Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Boys' First Day of School

Well, Kellen still gets to stay home with mom, but Trenton is now officially an all-day student in first grade and Sawyer has just started the journey with two days a week in preschool.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bread & Butter

"The victory of human kind over Nature is not that of brute force alone, but also that of of spirit." -Roald Amundsen

To the perennial question, why go to the Pole? he [Amundsen] once memorably replied: "Small minds have only room for bread and butter."

Roland Huntford, The Last Place on Earth, (New York: Random House, 1999), 532.

2012 has provided us with a plethora of examples of men & women striving for goals that are far bigger than the ordinary dreams of most of us. Mitt Romney & Barack Obama seek the White House in a time of economic uncertainty and unrest in America. Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Usain Bolt, and countless other athletes have sought glory and honor in the Olympic games. Queen Elizabeth II became only the second Monarch to reach her Diamond Jubilee in terms of length of service. And recently, NASA's Curiosity touched down on Mars hoping to discover a wealth of new information. All of these events will cement the legacies of these people for years to come. For me, it is easy to become wrapped up in the accomplishments of the 'great' allowing me to experience, even at a distance, the wonder of truly doing something amazing.

Recently I wrapped up Roland Huntford's stellar masterpiece The Last Place on Earth about the race to the South Pole between Roald Amundsen & Robert Falcon Scott. The comparisons of the choices, visions, and decisions made by those two legendary explorers are absolutely riveting. Each of them reached for the ultimate goal of getting to the last place on Earth not touched by the foot of man. In our current era it is easy to lose sight of the significance of this since we are quite able to go "anywhere" with ease and comfort. The unknown in many ways has already been accomplished for us. As a result, we can do far more things & many of us face far less challenges in getting them done.

Despite this, though, the dream of Amundsen (in particular to Scott) remains quite challenging to me in terms of the scope of his vision & spirit to accomplish it. It took tremendous courage & tenacity for him to get to the Pole. Many people did not see the need or reason to even do it. It took more than the right materials, money for expenses, and planning to pull it off (although as was clearly seen in the story - all of those were crucial). What it took was spirit & will to attain the seemingly impossible in a world of unknowns. I admire his answer to those questioning him why go to the Pole - "small minds have only room for bread and butter." Ordinary thinking & dreaming would have never thought to even tread close to it or even worse would have simply dreamed but never stepped forward to accomplish anything. In our current era of big goals & accomplishments, we must remember that none of them were achieved by people with "bread and butter" mindsets & spirits. Our minds & spirits must be stretched to move us beyond the possible so that by walking in the unknown we just might do something bigger than we ever could have hoped for. Stop living in the shadow of others doing great things - step forward & succeed in doing something incredible yourself.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Favorite Quotes from The Island of Dr. Moreau

  • My days I devote to reading and to experiments in chemistry, and I spend many of the clear nights in the study of astronomy. There is - though I don't know how there is or why there is - a sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven. There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men, that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope. I hope, or I could not live. Kindle Location 1633-39
  • Very much indeed of what we call moral education, he said, is such an artificial modification and perversion of instinct; pugnacity is trained into courageous self-sacrifice, and suppressed sexuality into religious emotion. Kindle Location 849-50
  • I say I became habituated to the Beast People, that a thousand things which had seemed unnatural and repulsive speedily became natural and ordinary to me. I suppose everything in existence takes its colour from the average hue of our surroundings. Kindle Location 1010-12
  • I must confess that I lost faith in the sanity of the world when I saw it suffering the painful disorder of this island. A blind Fate, a vast pitiless Mechanism, seemed to cut and shape the fabric of existence and I, Moreau (by his passion for research), Montgomery (by his passion for drink), the Beast People with their instincts and mental restrictions, were torn and crushed, ruthlessly, inevitably, amid the infinite complexity of its incessant wheels. Kindle Location 1173-76

H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau, (New York: Modern Library, 1996), Kindle DX.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What if Jesus Never Cured Anyone?

...the leper (Mark 1:40-44) who met Jesus had both a disease (say, psoriasis) and an illness, the personal and social stigma of uncleanness, isolation, and rejection. And as long as the disease stayed or got worse, the illness also would stay or get worse. In general, if the disease went, the illness went with it. What, however, if the disease could not be cured but the illness could somehow be healed?

This is the central problem of what Jesus was doing in his healing miracles. Was he curing the disease through an intervention in the physical world, or was he healing the illness through an intervention in the social world? I presume that Jesus, who did not and could not cure that disease or any other one, healed the poor man's illness by refusing to accept the disease's ritual uncleanness and social ostracization. Jesus thereby forced others either to reject him from their community or to accept the leper within it as well.

John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, (New York: Harper Collins, 1994), 82.
What if Jesus never cured anyone? What if the gospel writers embellished on the idea of people being cured of their diseases upon meeting Christ? At first glance, it seems highly blasphemous to even consider the thought. The gospels are loaded with examples and I have spent my entire church life hearing & believing that people were miraculously healed. What mattered was that the "blind see, lame walk, the leprous are cured, the deaf hear..." And yet - was that even close to what truly mattered to the heart of Jesus? And has that thinking led the modern church to become lazy & focused on the wrong type of prayer & approach for/to a hurting world?

I believe Jesus cared far more about the social world than we often see or want to believe in our modern world. Rather than following Him, though, the church & its followers have made the focus about the physical world. We worry about things & attempt to take care of things to impact the physical world around us (or if we are really spiritual - the physical world across the globe from our locations). Raising money, donating food items, helping with medical supplies, giving clean water, donating clothes, etc. The point is not that these are bad steps to take. In fact, they are often very useful & extremely helpful. The problem is that they merely take care of the tip of the iceberg of the human problem. I can clothe a poor man. I can feed that poor man. I can help that poor man get medical care. I can even get that poor man a job. But the problem remains that to me he remains "that poor man" instead of who he actually is as a child of God.

The social world is a far more difficult problem because it forces us to expand our communities & deal with social stigmas that all of us have worked together to create. We can't merely throw money & a quick photo opp at social problems and expect them to go away. We certainly feel better when we give the homeless person a meal through the window of our car. What the homeless person could use, though, would be a meal at our dining room tables. The social trumps the physical, in other words. Jesus sought to heal the illnesses of people - the conditions that prevented them from being part of the established society. Who cares if they could walk, see, hear or feel clean skin again? What mattered more was feeling the importance of being wanted, included & a part of something larger than themselves.

We must stop reading the Bible to see what we want to see. Jesus never focused on the physical problem. It was never the issue for Him. He always went much deeper - striking at the heart of the predicament. He healed illnesses by not allowing social boundaries to prevent relationships from developing. What if Christians decided to take that same step of depth? What if we stopped throwing money & supplies at physical problems and started worrying about how we might make a dent in the social ones? If we did, we might stop making people statistics that need "x amount of this" and "y amount of that" in order to live and instead help people actually feel loved. Now that would truly be Christlike.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Trying to find the actual Jesus is like trying, in atomic physics, to locate a submicroscopic particle and determine its charge. The particle cannot be seen directly, but on a photographic plate we see the lines left by the trajectories of larger particles it put in motion. By tracing these trajectories back to their common origin, and by calculating the force necessary to make these trajectories move as they did, we can locate and describe the invisible cause. Admittedly, history is more complex than physics; the lines connecting the original figure to the developed legends cannot be traced with mathematical accuracy; the intervention of unknown factors has to be allowed for. Consequently, results can never claim more than probability; but "probability," as Bishop Butler said, "is the very guide of life."
Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982)

Friday, January 20, 2012


Look at your life and see how you have filled emptiness with people. As a result they have a stranglehold on you. See how they control your behavior by their approval and disapproval. They hold the power to ease your loneliness with their company, to send your spirits soaring with their praise, to bring you down to the depths with their criticism and rejection. Take a look at yourself spending almost every waking moment of your day placating and pleasing people, whether they are living or dead. You live by their norms, conform to their standards, seek their company, desire their love, dread their ridicule, long for their applause, meekly submit to the guilt they lay upon you; you are terrified to go against the fashion in the way you dress or speak or act or even think. And observe how even when you control them you depend on them and are enslaved by them. People have become so much a part of your being that you cannot even imagine living a life that is unaffected or uncontrolled by them.

Anthony DeMello, The Way to Love (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 64.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Robert was beginning a new life. As the director of a weapons laboratory that would integrate the diverse efforts of the far-flung sites of the Manhattan Project and mold them quickly into a usable atomic weapon, he would have to conjure up skills he did not yet have, deal with problems he had never imagined, develop work habits entirely at odds with his previous lifestyle, and adjust to attitudes and modes of behavior (such as security considerations) that were emotionally awkward and alien to his experience. It is not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that in order to succeed, at age thirty-nine, Robert Oppenheimer would have to remake a significant part of his personality if not his intellect, and he was going to have to do all this in short order. Every aspect of his new job was on a fast-track schedule. Very few things - including Oppenheimer's transformation - could meet that impossible schedule; yet it is a measure of his commitment and willpower that he came very close.

Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus, (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 205.
There were few things that changed & impacted life in the 1940s more than the work designed and developed in the so-called Manhattan Project. Not only was the impact felt in the enormous cost and amount of man-hours poured into the development of the atomic bomb, but in the obliteration of the two Japanese cities and the ushering in of the nuclear weapons era. For Robert Oppenheimer, it was the opportunity of a lifetime - one that would dramatically increase his social stature while simultaneously leaving an imprint upon his soul. However, before he reached the point of his personal battle in his contributions to a legacy of death, he faced a the challenge of leading something he was fully incapable of leading outside of his superior intellect.

That he succeeded, there can be no doubt. The bomb(s) was built and the cities in Japan were destroyed. The situation elevated the power of the United States while exploding the tension that would brew the Cold War. His leadership helped bridge the gap on questions, talents and personalities that all needed to be figured out in order for success to be found. He discovered administrative skills and work abilities that prior to the 40s had been either dormant or non-existent within himself. And he did it all while having the military, FBI and US government consistently watching, observing and looking for ways to trap him in a mistake. The pressure he must have felt cannot be explained or even imagined. Yet it is in that moment that all of the potential & ability of Oppenheimer was on display for (soon) the world to see.

So where does that leave us? Many of us will never face a situation even remotely close to that of directing the activities of the Manhattan Project. However, I would argue that we have much to gain from what Oppenheimer put on display. The first is found in his commitment and willpower. I face challenges on a daily basis: upset parents, lazy students, high educational standards, a family that needs time/attention, personal desires, previous commitments, and a variety of other lesser pulls upon my time, energy and resources. When pushed to the breaking point, it is easy to see why quitting is such an attractive offer for so many people. These are the moments when willpower & commitment are severely tested. Seeing my way through - even halfway successfully - is determined by how much I am willing to fight for it. It requires training, control, and steadfast refusal to give up. In the end, it was the daily showing up that made Oppenheimer so successful. Perhaps, the same could be said for myself in all that I face.

Reinvention. Its a popular topic for self-help gurus and yet at its core is the challenge to be willing to become someone you either currently aren't or quite possibly never have been before. Its the replacement of poor habits, development of new skills, and adjusting to the unfamiliar and certainly uncomfortable. It certainly requires you to deal with stuff you never saw or thought about before. In other words, its becoming a new you. That is not to say that the old you is bad, broken or useless. But if we want to tackle the world - we have to become people able to handle the challenge. Oppenheimer was not born supervising construction of the atomic bomb. And his previous 38 years did not adequately prepare him for the new challenge. And yet he superbly managed the task by changing, adapting and creating a new self. Can I do the same in my own life in order to take on the challenges on my horizon? What is coming into view that I know I am not capable of currently doing - but that with positive changes & reinvention will become possible accomplishing tomorrow? The awkward feelings & fears of failure are real. They refuse to leave or quiet down. And yet without being able to adjust - I'll never meet the challenges or will simply fail them in the same familiar patterns of my past.

And finally we can see that Oppenheimer did all of it in short order. He was put on the "fast-track schedule" where delays not only put himself in jeopardy but potentially the entire U.S. military strategy. The time crunch, though, was not his enemy. The real adversary was the human condition to take it slow & easy. You and I do not have enough time. And although there is some good in taking a minute to simply enjoy things - the challenges we face and will face in the future are not going away. They don't shrink just because we dawdle in taking them on. Maybe the best thing for us would be the same pressure to perform at a high level in an unrealistic amount of time. Sure its stressful - but when you feel the heat of a moment it will either force you to rise to the top or show you the strength you need to develop for your next "opponent."

The success & challenge that faced Robert Oppenheimer awaits you and me. We either fight forward against the overwhelming odds and find some definition of success or we simply let the challenges defeat us and allow us to wallow in self-pity. We don't make names for ourselves by accomplishing the small. We leave legacies when no trial is too hard to take on.