Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy 18th Dating Anniversary to my Wife

We kissed upon that New Year’s Eve
So many years ago
The holiday was fake
but still true love was sure to grow

And grow it did from small to big
And then it didn't stop
Until it filled up both our lives
and sealed with a rock (ring)

Now here we are with kids and cars
and life in both our names
Working hard to do our part
with little time for games

But in our bed and in my head
you remind me why we both have said
That with these rings we do thee wed
Til death do part, our hearts are fed

I love you dear, this much is true
Though ups and downs may come
Life is grand because of you
Together til it's done.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Firearm Philosophies

There has been quite a bit of discussion lately regarding the topic of gun ownership and legality.  Both sides of the aisle have been trying to make their voice heard, and are using current events to support their cause.

As for me, my dad was a cop for 23+ years, so I grew up around guns.  He wasn't a nut about them or anything though - he mainly had his service revolver and one or two others, that I was aware of anyway.  They were a familiar sight to me, not only because he wore one when coming and going to work, but also because he usually wore a concealed weapon anytime we left the house.  I also watched him clean them once in a while, after he used them for practicing at the range.

So guns have never been a big deal to me.  My dad sternly taught me to respect them, but also to accept them.  When I was old enough and physically able to operate his service weapon (at the time it was a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver), he unloaded it, let me hold it, then showed me how to operate it.  After that I will never forget what he told me "You are never to fucking touch my guns on your own.  Never." "However, if you do ever want to look at them or touch them, then you just tell me and I'll pull them out for you."  Problem solved.  Even as curious as I was about most things, once I knew that I could access them whenever I wanted to (under his supervision), I never really felt much of a need to.

Now my dad is gone and I'm an adult with kids of my own.  I ended up inheriting a few of his weapons when he passed away, but have never purchased any of my own (although I've thought about it).  I don't have a permit to carry one, and I don't see a great need to either.  As with purchasing one though, I have given it serious consideration.

All of the recent discussions have caused me to ponder the perspective of both sides of the political spectrum.  Why don't liberals feel a need to protect themselves at all?  Why don't I feel the need to take that next step to purchase another one and/or carry it on me?  What would the world look like if gun purchases were banned altogether?  Didn't most men carry them once upon a time, in the days of the wild wild West?  How did we move away from that?  Can the same principals that moved us away from that be applied to today's society, and if so then to what effect?  And on, and on...

The more thought I gave it, the more I thought that maybe I could sufficiently summarize the main differences between people who support using guns and those who support banning them.  This is what I believe to be each of their perspective (told from a first person narrative):

Gun rights advocates believe in preparation and prevention:
Even if I never run into a person who will threaten my life and/or my family, I absolutely do not want to be a victim, and I believe that if the situation arose that I would need to protect myself or my family, then carrying or owning a gun will help tremendously to do so.

I don't necessarily dislike or distrust the government, but I want to rely on them as little as possible.  The more self sufficient that I'm able to be, the better.  As such, I want to be able to protect myself (not depend on the police to be there when I need them), provide for myself (be able to kill food, if necessary), and prevent those in power from over extending their boundaries into my own rights and privacy.  No, I don't expect to ever need to use my guns against the government, but the mere fact that so many law abiding citizens own them helps to prevent the authorities from ever considering over-extending or abusing their power.

I don't know when or if the civilized world is coming to an end.  It might be next week, or the next decade, or in the next generation.  But I want to be ready for it, when or if it ever comes.

In short, I will do my best to prevent myself from ever being caught unprepared, or with my pants down, so to speak.

Gun control advocates prefer relegation and passivity:
First of all, I've never owned or used a gun, so frankly they freak me out and/or scare the crap out of me.  Sure, I've seen them used in movies, but I don't want to further promote or explore this dark sides of humanity.

I don't really think that anyone will ever threaten me such that I would need a weapon.either.  Or, if such a threatening situation were to arise then I would rather run, submit, or surrender (myself, my money, whatever they ask) than to fight back and risk getting hurt.  I think these options (running, submitting, or surrendering) will always prove to be sufficient enough methods that I can use them to avoid any harm to myself or my family. I would rather risk the odds of being attacked (which seem infinitely slim), than risk having an accident with firearms, especially if my children were involved.

The world already has too much violence, and by learning to defend myself I am only increasing the level of violence that exists and also increasing the likelihood that I would have to use it.  Speaking of using it, whenever a firearm is used, whether for attacking or defending, someone is likely to get killed.  If I choose instead to just give them (whoever) what they want, then everyone lives and we're all better off that way.

Yes, I mostly trust law abiding citizens to own guns, but I trust the government much more.  In fact, those employed by the government are must more likely to make the right decisions with guns, because (a) they make the laws regarding them and (b) they are much more highly trained on how or when to use them (weapons).

Our society is stable enough and its people civilized enough to survive any doomsday scenario that we will realistically encounter (seriously, zombies?).  Preparing for society's collapse is therefore a waste of time and money, and those who do so look like paranoid rednecks.

My current position , practices, and ponderings:
I doubt I will ever realistically run into a person who will threaten my life and/or my family.  In fact, I'm certain that the odds are highly in my favor.  But I don't want to ever be a victim either, and I believe that if the situation arose that I would need to protect myself or my family, then carrying or owning a gun will tremendously help to do so.  That being the case, why don't I carry though, so that I can be prepared enough just in case the situation ever arises?  The only answers I have is that (a) it takes a considerable amount of effort and cost, (b) even though I observed this practice with my dad, it's still completely unfamiliar to me, and (c) can't imagine it's comfortable to carry (heavy, bulky), and the places to hide them (ankle, shoulder) seem completely unrealistic when doing anything except wearing a full suit and standing completely still.

I don't think that our government will ever actually try to increase its power to the extent that they would restrict our rights enough to warrant a possible uprising.  And accordingly, I don't think the American people will ever need to utilize our weapons to rise up against it.  But is it really a bad thing to be in such a position that we (citizens) could do so?  In other words, just because we trust the government to usually do the right thing doesn't mean that we always will, or that it always will either.  So why not be prepared accordingly?  Doesn't having an armed citizen militia help prevent the government from considering expanding its power beyond what it should?

I'm not a doomsday prepper.  I don't have a stock pile of anything.  Not food, not water, not a bunker, and not ammunition either (just a little left over from my dad).  I honestly don't believe that these preparations would ever be utilized or necessary.  But I can't help to sometimes feel a little short sighted when I hear, read, or talk to someone who is prepared for whatever the future may hold.  While it may seem a bit odd and paranoid, is it ever a bad thing to be overly prepared?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mental Illness, or Something Else?

There are a lot of questions that arise from an incident like today's shooting in Connecticut.  The biggest ones are very naturally "Why?" and "What went wrong in a person to cause them to do such a thing?"

I've seen "mental illness" used a lot today as a possible answer.  I recognize that mental illness exists, and that chemical imbalances are sometimes present in the human brain, and that modern medicine can sometimes help to correct these imbalances.  So let me start there, by saying that I'm not discounting the existence of such things, I recognize that our culture discourages talking about it and seeking help, and I'm not eliminating medicine as a solution either.

But what about "normal" negative emotions, even when they're intense?  Do these emotions all arise from mental illness: anger, hate, frustration, bitterness, jealousy, disappointment, anguish?  If not, then where do they come from, and what purpose do they serve? Are they ever constructive or useful?

What about these emotions: love, peace, happiness, contentment, joy?  Are these normal, or are they caused by a faulty chemical imbalance?  If we believe that a normal range of emotions is not caused by mental illness, but are the product of a correctly functioning mind, then are they beneficial or can they be distracting at best, and destructive at worst?  Put another way, do they usually help us to be productive or cause us to act foolishly and then make mistakes in our decisions (even the good emotions, when in excess)?

Now, if they seem "normal", but by and large they cause us to not think clearly and act logically, then can they be caused by evolution?  Why or how?  The desire to mate/procreate certainly seems logical for promoting and continuing the human species, but why emotions?


Here is the point to asking all of these questions - I believe that the presence of emotions and the wide range in which they are exhibited helps to demonstrate the presence of a "soul" in humans.

Now, if we as humans have a soul, then that could very well mean that there is a dimension of life that is spiritual in nature, but we cannot see.  Not only do I believe such a realm exists, but I think most if not all of us have been made innately aware that there is at least one being who is present in it, who is responsible for providing these positive emotions - God.

If we can easily look at our positive emotions and credit them as being generated by a God who most people can easily understand and believe to be good, then where do the negative emotions come from?


Here is the main point:  So many people have no problem whatsoever agreeing with the concept of God, and even "guardian angels".  If you can fathom the existence of a soul though, and we can agree that a spiritual dimension to life exists, and there is a positive aspect to it (God) - then why must we discount any and all evidence of evil around us as "mental illness", instead of at least considering the possibility that an instigator of evil could possibly exist?

And finally, if any or all of this makes sense, and you're willing to consider that there is a negative spiritual influence that could be causing the negative emotions that we not only see around us, but also feel in our own heart and mind to some extent (hate, anger, jealousy, bitterness, etc), then I would encourage you to read and consider what the Bible has to say about them. This could be a good start (see link).

Gun Control Laws in the Face of Tragedy

I know incidents like today's in Connecticut seem to make it clear that we need to reduce or eliminate the ability to purchase guns, that we "need better gun control laws". I understand why people would think that, and I wish it would work too. But unfortunately I don't think it will, and here is a well written article that explains why better than I can:

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Probation and Parkour (Dreaming)

I had an odd dream last night (12/4/2012):

I was riding as a passenger in a metallic green Chevy Impala with 20 - 22" rims (similar to the picture above).  The driver engaged the hydraulic suspension so that the front of the car was as high as possible, while the rear was as low as it could go.  The angle of our seats now made it difficult or impossible to see the road, except he had another windshield under our feet that allowed us to look through the floor at the road ahead of us.

For some reason we got pulled over (the driver had guns or drugs or something) and then arrested.  Since the reason we were arrested was primarily the driver's fault, I was only on probation, but also on constant watch by a probation officer whenever I left my house.

The gentleman who was watching me was an older guy (like me I guess), but you could tell he was tough as nails.  I told him I was going to get some exercise, to which he approved (since he thought he would have no problem keeping up).  After running for a bit and ending up in a stadium of some sort, I started to perform a bunch of parkour maneuvers, leaping over and under and around things.  Needless to say, the other chap couldn't hang with me and I had a few moments of freedom from my probation babysitter.

Then I woke up.

I should add that I've never tried parkour (although I would love to), and that I really have no idea how probation works or if there is any variety where you are actually watched by someone like that.  It was just a weird dream.

Employment Entitlements

This is from a response I made to a friend's brother on Facebook, but I thought it might be worth saving, so I copied it here (with minor changes).

Here is the problem with today's employment and income expectations for people like those striking at Wal-Mart or at Hostess (who caused the company to close their business). Somehow it has been determined in their mind that any company that chooses to hire them should be required to pay every single one of its employees sufficient income to provide for a family. Oh, and the working conditions must be on their own terms, not the employers.

But since the beginning of time, people have had to work to get to the point where they can provide for their family. They have either had to learn a skill or a trade (such as a blacksmith, or a woodworker), get an education (a scribe or an architect), or perform manual labor (a farmer or a general laborer). Another option would be that they pursue a career that has high risk, such as a sheriff, soldier, knight, etc. Or, they can take a different kind of risk by starting their own business, in which case they have to invest a lot of money and often sacrifice most of their life (excessively long work days) for many months or years to make their business aspirations come to fruition. It has been this way for generations upon generations, probably as long as organized civilizations (cities, towns, etc) existed.

But now, all of a sudden, people are seeking employment anywhere they can find it without bothering to pursue anything that would make them employable or desirable in the free market exchange.  Then, once in that job (one that any high schooler or even a drop out can perform), they complain about their employer, their income, their benefits, and anything else they can think of to whine about. And they insist that they should be able to make a living in this occupation, that they should be able to "support their families".

If you are in a position that requires none of the previously mentioned qualifications though (trade skill, education, labor, bravado/risk, or financial risk/sacrifice), then you have no business requesting ANYTHING from your employer, except perhaps receiving the agreed upon wages when you were hired and safety from harm. Your only focus should be to (a) work hard, and (b) be thankful for the job you have while or until you can pursue something that makes you valuable enough to be more competitive in the free market economy that we live in.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Deeper Level of Thankfulness?

Over the years, I’ve mostly gotten used to not having the nicest stuff, or even having a lot of flexibility in our budget to afford spending much money on new “things”. Being unemployed for six months certainly didn’t help, and now although I have a good job with decent pay, we’re still trying to get caught up from the unemployment time, our relocation expenses, our recent trip to Florida for my brother’s 30th birthday, and on and on.

This morning though, the Cincinnati Enquirer has “5 pounds worth of savings for Black Friday” in it. So I looked in the Target ad, and instantly wanted the 50” 1080p TV for $350, and the 61-key keyboard for $70, and to get the Canon Rebel camera package for Amanda (including memory card and telephoto lens) for $500. Man, what deals! And I started to see how people get so caught up that they wait in lines overnight or longer to conquer these savings and get this new stuff!

I have no doubt that the perspective of our financial status is based on our culture (what we see on TV, in the ads, etc), and on those around us (our neighbors, friends, co-workers, etc). So it’s difficult if not impossible to think that we ever have “enough”, or to not want more, because we see all of the things around us that we don’t have.

The perspective of our gratitude though, is dependent of our heart, and of our relationship to God.  I’m currently reading a book (that Amanda has already read), called “One Thousand Gifts”. In it, the author talks about the original text that is written to describe Jesus “giving thanks” at the last supper in Luke 22:19, which is eucharisteo. Jesus knew He was going to be tortured, crucified, and (even worse?) separated from God, yet still He was able to be grateful for what He had at that very moment.  Numerous other verses are cited too, where Jesus thanks God after or during difficult times. Then too, when Jesus healed the 10 lepers in Luke 17 and only one came back to thank Him, Jesus replied “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you” (the most literal translation).

They were all physically healed, but the one who was thankful was saved. Of course, this doesn't mean that thankfulness is the source of salvation. But our ability to focus on God is very largely dependent on turning our attention and our desires away from our culture and/or our friends. Then we can be thankful for all of the things that we have, instead of looking longingly at that which we do not.

And you might want to put down those ads.  They'll get you every time!  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Exercise vs. Entertainment

I recently went to Florida to be with my family for my brother's 30th birthday and also my oldest daughter's 6th birthday. After eating one helping of pizza (3 slices) at my daughter's birthday party, I complained to my brother in-law about wanting to go back for more, but choosing to be sensible/disciplined instead.  We both reminisced about "back in the day" when we could eat as much pizza as we wanted to, without any regret or negative repercussions.

I then commented that maybe if we were as consumed by exercising and body building as a friend of ours is (who is also close to our age), then we wouldn't have to be as concerned with restricting our consumption.  Daniel then said something about us having to sacrifice so many other important aspects of our lives (like family, dedication to God, etc).

A few minutes later he was telling me about several TV shows that he and my sister have been enjoying.  The Walking Dead was one of them (that I am now hooked on too).  But as we were talking about this, I connected our previous conversation to this one, and thought about us feeling like it's impossible to dedicate ourselves to exercise, primarily because it seemed like it would require so much sacrifice.  And now here we were talking about spending what sounded like at least an hour per night watching various TV shows.

I know, I know - we all want to just "relax" after a long day of work, or kids, or school, or whatever.  And we already have to get up too early for all of these things as well.  And it's so hard to wake up and exercise when you're tired, and/or it's cold out, and/or we stayed up too late (watching TV or surfing the web).  But with all of these (sometimes valid) excuses, I keep coming back to the idea that we really just can't resist feeding our addiction to entertainment.  It's a habit that we can't break any more than a long time smoker can stop sucking his own life away through the end of a paper roll.

What it really comes down to for most of us, with the exception of a very small percentage of people, is that the incentive to exercise is just not significant enough to get us up off of the couch or out of our desk chairs.  We just aren't motivated enough to sacrifice our entertainment.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Some Nights, Some Days

I know I lead a blessed life and most of my problems are "first world problems", but there are some moments when I get really annoyed that I can't escape my responsibilities.

Last night, for example.  It was Friday night, and a much needed payday too.  What I really wanted to do was celebrate - go out with Amanda to grab a beer at a sports bar with some friends.  Hang out, socialize - just relax and enjoy life a bit.  But instead we went to Panda Express for dinner to go, and we introduced the kids to "Willow" (they only finished the first half before it was bedtime).  And that was fine and fun.  Then the kids went to bed, and Amanda and I went downstairs to mess around on the computers (Amanda is addicted to 365project, and I like enjoy browsing through the cleaner posts on The Chive), followed by us watching an episode of "The Walking Dead".  Then we went to bed.

I know, I know.  We could have gotten up and done something different.  It's not like we didn't have any choices in the matter of what we could do at home.  But there are some nights when I just don't feel like doing anything here at home, in the same, normal place. Especially when it's just so easy to default to our routine.

I also miss spending time with friends.  I love being with my wife more than anyone else in the world, but sometimes I really want to be with other people too.  Also, I seriously enjoy my family here (Mom and Dad C., Katie and Jimmy, etc), even more than I thought I would before we moved here.  But sometimes I want to be with peers - people of my age group, in similar circumstances (kids, etc), and maybe even of the same faith as us.  Don't get me wrong - I don't want any less time with our family here, I would just like to have some time with friends too.

This is the trade off of moving to Ohio though I guess, at least for now.

Then, this morning when I woke up to hearing the kids walking around upstairs at 6:20am, I thought about how I get up to my alarm every morning at 6:20 - 6:30am, and today I just want to sleep in a bit, damnit!  I got out of bed and let Amanda get ready for the gym (we would both go later if the kids weren't sick), then took care of getting the kids' a snack, pouring their drinks, fixing the girls' hair, and helping Lucas use an inhaler because he keeps coughing.  But oh how I would love to just sit down and ponder what to do with my day.  Or for Amanda and I to share a quiet cup of coffee together and figure out what we can do together, without having to deal with our little people, who happen to be BIG responsibilities.  Then there's the dog too.  Ugh.

Again, I know these are first world problems.  I'm sure that I sound like a whiny little brat to God, who gave me so many wonderful choices and blessings, including a job that I enjoy, a fantastic and beautiful wife, and my children who are truly freakin' awesome and incredible.  But there are just some days when I would like a little bit less responsibility, and to be able to enjoy the freedom associated with it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fun Sunday, Grace by Distraction

Last weekend we went to Clifton Mill, Clifton Gorge, and Young's Dairy Farm (for a pumpkin fair) with Amanda's family.  The scenery was breathtaking at both Clifton locations (check out the pictures from my phone), and it was great to be outside and walking around in the cool air.  

The Dairy Farm was fun too.  We had a tasty lunch at the restaurant there.  Lucas and I navigated through a corn maze (picture below).  The girls got to ride in a little airplane ride that was pulled by a tractor.  We also ate some ice cream and picked a pumpkin from the patch too.  

Because we knew we would be gone for the whole day, we utilized a coupon for a free day of boarding at PetSmart for our dog, Hope.  The only drawback to boarding her though was that we had to make sure we arrived back at PetSmart before they closed for the day.  

Well, we were in the middle of eating our ice cream when Amanda realized that it was 5pm, and we were approximately an hour drive away from PetSmart, which closed at 6pm.  So we loaded up in the minivan and raced against the clock to get there on time.  

Well, maybe "racing" wasn't the best idea, I realized as the blue and red lights flashed behind me.  How fast, you ask?  76 in a 55.  Yep, >20mph over.  Truth be told, I really didn't realize I was going that fast.  The happy ending to this story though, is that after collecting my license and returning to his car, he immediately and briskly walked back, handed me my license, and informed me that he's letting me off with a warning.  Then he briskly walked back to his car and sped off after someone else.  

I don't know if they were in the hundreds of mph range, or if it was just Amanda's prayer just before pulling over.  But whatever the reason, grace was given that day, and we gladly accepted it.

And we actually made it to PetSmart in time.  Right at 6pm.  On the nose.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Better Than WWJD?

WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) has been a popular acronym among Christians since the 1990s, and for good reason.  It's a catchy way to remind yourself to make decisions that model what you think Jesus' choice would be.  And if you're a Christian (aka follower of Christ), then this should be a daily, if ever elusive, goal.

However, a few weeks back a phrase/verse in the Bible really struck me as completely pivotal to what we, as Christians, should strive for as our overall goal in life - the "big picture" so to speak.  It's Matthew 25:21: 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’.

While utilizing WWJD is useful in helping us make daily decisions, we should be pondering the bigger questions, actions, decisions, and plans with the goal of hearing those words "Well done good and faithful servant!" on the day of our passing from this world.

I'm not asking whether you will get to heaven or not.  If you've accepted the sacrifice of Jesus and have repented from your sins then the answer is yes.  But when you get to heaven, and God looks at your life, what would you expect Him to say, based on how you lived it?  Will He maybe mumble and say "Fine, you made it.  Come on in" with little to no enthusiasm?  Or would He and a host of angels proclaim "Well Done Good and Faithful Servant!  You lived a life worth celebrating.  One that did much good in the world.  One that proclaimed, celebrated, praised, and spread my name to all who knew you.  You didn't just live as a person who calls him/herself a Christian when asked about it.  You lived in a way that all who knew you, and even many who didn't, knew what you represented - ME!  To sum it up, you made Me (God) proud.  Well done indeed."

I wish I could say with confidence that the latter would be true of me, but at this point in time I don't really think that would be the case.  But I want to have this idea at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis, to pursue things, actions, decisions, relationships that would lead to this eventual proclamation when I die.

In the spirit (and popularity) of WWJD, perhaps it would also be a good idea to come up with an acronym to make it more catchy and memorable.  The best choices I can come up with are these:
  • WDGaFS 
  • WeDoGaFaSe (probably too long)
  • WeDGaFS
  • Wedgafs
Which one do you think is the best?  Any other suggestions?

Also, what would your answer be to that question, if you were to ask yourself "Is the way I'm living, the choices I'm making, the way I'm spending my time, the way I interact with others, the way I stand up for my faith, the passion in which I pursue my God, are these things done in a way such that I would expect to hear that phrase (WELL DONE...!)?"  Any feedback is welcome.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Book Review: "50 Shades of Grey" by E.L. James

My wife and I had heard so damned much about this book. It's been all over the news, on Facebook, and talked about amongst Amanda's friends too (even fellow church goers). So both of us were at least a little curious to read it. It was only ~$10 for the soft cover, so Amanda decided to give it a shot. She liked it pretty well, so I decided to climb into a woman's mind and learn a little more about how their most prominent sexual organ (their brain, or so I'm told anyway) works.

 The biggest problem that I had with it is that I found myself comparing our current sex life to that of the characters in the book. But the circumstances of our life aren't anywhere close to theirs. Limited financial resources aside, when we were dating we may have equaled (or even surpassed?) their passion, and even perhaps when we were first married. But once you enter kids into the equation, sex gets pushed way down on the priority ladder. Factor in work responsibilities, financial struggles, time and location limitations (especially due to kids), general life stress, maintaining your material possessions, getting stuck in "parenting" mode, and any number of other difficulties, and all of a sudden romance and sex takes a lot more effort. It's still great and fun and wonderful when it happens, but our emotional and physical circumstances can't even come close to the story that I'm letting myself become engrossed in.

 Maybe that's part of the allure with books like this though, letting your mind wander to alternate scenarios apart from your own reality.  I can certainly appreciate that, as I enjoy that aspect about any book/story I read.  So why not one that includes graphic sex scenes too?  The best that could come out of it will be that it helps inspire me to work harder to make intimate "moments" happen in my own real-life marriage.  The worst that could result is that Amanda and I will find ourselves increasingly frustrated with our own situation and get discouraged instead of inspired.

Well, the jury is still out regarding its affect on our marriage, but I admit that I did enjoy reading it, and I didn't find any obvious annoyances with the story itself or the writing style, like I'd heard about in some critiques of it.  I thought Mrs. James did a good job of creating a believable female main character, and I appreciated her (the character's) introspection and ability to analyze the relationship, her partner, and also his "unique" requests/desires. 

I don't think this book is for everyone, but I personally enjoyed it and so did my wife.  Now if only Ms. James would write another sequel that includes the challenges associated with marriage and family life.  When taking young kids and a puppy into consideration, perhaps it could be called Fifty Shades of Brown and Yellow. :-)

Monday, September 03, 2012

Are You "Marked"?

I am reading through the Bible again chronologically, and am currently in Ezekiel.  I couldn't help but pause at Ezekiel 9:3-10, where it says this (NIV version):

Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.

As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughterthe old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the old men who were in front of the temple.

Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. While they were killing and I was left alone, I fell facedown, crying out, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?

He answered me, “The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land; the Lord does not see.’ 10 So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.

My Student Bible added information about the mark being the final letter in the Hebrew alphabet, a taw, which looks like an "x", and that Christians have noted its similarities to the cross.  There are many other things that I find interesting about this though.  While this is only a vision that Ezekiel is shown by God, it's not too different from other verses where God orders the total destruction of other cities or people, such as Deuteronomy 20:16-17 or 1 Samuel 15:1-3.  It's also similar to the passover that the Israelites experienced before their exodus from Egypt. It's hard to fathom how and/or why God was so ruthless when He gave orders to destroy cities and/or nations, but Hank Hanegraaff helps to give a good explanation here (link).

I thought it was interesting what qualified people for the saving "mark" though - "those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in (the city of Jerusalem)."  I had to wonder how that applies to me - do I grieve and lament enough over the detestable things in our culture?  Certainly sometimes.  As much as it should be though?  I don't know.

 I also thought it was interesting that "they began with the elders who were in front of the temple".  I take this to mean the people who call themselves Christians by name, but aside from this label they give themselves, they do absolutely nothing to follow Jesus or to pursue God.  They put up a spiritual "front" and even take positions of leadership within the church, but inside their hearts they are no different from anyone else around them.

 So I'm not sure about whether my level of righteous anger regarding our culture is significant or consistent enough (would I be "marked" based on that alone?).  However, based on my understanding of the rest of the Bible, I am still quite confident that I am marked with something more significant than ink - the grace credited to me through Christ's sacrifice, the measure of the holy spirit that is given to God's children who accept this gift of grace, and ultimately an eternity spent with the one who marked me as His child, and with others who are also God's chosen children.

What about you?  Would you be granted an "x" on your forehead in the circumstances described in Ezekiel 9?  Or more importantly, will you on the day that really matters - that of your demise?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo

After driving for several days on our moving trip from Sacramento to Cincinnati, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel for two reasons: (1) for dinner (we really like their food, and there aren't any CB's on the West coast), (2) to purchase an audio book on CD to help entertain us for some portion of the remainder of the trip.  We wanted to listen to a book that was not only interesting, but also kid friendly.  Amanda found this one, which we had read about in a news article a while back.

I had fairly recently read a book about another individual's "heavenly" experience called 90 Minutes in Heaven (link is to my review), and I was curious to hear the perspective of this little boy.  Similar to the other book, the author went through a great deal of effort to legitimize not only the information that his son relayed to him, but also the method with which they obtained it.  He made sure to explain (a) how the boy knew and observed things that could only be possible if he did indeed experience what he claims, (b) how the details of his experience cross correlate with Biblical text, and (c) how they did not coerce him or influence him in any way to say specific things.

I don't know if this story will convince atheists or skeptics that an afterworld exists, or to accept Christianity as their faith of choice.  If you're not a Christian though, and after reading/listening to this story you believe at least some of what this kid experienced as truth, then I don't see how it couldn't have some positive affect on your beliefs.

In the end, our whole family found this to be an interesting, enlightening, and inspirational story.  It made not only some of our journey in the car more enjoyable, but perhaps some of our journey in life too.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Brotherly Introspection

My brother Steven visited us for a few days in the last week of July.  The last time I had the opportunity to hang out with him was in Orlando last year, for Thanksgiving.  I even wrote a (very) brief post  about it here

Although we only got to see him for three evenings and one day, it seemed like we fit a lot in to that small amount of time.  We went to the gym a couple times, dined out and walked around at Newport on the Levee, played darts at my house (we each won 3, but he was playing much better than me), chilled out on my back porch while drinking cinnamon whiskey, and went to Kings Island on Friday.

Steve and me at Newport on the Levee
There are many things I admire and respect about Steve, who is 11 years younger than me.  The one thing that stands out the most though, and even inspires me, is his toughness.  He is (like my dad was) somewhat of a bad ass.  He has a major attitude, an abundance of testosterone, and I doubt he would ever back down from a brawl.  Almost every time I see him (once a year at best), he has a new story of a fight that he has participated in.  They're usually not his fault, or if so then it was probably for a good reason.  This time, for example, he told the story of observing a man pushing a woman down in a parking lot, so that she fell backwards on the cement.  After witnessing this he exchanged some words with the dude, and ended up laying the guy out cold.

There once was a time when I was clearly his "big" brother (bigger, stronger than him).  But 12 years of marriage, 7 years of children, and a career in engineering do little to foster the pursuit of fitness.  And while I have never given up on this battle (I'm a week or two out from washboard abs, if I really dedicated myself to diet and exercise for that duration), he has been steadily gaining and then surpassing me on that front, especially since he's never had those family responsibilities to hinder his efforts.  Don't get me wrong, my family and career are all tremendous blessings, and I would prefer their hindrance any day to being able to work out regularly and/or pursue other manly hobbies (martial arts, cars, etc).  I'm just saying that priorities change, and the affects of the 11 years between us has now swung in his favor, physically speaking.

After hanging out together, I found myself adapting his behavior a bit, wanting to be "tougher", badder, to have the "edge" and attitude that he possesses. I guess I wanted to "keep up" with him in that regard, to some extent anyway.  After thinking about it more though, I came to the conclusion that I really don't want to project my toughness on the outside like Steven does.  Instead, as a Christian (aka follower of Jesus), I want others to feel drawn to me (as they were to Jesus)not afraid of me or intimidated by me.  In other words, I would rather reflect outwardly the love of God that resides within me.

Aside from the Christian perspective, most reasons that fighting occur are stupid, foolish, and immature.  Not only that, but since I have a family to take care of and young kids to raise, I have to consider whether the unnecessry health/life risk is really worth it.

On the other hand though, is there anything less manly than excessive risk consideration and reduction?  I don't want to stick my neck out for no reason, but if I act like a wimp for the sake of ensuring that I'm able to raise my kids, then is having an ever-present coward for a dad really the best scenario?  In addition, how do you know whether or not you can fight if you've never tried?  Or how to you increase your inner strength without testing (and hopefully displaying) your outer courage and resolve?

So what if some douche bag wants to bump shoulders with me when walking by?  Instead of me bowing up, squaring off, and/or staring him down, I hope that I would instead either laugh about it (knowing that he's a douche bag), or even consider disarming him verbally, maybe by starting a conversation with him "hey man, nice tattoo".  Sounds a bit crazy, but isn't that what Jesus would do, especially if it's possible that it would open up an opportunity to talk about my faith?  

But here is the kicker - I want to make sure that I still have an abundance of toughness on the inside.  I want to make sure that there is still a killer psycho who (if an injustice is observed, or a victim needs assistance) can open up a gigantic, exploding can of whoop ass on those who need/deserve it.  I want to know that there is an inner warrior that is still deep down within, and can be tapped if absolutely necessary.  So that is the question I am now posing to myself - am I as tough as I want to be, as much as I feel that I should be on the inside?  Do I really have that inner strength?  If not, then how can I develop it and nurture it again (like I did when I was younger and trained in kickboxing)?

I recently watched the movie Act of Valor.  In it, the following statement is made: 
"The hardest thing about growing old is that
other men no longer see you as dangerous

That makes sense, but I've decided that the hardest thing for me about growing old is not the danger that others may or may not see in me, but wondering if I see myself as still having enough strength, courage, and/or righteous anger to be dangerous.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book Review: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

I borrowed this audio book from the library when I was driving to and from Sunnyvale on a weekly basis (for a contract job).  I remember hearing some of the actual lecture at some point and really liking what I heard, so I thought I would enjoy hearing the whole thing, along with additional commentary from the author.  And I was right.

Amanda and I have since started watching the actual lecture, and there was a lot of additional information about Randy and his life in the book that was not in the original presentation (at Carnegie Mellon) - more background, details, history, stories, lessons learned, etc.  He seemed like a remarkable individual, who lived a much fuller life in many regards than most people do with a much longer lifespan.  And whenever people of a high caliber share their stories and/or advice, it's almost always a blessing, and this was no exception.

My only complaint is that he hardly talked about anything faith related.  He only mentions that he has dealt with it personally with/through the church he attends.  Well, that's good to know, but if you're on the brink of death, and are able to influence such a large number of people through the stories of your life, then why would you not accompany it with at least a nudge or a hint of spiritual encouragement too?  No matter what faith he was (or wasn't), his decision in this matter is now going to have eternal rewards or consequences, and I'm surprised that knowing this so intimately didn't encourage him to talk about it.

Finished reading on 3/22/2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Aqua Emasculation

"Sure, why not.  It will probably be fun."  I said when Amanda asked if I wanted to join her and her mom in a "Water Circuit" class at our gym (LifeTime Fitness).  I'd taken several other fitness classes there (Sculpting Yoga, Spinning, Barbell Strength, etc), all of which I had enjoyed, and I like trying new things, especially regarding exercise.

The class was held in approximately 1/3 of the gym's very large pool, the rest of which was used by families playing in the water with their kids.  And this entire pool is housed in a gigantic enclosed area.  This area also includes a separate (and busy) lap pool with athletes conquering laps, and is adjacent to two hot tubs, a sauna (with a big window to the pool), and high windows all around, so people riding stationary bikes on the upper floor of the gym could look down onto the pool area.  The picture of the pool below is at a different LifeTime Fitness, but ours is very similar.

I knew ahead of time what the concept was, I knew where the location was, and I pretty much knew what I was getting into.  Also, I am quite secure in my manhood, am not easily embarrassed, and as I mentioned in the beginning, I had valid reasons for doing this.  Yet, even with all of these encouraging factors, as the class started, I began to quickly realize what I bad idea this really was.  Not only was I the sole male participant, but I was also the 2nd youngest participant in the group, with my wife being the youngest.  To make matters even worse, the moves that we were performing were, let's just say less than masculine.

Not long into it, I debated whether to inconspicuously duck out into one of the adjacent lap lanes, but then another (significantly older) man joined us as well, and I thought to myself "Damnit, I started this stupid class, so I might as well finish it!  At least I'm not the only male now.  Besides, experiences that encourage humility are good for you, right?"  The more I participated though, the further it progressed from humbling to downright humiliating.  And yes, we used the silly looking floating barbells that are in the above picture.

The only saving graces for the experience are (a) Since we just moved here, we hardly know anyone in this area outside of family, (b) I got to spend some time with two people that I love - my wife and mother-in-law, and (c) If performed with enough vigor, I admit that the class did provide a decent workout too.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Prophetic Daughter?

I was having a bad moment as a dad yesterday evening.  Amanda was at her sister's bachelorette party, and I was flying solo.  I was watching "The Smurfs" movie with the kids, and there was a scene where Neil Patrick Harris' character observes a young couple with their toddler son walking between them, after which the dad picks him up and kisses him.  His character then realizes how despite life's frustrations he is content with the anticipation of being a father (or something like that).

As for me, I had gotten frustrated with my own kids during dinner, especially with Emily and Clara for taking so long to eat their soup.  I'm sure there were other things too, such as annoying noises, repeated jokes (for the 100th time), and who knows what else.  Now, watching this scene unfold on the couch (after we finally finished our dinner), I was thinking about how all I do is nag my kids and get annoyed with them.  I am a no-fun, killjoy of a dad.  I suck.

Just then, Emily came over to me and gave me a great big hug, and Clara followed her big sister to do the same.  As both of them were bear hugging me Emily said "Your daughters sure do love you", after which I relied "and I sure do love my daughters."

She moved back to look at me and said "Dad, I know you get frustrated with us sometimes, but God is still proud of you."  Then they went back to watching the movie like nothing happened, and I sat there with my mouth on the floor.  Only God knew how much I needed to hear that just then.  So thank you God, and also thanks to my daughter Emily too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Legal Perspective on Prop 8?

In a previous blog post, I mentioned how I thought our attitudes, as Christians, should be oriented regarding the issue of gay marriage - through the perspective of the Bible.

The more I discussed this with other people though, and the more I thought about it, the more I began thinking that there is ground to stand on not only from a moral/Biblical perspective, but also from a legal perspective.  And here's why:

The biggest defense in favor of  eliminating Proposition 8 is based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which states that
"no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

But how, exactly, are homosexuals currently denied equal protection?  They have the exact same right as you and me - to marry someone of the same gender.  The laws of marriage as it is currently defined are not being applied differently to them because of their sexual orientation.  Instead, what they are really trying to change is not who the law applies to (or doesn't apply to), but how the law defines marriage.

So the issue is not whether they are being denied the same rights as others, but of wanting new rights to be added that pertain specifically to them.  So what gay people want is really equality based not on gender, or on race, but based on their sexual preferences.

I had to think for a while to come up with any similar moral/legal dilemmas that could parallel that of gay marriage.  Some that came to mind are prostitution, marrying within family (siblings, cousins, parents, etc).  But I think the best example to use is polygamy.  Because not only is it a moral uncertainty, but it would also require an effort to redefine marriage to suit a minority of people.  Even if all parties that wish to participate are adults and are in complete agreement, for some reason we choose to keep it illegal.  Is it only because advocates of this "lifestyle" aren't vocal enough, or because there aren't a large enough quantity of them to provide the political pressure?  Or because long-term menage-a-trois aren't ingrained enough in our culture to be considered "normal" yet?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day Success

Well, after much effort and agony (in preparation), Valentine's Day was pretty successful.  Here are some highlights:
  • Amanda still had flowers that were in tact from the last time that I gave them to her, so I was able to forego getting new ones.  
  • I gave her a gift in the morning (it was somewhat practical, but only at her request).  
  • Wrote a small love note to her in the early afternoon.
  • I arranged for two stages of babysitting for the evening...
  • we could go on a surprise date to Sherman Clay, where they were holding a concert called "Sweethearts and Steinway" in their recital room.  They had wine and dessert for us to consume, and a jazz trio consisting of pianist Jim Martinez, a drummer, a standing bass, and a vocalist for some of the songs (which I guess made it a quartet for those tunes).
  • Before our date I gave her a (long and thoughtful) card.
  • I made reservations at Mas (a kinda-upscale Mexican restaurant), for us to have dinner after the concert.
  • Then I had one more small gift for her at the end of the evening.
We probably spent a bit more money than we should have, but this occasion comes only once a year, and I think the celebration/promotion of romance is worth it.  While the day had its ups and downs (as is always the case when taking care of the kids), we thoroughly enjoyed our evening together.  Of course, any date spent with Amanda is a good one though.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Christian Perspective on Prop 8

Today a federal appeals court decided that the Prop8 vote to ban gay marriage is unconstitutional (see the USA Today article here).

First, let me say that I can understand both sides of the argument regarding the constitutionality of gay marriage.  And because I can see both opinions on the matter, I don't really know the clear answer regarding whether it should or shouldn't be allowed, from a purely legal perspective.

I'm not surprised to see many people happy about this decision either (on Facebook, etc).  Gay marriage is essentially allowing two adults make the ultimate expression of their dedication and love for one another.  It's an expansion of individual liberty and freedoms as well.  So why shouldn't the secular world cheer for that - yay for love and happily ever after.

What does surprise me though, is to see people who are Christians happy about it.  I'm not saying that all Christians should be angry about it, or should even feel the need to rally against homosexual marriage.  But why would you be happy about further legitimizing and promoting in our society something that is not only a sin, but an "abomination", according to the Bible?  I'm not talking about whether we should appreciate gays as individual people, or whether to be friends with them, etc.  I totally think that we should, and when the opportunity has arisen, I personally have.  I have had gay friends, I have happily worked aside gay co-workers, and I have no issues with even fellow church goers whom are gay.  In fact, one of my roommates in college was gay.  I have no problem with them as people, and I love and enjoy each of them for who they are and what their personalities have to offer.  And if they themselves are not Christians, than why would they not pursue the desires of their heart and/or their sexuality?

However, that still doesn't change my belief that their actions and lifestyle are sinful and wrong.  This is because I believe in the Bible.  And I tend to think that any other person who believes and adheres to the Bible should agree with me on this.  Because from a Biblical perspective, there is no uncertainty about it being wrong.

Whether or not it is ingrained, accepted, or even promoted in our culture should not affect our opinion of what we personally think about the action.  Pornography, objectification, and pre-marital sex are all just as readily, if not even more so promoted and accepted as "normal" in our society.  But as Christians, we are supposed to morally rise about our surroundings and our culture.  I'm not saying this because I think Christians are better or holier than others, but because our moral compass should not be defined by, nor should it even be heavily influenced by our society.  Ideally, it should only be guided by and defined by what the Bible says.

But how much should Christians be influencing our laws, based on our Bible-based moral beliefs?  We certainly don't want to pursue our own version of Sharia law.  The answer to this may certainly vary on an individual basis, and I don't think we should be pursuing further modification of the laws to enact new legal restrictions on people (against porn, for example).  But I don't think it's overstepping our bounds to resist further immoral freedoms either, such as prostitution and homosexual marriage.  And if we are to set an example to others regarding what we stand for, then it definitely seems like a bad idea to actively and/or publicly promote, encourage, or advocate advancement of what we should believe (again, based on the Bible) are immoral agendas.

As an American, and a Libertarian, I can appreciate and even applaud people gaining freedom to make their own individual decisions.  But above both of those belief systems, above everything else that could possibly shape and influence my opinions, I am a follower of Christ, and a believer in the Bible as the set of standards to live by.  So for this reason, I am disappointed in today's outcome.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Huh, Her Husband Looks Kinda Old

The title of this post is what I was thinking when I recently looked at a girl's Facebook pictures from high school.  Her picture popped up in the "People You May Know" section.  I didn't really know her, so I didn't care to request her as a "friend", but I'm generally curious about where and what everyone from high school is up to these days.  So I briefly browsed through her pictures.  And that is what led me to the subject title.

But that isn't the real reason for this blog post.  Oh no.

You see, after I had that thought, for some reason I had to analyze why I would think that about him.  He looked fairly slim and/or in decent shape (not fat).  He had a full head of hair too.  But there's a little bit of grey, and just a few telltale wrinkles.  Nothing major, but just enough.

And it's the next thought that entered my mind that led me to this post.  That guy in the pictures, her husband, he looks like ME.

I'M that old!

A little bit of grey, a few wrinkles.  DAMN!


As an update, I showed the pictures to Amanda and she thought he looks older than me.  Because his hairstyle is more conservative and he's dressed in a tie.  I don't know though, she might just be biased.
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