Monday, July 30, 2007

Blood of the Martyrs.

If you've been following this story, you'll know that the Taliban have killed another hostage. Al-Jazeera, of course, has video of the hostages.

The breaking news is being covered by the blogs, but I do have some thoughts about this horrible situation.

The first is that in all the reporting of this story, I had to go online to learn that the hostages are Christians, primarily nurses and teachers. I've seen three stories from the AP in our local paper in the last few days, and not one of them mentioned this fact.

Second, let no one doubt what kind of people we are dealing with. Though the liberals would like you to believe otherwise, we are at war with an ideology. They pick their targets according to their beliefs, and they stick at nothing. I don't condemn all Muslims because of the actions of these thugs, but don't believe that they have hijacked a religion. If that is the case, then Muslims everywhere should stand up and loudly condemn such actions. They don't; and the ones that do give half-hearted attempts at best.

Third, pray for the hostages. Most of the ones remaining are women; pray that they will remain strong, setting an example of their faith, and pray that they will be rescued or set free; if not, pray that God will receive them into His arms with love and honor.

Update: Reuters reported a rescue operation, then withdrew the story. The Afghan army has been dropping warning leaflets, but South Korea and the US have ruled out military action. As of yet, the hostages are still alive, though the final deadline has passed.

Keep praying. Maybe someone will do more than drop leaflets.

More info: Predictably, the US media report the Taliban's side of the story.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Question of Liberty.

This article appeared Monday at Christianity Today. The author poses this question near the end:

This hits on what I think is the biggest question for western Christians
right now: Should Christians in democracies work to make governmental actions
reflect biblical priorities? If God loves human "freedom," should we then get
the government to act for "freedom" worldwide? If God loves the poor, should we
get the government to enact polices aimed at reducing (or eliminating)

The answer is that we should be preaching the Gospel. The Bible does not speak of human freedom in terms of individual liberty and democratic government. The freedom spoken of in the Bible refers to the freedom Christ's sacrifice has given us over sin. That is, if we accept God's gift of salvation through Christ, we are free from the bonds of sin and death forever. We should keep this in mind when we discuss spreading liberty throughout the world. Does the President understand this?

I honestly don't know, but his critics apparently think he doesn't. Dreher, Sullivan, and Douthat point out that that just because God wants us to be free does not mean we should impose our form of government on other countries. Yet they also seem to think that Mr. Bush is implying that the spread of liberty is inevitable. There is evidence to suggest that they are right, but that idea is troubling to me. The inclination of man is toward tyranny. Our Founding Fathers understood this, as did Tocqueville; he detailed several ways in which government in America was designed to prevent a tyranny of the majority. Our Constitution ensures that power is not concentrated in one part of the government, nor is it concentrated in either the Federal Government or the States. Tocqueville also points out that given a choice between tyranny and democracy, people will naturally choose democracy, since democracy better protects individual liberty.

Mr. Bush's critics also point out that our form of democracy may not be suited to all cultures. True, especially in the case of Iraq, but Arab culture is no stranger to self-government, and I don't see that we have imposed our form of democracy on them. We merely insisted that their new form of government be established with the consent of all the Iraqi people. I'll not address justification for the invasion in this post; I'm for it, and I think we should finish the job but I'll not go into detail now.

I think it is admirable to encourage democracy and liberty wherever it struggles to take hold, but Christians should not lose sight of the liberty offered by God. Changing governments is good; changing hearts is better.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Required Reading.

Since graduating from college, I've become more interested in politics and government. I realized that I didn't have a good idea of what our government is and where it came from. I had read the Constitution of course, and I understood the basics of how our government functions (i.e. how laws get passed), but as I entered fully into adult independence, I realized that my ideas about government had been wrong. I decided to read some books that I should have read before.

One of these is Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. This book should be required reading for all Americans, whether in high school, college, or whenever. Everyone should have a copy of this on his bookshelf. Writing in the 19th century, Tocqueville presents a vivid description of how our democracy functions, how it formed, and its strengths and weaknesses. Tocqueville's style is remarkably clear and straightforward, well within the comprehension of high school students.

This book is a revelation to me, because I can see just how far our government has strayed from its original conception. Many of the weaknesses of the republic that Tocqueville described have become prevalent, and the strengths have been eroded by well-meaning progressives. As more people look to the federal government to solve the problems of our society, they undermine the very freedom that they claim to espouse.

Read the Declaration of Independence to understand the principles of our democracy; read the constitution to understand its structure. Then read Tocqueville. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A New Identity.

I just finished reading The Bourne Identity today. Some of you may not know (I didn't) that the movie with Matt Damon was based on a novel that was written twenty years before the movie was made. I enjoyed both the movie and the novel, but I couldn't help but notice the dramatic differences between the two which reflected the twenty-year gap.

Both agree that the main character of Jason Bourne is a super-secret agent of the US government suffering from amnesia. He is pulled from the sea by a fishing boat in the Mediterranean, riddled with bullet wounds and carrying a bank account number in his hip. His love interest is named Marie, and she helps him recover his lost identity while trying to avoid men that are trying to kill him for what he knows.

This is where the book and the movie diverge. In the movie, Bourne's antagonists are the government agency he worked for and their team of assassins. They believe Bourne has gone crazy. The boss of Treadstone even calls him a 'malfunctioning machine.' In the novel, the government agency plays a smaller part, and in the end tries to help save Bourne's life. The real antagonist is an assassin named Carlos, a terrorist trained by the Soviets.

This divergence is interesting to me, especially since the two versions are twenty years apart. In 1980, the government was not trusted, but was not generally regarded as an evil thing, and patriotism was more popular. The movie reflects the more prevalent anti-American attitude today (especially in Hollywood), where the US government is seen as wicked and secretive. If you're curious, I much prefer the novel's viewpoint.

I enjoyed the book, and would recommend both it and the movie to those who like spy thrillers. I'm planning on reading and watching the sequels. It will be interesting to see if they exhibit the same differences.

Monday, July 23, 2007

To Write, or not to Write.

That is the question that I am preoccupying myself with lately. I don't mean this blog; it will continue as long as you, dear reader, visit this site. I have had an idea in my head for the past couple of years about a story, and I'm trying to decide if I should attempt to write it down.

It started out as a concept for a Neverwinter Nights adventure module, and I've even written some notes about characters and plot, and started construction on the module. The project stalled, and has not been worked on since, but the story still flits around my head. It strikes me as a good story, and if you'll permit me, I'll share a brief synopsis with you.

It is a fantasy story, set in a world of my own design. this world is gradually becoming what I can only describe as 'real' -- that is, magic is ceasing to function, the pantheon of fantasy gods has been replaced by monotheism, and the fantastical monsters like goblins and trolls are no more. In this setting I trace the story of the final adventure of a knight, the leader of an ancient Order, respected by all in the kingdom. The knight is an orc, the last of a rare breed of good, honorable creatures. We find him in his middle years, preoccupied with memories of past adventures and consumed by current duties. The discovery of a remnant of his people sends him on a quest to explore the very nature of the world he lives in, and pits him against agents of the old gods at war with the new god. At the end, he is presented with a choice - to let the world continue as it is, or to restore the fantasy of old. In the game module, this choice is up to the player, so I will not reveal here the choice as I would make it, on the chance that I ever do finish the module.

But the story won't go away. As you know, I am a Christian, and I believe much could be said with this story. I am intimidated though, by the fact that I've never been good at fiction: my one example is a fan fiction story about Star Wars. I'm not a trained writer, though many of you have had kind things to say about my writing. Well, dear reader, I await your input. Should I, or should I not?

The World in my Pocket.

Some of you have commented positively on the pictures I have posted here. I would very much like to take the credit for them, but unfortunately the continuance of peaceful relations at home compel me to give credit where it is due. My wife Alicia took almost all of these pictures here with our simple Sony digital. If you like them, you can find more examples at her photo blog, The World in my Pocket. Visit and leave her a comment or two, if you would be so kind.

Ego forbids me from relinquishing all the glory, so I will say that some of them are mine, but though I can't remember which ones, they are assuredly any of lesser quality.

They Shall Become One Flesh.

My wife and I saw these trees while on vacation at Turkey Run State Park. It is an oak and a beech growing so closely together that they are growing into one another. I think it makes a striking metaphor for marriage, in that you have two different bodies, anchored at the same point, one stout and strong, the other tall and graceful. They are obviously different, yet at the roots they appear the same, each one sharing a part of the other. Though they share the same space, they are not in competition for resources; both are tall and healthy. You look at them and get the impression that they would never separate, even if they could.

The beech tree is marked with the signs and symbols of passing hikers, covered in initials of people professing their love for one another. Like a woman, she wears the light of love openly, while her companion the oak resists all such displays. Yet like a faithful husband, his trunk is straight, never far from the slender body beside him; it is he who provides the support, and his roots wrap around hers, protecting her and strengthening her.

My wife and I often talk about the state of marriage in the world today, and I've blogged about it before here as well. We stood silent and looked at these trees for a long time, amazed at the way God displays himself in his creations, and provides us lessons for our lives.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

With Great Power...

Heh. I'm a big Spider-Man fan, so I guess this is appropriate.

You Are Spider-Man

Quick and agile, you have killer instincts (literally).
And that kind of makes up for the whole creepy spider thing.
I normally don't go for these silly types of things, and I don't ever take them seriously, but this one strikes me, because it actually seems kind of accurate (not the description, but the actual character). I grew up liking most of the comic book superheroes, but Spider-Man was always my favorite. I think it was because he wasn't the most powerful superhero, and the books focused as much on Peter Parker as they did Spider-Man. He was really the only character where the actual person (Parker) was more important than the superhero persona. If you think about Batman, Superman, and all the others, the superhero is who they are -- the alter ego is just an empty suit.

Not so Spider-Man. Everything he does as a hero is impacted by his life as Peter Parker -- he is always aware that what he does as Spider-Man has a consequence in Peter Parker's life. This is evident in the theme of all the Spider-Man comics; with great power comes great responsibility. In a way, Spider-Man of all the comic characters most closely espouses Christian principles. He is gifted with a power he didn't deserve, yet humbly uses those powers to serve others. Like so many of us, it took a terrible lesson to teach him this; I can think of a time or two that God confronted me with the consequences of my selfish actions to make a point to me. Spider-Man also struggles with his powers, sometimes to the point of walking away, much like we do sometimes when we try to hide from God because we may not want to hear what he has to tell us. I can't think of any superhero that deals with issues like this; Superman is a being beyond normal humans, and Batman is vengeful. Captain America is certainly selfless, yet he is a little too perfect.

Finally, there is another reason I identified with Spider-Man: I was a lot like Peter Parker. I was always rather bookish, but was not attractive or coordinated, nor was I popular. I saw myself in the skinny nerd who was given amazing powers by spider bite. It was a nice escape to imagine myself in the snazzy blue and red tights (I never like the black outfit, even after Venom was gone), wisecracking as I righted the wrongs of the world. I'm sure I was not alone.

Blogging Monday.

I've been away from the blog for a few days, what with work and family time. I have quite a list of subjects to blog about though, so keep your eyes tuned to this space. There are a plethora of posts coming on Monday!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Shades of Death

My wife and I took a camping trip last weekend, continuing our 'vacation at home.' We went to Shades State Park, about an hour and a half west of Indianapolis. The Shades is a beautiful park on Sugar Creek that offers camping, fishing, nearby canoe rentals, and several very good hiking trails. The forest in the park is primarily oak, beech, poplar and pine. There are many glacial ravines and canyons, and most of the trails require you to either hike up or down these along the stream beds. The forest is extremely dark in the evening and morning, which explains its original name, "The Shades of Death" (hence the title of this post).

We also learned many things on this trip. I had never been camping before, and my wife had not been camping for twenty years, so we both were pretty green. We learned how to start and tend a campfire and how to cook over that fire. We learned how to steer a canoe (and how to tip one over; my boots are still drying out), and how riding a horse really does take buns of steel.

We also learned that we can sit for an entire evening without saying a word, yet feel as close as if we had a deep and meaningful conversation. We learned that there are untold wonders hidden in our state for those who take the time to seek them out, and that the glory of God is revealed in even the smallest spring welling through a crack in a rock face. We learned that the stars are prettiest when viewed from a blanket stretched out on the grass.

We hiked a lot of miles last weekend, climbed many hills and descended many valleys. It was nice to get home and sleep in a real bed, but we're both eager to do it all over again.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Every Man's Battle.

I'm truly blessed to have a wife who cares as much for my spiritual well-being as she does for my physical well-being. Not long after we bought our iPod, we began downloading various podcasts about stuff that interested us. Naturally, I downloaded podcasts that had to do with Neverwinter Nights, Dungeons and Dragons, conservative politics, and Walk in the Word. My wife, though, is always on the lookout for podcasts she thinks I'll like and should listen to. She subscribed to one called Every Man's Battle. It's a series of short episodes based on a ministry workshop of the same name. It is full of advice and tools for men to maintain their spiritual life in today's world, as well as illustrative pieces. I listened to such a one today.

It tells the story of an old man who shares a passion for art collecting with his son. The son volunteers to serve during a war, and is killed in action shortly thereafter. A few months later, the father is visited by a young man whose life was saved by the son. The young man gives the father a portrait of his son, and the father takes it and cherishes it, even though it is a humble picture, and no masterpiece.

Years later, when the father dies, all of his paintings are being sold at auction. The auction opens with an item not on the docket: the portrait of the son. Bidding starts at $100 dollars, but there are no takers. Someone asks the auctioneer to move on to the "good stuff." Finally, and old man says, "Will you take $10? It's all I have, but I know the lad, and I'd like the portrait." The auctioneer relents and sells the portrait to the old man, then to the astonishment of the crowd, closes the auction. When questioned, he replies that according to the will of the father, whoever takes the son gets it all.

What a wonderful illustration of the Gospel!

An Empty Space is Filled.

This was posted on Hot Air a few days ago while I was on vacation. I think it is interesting that it has not been given much play in the media, and as the post states, was buried in the Wall Street Journal.

It is not surprising to me that there is a resurgence of Christianity in Europe, particularly charismatic, evangelical Christianity. It has been more than a decade since I travelled through Europe, but I remember well the deep-seated sense of spirituality I noticed in the people I met. The rise of secularism in Europe could have only led to this. There is a deep need in all of us to know God, an empty space in our hearts. Many of us, whether we grew up in a Christian home or not, seek to fill that space with other things, such as money, sex, drugs, or false religions. We soon find that though these things gratify us, they do not fulfill and satisfy us.

The Bible is clear: only Jesus can bridge the gap between us and God, and only He can fill that empty space inside of us. I suspect that many Europeans are finding this out, and are turning away from secularism. Thank God for that.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Back In Town.

Well, we've returned from our trip, and I have lots to write about. I'll start posting as soon as I get all the pictures sorted. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gone Fishing.

Just a quick not to all of you to let you know that I will not be updating the blog for a few days. Alicia and I are going camping, and will be spending the weekend hiking and fishing the Indiana wilderness. I'll be back on Sunday with pictures and insights on our trip.

What Kind of Message?

I just read this article at National Review Online. Pay particular attention to this paragraph:

Browse on over to their web magazine for minors,, and you’ll find, among the
question-and-answer, a question from a teen who says she had an abortion “a
little over a month ago,” is pregnant again, and wondering if a second abortion
is safe. Not only does the staff cavalierly tell the girl (who, I
remind you, got pregnant again a month after her first abortion) that abortion
is “very safe” the first or second time around, but that abortion “is much safer
than giving birth.” While they do throw in a line about preventing pregnancy by
using birth control, there’s no talk about adoption or other alternatives — such
as raising the child, and getting help to do so — that a desperate girl could
afford to hear.

One thing that bothers me about the pro-choice movement is their reliance on promoting birth control. I'm not catholic, and I don't think there is anything wrong with a married couple using birth control to prevent pregnancy. What they ignore by pushing birth control to young people is the underlying cancer eating at our society; that is, the permissive attitude towards sex that pervades our culture. Notice that the councilors did not council the girl in the quote above to stop having sex, they simply mentioned birth control and wrongly informed her that abortion is safer than giving birth. What tripe!

If an organization truly wants to advance the cause of protecting women, then they should encourage women not to cavalierly offer themselves to any man that asks. I'm a man, and I know men; many of them would be too happy to take what's offered without any deeper concern. I believe sex is a gift that God has given us, not only for procreation, but to help us strengthen our relationship with our spouse. Such a gift should not be lightly shared with anyone in a casual setting.

As a final note, don't think that because I'm a man I can't understand what women go through when they find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. My wife and I made the mistake of beginning our sexual relationship before we were married, and found ourselves in that very situation. We were not nearly as strong in our faith then as we are now, and I can tell you that we seriously considered getting her an abortion. However, we both had Christian friends that gave us advice without condemnation. I was surprised at first when Alicia called me and said she was keeping the baby, but now I realize that by considering abortion, we were really just trying to dodge the responsibility for what we had done wrong. Thank God we came to our senses.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Step on the Journey.

It's amazing how a small thing can have a big impact on your faith walk. Something was bothering me all day today, and I couldn't quite figure out what it was. Even while I enjoyed myself during our trip to the museum, and as I laughed through the movie tonight, I could tell that something was not right.

When I got home, it hit me. I had forgotten to go to the Lord in prayer this morning! I try to lift up my cares and my praises to him each day as I rise, and it really helps me start the day of on the right foot. I hadn't done that today, and I could tell that something was off. I'm not perfect; I usually am behind on reading my Bible, and even though I have a chart of which chapters I should read each day, I usually end up skipping several days, and then catching up all at once. But even so, I try to stay committed to daily prayer.

So, after we got home and everyone was in bed, I sat here and talked to God, praising him for the day we had as a family, and lifting my concerns up to him. I felt better immediately! Being a Christian is about having a personal relationship with God. Reading the Bible and going to church are good steps, but they can really only bring you to the level of acquaintance. I believe that prayer is essential for building a fellowship with the Father.

I don't know where you may be on your own faith journey; maybe you read the Bible every day, maybe you've never read it. But no matter where you are, I encourage you to take time each day and talk to God. Thank him for your life, and for making you all that you are. Tell him your troubles and burdens, and ask for his forgiveness. Don't be afraid to lean on him as you walk, and to ask him to carry the load, for his strength is limitless, and his burden is light.

A Vacation at Home.

My wife and I are on vacation from work this week. Rather than take a big family trip, we decided to stay home and sample some of the attractions that Indiana has to offer. Today we took the kids for a walk on our downtown canal, and visited the Indiana State Museum. The canal is truly one of Indianapolis' treasures. It winds through downtown, a small piece of the Old world in the heart of the New.

Alicia asked me at one point if it was like Venice; I had to laugh, because as pretty as our little canal is, it can't compare with that jewel of the Adriatic. Both have their charms however, and seem to touch for a brief instant in time at one location. Along our canal there is a stretch where you are walking along between some condos and office buildings, when you suddenly come to an open space with fountains, and an ivy-clad bridge springs across the channel, all overlooked by an old church building. Winding stairs flank the fountains going up to a world that seems apart from the one you are walking in down below.

I told Alicia that it reminded me of my stay in Venice, and how you could walk along a narrow street between tall and ancient buildings; then, you would turn a corner and find yourself in a piazza, paved in cobbles or worn flags, maybe with a statue or a fountain. Sometimes a canal would wind its way into the piazza, but most often there would just be an opening where the road would continue on. You would go through the opening, turn a corner, and the piazza would vanish, and you wondered if for a moment you had not entered into another world, one of timeless beauty, unhurried and unchanging.

Such thoughts went through my mind as I looked on the old church. But like all such places, we had to leave it behind as we walked on, and enjoyed other features of our little canal here in Indy. One of these is the memorial to CA-35, the USS Indianapolis. She was a heavy cruiser that served in the Pacific theater in WWII, and was torpedoed by the Japanese while returning from the delivery of one of the atomic bombs. Of the 1196 men on board, some 800 are believed to have survived the initial attack. They floated in shark-infested waters for days before being spotted and rescued. Only 317 made it home. In honor of their sacrifice, the survivors and our city erected a small memorial to them along the canal.

After the memorial we turned back and headed toward the museum. After a lunch at the cafe, we toured the exhibits and learned some of our state's history. It is not a large museum, but if you're ever in Indianapolis, it's well worth the visit.

We returned home from our little adventure tired but happy, and we promised ourselves that we would make time to go back and maybe take a gondola ride or rent a paddle-boat. Or we may just walk the canal again, hand in hand, sharing the beauty of our city, and catching those small glimpses into that other world where only lovers and dreamers walk.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Holy Grail.

One of my hobbies is building model cars. I like watching a scale automobile take shape in my hands as all the pieces come together. Looking at the completed cars on my shelf bring back memories of similar cars I saw growing up or at shows. It's also the only way I will ever own a certain type of car. I also occasionally build a model of a subject that someone else likes and give the model to that person. But I have something in common with nearly every other model builder: the Holy Grail project.

Every modeler has a project that for them would be the culmination of their efforts, either in skill or subject. For most it is a subject that has never been produced in kit form, or one that is so rare it is almost never seen anymore. Most of the subjects are something that mean a great deal to the individual modeler; mine is no exception.

The subject of my holy grail project is a 1976 Plymouth Fury Salon. My mom had one of these cars when I was little, and it was probably my favorite family car from my childhood. It was the same model used by many police departments during those years, and it had power as well as looks. For years I've wanted to build a model of that car, but no kits were available. The closest was a 1978 Dodge Monaco, which has the correct body, but until recently was out of production. MPC did a kit of the 1975 Road Runner, which was based on the Fury, but that kit has never been reissued.

Fortune struck about a year ago, however, as I found a promotional model of the 75 Road Runner on eBay for a bargain price. I had already acquired a 78 Monaco (reissued as the Joker Goon Car), and a 1974 Plymouth GTX. All that remained was a kit to provide a suitable chassis, which I found in the form of the 1971 Charger.

Now I find myself intimidated. It has come to the point, and I have everything I need. I sit and look at the kit boxes on my shelf, imagining just what processes I need to go through to assemble my dream. It will involve learning some new skills, such as mold-making and casting, as well as modifying parts and scratch building. I think I'm ready, yet the boxes sit there, staring back at me. So many modelers never reach this point, yet here I am. Will I be successful? It's time to find out.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The First Year.

I'm feeling nostalgic lately, probably because I've been going through our accumulated piles of stuff. I found some old rolls of film and had them developed, and they turned out to be from our first year, when we lived in student housing apartments at the university. They were pictures I took of our oldest son playing in the tiny apartment we called home back then.

One of the pictures in particular struck a chord within me. In it, my wife sat in the little hallway that led from the living room to our bedroom and the bathroom. Our son, who at the time was just starting to walk, was crawling all over her. They both had such joyous smiles on their faces. That was a difficult year for us, but also one I remember fondly, because of the happiness we felt as newlyweds.

We had to deal with such things as finding classmates to babysit for us when we both had classes, we had almost no income besides our work-study jobs, and we had help from family to purchase insurance for Alicia and myself. That winter the boiler in our building broke down, and the regular maintenance guy had a heart attack, so no one came to fix it. There was no heat in the building at all. We took to putting the baby in our bed just so he would be warm at night, a habit which we weren't able to break for the next four years. Then there was the night that I accidentally set the blender on fire trying to warm up a baby bottle, and we had to spend two days in a dorm room while we cleaned fire extinguisher dust off of everything. We had to drive across the river to Kentucky just about every night to get the baby to sleep. Add to this the normal stresses of two college students trying to make the grade; it was quite a year.

But what makes the memories so poignant is seeing how much my wife has changed in the last ten years. She is still gorgeous, nothing will ever change that; but back then she glowed with the radiance of a new bride and a new mom, full of joy and love for me and our son. Now that we're older, I notice how that glow has changed. It is more sophisticated, mature, full of the grace and wisdom that makes the difference between a beautiful girl and a knockout woman.

Ten years separate that year from this one, and I can't ever go back. I'm not sure I would want to, but it's nice to reflect on that first year and watch my lovely wife as she continues to grow and change. The glow will always be there, revealing her inner spirit; the joy comes from seeing what new part will be revealed tomorrow.

Under the Influence.

Ok! Magazine recently published it's list of influential people in the entertainment industry. Predictably, it included such stellar examples as Katie Holmes and Rosie O'Donnell. They also included Anna Nicole's baby Dannielynn under the heading of 'Survivor.' I don't read Ok! or any of those publications, but I was a little taken aback that they thought a little baby embroiled in a custody and paternity battle could influence anything. Also, I certainly wouldn't want any of my family to be influenced by the likes of Rosie O'Donnell and Katie Holmes. So, I decided to make my own list of influential people; at least, they've been an influence to me.

1. God, for creating me.
2. My wife Alicia, for sharing life and all that she is.
3, 4, 5. My kids, for the joy that they bring.
6. My mother, for her strength.
7. My dad, for staying sober for twenty years now.
8, 9, 10, 11. My grandparents (all four), for taking care of me, sharing their faith, and teaching me to fish.
12. My uncle, for teaching me how to play sports.
13. Tony Dungy, for teaching us all the right way to win.
14. Sarah Fisher, for refusing to be anything but herself.
15. The doctors and nurses at Riley Children's Hospital, for rebuilding my face.
16. Kenny G, for his melodies.
17. Alan Jackson, for his words.
18. Ronald Reagan, for his leadership.
19. Michelle Malkin, for blogging.

Last but certainly not least...

20. Jesus, for saving me.

Put Your Best Foot Forward.

Some of you may have noticed the small media flap regarding Alex Rodriguez's wife and the vulgar tank top. Mrs. Rodriguez showed up at the ballpark in a tank top on which the words "**** You" (you know what it said) were emblazoned, prompting a patron and his son to get up and leave, and causing a small media firestorm.

While at work on the 4th, one of my customers was wearing a shirt displaying the same sentiment. Numerous other similar stories abound, and I see people wearing clothes like this, or with some other vulgarity, all the time.

Forgive me for whining, by why? I've never been a firm believer in the mantra that clothes make the man, but what we wear says a lot about who we are, and first impressions are often formed by our appearance. I'm sure t-shirts with naughty phrases and raunchy pictures are funny to some people (I thought so too when I was younger), but most people don't seem to realize that that is the first part of your description that sticks in some one's head. If you want to be appreciated for your character, then let it show in how you display yourself.

Tuscan Hillsides.

I thought I'd be a geek and share some poetry that I've written. It's not very good, and what there is of it is old, as it was written while I was in college. But a professor I respect had a good word for some of it at one time, so here it is.

A note about this first piece: I'd forgotten I had written it, and I'm not sure when I wrote it, as it's in a sketch book and is not dated. But it must have been in the fall of 1995, because I bought this particular sketchbook while I was studying abroad at Harlaxton College. The title is the same as this post, as that is what I was thinking about at the time. Here it is.

Tuscan Hillsides

Dew dappled fields of sun-kissed vine,
sweet honeysuckle and fragrance of thyme.
Knelling of bells in misty valleys of June,
jux't by the glimm'rous midsummer moon;
red rays of twilight cast their light
over the hills that I knew i' the night.
Down lonely roads we make our paces
through Tuscan hillsides and Etruscan places;
paths trodden by farmer, soldier, and serf,
forgotten tears wept in the war-bloodied turf.
I follow the ways as the bells toll my song,
sweet music echoes; I pause over-long.

These hills to my lonely heart do cry,
yet for my love I must bid them goodbye.

(c) Copyright Jezla 1995.

Friday, July 6, 2007

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

Did you know that Mr. Rogers corrupted a generation of young people and turned them into narcissistic whiners? Yes, friends, the dirty truth is here.

It's sad, really, that this is the first thought that came into the professor's mind. It is indicative of our society today that they look for any outside influence to blame for a problem, instead of looking close to home. These kids feel a sense of entitlement not because of Mr. Rogers, but because their parents (interestingly, probably part of the professor's generation) have made them so. Many parents the last several years have bought into the notion that you are supposed to foster your child's sense of self worth, thereby growing them into strong, confident adults. I think the opposite has happened, because these parents have tried to become their kids' friends and cheerleaders, as well as protecting them from anything unpleasant.

This is a dangerous method of parenting. A parent is the authority figure, responsible for teaching children right from wrong, and peparing them for adulthood. The Bible is very clear on this. In Proverbs it says to teach your child the way he should go, and when he is older he will not turn from it. My children are a joy, and I want them to love me as much as I love them. But I want them to also know that I am the boss. They understand that they don't always get their way, and that though I will provide them with food and shelter, and do my best to protect them from harm, I won't shield them from all unpleasantness, particularly of their own doing. That's what my family did with me; that's how you build a strong and confident adult.

The Magic Tree.

A few posts ago, I mentioned the 'Magic Tree.' This is the story, such as it is, behind the magic tree.

My wife and I met at college. Like most universities, our school had a large open space in the middle of campus. Actually, it was inside the large circular drive at the front of the administration building, but it served as a sort of 'central quad' for us. There was a university sign out by the street, and a walk crossed the field near the street, running parallel. There were a few bushes near the sign and along the walk by the flag pole, but otherwise it was a large grassy space, perfect for stretching out on a blanket and pretending to study on those rare fall Indiana days when the rain stops and the warm breezes return. But there was one tree.

It seemed almost like an afterthought, really. It was a large deciduous, of a type I don't remember. Probably maple or some other kind that is common in the Hoosier state. It wasn't in the center of the circle, but set at one of the corners, not where it figured prominently in any official university photos. It did not grow like other trees. Near the bottom of the trunk, right at the ground, a large limb branched off and ran parallel to the ground. It was nearly large enough to be a second trunk, only horizontal, and perfect for sitting on and thinking.

Alicia and I used to sit there, not long after we started dating, and dream of all the possibilities that lay before us. She it was who dubbed it the Magic Tree. Many plans we laid there, and many visions and dreams we shared. I'm not sure if there was much real magic in the tree, as nothing we ever dreamed there came true in the way we pictured it, but it was one of the places I associate with the deepening of our love. I suppose, for me, that's magic enough.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Update on Matthew Rager.

I posted a prayer request last weekend for Matthew Rager, a little boy in South Carolina who underwent surgery for a brain tumor on Tuesday. I subscribed to his journal in order to receive updates about his condition.

I seems the surgery went well, and the doctors think that they got all of the tumor. The family is still waiting on the lab results to see what type of tumor it is. Praise God for a successful surgery, and keep the family in your prayers as Matthew recovers, and as they wait for more news.


It's amazing what some people are capable of when there is danger. Help often comes from the most unlikely places. This story is an illustration of that.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Independence Day

On this date in 1776, the Continental Congress voted to accept the resolution declaring our independence from Great Britain. Never before had a country made a statement like the one written by Thomas Jefferson and signed by the delegates to the Congress. With eloquence not seen in today's legislators, Jefferson laid out the principles that all Americans hold dear - that governments are instituted among men to protect the rights granted to them by Almighty God. I have read the text of the Declaration many times, and each time I get chills, it is so powerful. Happy Birthday America.

Read the text for yourself here.

Dear Diary

I've been blogging for nearly a week now, and in that time I've looked at many other blogs, both on Blogger and BlogExplosion. I have also followed political blogs for some time now. I've tried to get an idea of what to do, what not to do, and what blogging is all about in general. I read this the other day that offers some good advice, I think. Here are some of my own thoughts:

Blogging is a powerful new medium of expression. You can blog about news, politics, sports, music, even video games. It is a remarkable outlet for the thoughts and opinions of people which didn't exist a few short years ago. However, I have seen one facet of blogging that is distressing to me. A blog as a personal diary.

In a way, I think the anonymity of the internet makes it easy to forget that what we blog about is read by countless other people. This has already created problems for people who blog about work and then fall afoul of the boss for doing so. Using a blog to air your mind of your most troubling thoughts and feelings may seem therapeutic, but like a secret diary, the danger is that more people than your little brother will take a look at it. The snipe about that girl at work who aggravates you simply by existing? She may see it. The rant in which you call your hubby every nasty name in the book? Hope you like the doghouse, 'cause that's where you'll be sleeping the next few days. You see, a diary blog has the same weakness that a hardbound diary has: you're gossiping with yourself and whomever happens to read it. Like any gossip, you don't want it to get back to the person you're gossiping about, lest more pain ensue than that which prompted the rant in the first place. But how do I vent my frustrations, you ask, if my blog is supposed to be nothing but happy mush?

Rather than gossip with yourself or your cyber neighbor, why not tell your feelings to someone who actually cares and can do something to change them? God. Rather than pour forth venom on your keyboard, take your troubles to God in prayer, and ask him how you can deal with the hurt you feel and the anger and bitterness. He will listen, and he can make it better through his wisdom and grace. I think the Bible's advice applies in the blogosphere as much as it does in personal relationships, so I'll leave you with this:

"Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Survey Says...Me First!

That's about what it amounts to these days. The Indianapolis Star ran an interesting AP article this past Sunday reporting on a Pew Research Center survey on marriage and parenting. Essentially, the survey reported that children are less associated with successful marriages than sharing household chores, a good sex life, and faithfulness; children are eighth on the list out of nine. Interestingly, in a similar survey taken 17 years ago, children were third on the list. In addition the recent survey says that a majority of Americans say that the main purpose of marriage is the mutual fulfillment and happiness of adults.

What a sad world we live in.

I've been married for eleven years to a wonderful, beautiful, caring woman. She's the only woman I've ever loved, and the only one I ever will. She can be trying and difficult at times, but I'm no Fred Rogers. She puts up with my hobbies and my mulishness, and I in turn bear her moods and foibles. I'm still as crazy about her as I was in those long-ago days when we sat under the "Magic Tree" (there is a story about this, I'll tell you later) at the University, dreaming about our future together.

This is where I think the respondents of the survey have got it wrong, and are indicative of the 'me first' mind-set that pervades our world today. Too often I see married couples who compete with each other and dangle rewards at each other as incentives to do the other's bidding. In such an atmosphere, the marriage is doomed to fail, I believe, or at the least be unfulfilling. Marriage is a partnership, a commitment to do life with someone. The Bible is very clear that husband and wife are one flesh, that is united into one entity. Not 'she and I' but 'Us.' A subtle, but very important distinction. I do not expect that my wife make me happy; I sacrifice to make her happy, because I love her. Seeing her content and at peace brings me more joy that anything else she could do.

But what about children? Well, I believe that children are God's gift and reward for this commitment. They are a tremendous responsibility, like all of God's gifts; but they are a source of joy as well. I love my children, but I could not raise them without their mother, as she could not raise them without me. They're ours, and on our list, they come first.

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Brief Moment In Time.

It's strange how God can send someone into your life for a short time, yet they set in motion something that changes your life forever. I was cleaning out the yard barn today, and I came across some pictures from the first real date my wife and I had. It was a picture of our group that went to the winter formal of our freshman year of college. It was an important event in my life, and it would never have happened were it not for Deb.

Deb was a mutual friend of Alicia and I. She invited me to a birthday party in her dorm room, and I tried to beg off, as I was fighting the flu at the time. Deb was persistent, though, and she and her roomate prevailed upon me to come over, which I did. That was where I met Alicia. I felt the spark right away, but I was pretty shy at the time, and might not have pursued the attraction. A few days later, Deb mentioned the Winter Whispers dance to me, and asked if I planned to go; I said no, I wasn't into that sort of thing. She said that Alicia was going to go with another friend, but was really interested in me. Besides, she said, I could go stag and watch all the silly people, since that's what Deb was going to do herself.

As I said, Deb was persistent, and I ended up going. I'm glad now that I did, even though I still don't care for dances. Alicia and I spent most of the night dancing and talking, and her date sat smiling at the table with Deb. I have no doubt now that they planned the whole thing. After the dance Alicia and I shared our first kiss, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We had not seen Deb since we graduated, and we learned a few years ago that she had passed away. She was a Christian, and we'll see her again someday when we all go home to the Lord, but I'll never forget what she did for me during the brief time she spent in my life. Thanks, Deb.

Have Broadsword, Will Travel.

If you look at my profile, you'll see that I like games. While it primarily means I like computer games, I also like old fashioned table-top role playing games. I played Dungeons and Dragons in high school with a few friends. I remember well the camaraderie that the games inspired in us, and how fun it was to craft adventures for each other, exploring strange new worlds armed with our wits and a trusty broadsword.

I'm older now, and those friends, like the broadsword, have faded into the past. Sometimes I still miss the thrill of being a part of the story, and the excitement of a natural 20 turning up on the die. I don't play pencil and paper D&D anymore, but have found an outlet for adventure in the game Neverwinter Nights. It's the best representation of the D&D system produced to date for the PC, and has fostered a large, active community on the internet. If you're into role-playing games, and like playing online, you might see me on the Neverwinter Nights 2 persistent world server, Legends of the Dalelands. Drop bye, say hi, and let me take you on an adventure.

Just be sure to bring your broadsword.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Charge it Up!

I've always felt that a big reason for going to church to recharge your batteries of faith. There's something invigorating about going to worship with other Christians, praising God and hearing His Word. I work at a job that requires I be there about every other Sunday, and I can really feel it if I don't get to attend church. I still pray everyday, and I try to keep up with my daily Bible reading, but it is not the same as getting that fellowship with other believers. It helps to listen to podcasts of messages and sermons (Walk in the Word is one of my favorites), but again, that can only take you so far.

Jesus wants us to gather together to praise him and hear his message. I suppose I could change my availability at work so that I could attend church every Sunday, but I haven't yet. That is a challenge I need to work on.

Prayer Request.

Please take a moment and pray for this little boy. Pray for his family as well. I understand their fears and hopes. Our son was diagnosed with a tumor in his brain when he was seven years old. Unlike Matthew's, however, our son's is in the hypothalamus, almost in the center of the brain, and is inoperable. We have to get an MRI every nine months to monitor the tumor. So far it has remained unchanged, which the doctors say is a good sign, but we pray every day for him to be healed.

Pray for Matthew to have a successful surgery, and a good recovery, and that he will be healed; pray for his family as well.