Decisions Decisions

A friend at work shared that someone he respected once told him, "Never make a decision when you're angry or excited." I think that's good advice.

What might be out there interfering with my decision making ability right now? Maybe the primaries and all things election related? The Republicans are trying to make us angry like they always do and the Democrats are trying to excite us like they always try to do around election time. They're all sales people. They're not trying to help us make good decisions. They want to get elected.

What's interesting is how far they'll go. Dr. Seuss wrote, "Oh the Places You'll Go" just before he died. If he wrote a book about politicians, he might have written, "Oh the Things You'll Say." If I'm angry or excited when election day rolls around, I might just stay home and avoid making a bad decision.

Random Thoughts

I was driving home most of the day yesterday from Lake Oconee Georgia and was separated from the NFL experience. I woke up this morning, and before I could think of anything in particular, an awful feeling came over me that Tim Tebow and the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers. I wasn't even thinking about football. I checked the scores on my phone and saw the Broncos defeated my Chargers +3 in overtime. Hmmm.

Here is a comforting thought. Nothing transcends the present.

I was speaking to an Economics Professor over Thanksgiving. I expressed disapproval of shipping jobs overseas to countries with poor human rights records and few laws that protect workers. He said, "So you assign infinite value to that?" He was referring to an Economics concept that is supposed to be absurd. I told him, "Yes. It's a qualitative difference." He disagreed with the rationality of that. I added that keeping our jobs here would not have in an infinite economic result anyway.

This guy reminds me of me when I was in 5th grade playing with my army men. I'd build structures and put them in there. Get on my hands and knees to look at my army men in their forts and houses. I wanted to imagine a world from their perspective. I think many Economists imagine they're money being exchanged in an economy reflecting economic formulas: money with no heart and clueless on the value of a human being and moral principles.

Every time we assign infinite value to something, we're being typical, ill defined, hard to formulate human beings. Yea! Go humans!

Sam in the Shower

Some people sing in the shower. My son, Sam, quotes movie lines.

"'My poor little Poopsies!'" -- Quoting Ursula in Little Mermaid after all her eels died.

He's been watching a lot of movies with his three year old daughter. Little Mermaid is popular right now.

Morning Prayer - Personal Modified Dan Version

This is my Morning Prayer adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP).

I follow Rite II mostly. However, I like Rite I for the Confession of Sin. One reason is, I don't like asserting that, "I am truly sorry and humbly repent" as Rite II leads us. I leave it up to God to decide how sorry and penitent I am. I confess my sins in the first person because I can't confess someone else's sin and no one else can confess for me.

Instead of the apostles creed that I say every Sunday, I substituted something inspired by Colossians 2:6 -- As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:. "The Four Spiritual Laws" as taught by the Campus Crusade for Christ encapsulates the truths we embrace when we come to Christ. Then, Ephesians 6:10-17 reminds us who we battle against and what God has provided so that we may prevail in the inevitable conflict. Charles Stanley woke me up to this passage when he said he recites it first thing every morning.

I've also trimmed away some options I don't use that often to simplify things.

If this is useful for you, feel free to use it any way you like, or create your own version for your personal prayer time.


Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. -- Psalm 19:14

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. -- Psalm 43:3

Confession of Sin

Almighty and most merciful Father,
I have erred and strayed from thy ways like a lost sheep,
I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart,
I have offended against thy holy laws,
I have left undone those things which I ought to have done,
and I have done those things which I ought not to have done.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon me,
spare thou those who confess their faults,
restore thou those who are penitent,
according to thy promises declared unto mankind
in Christ Jesus our Lord;
and grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that I may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.

Lord, open our lips and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.


The mercy of the Lord is everlasting: Come let us adore him.

One of the Following...

Psalm 95:1-7

Come, let us sing to the Lord; *
   let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
   and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God, *
   and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
   and the heights of the hills are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, *
   and his hands have molded the dry land.

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
   and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. *
   Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

OR - Psalm 100

Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; *
   serve the Lord with gladness
   and come before his presence with a song.

Know this: The Lord himself is God; *
   he himself has made us, and we are his;
   we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise; *
   give thanks to him and call upon his Name.

For the Lord is good;
his mercy is everlasting; *
   and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

The Psalm(s) Appointed (from the BCP's Daily Office Lectionary)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: * as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Lessons (from the BCP's Daily Office Lectionary - typically from the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel)

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Two Canticles are read varying by day of the week after the first two Lessons. The Lesson from the Gospel is read after the second Canticle.

Links to the Suggested Canticles at Morning Prayer are below.

Sunday    Monday    Tuesday    Wednesday    Thursday    Friday    Saturday

Colossians 2:6 Confession

God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life in this world and in the world to come.
I was sinful, separated from God, and helpless through my own efforts to find him.
God provided Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, as the only provision for my sin.
Individually receiving Jesus Christ allowed God's love and forgiveness into my life.

I will continue walking in Christ Jesus just as I received him.

My strength is in the Lord and in his mighty power.
I put on the full armor of God that I can withstand the devil’s schemes.
My struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
I put on the full armor of God, that I may be able to stand my ground in the day of evil, and after I have done everything to stand, I shall stand.
I stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around my waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
and my feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
I take up the shield of faith, with which I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
I take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. -- Ephesians 6:10-17

The Prayers

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
  hallowed be thy Name,
  thy kingdom come,
  thy will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
  as we forgive those
    who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
  but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
  and the power,
  and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Suffrage (a short intercessory prayer)

V.  Show us your mercy, O Lord;
R.  And grant us your salvation.
V.  Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
R.  Let your people sing with joy.
V.  Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
R.  For only in you can we live in safety.
V.  Lord, keep this nation under your care;
R.  And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
V.  Let your way be known upon earth;
R.  Your saving health among all nations.
V.  Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
R.  Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
V.  Create in us clean hearts, O God;
R.  And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.

The Collect (a short general prayer)

A Collect for Sundays

O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week to come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Collect for Saturdays

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

A Collect for the Renewal of Life (Thursday)

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Collect for Peace (Wednesday)

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Grace (Tuesday)

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Collect for Guidance (Monday)

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for Outreach


Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of thy faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

OR  (Wed-Thurs)

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

OR  (Fri-Sun)

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

Personal Intercession and Thanksgiving (Your personal prayers without a script)

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, I give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. Bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, I pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

A Prayer of St. Chrysostom (shortened)

Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.

Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia.

Concluding Blessing

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen. -- 2 Corinthians 13:14


May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. -- Romans 15:13


Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. -- Ephesians 3:20,21

I Was Thinking...

It's good to have a strong backbone and a soft heart. I wonder if you can have a soft backbone and a hard heart?

About Blogging

Why do I have a blog? I guess it's to find my voice. At one time, I wanted to be a minister. I still entertain that desire at 50. I have insights and sermons I have never shared. So, I share as I develop my ideas and beliefs on my blog. I don't know who my audience is. However, the Web is a big place and maybe what I write will be meaningful to someone at a particular place and time.

This blog is a bit selfish in that I write mostly for me. There are blogs on focused topics with useful information that are reader oriented (and sometimes make money). This is not one of those blogs. However, exploring my beliefs and ideas while connecting with a few people is meaningful to me. Writing this blog may be a little like going to the gym. Exercise is useful and prepares you for life outside the gym.

I also have opinions on science, law, politics and a voice that may not be clear. I'm exercising my voice like someone exercising their body at the gym. The potential of being read adds a layer of reality that acts as a weight. Someday, my voice may become clear and I will be better prepared for life outside the "gym." I may end up just being an old man with opinions all written down in a public blog no one reads. I will answer anyone interested enough to be my detractor, "The meaning for me was in the doing and I am stronger for it."

Because of that, I really don't think Alston should reference my blog on his blog. This blog isn't reader oriented, my beliefs may be inconsistent with orthodox Episcopalian doctrine, and my views may not represent the opinions of the majority of the members at the Chapel of the Cross even though I go there.

BTW, I missed the mens' group last Friday and the Friday two weeks before that because of car trouble. I replaced the throttle body and the accelerator position sensor. It turns out the problem is with the computer. I'm doing all this myself and it has taken time. I will probably miss church today for the same reason.

Since I don't know anyone's phone number (I lost Alston's number and I don't get my calls returned when I rarely leave a message on their VM) and no one called me to see how I was doing, I thought I would just throw it down here. I can sure say one thing about the Chapel of the Cross. No one pesters you here.

Why do I change the subject at the end of my articles sometimes? It's like a Beatles song. That's just the way it ends.

This here blog just isn't very reader or subject oriented.

Can Lawyers be Funny?

Having been a lawyer, I still receive E-mails from the ABA (American Bar Association). There was an article today in the family law section titled, French Judge Orders Man to Pay Ex-Wife $14K for Lack of Lovemaking. The link will take you to the article. I am only sharing this article for the comments following the article. You've heard plenty of lawyer jokes. The comments are full of jokes by lawyers providing a rare glimpse into the inner workings of an attorney's funny bone.

Reading and Walking

When I was in college, a friend was reading "Fast Food Nation." I asked her why she was reading that particular book. She answered, "Because I can." She explained, "I learned to read so I can read."

I've been reading books about hiking the Appalachian Trail recently (also known as the AT). Some people are about walking the way my friend was about reading. They walk because they can and enjoy it. Some even end up walking the 2200 miles along the AT from Georgia to Maine. I've never walked that far but when I lived in San Diego, I used to hike in the desert and the Cuyamaca Mountains. Sometimes, I would just walk to the beach four miles away.

I always had a desire to thru hike the Appalachian trail. Work seems to get in the way. However, if an opportunity ever dropped in my lap, I'd like to be ready. Being inspired by my reading, I started walking the 2.7 miles from work to home. That's a start.

Photo by kelson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Denominations, Faith, and Worship

I've been thinking recently of the various denominations: the Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc..., etc.... and what they are. It's hard to honestly say what all these denominations are and what they represent. However, it's easy to say what they are NOT. They are NOT faiths. There is one faith and there are believers in all of these different denominations who are part of it.

I'm referring to Ephesians 4: 5. Here it is with a little context.
2  With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3  Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4  There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5  One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6  One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
I think it's misleading to say, "I'm of the Episcopal faith" or the Methodist faith... and so on. I think all these denominations differ primarily in: 1. How they worship; 2. How they express their faith to others; and 3. Doctrines they emphasize.

On the other hand, denominations are neither human nor Christian. They are tools humans use to function together in groups. They serve a useful limited purpose but they'll pass away when the Church becomes apparent to our spiritual senses. I think a denomination is similar to a corporation: a legal (and fictional) entity.

Faith is too precious a word for describing a denomination or summing up a denomination's catechism. Faith is more than an intricate belief system.
1 Peter 1:7  That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Faith for the Christian is personal belief that Jesus Christ is God's only son; that he died, was buried, and rose again to put away sin; and we may individually believe in that act for our own personal salvation from inherited sin and our personal sins. Faith is a substance and evidence that has a symbiotic relationship with hope that allows us to transcend our senses without compromising our sane wholeness.
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
I don't believe we have to believe in defined terms. I believe God will accept our best efforts to believe in him even if we're sloppy believers. That just seems to me what love would do.

I think "worship" might be a good word to use instead of "faith" or "denomination." We could say, "I'm of the Episcopal worship." "I'm of the Catholic worship." That would mean looking at "worship" as a noun in that context instead of as a verb. It would sound strange at first but it might be a positive way to look at our differences.

How About a Colossians 2:6 Creed?

Bryan Owen raised some questions in his blog entry posted in Creedal Christian about a very non-offensive creed someone wrote recently. I didn't know people were still writing creeds. Can I write one?

I think we need a creed to remind us of the exhortation in Colossians 2:6.
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:
How did we receive Christ Jesus the Lord? The details may differ from individual to individual. However, certain truths are biblically essential. Those truths are evidently also essential to our Christian walk. Let us determine what those truths are and remind ourselves of them so we can apply them to our ongoing walk with Christ.

Someone has already neatly identified and expressed those truths in The Four Spiritual Laws tract. Reworded, I think it makes a good creed. It would go something like this.
God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives. 
We were sinful and separated from God. We were helpless through our own efforts to find him.
God provided Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, as the only provision for our sin.
Each of us must individually receive Jesus Christ to know and experience God's love for our lives.
We walk in Christ Jesus just as we received him.

Idolatry In Honoring “Christianity”

I stumbled on this blog by Mr. S.D. Smith where he quotes Ian Thomas.

If you do not enter into the mystery of godliness and allow God to be in you the origin of His own image, you will seek to be godly by submitting yourself to external rules and regulations imposed on you by the particular Christian society you have chosen…you will in this way perpetuate the pagan habit of practicing religion in the energy of the flesh, and in the very pursuit of righteousness commit idolatry in honoring ‘Christianity’ more than Christ!

I've been there. I had the fortunate experience of receiving Christ as a teenager while living on a quiet farm in Ohio. Someone left a Four Spiritual Laws tract on a chair in the shoe department of the sports store where I worked. I took it home, went up to my bedroom where I read it, knelt and accepted Christ. An impression of Christ dawned on me over a period of many months of quiet Bible reading away from the influence of external rules or regulations. Then, I lost something of that when I went to the Bible School I attended. Sometimes we worry about the wrong things and try too hard the wrong way.

Idolatry In Honoring “Christianity”


I was on the phone with my son, and just as I was about to hang up, he asked me, "How was church?" This was an interesting question because he's not sure what he believes and has only recently professed a belief in God.

"Fine," I said. "We worshiped, confessed our sins, prayed, took communion; it wasn't primarily about the sermon since the sermon is usually pretty short in the Episcopal Church."

"So just a whole lot of ritual," Sam said; more of a statement than a question.

"Ritual is just the way you do something," I replied.

"I suppose."

"My ritual was meaningful for me this evening."

"Well, I'm glad it was meaningful for you then," Sam concluded.

After our conversation, I started thinking about ritual, so, I looked up the definition.

According to Wikipedia, "a ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community."

What is "symbolic value?" Maybe, the "symbolic value" is a means of spiritual expression and connection open to those who have a spiritual life and who understand the symbolic meaning.

The Oxford dictionary says ritual is "a prescribed order for performing a ritual ceremony, especially one characteristic of a particular religion or Church."

I think my son meant by "a whole lot of ritual" was a meaningless thing that you don't understand, tests your energy and patience, and makes you feel like a dried up thistle bush when you're finished.

In an Episcopal Church service, there is a certain order, there are words and meaning for each thing we do, and there are symbols.

I find it comforting that the service is conducted in a somewhat predictable order. It varies depending on what season you're in but not much and the components that get moved generally stay the same. Sometimes, something gets added like the Decalogue (ten commandments) that shows up during Lent.

The words of worship, prayers, confession of sins, and communion come from the Bible. The more you read and study the Bible, the more the words in an Episcopal Church service are meaningful. The worship is participatory rather than performed. Participating makes you involved and being involved doing something you understand is meaningful and impacting.

The symbols in an Episcopal Church service are symbols used in Christian Churches universally: kneeling, the cross, oil, water, bread, and wine. I understand these symbols enough so that they are meaningful to me as I participate my way through the service with my heart oriented toward God.

Taken together, the order, words, and symbols combine as I participate in worship with fellow believers to create a beautiful, meaningful, and impacting worship experience. When we're finished, I feel quiet, joy, comfort, and assurance; and, I sense Christ's presence. It's slower and quieter than other churches; but, is it less meaningful? Not for me. Understanding, faith, and sincerity are essential. Ritual is empty for those who don't believe enough to feel comfortable participating in what's going on. No one likes doing something that doesn't make sense to them.

My family went to the Methodist Church growing up. My father dozed off in Church a lot. One day, I noticed an inscription carved in the table near the alter which read, "Do this in remembrance of me." I was around ten years old at the time and I asked my father what that meant. He replied, "Someone gave that table to the church and they wanted to be remembered so they wrote that there." I bet he wouldn't have fallen asleep so often in church if he really knew what that inscription meant.

G. K. Chesterton wrote a great passage on ritual in Heretics. It's a little long for a blog, but I think it's worthwhile ending with it anyway. He wrote it in 1905 so you might not be familiar with everything he refers to, but don't worry, that doesn't interfere with the gist of what he's saying. I particularly like the last paragraph but everything before builds up to it so I had to include that too.

...humanity is divided into conscious ritualists and unconscious ritualists. The curious thing is...that it is the conscious ritualism which is comparatively simple, the unconscious ritual which is really heavy and complicated. The ritual which is comparatively rude and straightforward is the ritual which people call "ritualistic." It consists of plain things like bread and wine and fire, and men falling on their faces. But the ritual which is really complex, and many coloured, and elaborate, and needlessly formal, is the ritual which people enact without knowing it. It consists not of plain things like wine and fire, but of really peculiar, and local, and exceptional, and ingenious things—things like door-mats, and door-knockers, and electric bells, and silk hats, and white ties, and shiny cards, and confetti. The truth is that the modern man scarcely ever gets back to very old and simple things except when he is performing some religious mummery. The modern man can hardly get away from ritual except by entering a ritualistic church. In the case of these old and mystical formalities we can at least say that the ritual is not mere ritual; that the symbols employed are in most cases symbols which belong to a primary human poetry. The most ferocious opponent of the Christian ceremonials must admit that if Catholicism had not instituted the bread and wine, somebody else would most probably have done so. Any one with a poetical instinct will admit that to the ordinary human instinct bread symbolizes something which cannot very easily be symbolized otherwise; that wine, to the ordinary human instinct, symbolizes something which cannot very easily be symbolized otherwise. But white ties in the evening are ritual, and nothing else but ritual. No one would pretend that white ties in the evening are primary and poetical. Nobody would maintain that the ordinary human instinct would in any age or country tend to symbolize the idea of evening by a white necktie. Rather, the ordinary human instinct would, I imagine, tend to symbolize evening by cravats with some of the colours of the sunset, not white neckties, but tawny or crimson neckties—neckties of purple or olive, or some darkened gold. Mr. J. A. Kensit, for example, is under the impression that he is not a ritualist. But the daily life of Mr. J. A. Kensit, like that of any ordinary modern man, is, as a matter of fact, one continual and compressed catalogue of mystical mummery and flummery. To take one instance out of an inevitable hundred: I imagine that Mr. Kensit takes off his hat to a lady; and what can be more solemn and absurd, considered in the abstract, than, symbolizing the existence of the other sex by taking off a portion of your clothing and waving it in the air? This, I repeat, is not a natural and primitive symbol, like fire or food. A man might just as well have to take off his waistcoat to a lady; and if a man, by the social ritual of his civilization, had to take off his waistcoat to a lady, every chivalrous and sensible man would take off his waistcoat to a lady. In short, Mr. Kensit, and those who agree with him, may think, and quite sincerely think, that men give too much incense and ceremonial to their adoration of the other world. But nobody thinks that he can give too much incense and ceremonial to the adoration of this world.
All men, then, are ritualists, but are either conscious or unconscious ritualists. The conscious ritualists are generally satisfied with a few very simple and elementary signs; the unconscious ritualists are not satisfied with anything short of the whole of human life, being almost insanely ritualistic. The first is called a ritualist because he invents and remembers one rite; the other is called an anti-ritualist because he obeys and forgets a thousand.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2011-03-30). Heretics (Kindle Locations 1978-2003). Kindle Edition.

Prayer for Wednesday, July 27.

O God help me to be good today even though I feel good.
While Man's desires and aspirations stir,
He cannot choose but err.
From Goethe's Faust where The Lord is speaking to Mephistopheles.

When I feel good, my desires and aspirations stir and I relate to the erring. I'm not as thoughtful when I'm feeling good. If I'm not careful, I carelessly tease others, make wrong decisions, and do not give other people proper consideration; all without any ill will toward anyone.

Remembering My Mentors

I was thinking about people I admired at different companies where I've worked. One individual was an attorney who had steady strength and an upbeat demeanor. He never said anything negative. When you said something to him, he would pause to really understand you. I remember saying something to him I didn't think through. Then, I had to stand there thinking about what a stupid thing I said while waiting for him to respond. He responded kindly, but I became more committed to thinking before speaking.

I remember seeing him in his office calmly going through a stack of clinical trial agreements. He may have been bored out of his mind at times but he never showed it. Many jobs have a repetitive aspect. He would get through repetitive tasks without making them seem trivial. He was master of the task, master of himself, and a leader. I looked up to him.

I remember another individual who was the head of a research laboratory studying lupus. He made significant scientific contributions and wrote many papers that were published in prestigious journals. I remember weekly laboratory meetings. Many researchers were post docs; young, ambitious, bright minds, from all over the world, taking the next step after receiving their Ph.D.'s.

There were always unspoken questions floating around the room. The post docs wanted to impress and were afraid of appearing stupid. We couldn't have an effective meeting with that going on. The head of the lab was from Greece and he would ask the group in his thick Greek accent the most basic questions everyone was afraid to ask. They would look at each other as if they couldn't believe how ignorant he was. Then, their eyes would lighten in an oooh and Ahhh moment as they finally got the point they never considered because it was buried in something simple. He expressed a unique confidence and fearlessness I hadn't considered before. His leadership got everyone to discuss what they needed to discuss. I miss those meetings, his insight, and his way with people.

Now, I'm far from those places and my job is different. Distance makes me realize that time, place, and their roles weren't essential to who they were. Those things gave them opportunities. Their character transcended all that.

An Unexpected Journey: Finding New Landmarks in a Sea of Change

I had a job interview last Friday for an independent insurance company selling insurance an a commission only basis. This is not the logical career progression I envisioned when I lived in San Diego.

I worked at the Scripps Aquarium and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography while attending the University of California, San Diego where I earned a B.S. in Molecular Biology. In my last year of college, I got a job at The Scripps Research Institute as a research technician.

I liked my job as a research technician but it was lonely at times and I was concerned about limited career options. I was a guy with a B.S. in a sea of PhDs. Instead of getting a Ph.D., I went to law school. Out of law school, I went to work for Agouron Pharmaceuticals, a small biotech company that was acquired by Warner Lambert that was later acquired by Pfizer.

I stayed on as a contracts attorney for Pfizer. I liked my job, the people I worked with, and the pay. The next logical step was to take the patent bar which would allow me to prosecute patents and put me into a position to draft and negotiate licensing agreements.

However, my brother living in Madison, Mississippi, began discussing a franchising opportunity with Cups, an Espresso Cafe, a successful family owned coffee company with several locations in Jackson, Mississippi. The discussions became more concrete and my brother asked me if I would move to Mississippi and be an owner/operator.

I liked my job, but the opportunity was still appealing. I was not married, my son was having problems, and all my family lived east of the Mississippi river. I thought the change would be good for my son and owning and running a business would be a good opportunity. In 2004, I moved to Mississippi.

In a short period of time, we opened four locations and I managed all of them. The first location we opened was in Madison and it lost money. I had nothing to do with that location's selection or build out. However, I'm not sure I would have done anything differently. We decided to sell it and had a buyer. However, they ran it into the ground while operating under a transitional management agreement. In the end, all we could do was close the location and stop the bleeding.

The Brandon coffee shop was located too far away to properly manage along with our three other locations. We sold that location breaking even on the deal. We sold the unprofitable hospital kiosk and continued running the successful kiosk until we sold it in 2011. In baseball terms, we struck out with two locations, walked on the third, and hit a double with the fourth.

Looking back, I don't think my brother was prepared to evaluate a business opportunity and should have hired an accountant to look at the numbers initially. He didn't ask help from anyone. He made pro-formas from Excel spreadsheets instead and they promised certain success.

I reviewed the franchise agreement from San Diego for awhile but he got tired of hearing about potential issues and stopped asking my opinion. I learned that an attorney in Mississippi also reviewed the agreement and expressed concerns. My brother ignored him too and ended up signing the contract "as is."

Not long after signing the franchise agreement, he opened the back of his Yukon just when a gust of wind came along and it blew away the unfastened contract laying in the back. He managed to hastily gather most of it up.

I wouldn't recommend trying to run a business without a solid accounting background which I didn't have. You also need to know a few things about managing people, advertising, and keeping up with inventory. This is all behind the scenes as you're mastering your product and delivering great customer service. There are so many things you need to know cold when you jump into running a business. When you're in the start-up phase, pausing to pick up knowledge you should already know is difficult.

Business challenges, lack of income, and culture shock were more stressful than I imagined. My brother who never left his job or career path just wanted out. He made me promises so I would stay to make it work that he never fulfilled.

He had lost enough money. His four children needed their college accounts funded and his wife was not aware of the promises he made. However, I couldn't just abandon the only boat that kept me afloat (somewhat). I was trapped. I went through a time I felt resentment toward my brother and he went through a time where he didn't have the time to see me despite only working one week a month.

What started as a career change, became a spiritual journey. Finding a spiritual perspective was the only meaningful perspective I could find after losing the objects I had used to chart my course and triangulate my progress. I have to find meaning and self esteem now apart from a career. You can't see what things mean to you until they're gone; and then you find those things didn't mean to you what they should have. Maybe I was close, but I was off.

The gentlemen interviewing me said, "You have to admit, your resume is a little odd." I went from from research, to law, to business owner, to working for Upton Tire Pros; all without committing a crime or having a drinking problem. That is odd.

I must forgive my brother, take responsibility for my own mistakes, and keep swimming. Everyone's journey becomes a spiritual journey eventually. When I die, my actions will be my own and my brother's will be his own. Each of us has to find God's mercy one on one. In the end, it will be us and God only because of his mercy. Unforgiveness will be a foreign commodity in heaven and completely unwelcome there. You can't take your unforgiveness to heaven with you. I'm getting rid of mine now.

In the meantime, here's what I'm going to do.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 - Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

Proverbs 14:23 - In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.

Me and Sam and a Pitcher of Beer

My son, Sam, came over with his wife to see a movie for his music appreciation class and write a paper. His mother in law picked his wife up after work and they went home together. He stayed and finished his paper. After he left, I thought it would have been nice to have a beer together. I called him.
"Hey, how far are you?"
"I'm not even to Madison yet."
"Want to come back and have a beer."
"Meet me at Wingstop. Call me when you get off the highway and I'll meet you there."
He calls me to tell me he just got off the highway so I head to Wingstop. I wait awhile but don't see him so I call him.
"I'm almost there. I see you."
I wait and the wait seems kind of long if he really did see me. He calls again.
"Maybe I didn't see you."
"Are you at Buffalo Wild Wings yet?" I ask.
"You were supposed to meet me at Wingstop."
"I'm turning around."
So, he finally makes it to Wingstop and checks the text he sent his wife. It reads, "I'm heading to Wingstop to have a beer with my dad."

We share a laugh. It's funny how things can stick in your mind even when you know they aren't true.

We had a nice conversation. He's studying to be a writer at Jackson State University and has had a couple of poems accepted for publication in the Black Magnolias Literary Journal. A journal that:
"uses poetry, fiction, and prose to examine and celebrate the social, political, and aesthetic accomplishments of African Americans with an emphasis on Afro-Mississippians and Afro-Southerners."
If a diverse background is a prerequisite to becoming a good writer, Sam is off to a good start.

You never know what trail a conversation will take with us.

Sam on Self Awareness:
"Striving to be better people triggers self awareness."
Sam on Mistakes:
"Mistakes remind us of the external striving of who we want to be."
Dan on Technology responding to something Sam said:
"Technology is responsible for globalization but sells itself as a tool for individual expression."
I enjoyed our conversation. We had a nice father and son time together. I'm glad I called him; glad he turned around; and glad he finally found his way to Wingstop.

Master Mechanic

If you read my previous post, you know I've been dealing with car issues lately. First, the alternator went out. Then, it kept stalling when idling; especially with the air conditioning on. I replaced the alternator. That fixed the charging problem. I replaced the spark plugs hoping that would help the idling but it didn't.

Yesterday, I replaced the fuel filter. That was unpleasant and it didn't fix the problem. I did need new plugs and a fuel filter though so I don't regret replacing those parts.

I went online and found that some people had fixed the same problem I was having by cleaning the throttle body. It's not hard to get to. The cleaner costs under $4.00 and a new throttle body seal is around $3.50.

I cleaned the throttle body yesterday. It had a layer of sticky resin everywhere. It wasn't real thick but it was really sticky and kept the throttle flap from opening and closing properly. The cleaner wasn't enough, so I had to use a tooth brush to get it all off. When I was done cleaning it, I could move the flap back and forth without it sticking.

You should replace the seal when you remove the throttle body. It wasn't in stock when I checked yesterday, so, I ordered it and picked it up today. I put everything back together and didn't have any bolts left over, a good sign, then took it for a test drive and wallah; it runs great!

It took a lot of patience and persistence to finish but it feels good to find the solution and fix the problem.

Aren't we a little like cars? We have different problems but we also have a creator who is able and willing to keep us running. He's very skilled, patient, and persistent and he has the best motivation of all behind his desire to help us; his love.

Here are some encouraging words along the way.
2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work
Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Things Aren't Going as Smoothly as Planned

I always plan for things to go smoothly. I think my mother is responsible. She ingrained a persistent optimism that lives at the very base of my brain that won't go away. You would think it would be a blessing. Not necessarily. My optimism and best laid plans are persistently mocked by a reality with malicious  intent. Then, it's a drag as I constantly note this or that didn't go quite as planned. Gotta ditch the plan and handle reality.

Sometimes, I wonder if that "optimism" is really a rosy sense of entitlement. I wouldn't be surprised. I think you would have to see yourself objectively to know the difference. How many of us know our objective self? I'm guessing not many and how could you know someone you never met? The distinction between optimism and entitlement may be tough to parse.

I put my resume on Craigslist last week and might as well have posted a message saying, "SPAM ME!!!!!" Not one real inquiry but lots of "job offers" for a personal assistant asking me to submit gobs of personal information.

The Friday before last, I get a message on my vehicle's dash that the battery isn't charging. It finally lost all its juice Sunday as I pulled into my driveway. Thankfully I made it home. The two main possibilities are the battery and the alternator. Batteries are cheaper and mine might still be under warranty. For no apparent reason, I decided it was the battery. I do know why. It was the subconscious influence of psychotic optimism I blame on my mother. I confidently remove the battery and take it to Sam's Club where they're able to figure out that I bought it just under three years ago. It's still under warranty and they very courteously give me a free replacement!

Once home, I install the new battery and drive to the store. On my way there, the warning light comes back on. I make it home but it conks out just as I pulled into my driveway. I guess it wasn't the battery after all.

I probably got a free battery replacement I wasn't entitled to. Note to Sam's Club. You should probably test the batteries people return to be sure they're defective before you replace them. I'm not going to bring my new one back though. Someone will probably get in trouble, my old battery probably isn't there anymore, and there's a chance it was defective. A defective battery can ruin your alternator by making it work too hard. It was pretty good customer service anyway and I decide to leave it at that.

Now, I know for sure the battery is working. The problem must be with the alternator. It costs about $350 to get a new alternator installed. That's not an option for someone unemployed. I've never done any serious work on my car before but I'm about to.

On Monday, I buy a new alternator from Advance Auto Parts online. I get a 20% discount by using a discount code at checkout. It ended up costing me around $160 including tax. I drive up the street in my wife's car and pick it up. I figure I can find instructions or a video online that will tell me how to install it, but I don't. I have to go back and buy a manual.

I get started but soon find I need a serpentine belt tool that helps create slack so you can remove the serpentine belt. It's not much; about $20. I order it online and get my 20% off. Again, I'm off to Advance Auto Parts to pick it up. Once back home and I'm ready to continue. They would have lent me a belt tool for free if they had it in the back but someone else checked it out. I like those guys at Advance Auto Parts. They want to help.

I get the alternator on fairly smoothly. However, it didn't just slide effortlessly in place like the manual described. I have to work to get it in there. Finally, I'm all but finished. All I have to do is connect the negative battery cable to the battery. But, it won't reach. Maybe that's why the alternator didn't cooperate. I take everything apart again. When I do, I find out I screwed a wire onto the alternator in the wrong direction which took away some of the line leading to the battery. I unscrew the wire and screw it back on in the right direction this time.

I get the alternator back on, connect the negative battery cable, and am eager to take it for a test drive. No more charge failure light! However, now my vehicle stalls when idling. I look in the manual. It could be spark plugs, the fuel filter, or a leak in the vacuum line. I have 133,000 miles on my vehicle and haven't changed the spark plugs or fuel filter since I bought it. I also wonder if I caused a vacuum line to leak when I installed the alternator.

I've never worked on my vehicle before and was in a learning curve. A tight budget will make one take on challenges one wouldn't take on otherwise. Necessity leads us.

Monday morning, I take the old alternator back to Advance Auto Parts for a $10 refund. They can't find the paperwork, so they can't give me a refund. I have to return home to get my receipt. On the way, my car stalls again but starts right back up. I order spark plugs and anti seize compound online, getting 20% off again, and drive over to my good friends at Advance Auto Parts with my alternator receipt.

I get my $10 deposit, spark plugs, and anti seize goo. As soon as I get home, I get to work and replace all six spark plugs. I get into the car to run an errand and the darn thing is running rough; really rough. I wonder if I'll make it home. Once again, I do.

I have a pretty good idea what it is. I start the next morning after I collect enough patience to start over. Changing spark plugs isn't what it used to be. I remove the air intake cover, unscrew two clamps, remove two sensors, and remove the air intake resonator. You still can't see the spark plugs. Each one is under its own ignition coil and there is no distributor cap. The first ignition coil was blocked so that you can't pull it straight up to remove it. You also have to slip it back on at an angle. I'm guessing it didn't seat properly when I put it back on because it did not go on as smoothly as the rest of them.

I pry up the part that was blocking it, remove the ignition coil, and re-seat it going straight down this time. I put everything back together and start it up. It runs great! I take it for a test drive. However, the darn thing still stalls; the very I was trying to fix in the first place!

When I purchased the spark plugs, I checked the gap, in front of the sales guy, and looked at him and asked him, "Do you think that's close enough?" They were at .035 inch and it's supposed to be .042 inch on my vehicle. He didn't indicate that was a problem, so, I ended up installing the new plugs without gaping them to .042 inch. It turns out that a vehicle will stall if the spark plugs aren't gaped properly. So, I pick up a gap tool at Advance Auto Parts for under $2.00.

I remove the intake resonator, then, each coil and spark plug, one at a time, setting the gap at .042 inch. It was much faster this time. I knew by heart what to remove and the size of each bolt I had to remove making it easy to select the right socket. I put everything back together, screw the negative battery cable back on, and take it for a test drive. It drives smoother than ever. However, it still stalls and kind of lopes when it's idling, but not as bad.

I'm going to replace the fuel filter tomorrow since that's overdue. I need to buy a jack and jack stands because it's located next to the gas tank. The guy at Advance Auto Parts tells me they have them for $40. The fuel filter is about $18. I think I can get 20% off. If that fails to fix the stalling, I'm going to take to Upton Tire Pros to check for a vacuum hose leak.

You can learn a lot by fixing your car. Mainly, patience and perseverance. Then, following directions to avoid redoing something; like taking the spark plugs back out to gap them. Some mistakes are not avoidable. Nowhere did I find anything about putting that wire on the alternator in the correct direction. That's the messy part of life. Dealing with surprise non-obvious challenges. You can figure out some things as you go, but you'll miss something now and then along the way.

In the end, I found the whole experience satisfying and am going to continue. After I replace the fuel filter, I need to replace some cracked engine mounts, the serpentine belt, and I need new shocks in the front. I hear they're easy to replace yourself. I'll see.

Does anyone else out there wrestle with stuff like this? I wonder if my job search is destined to take a similar path? Somewhere in the back of my mind, something tells me that everything will go smoothly.

Alston, I just wanted you to know in detail why I missed the men's group last Friday when I said I was going to be there and I apologize.

Sign photo by Lt Commander Charles Fenno Jacobs, USN [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photos of impaled vehicles by Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pit crew photo by Lowenburg at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, GFDL (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Demolition derby car photo by Philip (flip) Kromer from Austin, TX (Philip (flip) Kromer from Austin, TX) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Quiet Authenticity

I'm going to add Donald Miller to my blog list. Donald Miller is a New York bestselling author I never heard of. He seems to address some areas in my Christian faith I question. I don't know what denomination he's with. However, I usually listen to someone first, then find out their denomination later. I think truth before tribes is a good policy.

For instance, what is the balance between initiative and being led by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, I've let my Christianity strip my initiative from me. Donald Miller, in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I learned to live a better story, seems to address that.

He also wrote a blog entry on his blog titled, A Response to Pat Robertson’s Comments about Haiti. In it, he provides a perspective that is more mature, thoughtful, and less reactionary than anything else I've read on that subject. Donald Miller points out, "Many controlling personalities are drawn to the idea of a severe, vengeance oriented God."

I have also questioned my lack of desire to express my faith through emotion. I don't deal with this in an Episcopal Church service and that is one reason why I joined the Episcopal Church. However, when I worshiped in non-denominational churches in the past, I wondered why I didn't identify so much with emotional worship when that seemed so important to everyone else around me. I felt the Holy Spirit but didn't feel him in all that emotional jostling (my subjective feeling of that experience).

However, humans differ a lot on the emotional level and I don't doubt that type of worship is truly meaningful to many. Donald Miller said something in his Haiti blog entry that touches on that for me. He said, "I love that the New Testament is mostly intimate letters written to small groups of people who met in homes. I like the quiet authenticity of our faith."

There's a lot of jostling going on and controlling people out there. However, my aim is to live a quiet authentic life. Thank you Donald Miller for expressing that.

Chesterton on Monogamy

Chesterton (1874-1936) in Orthodoxy wrote the following on monogamy. It also speaks of marriage in beautiful terms. Chesterton references Endymion, a poem by John Keats published in 1818, which begins, "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:"

I find it interesting that people had opinions about sex back then that people who think of themselves as progressive do today. The reference to "fairy tales" below is in the context of an entire chapter by the same title which happens to be favorite for many from that book. I underlined my two favorite lines.
     I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion's) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once.
     It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind.

Chesterton on Justice

I really like G. K. Chesterton. He was an Englishman who lived from 1874 to 1936. He was a prolific writer Time magazine once described as the prince of paradox. I like a phrase he wrote in All Things Considered


I also like the paragraph where he uses the phrase.
For, in order that men should resist injustice, something more is necessary than that they should think injustice unpleasant. They must think injustice absurd; above all, they must think it startling. They must retain the violence of a virgin astonishment.

One Fool's Opinion

I won't vote for a presidential candidate who refers to the recent health care legislation as "Obama Care." I know they do so because they don't like the legislation and they don't like President Obama. However, the phrase belittles the fact we have a health care crisis in this country and this was an attempt at a solution crafted in a difficult political environment.

To many Republicans, this legislation does nothing more than represent a democratic political victory. They're set for life with their government pension and health care plan. I can see that from a purely selfish perspective, no healthcare solution is necessary.

The phrase "Obama Care" also seems to capsulize political rancor and partisan politics. It also sounds like a phrase thought up and poll tested by special interest groups before handing it to their politicians and news organization.

The Republican candidates look like Fox News pundits speaking with one orchestrated voice. Fox News pundits do speak as they're told. The E-mails leaked by Mediamatters back in December 2010 from a Fox editor come to mind where he told everyone what phrases to use when speaking of Obama's healthcare legislation. They also did something similar with stories on global warming.

Do you remember the name of the legislation? It's the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Maybe you didn't hear it referred by its name on the news channel you were watching. What was the most controversial part of it? The public option. You may also know it as "the government option" since Fox News reporters and commentators were told to use that phrase instead.

Fox decided on the latter phrase because polls showed it slanted people against the plan. You can't be unbiased if your motive is to slant. You can't be presidential material if the primary thing you're good at is saying what you're told. Hey, but that phrase is poll tested. It's golden baby. Once Fox gets their president elected, they better say and do as they're told.

That's only my opinion.
Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God's fool, and all His work must be contemplated with respect (from Mark Twain, a Biography).

Evil, Suffering, and Vicarious Sacrifice

Evil and suffering are mysteries. How can they coexist with a loving God?  What is this thing theologians call vicarious sacrifice? Those are two deep and difficult issues worthy of our contemplation. I believe they are linked from the foundation of the world.

Genesis chapter 3 describes the nature of our first transgression and its consequences. God gave man a direct, clear, and personal command. Man disobeyed thinking there was something better and God was keeping it from him. Man died and, according to Romans, we all died in him. That's when sin, death, and suffering entered into the world. Their first recorded offspring was a boy named Cain. It goes on from there. There is suffering. We are part of the root cause. Yet, it's still mysterious how suffering can be just.

God is attributed with the first sacrifice recorded in the same chapter of the book of beginnings.
Genesis 3:21  And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
You can't get animal skins without slaughtering an animal. This sacrifice foreshadowed Christ's sacrificial death on the cross for us.

Remember Aslan, in C. S. Lewis's, The Chronicles of Narnia, where he spoke of a magic built into the earth long ago? He explained he touched that magic through his death, and so, returned to life after the work of his sacrifice was finished. It was a magic that went all the way back to the spiritual heritage of creation.

I believe God built into creation from the beginning a special power to sacrifice and patient suffering. Power from that kind of suffering may counter balance the sin, death, and suffering in the world. Maybe, it's powerful enough to destroy evil and recreate a sinless creation. Jesus tried to teach us to turn the other cheek so we could tap into this ever present magic. However, only Jesus could go to the very root. It was like a scroll that only he could open and he did through his death and resurrection. The magic has a unique form and only Jesus' nature fits the form. Only his stature can fill it.
Revelation 5
1  Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2  And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" 3  And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4  and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5  And one of the elders said to me, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."
It was like a secret back door access to the most basic language of a software program so that the programmer could recover the program if a hacker were to steal it (Redemption). Satan stole Adam's dominion over the earth resulting in sin and death that spread to all mankind and creation itself. Christ came in through the back door of suffering and sacrifice, erased the old software code, and created new code for his new creation. The Holy Spirit executes the new code in each of our lives, the new heaven, and the new earth.

Christ demonstrated the power of sacrifice and patient suffering. Whenever we endure suffering patiently, in faith, we tap into the same ancient magic that Christ tapped into regardless of how feeble we feel. Suffering is hard and unnoticed by man. Even the very flesh of Christ broke in the garden and on the cross; his suffering was so real, so personal, and so great. Yet he obeyed from somewhere beyond flesh and feeling and broke that old dark power once for all.

I bet the significance of our patient suffering will be one of the first things to startle us in heaven. Suffering is a mystery. The power of Christ's vicarious sacrifice is also a mystery. Maybe we can't have one without the other. Maybe we come out ahead with both.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them

The tile is from Romans 12:6 in the Christian Bible. I think of all the Christians scattered over the earth. They have differing gifts and circumstances. Someone might be a Christian surrounded by poverty and people of other religions. She can't go anywhere without meeting someone who has never heard of Jesus.

Another Christian is born surrounded by Christians and wealth. He is dissatisfied and searching for meaning. What's his gift and what should he do with it?

Isn't it logical and beneficial for the Christian in the second scenario to give some of his wealth to the Christian in the first scenario, who doesn't have any, to help her share the gospel with her neighbors? Money may be a common gift God entrusted to Christians in the United States. However, faithfulness with money may be uncommon. If we don't obey God with what he has entrusted to us, substituting other ways of serving him will be a joyless road.

The second scenario is a challenging position for a Christian to be in considering the warnings Christ and the Bible give about money. It's too bad many Christian leaders feel awkward preaching about stewardship when it's an important gateway leading to a closer walk with Christ. Learning to give - physical things - from our hearts - to Christ for his purpose and glory - helps build up the Church on both ends of the transaction: giving and receiving.

Giving is not necessarily consistent with the American dream. America praises someone who starts with nothing and works their way to the top as in the old Horatio Alger stories. Titles alone such as Do and Dare - a Brave Boy's Fight for Fortune paint a narrative and imply a moral. The rugged individualist creates himself along the way and we instinctively compare him with a poor, lazy, and undefined person still seeking hand outs.

After such a difficult time early in life, we wouldn't think any less of this man if he kept everything he earned for himself. That may actually further define him. Money is his power, his badge of honor, and (cough) proof of possessing true American ideals. To ask anything more of the brave boy would be considered by many to be class warfare and Unamerican.

However, we're too easy on this achiever. Instead of measuring him against the poor lazy person, we should compare him with Jesus for a more meaningful morality tale. The Horatio Alger stories have a good beginning but they end too soon; just before Jesus says to the rich man, "Follow me."

We also have some televangelists in America who rightfully earned iconic status by sermonizing on giving and wealth to manipulate their congregations into parting with their cash. They drive luxury automobiles, wear expensive suits, and fly in private jets.. These images also influence many away from giving.

Even though messages about giving and stewardship activate our defensive mechanisms, and run counter to certain strains of American idealism, our spiritual leaders need to preach balanced and sincere messages about giving and money because the Bible has a lot of sobering things to say about it.

In morning prayer recently, I stumbled on this verse in Ezekiel 7:19 unexpectedly.
They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the LORD. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. 
The stumbling block of their iniquity! There was one stumbling block. They tripped over it. It precipitated all their iniquity and subsequent downfall. Now, they despise their gold and silver as they throw it into the streets. I know they were only human and so are we.

Remember that puzzling parable abut the rich man's steward who wasted his master's goods in Luke 16?
1 He also said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' 3 And the manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.' 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6 He said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' 7 Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
10 "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.15 And he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
This parable is puzzling but I believe there is a key to understanding it. Jesus described the master as being rich with no other descriptors. He described the rich man's wealth using the word mammon, translated above as "unrighteous wealth." He described the manager as dishonest. Dishonest from who's perspective? Jesus is saying giving money to God is being disloyal to mammon. This fits the context. After this parable, Jesus went on to give several warnings and speak disparagingly about money.

It appears Jesus coined the term "mammon." The Son of God had a unique perspective on money as he walked among us. Using the term "mammon" makes wealth seem like a monster actively exerting a powerful and evil influence. He probably meant that.

Wealth is not something to be trusted or played with. Proverbs 23:4-5 says wealth can sprout wings and fly away. It can also corrupt us if it decides to stick around as it did with those in Ezekiel's day. This parable speaks to the fact that although we can't trust money, we can do something good with it and save ourselves in the process. However, to do that, we have to be unfaithful to mammon.

The god of this world would like us to spend everything we earn on ourselves promoting a sunny selfishness and virile indifference as Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy. More dramatically, mammon would like us to spend our money pursuing vices that steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). If nothing else, mammon would be pleased if we created massive heaps of money that sit around doing nothing. That would be similar to the barn builder Jesus described as a fool in Luke 12:13-21. The devil would love to watch us destroy ourselves and money is his tool for that purpose. However, we can re-artifice the tool if we're "shrewd" enough.

Instead of using money for the reasons mentioned above, we can give it to God. The devil may scream, "You're wasting my possessions!" as the master said in the parable above. Go ahead and do it.

Giving is powerful and radical. It's the spiritual transfer of wealth between realms and kingdoms. The money we give takes on new character and meaning. It's the transformation of wealth.

Giving not only helps others, it helps the giver. It opens a spiritual doorway in the giver and protects the giver from money's negative influence. Yes, the influence is there and everyone is susceptible to it except for Hobbits I suppose. Many men and women of God who went on to make lasting contributions to the church made decisions relative to giving and possessions early in life.

Where can you give? How about your church? The Episcopal Relief and Development is a good place to give. Stewpot provides relief to the needy in nearby Jackson Mississippi. It's easy. Give some of your stuff to where you believe it will do some good.

Jesus concludes the parable by saying:
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Who are "they" and what are the "eternal dwellings?" Maybe, "they" are those in heaven we touched during our lives with simple "unrighteous wealth." Maybe every human heart in heaven is an "eternal dwelling" God will permit us to experience. Giving is powerful on earth and the fruit of our giving will be awesome to experience in heaven.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

God and Heaven with Infinite Secrets

I've been thinking on how far God is beyond our comprehension. I used to think of him as part of his creation. He is. However, he stands apart from and transcends the universe he created. He is far greater than anything he is doing or ever did in the physical realm.

I used to think of heaven something like a more perfect and more spiritual earth. However, I see heaven now as being within that part of God that transcends creation. Then, there's God transcending heaven as well; with infinite secrets.

Think of the lack of imagination atheists reveal when they say, "I don't want to live forever. That would be boring." I don't agree. Heaven will express God's infinite wisdom, creativity, beauty, and love. Enjoy the music below by Cloverton. Take Me Into the Beautiful.

Many Roads and One Narrow One

This is a more personal posting and it's a long one. I've been praying about what to do next because I didn't get a molecular biology degree or a law degree to work at Upton Tire Pros. I have nothing against simple hard work, however, when the shop manager screams at me in front of all the technicians in the garage at the top of his voice, promising to get me fired, for a simple fixable mistake, the absurd context sinks in of being there verses a job I'm trained to do making more money. It's time to leave my stop gap job.

The shop manager has anger issues as everyone in the shop will attest to and he dislikes me, perhaps because I don't return his vitriol. I'm a Quaker at heart. That was the Friday before last. I wasn't feeling great that day and following that incident I came down with a cough and sore throat that kept me away from work the entire week. I hadn't been sick for about two years before that. On Wednesday, I saw the doctor and he prescribed antibiotics which I took and started feeling better.

I used the time away to think and pray. On Wednesday, just after seeing the doctor, I stopped by the shop and tendered my resignation. Upton is an 11 hour/day, 5 days/week job and it's hard to do anything else besides work. George, the store manager (not the angry shop manager), asked me to work next week since they were going to be short staffed. Not wanting to leave Gorge in a tight spot, and not having any malice toward anyone there, I agreed.

This Monday is my first day out of work. I've decided to study for the patent bar exam and take the exam within three weeks, then, look for a job in Intellectual Property (IP). I could end up drafting patents, working at the US Patent and Trademark Office, or negotiating and managing IP related contracts which is what I did for Pfizer before traveling to Mississippi.

As I'm looking ahead, I get the sense that the decisions I've made in my life have been one act of mischief after another. Some mischief I've initiated and some mischief was foisted on me; maybe by the divine comedian himself. Perhaps, the mischief foisted on me kept me from accomplishing altogether greater mischief of which I shall forever remain ignorant. I'm praying now that God will free me from this apparant mischief and author me into something more clearly his design. If God calls me one direction as I'm moving somewhere else, that's ok. I need to be moving in some direction. I hate feeling lazy. However, the wanderlust keeping me moving may have lead to all this mischief in the first place. I don't know.

Why did I go from bible school student to biological researcher to attorney to business owner to driver/salesman for an automotive service center? How did I end up going from West Virginia to Ohio to Oklahoma to California to Mississippi? Why did I go from Methodist to Charismatic to non-denominational to Presbyterian back to Methodist and finally end up Episcopalian? Why did I play #1 seed on my high school tennis team and win all those tournaments as a Sophomore only to move to a farm my Junior year to attend a high school with no tennis team where the nearest tennis court was almost an hour away? Why did my parents buy me a nice Fender Telecaster guitar and amplifier, then, move way out to the country where there was no guitar teacher? Why did I end up going to an unaccredited bible school in a denomination I would not end up staying with rather than going to the College of Wooster in Ohio when my parents were willing to pay? Why did I leave a good job and a condo I just purchased In San Diego, right after remodeling it; just when I was secure for the first time in my life since high school; to go to Mississippi to start a business with my brother? Why did I fall in love with a woman in Mississippi and ask her to marry me just before she dies? I'm not complaining. I'm just saying that's a lot of mischief. Where do all these roads lead? It all seems to go nowhere. However, I find comfort in the single unseen narrow road that is Jesus beneath all these seemingly random roads on the surface crisscrossing my life. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."

On that farm in Ohio, the time between tennis and bible school, I met Christ as my savior. I was working at a sports shop and a customer left a tract titled, Four Spiritual Laws. I brought it home and remember reading it in my bedroom. I knelt and finished praying the prayer just as my mother called me to dinner. I felt no different. However, a couple days later, a sense of God's love and presence seemed to plant itself in my life. Light and color seemed more vibrant. I remember driving with a big smile on my face and remember people I didn't know smiling back at me. The Bible started making sense and reading it satisfied a hunger within me.

I like Alston's blog entry, Magnificent Defeat. He speaks of buying into shiny Christianity, and instead, getting the real nitty gritty Christianity. I'm paraphrasing. Two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem after Christ's crucifixion. They were sad because things hadn't gone as expected. Christ might not have been who they thought he was. Maybe they had wasted years of their lives on an empty dream. They were expecting victory and all they saw was defeat. They were walking away from all that. However, just as, "All roads lead to Rome," these two disciples were on a road leading back to Christ rather than away from him.

I wrote a poem in college that I recently titled, Mobius Trip on this blog. There are a couple of versions. The title is based on something called a Mobius Strip. It's a shape that looks like a two dimensional surface except it only has one surface. A sheet of paper has two surfaces. One on each side. If you were traveling over a sheet of paper, you couldn't travel from one side to the other without crossing the edge. However, you can make a sheet of paper that has only one surface by cutting a rectangular strip, turn it 180 degrees, and taping one end to the other. This way, you can travel on both sides of the paper without lifting your finger. You can follow a single path and end up where you started even though it might feel like your moving further and further away. This reminds me of Emmaus road. Even while the disciples thought they were walking away, Jesus was bringing them back.

I'm thankful for the Christianity that cost Christ everything, even though I didn't appreciate it for what it was at the time I received Christ and was unable recognize what I needed. No matter where I go or what I do, my experience on the farm in Ohio is central to my life. It's a past event that continually unfolds as Christ the author of my salvation becomes my teacher, walking with me, explaining why he had to suffer and die, and what he imparted to me. I have traveled many roads from there. However, there is a single narrow road they all follow that leads to my destination. I pray he gives me strength and direction during this time and that he saves me from mischief and my own unbelief.