Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Open Mouth, Insert Foot, Get Wife Angry

Well, she’s not really angry. More like irritated. My oldest daughter too- she was there for my quip.

Late last night the three of us were lounging on our bed as Michelle and K were getting ready to watch the latest Tivo’d “The Closer” as I was getting ready to head down to the office and get a few things done. We were chatting about our day when Michelle talked about a phone call she had during the day.

She got a call about something we have to do today that required a decent amount of information transfer to coordinate all that has to happen to have today end organized and efficient. The call went much longer than she cared for it to. Her girlfriend went on and on about the details while our nephew, C (Michelle babysits him on Mondays) cried, laundry had to get done, and general chaos and craziness ruled the house.

As K and I listened to her woeful story Michelle lamented that the call went on and on, filled with so much back-story and detail that all she could do was listen- she couldn’t insert a comment, express her concern that she needed to wrap up the call, couldn’t do anything to stop the torrent of information.

She wrapped up the story by saying “It was unbelievable- the talking just kept coming…it was like talking to…”

She was about to say the name of a character from the Jane Austen film “Emma” that we had just watched. The kindly aunt that would barely breathe between long soliloquies that drowned out the whole of the earth.

I didn’t let her finish her sentence…I interjected “a woman.”

I laughed. Michelle and K didn’t.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Thank You For Calling Cingular, How May I Help You?

I got a call today from a lady that sounded confused when I answered the phone.

I answered my business line as I always do... Simply stating my name. The line was silent for a moment, and then I heard a pleasant female voice stammer and ask me if this was Cingular.

Me: No, I think you have the wrong number.

Caller: Are you sure?

Me: Umm... I think so. I'm pretty sure this is not Cingular.

Caller: Is this 615-794-XXXX?

Me: Yes, that's my number, but this is not Cingular.

Caller: Well I am scheduled to meet with them tomorrow and I need to reschedule the meeting.

Me: Ok. I'm sorry this isn't Cingular. If it was I would certainly pass along the message, but its not. You've dialed the wrong number.

Caller: I'm sorry. Thank you.

2 minutes later the phone rings again and caller ID shows its the same lady that just called.

Me: Good afternoon! Thank you for calling Cingular, How may I help you?

Lady, seeming to recognize my voice: Oh hi- I'm calling to cancel a meeting I have at your office tomorrow and see if I can reschedule for Wednesday.

Me: Hi again! Its me- you just called me a few minutes ago.

Lady: oh, yes.

Me: Well, I was just kidding- this still isn't Cingular, and you're still dialing the wrong number.

Lady: is this 615-794-XXXX?

Me: Yes.

Lady: And this isn't Cingular?

Me: Noooooooo.

Lady: I'm sorry I must have written down the wrong number.

Me: (dial tone)

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Things I Need To Start Doing

Stop trying to win arguments and Start trying to win hearts

Stop focusing on the things to do, and Start working on the things that matter

Stop worrying about the things that are wrong, and Start celebrating what is right

Stop complaining about my schedule and workload, and Start working smarter

Perhaps this post should be named “Easier said than done.”

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

God Grew Tired Of Us

On August 14th Sony Pictures will release an amazing film titled “God Grew Tired of Us.”

It's the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan. A heartbreaking and somehow encouraging film about a group of boys that became men in the wilderness of Africa and survived a lifetime worth of hardship during a handful of years. It follows them on their journey from hell to the plastic paradise of America.

Learn more and watch a trailer here: http://www.godgrewtiredofus.com/trailer.html

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Picture and Story 6

This is a baby picture of our first daughter- K from 1993. Seeing it brings immediately to mind one of my worst blunders as a husband.

The night Michelle told me that her contractions had begun and we needed to get to the hospital we launched into red-alert status. I grabbed our things, all pre-packed and ready, and loaded the car. I came back up the stairs to escort Michelle and off to the hospital we sped. It was the middle of the night and I was exhausted. Self-centered alert #1.

As we drove I saw our local Dunkin Donuts and pulled over to grab a cup of coffee. Self-centered alert #2. Michelle didn’t say anything as I got out… later she told me it was because she was in the middle of a seriously painful contraction.

I ran in, grabbed a large coffee, and we resumed our trip to the hospital. It wasn’t until a few days later that Michelle informed me how ticked off she was. I guess that was pretty insensitive.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hip-Hop Is Dead

There is nothing else to say really. Rap and hip-hop are dead... or at least on their death bed.


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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Opinion Changed Twice In Two Minutes

Last night we had the last celebration of K’s fourteenth birthday. K wanted to have dinner at one of her favorite restaurants, Pei Wei Asian Diner. I can always eat there, but our two youngest don’t enjoy it at all. We stopped by Taco Bell drive-through to get them a few soft tacos.

We arrived at Pei Wei, ordered our food, and started wandering through the bustling restaurant trying to find a table. After finding nowhere to sit our group of 6, Michelle and the girls stood in a corner while I vultured around the people eating looking for the next table that might come available. I got lucky and grabbed two small tables next to each other, pulled them together, and grabbed a nearby unused chair to make a table for five. A & R, our youngest, had to share one of them for us to barely fit at the table.

Our food arrived, and as we ate Michelle remarked that Pei Wei used to have a person watching the parties coming in the door and ensure a table is reserved as each orders. It had been awhile since we were there, but they always used to do that. I agreed and thought perhaps they had cut the position to save costs, or just didn’t care anymore. I started thinking that maybe the food wasn’t as good either, and it was awfully loud.

Just then a very nice lady came to our table, apologized that she has been stuck in the back when we came in and ended up at this small table, and had two staffers come over, quickly clean off a nearby table, and pull it up to ours, giving us another chair, plenty of room, and additional apologies.

Suddenly clouds parted and the sun shined. It was, once again in our mind, as good a place as it had ever been. One person makes a huge difference in how customers perceive a product or service.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Read And Weep

A friend from LA sent me the following story that ran this past weekend in the LA Times. The emotional rollercoaster I went through reading it exauhsted me. As I finished it I didn’t know whether to cry, to give up, or maybe become a vigilante and rid the world of the scum this story describes. Then I remembered that all, including me, have fallen short of the glory of God. But that isn’t enough to keep me from wanting to exterminate, with great violence and prejudice, those that harm children.

Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” written almost 700 years ago describes the inner-most and deepest circle of hell as reserved for the chief of sinners- the traitors. Those who betray great trust placed in them by the innocent. Judas is described as the celebrity in that circle, and after reading the story below, I can see he will have much company.

Religion beat became a test of faith- A reporter looks at how the stories he covered affected him and his spiritual journey.
By William Lobdell, Times Staff Writer
July 21, 2007

As a serious Christian, I had cringed at some of the coverage in the mainstream media. Faith frequently was treated like a circus, even a freak show. I wanted to report objectively and respectfully about how belief shapes people's lives. Along the way, I believed, my own faith would grow deeper and sturdier.

But during the eight years I covered religion, something very different happened.

In 1989, a friend took me to Mariners Church, then in Newport Beach, after saying: "You need God. That's what's missing in your life." At the time, I was 28 and my first son was less than a year old. I had managed to nearly ruin my marriage (the second one) and didn't think I'd do much better as a father. I was profoundly lost.

The mega-church's pastor, Kenton Beshore, had a knack for making Scripture accessible and relevant. For someone who hadn't studied the Bible much, these talks fed a hunger in my soul. The secrets to living well had been there all along — in "Life's Instruction Manual," as some Christians nicknamed the Bible.

Some friends in a Bible study class encouraged me to attend a men's religious weekend in the San Bernardino Mountains. The three-day retreats are designed to grind down your defenses and leave you emotionally raw — an easier state in which to connect with God. After 36 hours of prayer, singing, Bible study, intimate sharing and little sleep, I felt filled with the Holy Spirit.

At the climactic service Sunday, Mike Barris, a pastor-to-be, delivered an old-fashioned altar call. He said we needed to let Jesus into our hearts.

With my eyes closed in prayer, I saw my heart slowly opening in two and then being infused with a warm, glowing light. A tingle spread across my chest. This, I thought, was what it was to be born again.

The pastor asked those who wanted to accept Jesus to raise their hands. My hand pretty much levitated on its own. My new friends in Christ, many of whom I had first met Friday, gave me hugs and slaps on the back.

I began praying each morning and night. During those quiet times, I mostly listened for God's voice. And I thought I sensed a plan he had for me: To write about religion for The Times and bring light into the newsroom, if only by my stories and example.

My desire to be a religion reporter grew as I read stories about faith in the mainstream media. Spiritual people often appeared as nuts or simpletons.

In one of the most famous examples, the Washington Post ran a news story in 1993 that referred to evangelical Christians as "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command."

Another maddening trend was that homosexuality and abortion debates dominated media coverage, as if those where the only topics that mattered to Christians.

I didn't just pray for a religion writing job; I lobbied hard. In one meeting with editors, my pitch went something like this:

"What if I told you that you have an institution in Orange County that draws more than 15,000 people a weekend and that you haven't written much about?"

They said they couldn't imagine such a thing.

"Saddleback Church in Lake Forest draws that type of crowd."

It took several years and numerous memos and e-mails, but editors finally agreed in 1998 to let me write "Getting Religion," a weekly column about faith in Orange County.

I felt like all the tumblers of my life had clicked. I had a strong marriage, great kids and a new column. I attributed it all to God's grace.

First as a columnist and then as a reporter, I never had a shortage of topics. I wrote about an elderly church organist who became a spiritual mentor to the man who tried to rape, rob and kill her. About the Orthodox Jewish mother who developed a line of modest clothing for Barbie dolls. About the hardy group of Mormons who rode covered wagons 800 miles from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino, replicating their ancestors' journey to Southern California.

Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism, with its low-key evangelism and deep ritual, increasingly appealed to me. I loved its long history and loving embrace of liberals and conservatives, immigrants and the established, the rich and poor.

My wife was raised in the Catholic Church and had wanted me to join for years. I signed up for yearlong conversion classes at a Newport Beach parish that would end with an Easter eve ceremony ushering newcomers into the church.

By then I had been on the religion beat for three years. I couldn't wait to get to work each day or, on Sunday, to church.

IN 2001, about six months before the Catholic clergy sex scandal broke nationwide, the dioceses of Orange and Los Angeles paid a record $5.2 million to a law student who said he had been molested, as a student at Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, by his principal, Msgr. Michael Harris.

Without admitting guilt, Harris agreed to leave the priesthood. As part of the settlement, the dioceses also were forced to radically change how they handled sexual abuse allegations, including a promise to kick out any priest with a credible molestation allegation in his past. It emerged that both dioceses had many known molesters on duty. Los Angeles had two convicted pedophiles still working as priests.

While reporting the Harris story, I learned — from court records and interviews — the lengths to which the church went to protect the priest. When Harris took an abrupt leave of absence as principal at Santa Margarita in January 1994, he issued a statement saying it was because of "stress." He resigned a month later.

His superiors didn't tell parents or students the real reason for his absence: Harris had been accused of molesting a student while he was principal at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana from 1977 to 1979; church officials possessed a note from Harris that appeared to be a confession; and they were sending him to a treatment center.

In September 1994, a second former student stepped forward, this time publicly, and filed a lawsuit. In response, parents and students held a rally for Harris at the school, singing, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." An airplane towed a banner overhead that read "We Love Father Harris."

By this time, church leaders possessed a psychological report in which Catholic psychiatrists diagnosed Harris as having an attraction to adolescents and concluded that he likely had molested multiple boys. (Harris, who has denied the allegations, now stands accused of molesting 12 boys, according to church records.) But they didn't step forward to set the record straight. Instead, a diocesan spokesman called Harris an "icon of the priesthood."

Harris' top defense attorney, John Barnett, lashed out at the priest's accusers in the media, calling them "sick individuals." Again, church leaders remained silent as the alleged victims were savaged. Some of the diocese's top priests — including the cleric in charge of investigating the accusations — threw a going-away party for Harris.

At the time, I never imagined Catholic leaders would engage in a widespread practice that protected alleged child molesters and belittled the victims. I latched onto the explanation that was least damaging to my belief in the Catholic Church — that this was an isolated case of a morally corrupt administration.

And I was comforted by the advice of a Catholic friend: "Keep your eyes on the person nailed to the cross, not the priests behind the altar."

IN late 2001, I traveled to Salt Lake City to attend a conference of former Mormons. These people lived mostly in the Mormon Jell-O belt — Utah, Idaho, Arizona — so-named because of the plates of Jell-O that inevitably appear at Mormon gatherings.

They found themselves ostracized in their neighborhoods, schools and careers. Often, they were dead to their own families.

"If Mormons associate with you, they think they will somehow become contaminated and lose their faith too," Suzy Colver told me. "It's almost as if people who leave the church don't exist."

The people at the conference were an eclectic bunch: novelists and stay-at-home moms, entrepreneurs and cartoonists, sex addicts and alcoholics. Some were depressed, others angry, and a few had successfully moved on. But they shared a common thread: They wanted to be honest about their lack of faith and still be loved.

In most pockets of Mormon culture, that wasn't going to happen.

Part of what drew me to Christianity were the radical teachings of Jesus — to love your enemy, to protect the vulnerable and to lovingly bring lost sheep back into the fold.

As I reported the story, I wondered how faithful Mormons — many of whom rigorously follow other biblical commands such as giving 10% of their income to the church — could miss so badly on one of Jesus' primary lessons?

As part of the Christian family, I felt shame for my religion. But I still compartmentalized it as an aberration — the result of sinful behavior that infects even the church.

IN early 2002, I was assigned to work on the Catholic sex scandal story as it erupted across the nation. I also continued to attend Sunday Mass and conversion classes on Sunday mornings and Tuesday nights.

Father Vincent Gilmore — the young, intellectually sharp priest teaching the class — spoke about the sex scandal and warned us Catholics-to-be not to be poisoned by a relatively few bad clerics. Otherwise, we'd be committing "spiritual suicide."

As I began my reporting, I kept that in mind. I also thought that the victims — people usually in their 30s, 40s and up — should have just gotten over what had happened to them decades before. To me, many of them were needlessly stuck in the past.

But then I began going over the documents. And interviewing the victims, scores of them. I discovered that the term "sexual abuse" is a euphemism. Most of these children were raped and sodomized by someone they and their family believed was Christ's representative on Earth. That's not something an 8-year-old's mind can process; it forever warps a person's sexuality and spirituality.

Many of these victims were molested by priests with a history of abusing children. But the bishops routinely sent these clerics to another parish, and bullied or conned the victims and their families into silence. The police were almost never called. In at least a few instances, bishops encouraged molesting priests to flee the country to escape prosecution.

I couldn't get the victims' stories or the bishops' lies — many of them right there on their own stationery — out of my head. I had been in journalism more than two decades and had dealt with murders, rapes, other violent crimes and tragedies. But this was different — the children were so innocent, their parents so faithful, the priests so sick and bishops so corrupt.

The lifeline Father Vincent had tried to give me began to slip from my hands.

I sought solace in another belief: that a church's heart is in the pews, not the pulpits. Certainly the people who were reading my stories would recoil and, in the end, recapture God's house. Instead, I saw parishioners reflexively support priests who had molested children by writing glowing letters to bishops and judges, offering them jobs or even raising their bail while cursing the victims, often to their faces.

On a Sunday morning at a parish in Rancho Santa Margarita, I watched congregants lobby to name their new parish hall after their longtime pastor, who had admitted to molesting a boy and who had been barred that day from the ministry. I felt sick to my stomach that the people of God wanted to honor an admitted child molester. Only one person in the crowd, an Orange County sheriff's deputy, spoke out for the victim.

On Good Friday 2002, I decided I couldn't belong to the Catholic Church. Though I had spent a year preparing for it, I didn't go through with the rite of conversion.

I understood that I was witnessing the failure of humans, not God. But in a way, that was the point. I didn't see these institutions drenched in God's spirit. Shouldn't religious organizations, if they were God-inspired and -driven, reflect higher standards than government, corporations and other groups in society?

I found an excuse to skip services that Easter. For the next few months, I attended church only sporadically. Then I stopped going altogether.

SOME of the nation's most powerful pastors — including Billy Graham, Robert H. Schuller and Greg Laurie — appear on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, benefiting from TBN's worldwide reach while looking past the network's reliance on the "prosperity gospel" to fuel its growth.

TBN's creed is that if viewers send money to the network, God will repay them with great riches and good health. Even people deeply in debt are encouraged to put donations on credit cards.

"If you have been healed or saved or blessed through TBN and have not contributed … you are robbing God and will lose your reward in heaven," Paul Crouch, co-founder of the Orange County-based network, once told viewers. Meanwhile, Crouch and his wife, Jan, live like tycoons.

I began looking into TBN after receiving some e-mails from former devotees of the network. Those people had given money to the network in hopes of getting a financial windfall from God. That didn't work.

By then, I started to believe that God was calling me, as he did St. Francis of Assisi, to "rebuild his church" — not in some grand way that would lead to sainthood but by simply reporting on corruption within the church body.

I spent several years investigating TBN and pored through stacks of documents — some made available by appalled employees — showing the Crouches eating $180-per-person meals; flying in a $21-million corporate jet; having access to 30 TBN-owned homes across the country, among them a pair of Newport Beach mansions and a ranch in Texas. All paid for with tax-free donor money.

One of the stars of TBN and a major fundraiser is the self-proclaimed faith healer Benny Hinn. I attended one of his two-day "Miracle Crusades" at what was then the Pond of Anaheim. The arena was packed with sick people looking for a cure.

My heart broke for the hundreds of people around me in wheelchairs or in the final stages of terminal diseases, believing that if God deemed their faith strong enough, they would be healed that night.

Hinn tells his audiences that a generous cash gift to his ministry will be seen by God as a sign of true faith. This has worked well for the televangelist, who lives in an oceanfront mansion in Dana Point, drives luxury cars, flies in private jets and stays in the best hotels.

At the crusade, I met Jordie Gibson, 21, who had flown from Calgary, Canada, to Anaheim because he believed that God, through Hinn, could get his kidneys to work again.

He was thrilled to tell me that he had stopped getting dialysis because Hinn had said people are cured only when they "step out in faith." The decision enraged his doctors, but made perfect sense to Gibson. Despite risking his life as a show of faith, he wasn't cured in Anaheim. He returned to Canada and went back on dialysis. The crowd was filled with desperate believers like Gibson.

I tried unsuccessfully to get several prominent mainstream pastors who appeared on TBN to comment on the prosperity gospel, Hinn's "faith healing" or the Crouches' lifestyle.

Like the Catholic bishops, I assumed, they didn't want to risk what they had.

AS the stories piled up, I began to pray with renewed vigor, but it felt like I wasn't connecting to God. I started to feel silly even trying.

I read accounts of St. John of the Cross and his "dark night of the soul," a time he believed God was testing him by seemingly withdrawing from his life. Maybe this was my test.

I met with my former Presbyterian pastor, John Huffman, and told him what I was feeling. I asked him if I could e-mail him some tough questions about Christianity and faith and get his answers. He agreed without hesitation.

The questions that I thought I had come to peace with started to bubble up again. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God get credit for answered prayers but no blame for unanswered ones? Why do we believe in the miraculous healing power of God when he's never been able to regenerate a limb or heal a severed spinal chord?

In one e-mail, I asked John, who had lost a daughter to cancer, why an atheist businessman prospers and the child of devout Christian parents dies. Why would a loving God make this impossible for us to understand?

He sent back a long reply that concluded:

"My ultimate affirmation is let God be God and acknowledge that He is in charge. He knows what I don't know. And frankly, if I'm totally honest with you, a life of gratitude is one that bows before the Sovereign God arguing with Him on those things that trouble me, lamenting the losses of life, but ultimately saying, 'You, God, are infinite; I'm human and finite.' "

John is an excellent pastor, but he couldn't reach me. For some time, I had tried to push away doubts and reconcile an all-powerful and infinitely loving God with what I saw, but I was losing ground. I wondered if my born-again experience at the mountain retreat was more about fatigue, spiritual longing and emotional vulnerability than being touched by Jesus.

And I considered another possibility: Maybe God didn't exist.

TOWARD the end of my tenure as a religion reporter, I traveled to Nome, Alaska. Sitting in a tiny visitor's room, I studied the sad, round face of the Eskimo in front of me and tried to imagine how much he hated being confined to jail.

Peter "Packy" Kobuk was from a remote village on St. Michael Island in western Alaska. There natives lived, in many ways, just as their ancestors did 10,000 years ago. Smells of the outdoor life hung heavy in his village: the salt air, the strips of salmon drying on racks, the seaweed washed up on the beach.

But for now, Packy could smell only the disinfectants used to scrub the concrete floors at the Anvil Mountain Correction Center. Unfortunately, alcohol and a violent temper had put Packy there many times in his 46 years. For his latest assault, he was serving three months.

The short, powerfully built man folded his calloused hands on the table. I was surprised to see a homemade rosary hanging from his neck, the blue beads held together by string from a fishing net.

I had come from Southern California to report on a generation of Eskimo boys who had been molested by a Catholic missionary. All of the now-grown Eskimos I had interviewed over the past week had lost their faith. In fact, several of them confessed that they fantasized daily about burning down the village church, where the unspeakable acts took place.

But there was Packy with his rosary.

"Why do you still believe?" I asked.

"It's not God's work what happened to me," he said softly, running his fingers along the beads. "They were breaking God's commandments — even the people who didn't help. They weren't loving their neighbors as themselves."

He said he regularly got down on his knees in his jail cell to pray.

"A lot of people make fun of me, asking if the Virgin Mary is going to rescue me," Packy said. "Well, I've gotten helped more times from the Virgin Mary through intercession than from anyone else. I won't stop. My children need my prayers."

Tears spilled from his eyes. Packy's faith, though severely tested, had survived.

I looked at him with envy. Where he found comfort, I was finding emptiness.

IN the summer of 2005, I reported from a Multnomah County, Ore., courtroom on the story of an unemployed mother — impregnated by a seminary student 13 years earlier — who was trying to get increased child support for her sickly 12-year-old son.

The boy's father, Father Arturo Uribe, took the witness stand. The priest had never seen or talked with his son. He even had trouble properly pronouncing the kid's name. Uribe confidently offered the court a simple reason as to why he couldn't pay more than $323 a month in child support.

"The only thing I own are my clothes," he told the judge.

His defense — orchestrated by a razor-sharp attorney paid for by his religious order — boiled down to this: I'm a Roman Catholic priest, I've taken a vow of poverty, and child-support laws can't touch me.

The boy's mother, Stephanie Collopy, couldn't afford a lawyer. She stumbled badly acting as her own attorney. It went on for three hours.

"It didn't look that great," Stephanie said afterward, wiping tears from her eyes. "It didn't sound that great … but at least I stood up for myself."

The judge ruled in the favor of Uribe, then pastor of a large parish in Whittier. After the hearing, when the priest's attorney discovered I had been there, she ran back into the courtroom and unsuccessfully tried to get the judge to seal the case. I could see why the priest's lawyer would try to cover it up. People would be shocked at how callously the church dealt with a priest's illegitimate son who needed money for food and medicine.

My problem was that none of that surprised me anymore.

As I walked into the long twilight of a Portland summer evening, I felt used up and numb.

My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago — probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.

Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don't. It's not a choice. It can't be willed into existence. And there's no faking it if you're honest about the state of your soul.

Sitting in a park across the street from the courthouse, I called my wife on a cellphone. I told her I was putting in for a new beat at the paper. -

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Monday, July 23, 2007


It’s K’s birthday tomorrow. We started off the celebration this past Saturday when family gathered to celebrated the eldest of our four gorgeous girls. Michelle and I are stunned the time has flown by the way it has.

When I think too much about it, I get angry. I don’t know if it’s angry at God, or just the way time and life moves so quickly. All I know is that we have known and lost several different little girls named K. The precious little baby is no more. The inquisitive and wonder-eyed two year old is gone. The constantly hugging and hand-holding five year old with big loving eyes and a question always on her tongue gave way to a proper little lady of eight. The ten year old smart-as-a-tack student and conversationalist turns into a young woman of fourteen tomorrow.

I long for each one of those people I have known and loved. And as K readies for high school in a few short weeks, we are preparing for a rapid succession of evolutions of her- as she explores new relationships, concepts, struggles, victories and defeats. Its all moving too fast, and Michelle and I are ill equipped for this next phase of life. But it is coming anyway.

We are praying for wisdom and insight as we learn the role of mom and dad to this new growing person. Good news for the other three- we will have a better grasp on all of this when they get to this age.

I love K and her sisters with every ounce of my heart and being. I am amazed that God has honored me with these gifts- these four souls- to care for and raise. And that he has given me Michelle- such a beautiful and wonderful partner in this journey.

I want the next twenty-four hours to feel like twenty-four years. Believe me, that long ago I was sixteen, and between then and now it seems like the blink of an eye.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Faith In Mandalas

This is the last of my comments on “The Last Mimzy” and the wonderful comedy the bonus content provides.

Here a psychologist's incredibly lucid and crystal clear comments on Mandalas (ancient drawings and designs that represent the universe, yourself, cosmic energy, the world, mystical places and times, and all sorts of other things anyone can throw in when defining the doodles drawn by people thousands of years ago) and what renowned psychologist Carl Jung thought of them.

Holly J. Fincher, Ph.D.
Jungian Psychologist

“The Mandala brings things together in harmony and says ‘we are all in our microcosm of our own being, part of a greater whole.’

Jung undertook earlier in his, uh, career to study the unconscious through his own inner experiments and explorations. He engaged in a process of active imagination, which is essentially a kind of conscious dialogue with the inner figures that appeared in dreams, and what Jung did was he painted pictures of these figures. And through that experiential discovery and…and, study, and then combined with the, um, the discovery outwardly of this being in other cultures something that is known, Jung came to the realization that what the Mandala is, is a symbol of self.”

Another brilliant exploration in human-made religion.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Faith In Wormholes

A couple days ago I wrote about a movie our family watched- The Last Mimzy. While the movie was fun, the absolute best part in my opinion was listening to the gobblygook a scientist and a psychologist rattled on about in the bonus content. I thought I would share with you their amazingly cognizant and wise words. Welcome to the Church of Wack.

Brian Greene
Professor of Physics and Mathematics, Columbia University

“I wish that it would turn out that we can manipulate space and time and be able to travel to the past. That would be a truly wonderful thing to accomplish, a little dangerous perhaps, but truly wonderful. The people who’ve thought about time travel, have in some sense, developed wormholes as the most likely contender for a means of realizing time travel if it is possible at all.

So first of all, what is a wormhole? A wormhole is a tunnel through space that allows you to go from one point in the universe to another through a short-cut, just like a tunnel through a mountain. Some very clever scientists realized that if you have one of these tunnels in space, and you move the openings relative to each other, then something spectacular may happen.

The wormhole may not just be a short-cut from one point in space to another point in space, it may be a short-cut from one moment in time to another moment in time. You may be able to pass right through from the future to the past, or from the past to the future- that’s the basic idea.

So, it could be the case, some suggest, that you start in our universe, go into a black hole, go right down to the center, pass through a wormhole-type passageway, and wind up in another universe. A totally hypothetical idea- an interesting and fascinating one. The problem is that when we study them in more detail, keeping a wormhole open is a very difficult thing to accomplish. And People have tried to invoke quantum mechanics to help stabilize a wormhole, to keep it open long enough so for instance somebody might pass through it. But the calculations indicate that its very hard to make these objects stable. They want to collapse on themselves.

So it seems to be the case that if you had a wormhole it wouldn’t stay open long enough to keep it particularly interesting. That’s one of the main problems.

The other thing more seriously to bear in mind is no one knows how you build a wormhole. The mathematics show that a wormhole might exist fully formed somewhere in the universe, but if you told me “build a wormhole right here, because I want to go from this point to this point” I wouldn’t know how to do it. That’s something that’s way beyond our technological capacity, and that also is a big problem in trying to realize these scenarios.

If, and it’s a real big if, we could show that wormholes do exist, and if, another big if, we could show that they would stay open in a way that would allow safe passage, and if, ANOTHER big if, we could manipulate a wormhole and move the opening relative to one another, then we might in fact create something akin to a time machine.

Whether those scenarios will ever come to pass- that’s an interesting question that in many cases is hard to answer.”


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Friday, July 20, 2007

Houston, We Have A Problem

A few weeks ago Michelle and I had a great idea- we would buy one of those portable canopies to put out by the pool. The unbearable hot sunny days were just starting, and while getting in the pool was refreshing, some days the sun is so searing even the pool water heats up like a warm bath.

I reasoned that if we got one big enough we could shade a portion of the pool as well as the patio. It was a great idea. I set out that very day to Academy Sports to buy one.

I bought the largest one they had- a 15 foot behemoth of a canopy with the special easy-set up system. It worked almost like an umbrella. I slid it out of the case (with built-in roller wheels), set it by the pool, and extended the aluminum frame after slipping the canopy cloth over it. I had it fully extended and shading me in under 5 minutes.

It worked beautifully. It shaded a good portion of one side of the pool, plus provided a great area on the patio to place our lounge chairs. We had it made in the…well…shade.

Everything was great until the disaster. About, oh, 48 hours after buying it.

Michelle and the girls were out shopping, as usual, and I was home readying to mow the lawn. I went through my usual preparation: Full gas cans- check, water-check, cigar-check, hat, sunglasses, goggles and particle mask- check, sunscreen- check. The Saturday tradition looked to be quite enjoyable this day as it was unseasonably cool and breezy. I headed out after deciding on my flight plan- this week I would do the cut at an angle running southwest to northeast and would start in the front.

I was making great progress running the mower at full speed and flying across the expanse of our front yard and enjoying the strong breeze that was hitting me every few seconds. The sun was bright, the cigar well seasoned, and the grass brightly green. “How could it get any better than this?” was what I was thinking when something caught my eye. My brain processed it somewhat quickly- something was moving near the house, and since no one was home, that just shouldn’t be.

I looked fully in the direction of the movement and was mesmerized. Our brand new giant canopy was hovering several feet off the ground and moving across the lawn. It moved so gracefully and purposely that it seemed someone was controlling with a remote control device. I stopped the mower and stared. Wow- that’s cool! I think that’s what I thought right before an updraft caught it. When the updraft caught it, I thought one other thing- I suppose I should have used the spikes and tie-down rope that came with the canopy.

It soared. And I mean SOARED. It shot straight up like a rocket, very fast and very stable. It reached above the treeline with plenty of blue sky between. I estimate the craft reached an altitude of somewhere between 60 and 75 feet high when something went terribly wrong. The wind died.

I felt it before the canopy did- the wind and weather at our house usually moves from west to east (like almost everywhere in the world I guess), and I was due west of the launch pad. I had great hopes that the canopy would, when its fuel ran out, float down gently like a parachute. I was greatly mistaken. As the breeze ended, the canopy stilled itself, and then tipped over and plummeted to the ground like a bullet, upside down and rushing to its death. It hit the ground and exploded into dozens of pieces of broken and twisted aluminum and plastic. It looked like a downed 747.

As I rushed to the crash scene I had grand hopes of saving the $75 I spent by trying to string it back together with various materials from my workshop in the garage. I even had a fleeting thought about taking it back to Academy Sports and telling them it was defective. When I arrived and saw the destruction I knew it was all over. My very next thought was wondering if Michelle would ask me why I didn’t anchor it down when I told her about it, and what I would say.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Last Mimzy

Last night the family had Friday movie night on a Wednesday. We all settled down to watch the film “The Last Mimzy.”

I don’t think Rhiannon Leigh Wryn, the actress that played the little girl, could be any more adorable. We greatly enjoyed the movie, and as always explored the special content on the DVD afterwards.

The DVD included interviews with scientists and a Jungian Psychologist (What?) exploring the concepts of extraterrestrial life, wormholes in space, blackholes, human evolution and much more. It was hilarious. While they were dead serious, it struck me as a series of Saturday Night Live skits. I think the concept of a wormhole was first explored in Star Trek or some other sci-fi TV show or movie, and here was a scientist explaining how they work, even though there is not a shred of evidence that they exist. The segments had more religion and faith in them than a Billy Graham crusade.

That ‘scientists’ and atheists can criticize faith in God claiming there is no evidence while espousing the most fantastical and hilarious theories of the universe stuns me.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Last week I had the great pleasure of meeting with Alex Kendrick- one of the two Kendrick brothers that created the film “Facing The Giants.” He took about 45 minutes of out his busy schedule to talk to Steve (a gent I work with) and me about the new film he’s working on. It was a wonderful experience- hearing a storyteller and filmmaker walk us through the story in such detail, including his ideas for camera angles and music. I felt like I was watching the film, immersed in the story.

It was so exciting I almost decided to become a filmmaker- except for one problem- I don’t have the slightest idea how to make a movie.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Being Right

I watched a film this past weekend that really impacted me. It continues to impact me. I can’t stop thinking about it. I watched it Saturday night, and the weird thing is on Sunday morning at church my pastor covered pretty much the same topic. It was like a double-whammy from God.

The film is basically about American Christianity vs. the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have probably been an adherent more of the former than the latter. And the film is shaking the foundations of my faith. In a good way.

I think I am too focused on, to worried about, being right- or rather correct- on all the hot topics. I am thinking more and more about how important those things are in light of other weightier issues. How important is the topic of global warming compared to the needs of a child in abject poverty? How important is the homosexual agenda in light of my friend that is dying of cancer and leaving a wife and three kids behind?

Thinking. Questioning. Wondering what is beyond and within the matrix of this physical life more than ever before.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Picture and Story 5

I went through a "photography" phase in high school. I was given an old 35mm SLR camera that my grandfather had owned, bought some film, and snapped away.

Soon after I signed up for B&W Photography as an elective while in the 10th grade, and as part of the class we learned about trick photography.

This was one of my first attempts- back in the day before simple image manipulation on computers. It involved taking two separate photographs, and changing out the negatives while exposing only one half of the photo paper to light at a time.

The subject is Travis Pape- a good friend from my church youth group, and the photo was actually taken at our church- The Gaithersburg Church of the Nazarene in Maryland, shot sometime in 1982 or 1983.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

You Can’t Take The Boy Out Of The Man

Yesterday our entire family spent the day pulling weeds from the endless mounds of mulch that cover our yard. The exercise is always followed by the tradition of checking for ticks- a plague on Tennessee that we all deal with here.

Ticks were obviously on my mind as I was doodling during the church service today. To the delight of one of my daughters sitting next to me, I drew a large tick on the side of my heel- bare because of the sandals I was wearing. The blue ball point pen leaving a surprising tattoo-like look.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Major Miracle

Just over a week ago I wrote about a small miracle I witnessed- a little ant that could. Today, a huge miracle of biblical-proportions occurred.

Michelle and I were able to enlist (as in slave-labor) our four girls to help pull weeds in the yard. It was no easy task. We did our best to make it as fun as possible (plenty of water, pool breaks when we got hot, a boom box outside pumping Switchfoot and Relient K songs, etc).

To say our yard has a large mulch area in which to pull weeds from is an understatement. When we get mulch delivered we have to get a semi-truck to deliver it. Seriously. It takes a full semi-truck and trailer worth of mulch to cover the area 2-3 inches deeo. A truck pulls up and dumps the mulch into mountains around the yard from which we spend a few weekends pulling from to cover the landscaping area.

The girls were troopers- they did a great job! Well, not actually. They moaned, complained, got bit by bugs, took too long to return from pool breaks, moved at a snails pace in the hot sun, and generally complained that life was not fair. Michelle and I think we should make it a weekend tradition.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Dog Attack

At dinner last night the family stumbled into a discussion about dogs that brought back a distant memory. I then shared that story with the family. And the kids were so kind to sit there and humor the old man by listening to my story of way back then…

I was a door-to-door salesman for CableTV Montgomery. My purpose was to get in peoples home by knocking on the door, telling them I could get them a month of free cable service, free installation, free premium channels and a free cable box. Absolutely no cost! Free! Seriously!

I then would sign them up and leave with a $72 check. We did give them a free month of cable, but they had to buy months 2-4 in advance to get it. Oh, and if you didn’t want hole through your hardwood floor it would cost $50 for the “advanced/quality installation.”

Yes, I know, might as well sold used cars.

So, anyway, I pulled up to one huge house in Chevy Chase Maryland, stepped out of the car grabbling my giant presentation book, and walked towards the house. A heard a strange noise- a pounding and rushing sound. And then I saw it. A massive dog, probably 100 pounds, running full speed with teeth bare in an amazingly quiet sneak attack. As he closed in on me the barking and growling started, and he did not appear to be bluffing me. He was going for the kill.

I didn’t panic (at least I didn’t tell my family I did) and did the only thing I could think to do. As the dog lunged at me, I brought my huge binder (about 5 inches think and probably weighed 10lbs) down on the dogs head as hard as I could. He collapsed to the ground with a whimper and laid there.
The homeowner, a nice lady in a dress far to formal for a Saturday morning, came running over to me surprisingly much more concerned about me than her dog. She apologized, asked me into the house without knowing why I was there, and handed me off to her husband as she hurried upstairs.

The man explained to me that the dog does this all the time, no worries about knocking him out cold- he’ll be fine- and that they were in a hurry to get to their daughters wedding. I told him I was sorry for intruding and would come back another time. “Nonsense”, he said, “how can I help you?”

I gave him the 30 second version of my sales pitch, just wanting to get out of there with my life. He pulled out his checkbook, wrote a check, asked me to fill out all the paperwork for him and that installation next week would be fine. He escorted me out to my car, holding the now awakened beast by the collar and I drove away.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Welcome Back! Now Go

I do this to myself every single stinking time. Why? Stupidity.

I go out of town for a few days, or even a week or more. I travel back home arriving late at night. And I have somehow scheduled and early morning meeting the next day.

Every time. Somebody stop me.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Home Shopping

This morning I accompanied one of my clients to a taping for a home shopping network segment. It was a make-shift studio set-up in a very large room at the convention center in Atlanta. They did a surprisingly good job of making the room look and feel like a studio, and the team there did a wonderful job working with my client.

Watching the hostess of the show talk to my client during the taping was fun. The veil of deep relationship that people pull over themselves when performing like this is fascinating. Whether its co-hosts or presenters on an awards show, guests on the couch on a talk-show, or product developers and creators on home shopping shows, everyone that is on the stage with a bright light and a camera on them are BFF (best friends forever) while on camera.

Big smiles, lingering hugs, high-pitched voices, hand-holding and deep kindly stares as someone is talking. The lights go off, the cameras turned off, and the real world begins again. Most often a batch of strangers that really do not know each other at all and are off to the next thing.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Stray Shot

The Fourth of July was a blast. Our annual tradition of fireworks at home went off without a hitch, even though we were worried the lack of rain would provide ample fuel for a wildfire. We had a fire extinguisher at the ready and figured we could handle any small blazes that popped up from falling cinders.

Ron and Joy and their two kids were staying with us all week, and my parents came over for the celebration. Playing in the pool until dinner, Hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, tons of side items, and then the fireworks.

I guess there was on hitch I will mention. Ron and I handled the fireworks duty, and all was going well until I came up with the idea of shooting off two artillery shells at the same time. I set up the launch tubes, and Ron and I stood ready to light them off simultaneously. It went wrong.

I must have lit mine a second before Ron did, and when my shot went off the thrust of the it knocked over the other launch tube. When it went off it launched horizontally (we had our launch tubes set up on a table about 4 feet of the ground in the middle of the back yard) right towards where we all were standing. Including the kids.

For a second I thought about how beautiful it was, and how amazing the explosion looked so close to the ground. Then my brain went into gear and I realized if the tube landed a few inches to the left on the table one of our kids could have taken a shot to the gut. I also realized that where the shot landed at the edge of the treeline there are mounds of old grass clippings- a fire was sure to follow. Ron grabbed the fire extinguisher and did fire watch duty by the trees while I continued the show. A bit more cautiously than before.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

I Don't Like Atlanta

There is a reason it’s called Hotlanta. Apologies to anyone that reads this and loves the city, but I just do not like Atlanta. I have heard that occasionally, in winter, the temperature and humidity does get below 90° and 90%, but I’ve never experienced it.

I just don’t mesh well with those numbers. I don’t mind heat- the summer before last I had to go to Phoenix for a convention and the mercury hit 116°. No worries at all. It’s the humidity that does me in.

Last week during the ICRS Convention in Atlanta the heat and humidity was ON. I had a series of meetings set up in nice air conditioned locations, though some of them required a short jaunt through the oven of downtown but I wasn’t too worried. Each trip through the heat would quickly be met with that wonderfully refreshing feeling of walking through a revolving door into blessedly mechanically and chemically cooled dry air. I figured I would be ok wearing the nice new Nautica sports jacket I bought over a snappy (albeit thick) shirt, on top of a t-shirt and jeans.

I met up with Lisa for breakfast at 8AM. Our plan was to head to the convention floor after breakfast and spend the morning walking the floor and reviewing new products and concepts. It was Lisa’s first ICRS show, and I was going to guide her through all the different companies and products so she would have a better overall feel for the market. As we headed out of the hotel we had breakfast in, Lisa and I looked around for directions to point the way to the Georgia World Congress Center. She was pretty sure if we walked out a certain door we would be there after a very short walk.

We stepped out into the morning coolness (about 90° and 90% humidity), and started our walk. She thought it was down this block, and over one more. We walked and talked. Talked and walked. The convention center wasn’t there. “I think it’s down that street and then over a block or two” she said. We kept walking. And walking. The sweat started pouring. After a long stroll downhill for two city blocks, across another two blocks, through the Olympic park, uphill 4 blocks, across 2 blocks we returned to the exact spot where we had exited the hotel some 30 minutes prior. If I could have taken a Before and After photo, it would have looked like I jumped into a swimming pool fully dressed between the two. Turns out the convention center is next door to the hotel we had breakfast in, with an outdoor walk-way between the two of about 50 paces. We had simply gone out the wrong door.

As we entered the coolness of the hotel I asked Lisa for a few minutes to compose myself. I was hot, sweaty, dripping, and a bit ticked off (not at her- at ATLANTA and for its merciless heat and humidity and all the people that seem to like living there).

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Last Minute Vacation

The annual CBA Convention (its now called the ICRS- International Christian Retail Show, but I cant help but call it what I have known it as for 15 years) starts in Atlanta today. Origianlly I planned on going late Tue night and coming home Wed afternoon, but a couple more clients of mine have asked me to be there. Its now turned into a 4 day trip.

This morning before church Michelle and I were talking about me having to leave today, and that I really didn’t want to go. I have been crazy busy lately and haven’t seen the family much- just the six of us. Last week was with friends, the week before I was in LA. So we decided to take an impromptu family trip.

I called my hotel in Atlanta and they graciously upgraded my room to accommodate the whole family at no extra charge. We skipped church YET AGAIN, Michelle and the girls packed, and we set out for Atlanta.

I love to do things spontaneously…and while Michelle usually doesn’t, she did me proud today. She jumped in with no concerns. It will be fun. Or at the very least, not boring.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Departure

Our friends left for home this morning. While the girls all cried, including Michelle and Joy, the guys, of course, didn’t.

It was a snap-shot of the difference between the two genders. The guys with back-slapping and handshakes, have a good trip, did you get everythgin packed in the car effectively and efficiently? The girls with wet eyes and halting voices hugging on each other endlessly.

We miss them already as they drive away from the DigitalRich ranch and hang a right towards North Carolina.

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Friday, July 06, 2007


Our friends- Ron and Joy, and their kids S (K’s best-friend) and R, have spent the past week with us. It’s been a blast. Its like we all have had friends stay over for an extended slumber party. Great guy conversation between Ron and I, Michelle and Joy chatting like birds, K and S inseparable, and the odd-man-out boy R having to deal with having his sister S plus new reinforcement-sisters (my 4 girls) drive him to constant computer games and war board games to stay out of their way.

It was refreshing to have this other family spend a week with us. It takes about that long to break through the initial reacquaint period and the small talk to start to get to the meat of relationship. Real conversation. It was good.

They leave tomorrow- and it will be a bad scene.

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