Queen" the best made-up title ever. I'm almost certainly going to write a short story of some kind simply to justify its existence.

And no, you can't use it yourself. It's mine.


Several posts planned for the early part of the week (today, tomorrow). End-of-the-year silliness expected for Thursday and Friday.

I know I should run through the Slackies again this year. But I'm feeling less-inspired on that account.

Oh, what the hell. Sure. If you're up for it, so am I.

In the comments below, drop your category suggestions, as well as your nominations for the usual suspects (best movie/album/TV show/book/news event/etc./etc.).

More excitement later.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

"You can't stop the signal!"

HIGH HIGH movie recommendation:


It's science fiction. It's an adventure story. It's a western.

It's a righteously cool and well-written story, is what it is.

And it's one of the best sci-fi movies I've ever seen. Seriously.

So that's your assignment. Check out "Serenity" this weekend at your local video store/RedBox location. Worth your two hours and five bucks.

"Christmas Day is in our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp..." (UPDATED)

Well, I'm signing off for the weekend. Have a very merry, safe, and loving Christmas holiday.

Remember one thing above all others: God is with us. Immanuel. So, if you're feeling a little isolated, hurt, forgotten, remember that Jesus was sent into the world, so that God could have a relationship with YOU.

You are loved.

See you kids next week. We'll run through the usual end-of-the-year lists.

Peace and grace.

UPDATED: Crap, sorry, didn't mean to be offensive or non-inclusive.

Wanted to include the other major celebration.

So, Daryl, Happy Jesus-palooza.

(For you non-celebrants, that's pronounced "hey-soos-pa-looz-a". Just so you know. Still confused? Ask me sometime. It's not that interesting, really.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

That's it, time to make a decision.

I'm doing it. Thank you, those of you whom I've asked and who have advised. Thanks for your support and (hopefully) candid answers about if it's worth doing.

So there it is. Clear goal-setting, Trev. I'm doing it.


Monday, December 19, 2005

You know what I miss?

"The PBB Cool Ten (12/18-12/24)"!!!

10. Wait a minute--the Texans won?!?
9. The Aeros are tied for the second-best point total in the AHL, and are still leading the division. Boo-yah!
8. I'm looking forward to taking the "Financial Peace University" seminar next month. If you've got money woes, Dave Ramsey is a good guy to listen to.
7. Watched Kronk's New Groove. Not nearly as good as The Emperor's New Groove (one of the top five Disney films EVER), but certainly chuckle-worthy, if you like the first one.
6. I don't have to teach Sunday School for two weeks. I was embarrassed to admit it (until I found out that the other teachers felt the same way), but thank the Lord, because I need a bit of a break. Time to recharge, and prepare for a new lesson series. Ideas?
5. Reading Cash. Good stuff, thusfar.
4. I like Hugh Hewitt. Solid.
3. I'm gonna be hanging with the Couri's in less than two weeks!
2. Off work Friday--certainly looking forward to that.
1. Immanuel.

"My links..."

My links, my links, my links
My links, my links, my links,
My lovely little links
Check 'em out.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bible Redux: The End of Waiting

So this is how it all went down.

The old man adjusted his robes and took a breath as he slowly made his way into the temple courts. Around him, people prayed, spoke softly, presented sacrifices to the priests.

It was large, this temple. Much larger than the temple of his youth. Some were still angry that such a wicked man could have been allowed by G-d to build something so lovely. Simeon felt this himself, from time to time. But when his anger or his disdain crept up, he would repeat to himself that the whole earth belongs to G-d and everything in it. One place is as good as another to pray. A temple is a temple. As long as the True G-d is worshiped there, what matter who builds it?

He walked over to his usual spot. He liked praying in the courtyard. Something about the way the sunlight hit his face made him happy. He bowed his head, and raised his open, wrinkled hands before him, and began his prayers.

All of his life, he prayed. From the time he was a boy, his faith had been strong, and he prayed fervently, as if his very breath depended on it. Even now, so very many years later, he prayed just as fervently as when he was a teenager. Some joked amongst themselves that he was actually praying for his next breath, for another day of life. If they dared ask him (which they wouldn't), he would probably have laughed and said yes. Simeon was old. How old, no one knew. But old enough to know suffering and many frustrated and disappointed years. He felt each of them every morning, when he got out of bed and his joints creaked and groaned. With each sigh, he felt the weight of a life spent waiting crush his chest.

Yet every morning, despite the pain, despite the doubt, he arose, dressed himself, and walked to the temple to pray.

What did Simeon pray for? He prayed for his children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren. He prayed for his neighbors, his friends, his countrymen. He prayed for the priests and teachers, that G-d would continue to grant them wisdom in leadership. But most of all, most importantly of all, he prayed for the deliverance of his people. He prayed that the Promise would be fulfilled. He prayed that David's line would be restored, and that Israel could again be strong and favored.

He prayed for Messiah. The coming of Immanuel, the sign of the Promise.

He knew the writings of the prophets. They were written on his heart, from years of listening, reading, questioning. There were some parts he didn't understand. Their king would suffer? How could the Holy One allow it? Yet even in his confusion, he prayed, "Adonay, come quickly, you are my Deliverer, my Shield and Strong Tower."

Every day, Simeon prayed. And every day he waited. And every day, deliverance did not come.

How long had it been since Israel heard the words of a prophet of G-d? Generations. Even his father's father's father had not heard rumor of one of G-d's messengers. No word from the Lord. Silence in heaven.

Meanwhile, war and rebellion on earth. The Maccabees revolted, and then were defeated. And Rome, cruel Rome! It came like a wave, and it was all Zion could do to bear it. There were a few benefits to their occupiers' presence. The roads were getting better. Crime was down. But everywhere, fear filled the air. There was tension. Anxiety. All it would take would be one band of Zealots, anarchists drunk on stupid anger, to provoke Rome to action. How fearsome that would be, to feel the fury of this godless empire crush down upon them.

So every morning, the old man walked to the temple, lifted his hands in the early morning sun, and prayed. Deliver us. From enemies outside. From our wicked hearts. Deliver us from evil.

Another man's faith would have wavered, perhaps. But not Simeon's. He was filled with hope. In his dreams, and in his very bones, the truth was revealed to him: He is coming. Wait for him.

On that last day, Simeon prayed as he always did. He asked, "How long, O Lord, until we see your Kingdom come? How long until our King appears?"

Suddenly, he felt shot through with light, with heat. He gasped, startled, and opened his closed eyes. The sunlight blinded him, dazzled him, so he lowered his eyes and rubbed them with his gnarled fingers. When his vision cleared, he saw, walking across the courtyard, a girl carrying a baby and a man carrying a small cage with two birds in it.

He felt the chills rise and fall along his spine, spreading out to his fingertips and toes. And in his head, reverberating like the shout of an angel, one word:


Simeon felt himself begin to weep. He nearly ran through the crowd to meet them, his body filled with energy he hadn't known in years. He nearly shoved people out of the way, so anxious was he to see this family.

When he reached them, out of breath and smiling wildly, he stopped short. The girl, still a teenager it appeared, looked a bit alarmed and held her child close. The man, a little older than she was, put his arm around her and took a bit of a step forward.

Simeon raised his hands in reassurance. His tears calmed the couple. Simeon reached out with ancient, shaking hands, asking for the child. His mother hesitated for only a second, and then passed her precious newborn son to the old man.

No words could express what Simeon felt, looking into that baby's clear eyes. The baby sucked on its fist for a little while, and then reached out and touched the old man's white beard, grasping and pulling a little of it. Simeon laughed. "What is his name?" he asked the father. The younger man cleared his throat and said, "Yeshua." Simeon nodded. "G-d saves. Of course."

He looked up to the bright, blue sky, and said aloud, even in the hearing of those around him, "Merciful Lord, you are faithful to your word. I am now ready to rest, for with my own two eyes, I have seen Your Salvation, which you have shown in the presence of all as the dawn of understanding to those outside, and a glory to Your People."

The young couple was stunned, speechless. Simeon handed the baby back to his mother, and then reached up his hand and placed it on the father's head, blessing him. He did the same to the mother, saying, "This baby you hold will be the rise and fall of many in Zion. He will be a sign spoken falsely against, so that the true hearts of men will be revealed." He paused, looked at her, and sighed. "And you, my dear, will ultimately be pierced through with grief for his sake." The woman looked into his eyes. Simeon saw in her face a mix of confusion and gratitude. He smiled and half-shrugged.

As he turned away, at that very moment, another figure familiar to the temple appeared. The old widow Anna. She began speaking to the couple and praising God because of the child. Simeon smiled as he walked away.

He didn't finish his prayers. They had been answered. He slowly made his way to his home, a room adjacent to his grandson's house. His granddaughter-in-law saw him and walked out to meet him in the yard. "Grandfather, you're home early--are you feeling ill?"

He laughed and shook his head, as he made his way to his room. "No, my child, I'm very well."

He closed the door, and slowly laid down on his bed. He silently prayed one last time, a praise to G-d for being the Faithful One of Israel. He prayed for the baby who would deliver them all, that He would be strong and wise. Simeon knew this would happen, of course, knew without a doubt, but these are the prayers that old men pray. Prayers that aren't spoken out of doubt, but out of faith and joy and thankfulness. Prayers that say to G-d, "Your Will be done. Amen. Selah."

And Simeon knew that on the other side of death, he would greet that boy again.

He was feeling very well indeed.



Wednesday, December 14, 2005

C Is For "Cookie"

Our office often has special treats given to us, or someone in the office will bring brownies or something. We also have a birthday almost every week, it seems. So needless to say, lots of food around, especially during the holidays.

Yesterday, we were sent several boxes of really nice chocolate dipped mint chocolate cookies. Each cookie is square, about two and a half inches on each side. Serious cookie.

I had a few with lunch yesterday. Later, as it became clear I was staying very late at work, I had a couple more.

I got really hungry around eight. Since I still had to plug away at a project, I went into the breakroom, grabbed the bag of cookies, and walked the ten feet back to my office. Instead of jumping up to grab a snack each time, I just brought the snack to me. Seems reasonable.

I didn't eat a lot of them. A few more than I should have, admittedly. But there were plenty left. I tied the plastic bag into a knot on the open end, and set it on top of my printer, so that I would remember to return it when I left.

I don't remember returning it. I realized this on the way in this morning, but thought it would be no big deal to walk it back to the break room first thing.

I open my door, walk into my office, and find a little gift bag on my computer. And no bag of cookies.

The gift back contained the yearly Christmas magnet that our department director (two doors down) gives out.

So, now, I must wonder: did she see the bag of cookies and take them back? Does she think I was hoarding them?

Do I now have a reputation as the Office Cookie Monster?

I'm stuck trying to decide if I should tell her that I forgot to take them back, or it would just look too bad. Is it worth the awkwardness to avoid the confrontation?

This is not how I wanted to start my Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Thoughts While Eating an Asian-themed Lunch in a Plastic Container That I Bought Out of the Back of a Jeep for Two Dollars

You know, sometimes you have to push aside all the concerns about salt or grease, or the number of unnatural chemicals you are likely ingesting, or the countless hordes of germs that may or may not lurk in your bowl.

You just focus on the two-dollar price tag, close your eyes, take a bite, and think:

"Mmmmm, chickeny."

You better believe it

Jack Bauer
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[Hat-tip: Jollyblogger.]

Monday, December 12, 2005

Real-time CD Reviews: Bo Bice, "The Real Thing"

I'm feeling daring this evening. So how about a review of the latest CD by an American Idol contestant?

You know, I've always thought that Bice had a great vocal talent. The growly twang of southern rock. Some would call this a liability, but I think this is Bice's strength. He definitely can make it work. Like the whole long-hair-and-beard thing. Okay, bad analogy.

(I'm starting this during the second track of the album. The first cut was the title track, and it was predictable for a rock ballad.)

"You're Everything." It's not bad, necessarily. It's energetic. But it just sounds so average. Routine. Unoriginal. What does the AOL page say? "...paired the singer with the songwriting talents of Jon Bon Jovi and Nickelback's Chad Kroeger." Well, that certainly explains it.

"U Make Me Better." And illiterate, apparently. Instead of commenting on the song itself, which is not that awful, I feel the need to declare a moratorium on all songs that have single-letters-representing-words in the titles. (I'm looking at you, Miss Clarkson.) "Let me take you home tonight!" he sings. Okay, now, wait a sec--is that "you" or "U"? Is it code? I'm so confused. Nevermind, this song bathes in mediocrity.

"Nothing Without You." Not "U"? MAKE UP YOUR MIND, MAN!!! Anyway. Have I mentioned that this album was written by Bon Jovi and that guy from Nickelback? Because IT SOUNDS LIKE IT. And that's not necessarily a complement. I don't know. If you like the formulaic radio-rock songs with the power-chord heavy "loud ballad" sound that suddenly drop to the quiet, almost-a cappella bridge before screaming the last line and ripping the chorus reprise, then I guess this song/album is your bag.

"My World." My God. Even the song titles are uninspired. "Love is all around you, the universe is full, but in my world, there is only you." ACH! MY EARS! THE BLOOD! OH, MOTHER, THE BLOOD! "He's your everything." But then again, three songs ago, "you" were everything. So I guess, everyone's everything. Sweeet.

"Remember Me." The verse starts off kinda interesting sonically. I like the melody and the way he plays with it. ...Then BAM with the rote chorus. The downward stair-stepping chord pattern (you musical types will have to forgive me for not knowing the proper terminology). And then the "Whooooooaaaaaa" over about four measures (I know that term, music nerds! HA!). "Remember me, how I made you laugh, till I made you cry, about everything, so never forgeeeeettttt!!!" I swear, with all the uses of the word "everything" in this album, you could make it a drinking game, except that everyone would be plastered by...

"Hold On To Me." The referee holds up his arm and blows the whistle. "Bice, two minutes, for Nickelback-ing." ("Nickelback-ing": Unnecessary repetition; overuse of 'whoa'; combining keyboards/organ with over-wrought, cliched lyrics; producing radio-friendly, shallow, knock-off "rock.")

"Lie...It's Alright." Someone buy this man a dictionary, PLEASE? Two words, Bo--"all" and "right." And what's with the background vocals run through the bullhorn in certain parts? Did J.D. Fortune offer to sing back-up? Ugh. If the last song was put in the penalty box for Nickelback-ing, this one should take a seat also, for "Crushing." ("Crushing": Emulating later Bon Jovi songs through the use of faux-rock-riffs during the verses before deflating into an uninspired, power ballad chorus with lots of held-out notes.) The only thing that kept the two-minute penalty from being a five-minute major for Crushing was the lack of the "mowowow" guitar solo during the bridge.

[Full Disclosure: Had to listen to that track twice to make sure the Crushing penalty was properly assessed.]

(C'mon, Bo, gimme something positive to say. I still believe in you.)

"It's My Life." *SNORT* Heh. Nice. Subtle, Jon. "It's my life, my time to find the answers..." Mm-hmm. Standard "take time to smell the roses" ballad with painfully earnest lyrics. "Sometimes I miss my family, I wonder what they're doing right now." Hmm. Hopefully listening to Sufjan Stevens and not swearing they don't know you. Kidding aside, this track wasn't as bad as the others. Weak praise, that.

"Willing to Try." Uh oh, beware the single piano. If he says "I'll be there for you," I swear I'll die. Ah, here comes the familiarly loud tones of the rock accompaniment. ("Here I go" count: 4, currently.) "I'm not gonna change who I am, but I ain't gonna give up the fight..." Ouch. Take that, haters. (Cliche check: "when it's all said and done," "come of age," "we only get one life," "if you believe in me") Oooh, BACK to the single piano for four measures of the chorus reprise, and then he SHOCKS us with the slam-bang rock-out of the last two choruses.

"Valley of Angels." What is this? This doesn't sound at all like a Bon Jovi/Nickelback title. And the song itself? Piano only for the first verse and chorus, choral "ooh"-ing behind the chorus and background repetition and response during the second verse. The lyrics aren't brilliant, but they're not noxious. There is a small guitar solo for a bridge. But this song actually is halfway decent. The reason? Instead of beating it to death as a power ballad, they "took it to church" a bit, gave it some sway. Well done, Bo. Despite evil outside influences, this song didn't suck. Hoo-rah.

Final Judgement: Too much Bon Jovi/Kroeger-inspired lameness corrupts another young singer. Bo is a great vocalist, who needs to either figure out how to write his own music (and)/or find a better collaborator. Out of five stars, I give this a solid two--one because I like Bo's voice and the other because of the last track. I think I'm being generous... You know what? I am. Half-star deduction for the appalling song-titles. So there you are, kids. 1.5/5

Time to get out of the desert and into the sun.

I don't know why, but today I feel like I'm shaking off dust. Like I've been asleep. Like I've been buried.

I'm now feeling the urge to pick up a notebook and go for a walk. Not literally, but mentally.

I don't want to overstate, but I think this is a good thing.

Saw the Narnia film this weekend. It was everything I expected it to be (i.e., pretty great), so I certainly recommend that.

I'm hungry. Time for lunch.

As for what's next... I don't know. But I'm curious. Curious is good.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

filler: song lyric post

I'm thinking of posting something a little later about the dating scene.

In the meantime, here's the lyrics to one of the most beautiful songs I've heard in a very long time.


i was on your porch, the smoke sank into my skin
so i came inside to be with you
and we talked all night, about everything we could imagine
cause come the morning i'll be gone
and as our eyes start to close
i turn to you and i let you know that i love you

well my dad was sick and my mom she cared for him
her love it nursed him back to life
and me i ran, i couldnt even look at him
for fear i'd have to say goodbye
and as i start to leave
he grabs me by the shoulder and he tells me
what's left to lose, you've done enough
and if you fail well then you fail but not to us
'cause these last three years, i know they've been hard
but now its time to get out of the desert and into the sun
even if it's alone

so now here i sit, in a hotel off of sunset
my thoughts bounce off of sam's guitar
and that's the way it's been, ever since we were kids
but now, now weve got something to prove
and i, i can see their eyes
but tell me something, can they see mine
cause what's left to lose, i've done enough
and if i fail well then i fail but i gave it a shot
and these last three years, i know they've been hard
but now it's time to get out of the desert and into the sun
even if it's alone

i was on your porch last nite, the smoke it sank into my skin

("On Your Porch" by The Format)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Tinkering... (Updated)

I'm gonna try out a new blog template design. It may be up in a few days. Thought I'd give you a heads-up.

Just so you don't, you know, freak out or anything.

UPDATE: Okay, so I just decided to trot it out here and take it for a spin, instead of waiting. I have to say--I like it quite a bit. Thoughts?


This may be a bit pointed--but it's still pretty dead-on and good for a chuckle.

You Might Be Emerging If...

Almost half of it applied to me--does that make me half-emergent?

(hat-tip: Team Redd)

Monday, December 05, 2005

And in the end, the blog you take is equal to the blog you make.

[opening music: "Let's Get This Party Started" by TobyMac]

This music doesn't feel right. Hang on.

[new opening music: "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes" by Beck]

there you go.

the work week is not starting off well. ugh to the work situation. too many emails. too many phone calls. too many doctors and nurses with necks outstretched and maws gaping, demanding my assistance like so many bald baby birds. here you go, doc; lemme vomit that rewrite right up for ya.

I really want to take a vacation right now. From myself as much as anything else. I'm tired of wrestling with my own inadequacies.

(No need to take away the forks and knives, Will. You're getting awful jumpy, dude.)

I'm just tired. I'm tired of needing to be made new. I'm frustrated.

And I hate being so wasteful. Ach, money issues. To paraphrase Ulysses Everett McGill: damn, i'm in a tight spot.

Pressing on. That's what I'm doing. Pressing on.

On a good note, I had an apple and a banana in my lunch today. And I ate them both. So that's good. I'm trying to be better about the nutritional things.

Baby sister's birthday party was yesterday. It was fun. The party place had giant inflatable games--great slides and a moonwalk and a giant inflatable "volcano" fifteen feet high for the kids (and their parents) to climb. My mom told me to go ahead and play with everyone else. I wouldn't. I was afraid of doing damage. Broken chairs and squeaky floors, I can deal with. Being mistaken for a professional sumo wrestler, I can survive. (No really, it happened.) But popping a fifteen-foot-tall inflatable game would be more than my ego could withstand.

This coming weekend is sister's actual birthday, dad's birthday, the opening of CON:TLTWATW, and other fun things. Should be interesting.

I'm in a funk for some reason. Ugh. Gotta get out of this mess.

(btw, sarah, yes, I am glad you comment. if nothing else, you keep me on my toes. and i need that.)

[closing music: "colorful" by the verve pipe]

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Two serious things to chew on...

1) Today is World Aids Day. Do something (besides feel bad).

Start here, if you don't know what else to do.


2) I found this recently. Funny how something written more than thirty years ago seems so relevant.

Some song lyrics to chew on, by Larry Norman:

"The Great American Novel"

I was born and raised an orphan
In a land that once was free
In a land that poured its love out on the moon
And I grew up in the shadows
Of your silos filled with grain
But you never helped to fill my empty spoon

And when I was ten you murdered law
With courtroom politics
And you learned to make a lie sound just like truth
But I know you better now
And I don't fall for all your tricks
And you've lost the one advantage of my youth

You kill a black man at midnight
Just for talking to your daughter
Then you make his wife your mistress
And you leave her without water
And the sheet you wear upon your face
Is the sheet your children sleep on
At every meal you say a prayer
You don't believe but still you keep on

And your money says “In God We Trust”
But it’s against the law to pray in school
You say we beat the Russians to the moon
And I say you starved your children to do it

You are far across the ocean
But the war is not your own
And while you're winning theirs
You’re gonna lose the one at home
Do you really think the only way
To bring about the peace
Is to sacrifice your children
And kill all your enemies

The politicians all make speeches
While the news men all take note
And they exaggerate the issues
As they shove them down our throats
Is it really up to them
Whether this country sinks or floats
Well I wonder who would lead us
If none of us would vote

Well my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped
From whispering through the fence
You know every move I make
Or is that just coincidence
Well you try to make my way of life
A little less like jail
If I promise to make tapes and slides
And send them through the mail

And your money says “In God We Trust”
But it’s against the law to pray in school
You say we beat the Russians to the moon
And I say you starved your children to do it

You say all men are equal, all men are brothers
Then why are the rich more equal than others
Don’t ask me for the answer, I’ve only got one
That a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son.

(hat-tip: Neil Craigan.)