Monthly Archives: April 2010

Jordi, a Bird, and No Escape




I was sitting out on the screened-in porch, keeping an eye on Jordi, who was laying outside in the grass. I had the door propped open, so he could come and go.

Suddenly–there was a bird. A wren, or sparrow, or something tiny like that. Right there in the porch, trying to figure a way to escape from the enclosure. I saw an opportunity to give Jordi some exercise and high excitement. So I closed the door, then brought Jordi inside, so he could try to catch the bird.

It was lots of fun. The bird flew from one side to the other, with Jordi following closely. It would land on a low ledge, and Jordi would carefully peer over the top, then maybe lunge.

He finally did catch the bird. He grasped it gently in his teeth and then walked to the door, wanting to take his prize inside to show to his sister. Which is when I went to get the camera.

When I came back, the bird was loose again. More fun followed. Jordi didn’t catch the bird a second time, though he came close. The bird discovered some high beams it could rest on, and that’s when the fun pretty much came to an end. I eventually got a broom out and ushered the bird to the door, thanking him for his unwilling participation in our afternoon amusement.

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Making Divorce Way too Easy

larry-king.jpgBelinda Luscome wrote this tremendous (and very funny) column in the May 3 edition of Time magazine, called “Should Larry King’s Marriage License be Revoked?

The occasion is the breakup of Larry King’s eight marriage; she calls him the “octospouse.” She refers to other serial spouses, like Liz Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Mickey Rooney. And then she wonders why we allow this.

“In no other area of life can grown people flame out so often and so badly and still get official permission to go ahead and do the same thing again. If your driving is hazardous to those around you, your license is suspended. Fail too many courses at college, and you’ll get kicked out. You can lose your medical or law license for a single infraction. …So why do people who are committed vows abusers keep getting handed marriage licenses at city hall? If batters and violent offenders get only three strikes, why should bad spouses get more?”

The article is quite funny, especially toward the end when she gives some great tongue-in-cheek solutions. But amidst the levity is a lot of truth.

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Winter – Spiritual Warefare in Peacetime

Here’s a great quote from the late Dr. Ralph Winter:

People who are won to Christ rarely understand that they have been recruited to become soldiers in an all-out war. However, admittedly, individuals on their own can’t “win a war.” To win a war you need a whole lot of things.

The United States during the Second World War would be an example. Swarms of servicemen (including women) swirled about on planes, trains, and buses, heading off to ports of departure for the various theaters of war around the world. Eleven million were sprayed out across the globe in the Army, Air Corps, and the Navy.

But 200 million civilians staying behind were equally occupied by the war. As millions of men disappeared from their jobs, women took their places. A largely women’s workforce (“Rosie the riveter”) built entire ships in 30 days, medium bombers in four hours. Nylon was needed for parachute cords – no more stockings. No more coffee: incoming ships had no room for such trivialities because more crucial goods took their place.

Any idle moments or unused material were instantly challenged by “Don’t you know there is a war on?” Family outings on Sunday became illegal if any gasoline was used. It had other more crucial uses. You could get a huge fine for unnecessary driving – driving unrelated to the war, like, yes, a family outing on Sunday!

Today, when Evangelical believers get together, they don’t compare notes on how to win the war against the “works of the devil.” They compare prices on home furnishings, vacations, adult toys. Truly, they don’t know there is a war on! To them we don’t live in a wartime economy but a peacetime context.

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Books: Two by Joe Lansdale

Lansdale-books300.jpgJoe Lansdale is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. He excels at developing memorable characters, and his plots are unusual.

Both of these books are set in East Texas–“Sunset and Sawdust” in the 1930s Depression, “Lost Echoes” in the present.

“Lost Echoes” is a 2007 book in the Vintage Crime / Black Lizard imprint–the 99th Black Lizard book I’ve read. The protagonist, Harry Wilkes, has the ability to “see” terrible events which occurred in whatever place he’s in–murders, rapes, car accidents, domestic violence. A vision takes over, and it’s like he’s there watching it happen.

This takes over his life. He keeps a notebook detailing places to avoid, lest he get entrapped in another vision. Alcohol is one way to keep the visions at bay.

Harry meets up with another alcoholic, a very interesting guy named Tad who’s also a martial artist, and they both climb on the wagon together.

Harry’s childhood crush, Kayla, enters the picture, and they set about trying to solve the murder of her father many years before. Other people come and go, and you’re not sure what role they play in the story, but there’s a role of some kind.

It’s a good story. The ending gets a bit crazy, but I say that in a good way.

“Sunset and Sawdust,” written in 2004, begins with a woman–named Sunset, because of her red hair–shooting her husband in the head while he’s beating and raping her (and while a tornado is taking their house apart). He’s the police constable, and when they need a new one, she ends up getting the job. Not without opposition.

This book is a companion of sorts to “The Bottoms,” an astoundingly good book set in East Texas during the Depression. Both show the extreme racism of that time and place, with blacks cowering in subservience, always knowing they can get lynched for practically anything. His black characters are compelling.

Lansdale develops at an unhurried pace, introducing new characters only after you’ve had time to get acquainted with the previous ones. Two bodies are found, and Sunset and her makeshift police force try to unravel what happened. It gets complicated. Some people die, some live. The story resolved to my complete satisfaction.

“Sunset and Sawdust” is a better book than “Lost Echoes,” but “The Bottoms” is the best of the three.

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Ignorance. Lack of Curiosity. Decisiveness.

James Fallows, the famed writer for The Atlantic, once wrote that George Bush brought a “truly toxic combination of traits” to presidential decision-making.

1. Ignorance. He was not broadly informed to begin with.
2. Lack of curiosity. He did not seek out new information.
3. Decisiveness. He prided himself on making broad, bold decisions quickly, and then sticking to them to show resoluteness.

I think there may be some pastors like this. And corporate execs, and coaches, and parents, and generals, and fill in the blank. Certainly tons of other politicians. You make a decision without really thinking it through, and then refuse to admit that you may have made a mistake. Just a matter of scale.

A denominational communications director may even be guilty of this occasionally.

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Book: “The Pyramid,” by Henning Mankell

pyramid200.jpgHenning Mankell’s nine-book series about Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander begins in January 1990. Wallander is 42, divorced, a father, and has risen through the police ranks. He started out in Malmo, then transferred to the smaller city of Ystad, where all of the Wallander books occur. So there’s a lot we don’t know about Wallander.

“The Pyramid: The First Wallander Cases” fills in the blanks with five stories which span the year from 1969, when Wallander is a 21-year-old patrolman, to the first Wallander book, “The Faceless Killers.” I expected a somewhat disjointed book. And yet, the five stories hold together real well as a whole.

“Wallander’s First Case” (100 pages) occurs in 1969 when our protagonist is patrolman in Malmo, preparing to transfer to the detective division. He looks into an apparent suicide in his apartment building, and it turns into a murder mystery. We also meet his fiance, Mona, and we can tell this marriage won’t work out.

“The Man with the Mask” occurs on Christmas Eve in 1975. Wallander is married to Mona, has a daughter (Linda), and will soon begin a new job in Ystad. This 30-page story finds him confronting a robber/killer at a gas station. It’s a fascinating piece.

“The Man on the Beach” occurs in Ystad in 1985. It’s a simple, interesting little murder mystery. Wallander’s marriage is on the rocks.

“The Death of the Photographer” (60 pages) occurs in 1987. Wallander is now divorced.

The final story, “The Pyramid,” occurs in 1989. It’s a large plot involving international drug-running, and has the feel of a full-blown Wallander book condensed into 160 pages. The book ends with Wallander receiving an early morning call about a new murder, which is the beginning of “The Faceless Killers.”

The five stories tell a lot about Wallander, and are interesting stories in themselves. I particularly liked the two 30-page stories. I wasn’t expecting a lot from this book, and was pleasantly surprised.

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Now Proud Owner of an Endolymphatic Shunt

Jordi helps me display my big bandage.


Jordi and Molly kept me company throughout the night (click to enlarge).

On April 16, I had an endolymphatic shunt placed behind my left ear. The operation was done by Dr. Jerry House at the Carmel Surgery Center in Indianapolis (by St. Vincent’s Hospital on Meridian, just a couple miles north of the I-465 bypass).

The surgery was done at 2 p.m. and lasted about 70 minutes. Everything went great. We were on the road back home to Fort Wayne about 4:45. Hopefully, the operation will eliminate most of the vertigo and other symptoms of Meniere’s Disease, which I’ve battled since around 2003.

Thus far, I’ve been spared three common side-effects:

  • The operation can trigger severe nausea and vertigo which can last a couple weeks. I’ve had zero nausea.
  • The ear, or whole side of the face, can be puffed out significantly. I have very little swelling.
  • I was warned that there can be significant pain the first day or two. I’m taking Vicodin, but I’m not sure I need to. The discomfort is minimal.

I came home with a big bandage, which we removed Saturday morning. We had to remove the left arm of my glasses in order to fit them on around the bandage.

I spent the evening on the couch in the living room, alternating between dozing and reading Robert Parker’s “Stranger in Paradise.” Since it was plenty comfy, I just stayed there throughout the night. Besides, my sleep patterns were all messed up. I ended up watching “Bangkok Dangerous,” a Nicholas Cage movie, in the early morning hours. Pretty good movie.

The symptoms of Meniere’s Disease started around 2003, though it was a couple years before it was diagnosed. Meniere’s causes frequent vertigo and hearing loss. It only affects my left ear; I’ve lost about 60% of my hearing in that ear and have tinnitus, a constant background roar, which I’ve learned to not really notice.

There is no cure for Meniere’s. However, several surgeries can offset the symptoms. The endolymphatic shunt is the least invasive. When pressure builds up, which brings on the vertigo, fluid (only a couple drops) will now be diverted into this shunt and then absorbed into the surrounding membrane. The surgery is 90% successful immediately, and about 70% successful after 3-5 years (2 out of 10 people revert to how they were before the surgery).

I could have had the surgery done here in Fort Wayne. However, I didn’t have confidence in the doctor here. He’s good, and lots of people speak highly of him, but he didn’t seem to pay much attention to things I told him, and kept prescribing more and more pills. I wrote about that experience.

My family doctor, John Carnes, tracked down the name of Jerry House, whom one of his other patients had used. Pam and I immediately liked him. He’s very personable, quickly acknowledged my symptoms as Meniere’s Disease, and pulled out great metaphors to clearly explain what was happening. He’s done zillions of these operations.

When the nurse at the surgical center was prepping me, I asked, “Do you always work with Dr. House?”

She said, “It just depends on who they assign me to. But when we get assigned to Dr. House, we know it’s going to be a good day.”

She then sang further praises–he was kind, considerate, professional, and was always the same. “With some doctors, you’re not sure what you’ll get that day.”

My various posts about the surgery:

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Book: “Joker One” (a Superb Iraq War Story)

joker-one-200.jpg“Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood,” left me in tears. It really did.

Donovan Campbell led the platoon called Joker One during five months in 2004 in Ramadi, a major city in Iraq’s Anbar Province. When they arrived in March 2004, a year after the invasion, things were dangerous, yet fairly calm. But the insurgency exploded in April and continued until Joker One left in September…and it then continued for a couple more years. Their battalion took more casualties than any battalion–Marine or Army–since Vietnam.

The book’s subtitle says it well: a story of courage, leadership, and brotherhood.

I was initially conscious of the leadership part–Campbell’s leadership, starting in the States with pre-deployment training. He led by example, with strength, and with sensitivity. I realized that he would make a good pastor; in many ways, he was a shepherd for his men. And it was servant leadership. He was there to serve and protect his men. That theme prevailed throughout the book.

The first 150 pages take place in the States and in the early days of their time in Ramadi. Then, with the section titled “Fierce,” come 150 pages of regular combat. You see the grind of daily fighting take its toll on the men, and on Campbell. You also see the professionalism, strength, competence, morality, and awesome firepower of the American soldier.

There is nothing flashy about Campbell’s writing. But he communicates with authenticity. He clearly acknowledges his own failings, and doesn’t dwell on the things he does well. He earned a Bronze Star with Valor, but he never mentions it in the book.

donovan-campbell-150.jpgCampbell (left) throws some deserved barbs at Paul Bremer, the civilian leader whose decisions caused so much havoc in Iraq. During the summer of battle, with friends dying around him, he muses about people in the States obliviously heading out on their vacations. In August, “America focused on something totally incomprehensible to us–the 2004 Summer Olympics.” It shows  how much the war had been removed from our minds.

Campbell muses occasionally on spiritual subjects, and in evangelical terminology, though he never explicitly identifies himself as a Christian or even as a man of faith. I found that most interesting.

Near the end, in chapter 37, he talks in biblical language about love and sacrifice. It’s an amazing chapter–my favorite, the one that choked me up–as he reflects on Joker One.

“For me, then, loving Joke One–something I so desperately hoped that I did–meant much more than simply feeling that I cared. It meant patience when explaining something for the fifth time to a 19-year-old who just didn’t get it. It meant kindness when dealing with a Marine who had made an honest mistake while trying his hardest; mercy when deciding the appropriate punishment. It meant dispensing justice and then forgetting that it had been dispensed, punishing wrong and then wiping the slate clean.

“Love was joy at the growth of my men, even when it diminished my own authority. It was giving the credit for our successes to the team while assuming all the responsibility for our failures on myself. It was constantly teaching my men, sharing everything with them until I had nothing left to give, with the expectation and the hope that they would become greater then me. It was making myself less so that they might become more. Love accepted the Marines for exactly who they were and never believed that it was all they would be….

“So that was how we loved those who hated us; blessed those who persecuted us; daily laid down our lives for our neighbors….Now I understand more about what it means to truly love, and what it means to love your neighbor–how you can do it even when your neighbor literally tries to kill you.” He mentions Bolding, a Marine killed while trying to protect some Iraqi children. “Bolding had lived out the greater-love principle to its fullest possible extent.”

Campbell writes in the tradition of the soldier-poet, rather than of the foul-mouthed sergeant telling it like it is. He’s authentic and introspective, and I felt I truly learned a lot about the American soldier.

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MSNBC (and Morning Joe!) Return to XM Radio

morning-joe-250.jpgMSNBC is back on XM Satellite Radio, finally! I used to listen to it all the time going to work, when Don Imus hosted the morning show. Everybody who was anybody in politics clamored to be on his show. He made them put away the talking points and give honest opinions, and they complied (or were blacklisted by Imus). I loved it. It was the most enlightening, and fun, political show on TV or radio (though Imus constantly strayed over “the line”).

But in 2006, XM Radio dropped MSNBC from the line-up. As a result, for the past four years I’ve been listening to ESPN’s Mike&Mike show on my way to work–and, in fact, have become a huge, huge fan. Even prior to 2006, I frequently listened to it if Imus didn’t interest me.

Sure, I could still listen to CNN or FoxNews, both of which are on XM Radio. But the CNN morning show is terribly boring, with no star-power and generic hosts. And the Fox&Friends show is intolerably partisan, one of my all-time least-favorite shows, one for which there is a special place in Hell far from the drinking fountain.

After the Great Imus Fall in 2007, MSNBC replaced Imus with Joe Scarborough. The show started slowly, but now attracts an impressive array of guests of all stripes, much like the old Imus program did (but without the juvenile elements). All the political power players from both parties eagerly agree to be guests. The political wattage is astounding.

Scarborough is a conservative Republican, but he’s a very fair host. When people come on with opposing views, he doesn’t feel like he must win an argument like Sean Hannity and other purely partisan pundits do (if they even bother to bring on guests with opposing views). Nor will he let a partisan come on and rant unchallenged (like the Fox shows allow Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin and others to do). Rather, Joe presides over a discussion which can be extremely enlightening. You learn something, without the shouting (though Joe and Lawrence O’Donnell tend to mix it up).

It’s actually somewhat of an ensemble news show, with regulars like Mika Brzezinski (who is basically a co-host), Mike Barnacle, Patrick Buchanan, and Willie Geist. Morning Joe is in the tradition of the This Week with David Brinkley. Brinkley always treated guests with respect, and when they left the set and the show moved on, he refused to talk about them; he considered it rude, unclassy. Of course, Brinkley was a journalist by profession, whereas Scarborough is a politician-turned-TV-host. Brinkley rarely showed his opinions, even during the pioneering roundtable at the end of each program (he left that to Sam Donaldson and George Will). Joe has no such conniptions, but he holds back, letting us learn from his guests rather than feel like he must pummel views which don’t agree with his own.

Anyway, this morning I listened to Morning Joe on the way to work. What a pleasure! I know I’ll be switching back and forth between Morning Joe and Mike&Mike. But at least now I’ve got a valid news option.

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Understanding the De-Churched in America

I think this video clip from Texas pastor Matt Chandler is right on. He talks about the “de-churched,” the growing phenomenon in the United States of young people who are abandoning the church. My church, Anchor, has often referred to itself as a church for the de-churched–people who once attended, but had a bad experience or became disillusioned or whatever. Lots of different reasons. But Chandler hits one valid angle.

(If you’re reading this on Facebook, you’ll need to click the link for “Read Original Post” to view the video clip on my blog.)

Chandler says, “They were sold, ‘Here’s how you put God into your debt.'”

I think that’s a great way to put it.

You behave yourself, follow the rules, do good things, attend church regularly–all the things a Christian should do. And in return, we promise, God won’t let anything bad happen to you. You’ll have a wonderful life. Everything will work out.” Because God is obligated to come through for you. It’s an evangelical, tone-down version of the Prosperity Gospel.

Then, when things don’t go according to their wishes, they bail out on the church. It’s not what they were promised. The Christian life isn’t supposed to be difficult. The church deceived them. Their investment turned sour.

Skye Jethani talks about this further on Christianity Today’s “Out of Ur” blog. He writes:

They believe that if they just follow God’s rules he will bless their lives. When things fail to work out as promised, they bail on the church….

It’s not that we are failing to preach the gospel, but that we are
failing to deconstruct the consumer filter through which people twist
and receive it. The result is a hybrid consumer gospel in which God
exists to serve me and accomplish my desires in exchange for my

I think there are plenty of people willing to deny themselves and take up their cross. But we too often neither ask that of people, nor even present it as something they might consider doing. Instead, people just hear the false gospel of sugar and spice and everything nice. And when they encounter something that’s not nice, that’s difficult, their consumer mentality draws their attention elsewhere.

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