Thursday, July 27, 2006

Spicing Up My Blog Life

In combating blogging ennui and Langeweile, I am updating the template to Blogger's Jellyfish.

Of course, since nothing with computers is ever easy, the template is being temperamental about accepting my customizations. I need desperately to get out of the house today, so I'm calling it quits for this afternoon. But I will be back to struggle onward with it another day.

Thanks for stopping by!

Boring Old Internet

Is it just me, or has the Internet gotten, well, boring all of a sudden?

There was a time when I thought that the Internet never could be boring. Every day brought some new site to explore and new people with whom to interact. It was so vast and meandering and surprising and stimulating. But, lately, it has just become dull.

The blog world, too, has shrunk considerably. Almost everyone I visit regularly is posting less frequently. The rush of putting our thoughts out into the world seems to have perhaps gone stale. At least, that's been my experience. I find myself less interested in posting at all about anything. Either the things that I am interested in are too ponderous to undertake at this time in my life, or my thoughts are too dark to dwell upon them for any length of time, or it's just too exhausting to put so much energy into something with so little in the way of returns. I know others have felt like this, too, and I'm just a slowpoke on the blog ennui front.

I'm not making any grand exits from the scene. I have no plans to go anywhere. I know that the fire will return. But the world just seems so sad and pitiful and crazy right now. I used to care about politics, but now I don't, much. I still care about the travesty of abortion, but I cannot bear to write about it now, because it is such a depressing topic. I still care about exploring Christianity, but I have nothing to add right now, other than that I am in a season of gritted-teeth trust and determined belief. Other things fly by my radar, and for a fleeting moment I consider posting about them, but it is so draining.

This state of listlessness is unusual for me, but it really is only in relation to the Internet. Everything else in my life is fairly positive and forward-moving right now. It is only when posting to a blog that I have to confront just how disturbing things are, in general. I suppose that it is good, in a sense, to confront the yucky stuff, but maybe I can put it off a little while longer.

So, I guess I need some novelty -- some new sites to tickle my fancy. Some really hopping places to read the views of interesting folks. Hopefully something funny and not politically driven . . . any suggestions?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Get 'Em Out!

I hate the Seattle Sonics (it's not personal, I just dislike all professional basketball and college basketball and high school basketball and pick-up games in the park basketball), so I ignore anything I see in the newspaper with "Sonics" in the headline. Granted, this is sometimes difficult to do, especially when big stuff happens like happened a couple days ago. But I persevere, because my contempt for basketball runs so deep. So, Jason mentioned this morning that the Sonics had been sold to a group of Oklahoman businessmen, and he was incredulous at my ignorance of this fateful transaction. I thought I couldn't be more thrilled by any piece of basketball news, but then Jason mentioned that the Seattle Storm was included in the sale. My cup runneth over! More than even basketball, I despise women's basketball, and the Storm is particularly obnoxious, because they actually managed to do something rarely done by Seattle pro sports teams -- they made it to some sort of play-off or championship or something (I didn't really pay attention, though it was annoying just to hear in passing) sometime recently (last year? two years ago?).

Anyway, it would be SO AWESOMELY COOL if professional basketball left Seattle forever!! Apparently the big fuss is now whether this purchasing group will keep the teams here, or move them to OK, where, supposedly, the Okies yearn for a public display of this silly sport. The Sonics have been whining all year about needing a new, taxpayer-funded basketball court, and they were DENIED by the Seattle city council (perhaps the only instance of that particular body's having ever seen fit to withhold taxpayer monies from any boondoggle).


Please! Yes! Take the Sonics and the Storm to Oklahoma! Whoo-hoo!

Monday, July 17, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

What songs do you think will play on the soundtrack of Hell?

Here are some of my top contenders:
"Sowing the Seeds of Love" by Tears for Fears
"The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby
"The Captain of Her Heart" by Double*

And, if songs purportedly about God can be played in Hell, these ones too:
"Soul Tattoo" by Plus One
"Now and Forever" by True Vibe
Anything by Jump5

*The only problem with playing "The Captain of Her Heart" in Hell is how much amusement this song has provided me and Jason in our endless, creative mocking of the lyrics; which, of course, would bring pleasure to the Realm of Darkness, thus, perhaps, disqualifying it from the endless, looping soundtrack. If you were not fortunate enough to be with a kindred spirit in Hell to make you laugh, though, this wretched song would be appropriate.

God Doesn't Give Neckties or What I Learned at Barnabas, Part 2

We spent a restorative week up north at Barnabas from July 2 - July 7. The speakers during the week we attended were Mark Warren, a pastor in Bellingham, WA, and Carolyn Arends, a singer/songwriter from British Columbia. Their theme was "Understanding Spiritual Gifts."

Please keep this in mind when I write of Camp Barnabas: Barnabas was Paul's mentor Joses's nickname. It means "son of encouragement."

We spent four days at Barnabas looking at Spiritual gifting from every conceivable angle. Mark Warren came armed with handouts -- packets, really -- over twenty pages thick. There were diagrams and fill-in-the-blanks and group discussions. There was a 125-question survey, designed to help the believer zero in on his or her Spiritual gifts. We read Scripture in-depth, looking at what Paul and Peter wrote about the gifts of the Spirit. After these intensive four days, Mark Warren concluded with this statement:

I'm wondering what Paul, who wrote the most about Spritual gifting, would say about these sessions. What would he say about the survey we took? Well, I think he would be both amused and baffled by our striving. He might say, "Why are you worrying about these things? Go and live out the love of the Gospel in your faith communities, and your Spiritual gifting will become apparent."


And that was what I took away from four days. Again, man tries to gussy up the simplicity of God, and God sweeps away our frills and lace and brings us back to His sublime purity.

Mark Warren had spoken a lot about how the church should be a grand laboratory, wherein each congregant can experiment in various capacities, until they find their niche. He seemed to say that most church-goers do not feel comfortable trying different roles in the body to find their fit. I guess that I was unusually blessed by the Lord, because I have never felt confined or pigeon-holed in my church. Calvary Chapel's roots are in the hippie, Jesus Movement of the 1970's, and it is an open, casual body of love and acceptance. I have tried out service roles and teaching roles and exhortation roles in our church, and have been blessed in every one, though some have been more comfortable than others. I had never really worried about Spiritual gifting until I attended these sessions at Barnabas. I had never felt that God would put me into a trap or give me a Spiritual necktie every Christmas. If my parents never gave me a stone when I asked for bread, I always believed, ever since I had believed, that my Heavenly Father would do better than that. So, from the bliss of ignorance, I began to feel the burden of knowledge as we dug further into Spiritual gifting.

Goodness me, I began to worry, I have no overarching theme in my Christian life. I'm a Spiritual jack-of-all-trades, master of none, I thought. I was feeling pretty low; in fact, I was loath even to take the gifting survey. I did take it, and "scored" highly in hospitality and mercy, which was nice, but kind of boring. So, I went into the last session, feeling out-of-sorts and weird. Then, the goodness of the Lord shone through in Mark Warren's contemplation of Paul's reaction, and my heart sang.

Live out the love of the Gospel in your faith community, and your Spiritual gifting will become apparent.

Of course.

Why do we, who believe that the Lord knew the days of our lives when as yet there were none, think for a moment that He would let us languish outside the blessings of our gifts? Why wouldn't obedience to Him necessarily put us in the way of using our gifts? Obedience is simply living out the love we were given by the only Giver of good things. Why would we need to add to this by making man-oriented, hubris-inducing surveys and curricula to learn what should be apparent in a life of Christian love? Why pigeon-hole ourselves, when the Lord will love us enough to use our lives for His glory in many different capacities?

So, I'm back to bliss, except now it is bliss grounded in knowledge and freedom instead of mere ignorance. It was almost as if Mark Warren went through all the hoopla to get us to the point where we would accept in gratitude the simplest message. It is kind of like the relief of Christ's grace when you realize the impossibility of living in perfection God's law. Again and again, the Lord will strip it down to the bare essentials: His grace, His love, our need, our sin, our opportunity to know Him, our imperative to live His love and share His grace, our failure, our redemption -- the same themes, over and over and over. And yet, we still want to make Him complicated and, paradoxically, less overwhelming. We still want, at some level, the control that comes from surveys and rituals and extra-Biblical doctrines and seminars. That imagined control of making Him something that can be understood and categorized must frustrate (and amuse) Him to no end. As Clive wrote, "He's not a tame lion."

Live out the love of the Gospel in your faith community, and your Spiritual gifting will become apparent.


Turn, Turn, Turn or What I Learned At Barnabas, Part 1

I originally started a really long post about this year's family retreat on Keats Island, BC at Camp Barnabas. Then, I realized that I had about four or five different ideas that I wanted to expand upon, and I know that the super-long posts can get tedious. So, I'm breaking what I took away from camp this year into multiple, shorter sections, which, hopefully, will encourage more people to read them (and not run screaming from this site, as the scrollbar continues its descent seemingly without end).

We spent a restorative week up north at Barnabas from July 2 - July 7. The speakers during the week we attended were Mark Warren, a pastor in Bellingham, WA, and Carolyn Arends, a singer/songwriter from British Columbia. Their theme was "Understanding Spiritual Gifts."

Please keep this in mind when I write of Camp Barnabas: Barnabas was Paul's mentor Joses's nickname. It means "son of encouragement."

One day, back when I worked for Barnes & Noble, I was shelving some books when my boss approached me. She glanced at my left wrist and commented, "I see you wear a watch."
"Yes," I smiled back, a bit perplexed as to why she would make such a pointed remark.
"Why?" she replied with an ironic twist to her mouth. And I knew that she had just thrown me a zinger. I was almost always late to work.
"Well," I answered in the spirit of the ribbing, "I like to know how late I am. If it is less than 15 minutes, I can breeze in and get to work. If it is more than 15 minutes, I know that I'd better be ready to grovel."
She chuckled and turned away. This was, after all, the Pacific Northwest, and being late is a way of life to most of the Latte Set.

And, who among us has not felt the tyranny of time? Whether it is the ticking of the mighty minder of minutes upon our wrists, or the larger, despairing boom of our biological clocks, or the ridiculous, self-imposed pressure cooker of a five-year-plan, we find ourselves slaves to this earthly time. We need everything we want NOW. We push off everything we don't want until an unspecified LATER. And we watch another calendar year pass by feeling stretched to the max and unfulfilled. That is why one of my favorite ideas that I took from Barnabas this year is speaking of time in terms of seasons.

This is perhaps one of the most freeing notions that has ever been introduced in my Christian walk. Mark Warren would use the term "seasons" and eschew those finite terms of days, weeks, months and years. What a blessing! In his use of that word, I caught a glimpse of how the Lord views time. To think in seasons, divorced from the notion of weather patterns or the earth's tilting toward or away from the sun, is to find peace in the midst of disruption. "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." We've read the words in Ecclesiastes -- or, at least, we've heard the song by The Byrds -- yet how hard it is to live by that precept.

I once asked Jason how long he thought Adam and Eve were in the Garden before they blew it. He laughed and said that he was always under the impression that they blew it immediately. We'll never know how many days, weeks or years they were there, because they were in a season of trust and obedience before the Fall. We know that Sarah was counting the years, because she laughed when the Lord told her that it was her season to become a mother -- incredulous that such a season should come to her when she was probably in her nineties. How many people whose stories we read in the Bible have had to wait upon seasons outside of earthly time! Their frustrations have been chronicled for our edification and comfort. As Carolyn Arends said in her presentation about Spiritual gifting, part of understanding our calling is to learn to wait upon the Lord.

I know that I've found myself fretting about periods of time in my life that seem to have no relation to hours or days, but have been, in retrospect, definable with a start and a finish. I have made up my mind for certain spans of time to be devoted to this or that goal, with a start date chosen and circled in red on my calendar. Then, I failed to achieve that goal, and I lost heart. Strangely, that goal would resurface without my realizing it at a later date, and it would be fulfilled almost without effort. Now I see that the goal, if it is worthy and of the Lord, will be neither lost nor gained by my effort or timetable. He will not plant out of season, nor will He reap. When the season begins to start something anew, He will effect it. All I need is a softened heart and the strength of Spirit to wait for the right season. What a liberating idea!

I think one example of trying to do something out of season is our entire journey with this house. Jason and I were convinced that life should somehow be easier at this point; that we should have a stash of cash and very little stress. So, we thought we'd sell our house and move to less expensive digs, and life would be great. As the house began to fall apart on us, ever more each day, we saw it as a definite calling to pull up stakes and flee. Then, as we planned and prayed and listened, we heard this idea come through: Life is not meant to be smooth coasting. When you're in your early thirties, life is still in the building season. That was the lesson we needed to learn, because, even without dealing with our house, we needed to know that it wasn't meant to be easy right now. And it is freeing to live with the knowledge that this season in our lives is one of (moderate) struggle and stress. How funny to see that as liberating! But it is, somehow.

I have come away from Barnabas with a new, exciting outlook on my life's span. That is not to say that I'm going to throw away my watch and burn my calendar. That is only to say that I'm not going to be oppressed in my view of time anymore (or, at least, I'm going to try not to be). I'm still going to be at my haircut appointment at such-and-such a time on that particular day; and church service and Sadie's gymnastics will march on at their appointed start times in and out of every season; but, I'm going to try for the eternal viewpoint and not get so frustrated by my failures in the time of man. This clay will try to stop hassling the Potter, and simply learn to trust that He who began a good work in her will be faithful to complete it, in His perfect time.

Friday, July 14, 2006


I don't usually get too worked up about animal issues. I love animals -- I've had countless pets over the years -- but, every time I get a little sad about an abused animal or a lost animal or a sick animal, I just think about the 1.2 million human babies that are cavalierly dismembered and vacuumed from their womb homes every year in America, against which so few cry out; I think of the children across the world who face every day the realities of war and famine and oppression, against which so few cry out; I recall that certain darkened souls plot and enact acts of unspeakable evil against innocents, about which we have gotten too calloused; and I find myself a lot less worried about the animals. Animals are nice, and we humans ought to be kind to them and be good stewards of this beautiful earth and the inhabitants herein, but it's been made clear that He who knits us together in our mothers' wombs, and He who planned out the days of our lives when as yet there were none, finds us far more valuable than sparrows (and I think we can bet more valuable than cats, dogs, spotted wood owls, etc.).

Ah, but horses. I shall always have that special concern for those of the equine persuasion. And that mushy part in my heart gets even more soft when I think of Thoroughbred racehorses. And so, I cry over Barbaro, that lion-hearted colt who is hovering on the brink of death. His case is so painful to me because I once had an ex-racehorse (tattooed lip and all), and I know the nobility of these athletes; also, I lost a horse to laminitis when I was younger, and Barbaro's case is renewing memories of that loss.

Laminitis is an insidious disease that is nigh impossible to cure. My beautiful dressage champion, Inverness Heather, slowly declined with that hoof ailment until she had to be euthanized. It is a wretched thing to witness the pitiful sight of your glorious horse lying on her side in her stall because it is too painful to stand. The last night of her life, I lay down in the stall next to her and rested my head on her belly. Echoing throughout her body was the beat of that noble heart -- the heart of a grand dancer whose precision and elegance were responsible for almost all of the show ribbons in my collection.

Am I anthropomorphizing my horses? Of course! But -- and I think that anyone who has spent time hands-on with horses will tell you the same thing -- horses are different. I suppose that people will say that dogs are different, too. I've never been much of a dog person. Many will declare that cats are also capable of having those inter-species bonds. I guess so, but I still insist that with horses it is different. As I stated, I've had many, many pets over the years. But, the only "pets" that haunt my dreams are my horses -- especially my ex-racehorse, Spirit. I still have heart-wrenching dreams about when I gave him up to go to college in 1994. Twelve years later, I still haven't recovered completely. If he is still alive out there, he would be 25. I'm guessing that he is in greener pastures by now. Is it wrong to hope that the God of Creation will have set aside a corner of eternity for those friends that somehow managed to transcend the barrier of dumb beasts and capture a bit of our souls to claim as their own? Oh maybe, but that's not going to stop me from praying for Barbaro, and my own long-lost equine friends. As always, God's grace is far bigger than my heresy.

My mom and I often didn't "get" each other, especially when it came to my riding. But, when the trailer came and took my last horse, Spirit, to his new home on the brink of my leaving for college, my mom saw my stricken face and wracked soul and made this observation:

Your horses were your friends when you felt all alone. They were your parents when we didn't understand you. They were the school where you learned your toughest lessons. They were your sounding board for all of your fears and hopes and frustrations. They were the biggest part of your life for many years. It is okay to miss them terribly.

That was a very freeing statement from my mom, who, I had always thought, viewed my horse obsession with contempt and disgust. I bless her for that, because it allowed me to go into my childhood bedroom and cry my eyes out. And it still lets me do that today, as I tear up while typing this out. And I bless my dad, without whom I never would have had the joy of owning horses.

I'm hoping for a miracle for Barbaro.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Booknotes and Summer Reading Ambitions

I would love to write a review of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, but I fear that I may never actually finish the book. It is seriously dense. But it is so lively and conversational in tone that it never seems to drag on. This book may be the quintessential Victorian English novel, as Thackeray seems bound and determined that his readers would get the full worth of the eight shillings or so that they spent on this tome. But do not by any means let its length deter you from a heck of a lot of fun. These characters are so vivid, and the omniscient authorial interventions are so amusing and biting and insightful, that it may just be the perfect summer read. Thackeray was obviously a keen observer of human nature and was able to translate every quirk and foible and perversity and those rare snatches of nobility into highly realized human beings that breathe and live in his story (unlike, say, John Irving, who writes erractic, detached characters that never seem fully to come to life). Somebody, read this book! I want a fellow traveler in this tour of Vanity Fair.

Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson is a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat ride with that old sly boots, John Wilkes Booth, as he plots, executes, and escapes the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Of course, he does not escape for long, but the story of what happens after the bloody scene at Ford's Theater almost seems incredible -- I had to keep reminding myself that every word in this book was truth; every line of dialogue was taken from court records and correspondence and journals. I know that the author has said that John Wilkes Booth was not written to be the hero of this story -- that Swanson finds Booth and his actions despicable. But, I dare you to read this book and not develop a grudging admiration for the sheer audacity and éclat of this most notorious of American villains. I'm no Rebel sympathizer by nature, but a large part of me was rooting for Booth to find that oh-too-impossible method of escape during the final shootout and continue his daring, desperate journey back into the heart of Dixie.

Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America's Poet Laureate of Light Verse by Douglas M. Parker is a long-overdue biographical tribute to my favorite poet in any genre. When I was twelve years old, my dad gave me a collection of Ogden Nash's animal poems for Christmas; thus began my love affair with this master of wordplay and irreverent interpreter of meter and rhythm. Most joyful to discover was that Ogden Nash was as delightful a man in his personal and professional lives as ever you would assume him to be from his delightful verse. If you've never treated yourself to his poetry, find a collection in your local library or bookstore and drink in his sly observations, understated witticisms, and the unexpectedly keen social commentary that permeate his work. After your interest is piqued by his verse, you will want to read this biography and learn more about the man. He will not disappoint.

If you get as much of a kick out of language as I do, you may want to check out the Latin series by Henry Beard (Henricus Barbatus), published by Villard. Much like the unwilling peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Latin is "not dead yet," and "does not want to go in the cart." At least, that is what Beard wants us to believe. So he has compiled three books of useful, humorous, everyday expressions in Caesar's tongue. Latin for All Occasions, Latin for Even More Occasions, and X-Treme Latin are damned funny and should be read by all those who want a taste of what a time-warped gladiator might spout out at parties or sporting events. Here is a sample of the hilarity from Latin for Even More Occasions:

An All-Purpose Get Well Note
I just wanted you to know that I have sacrificed a good-sized she-goat to Mercury on your behalf in order to hasten your recovery.
P.S. The entrails were auspicious!
P.P.S. Get well soon!
Volo te scire me capram magnam Mercurio sacrificavisse pro salute tuo celerius restituendo.
P.S. Exta fausta fuerunt!
P.P.S. Convalesce velociter!

Also helpful is the handy pronunciation guide that tells you that everything you intuitively know about pronouncing Latin is incorrect. Veni, vidi vici? Try saying it as "weni, weedi, weeki," and you'll feel a lot less emperor-ish and much more Hawaiian. But, apparently, that's the way those crazy Romans spoke. Go figure!

Well, we're off to Canada again for a week at Camp Barnabas on Keats Island, BC. Another Independence Day spent in a foreign land, away from the Americana my red, white, and blue soul craves. I think that next year we will forego Barnabas, at least when Carolyn Arends is speaking, to give Sadie her first, real taste of an all-American Fourth of July celebration. Light a few fireworks for us, will you? See a parade, watch a baseball game, eat some hot dogs. Go to church, kneel in your closet, bow your head around the picnic table with your loved ones and thank the Lord for this amazing country we share -- I will be doing likewise, up in Canada.

Here are the books I'm taking to camp, though I suspect that I won't even get close to reading all of them. The ones I don't finish this coming week will comprise most of my rest-of-summer reading list:
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, of course -- oh, who will join me on this adventure?
Ann Coulter's book, Godless, has inspired me to read: Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe; The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin; Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth by Jonathan Wells; Summer for the Gods by Edward J. Larson
Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich -- though I am starting to get really sick of Stephanie Plum and her dysfunctional, incompetent ways
In Our Hands by Charles Murray -- I've had this for a while now, but have yet to give it more than the cursory once-over
Instead of Education by John Holt -- I love the way this man respected and nourished the individuality of children with his educational philosophies. I treasure his insights.