Sunday, December 28, 2014

Walkin' the Line

Years ago, a minister named Kenneth Hagin made a comment that the Christian church goes to such extremes that it finds itself in either one ditch or the other, never seeming to stay in the middle of the road very long. Even though he was the leading voice of the Name-it-claim-it faith movement (clearly nestled in one of the ditches), I have to say that he was on to something there.

Extremes. That seems to sum up us humans pretty well. We go all in on the things that we are drawn to. Some are simply more culturally acceptable than others. For instance, thanks to recent Marvel movies, being a comic book geek is not such a weird thing anymore. Those people have moved out of their parents' basements and now are filling convention centers to beyond capacity. Are they extremists? In a sense, yes. But they are acceptable extremists.

As a person on a sabbatical from "intellectual Christianity", I find myself reflecting on what brought me to where I am. I also find I'm hypersensitive to the extremes. Maybe it's my fear of finding myself in one of the ditches again.

I used to be in one ditch as a youth. I was, what I considered, a devout Catholic. I was an altar boy. I read my father's prayer book (including the Latin - which was indecipherable to me) over and over. As I grew older, I joined the music team at the church - making up tenor harmonies as a 14-year old in a then-contemporary guitar group. Even after becoming a born-again Christian (which could be considered an extreme by some), I still attended the Catholic church for awhile.

As I mentioned above, I was what I considered a devout Catholic. Recently, my wife and I had an experience with a REALLY devout Catholic that ended up spawning this particular post.

Since I started this sabbatical, my wife has chosen to go to a local Catholic church. In their bulletin was a blurb asking for donations of gently-used Catholic items. There is a Catholic book/gift store that was accepting these donations. My wife had some that travelled from her condo to our house that never really got out of the boxes. We gathered them up and went to drop them off. There we met a lady on staff who believed every person who walked in was straight from the Vatican in their devotion to Catholicism. We certainly didn't fit the description, but she didn't know that. She talked about Saint This and Sister So-and-So, and showed us books from authors I've never heard of. They might as well have been bloggers! (Oh, wait.)

As we were trying to leave, she kept bringing up more and more things that might interest. The last was to point out the state banner of Mary (apparently, every state has one for their individual state). If we wanted to, we were encouraged to bring in our rosaries so that we could touch them to the banner and receive a special blessing.

It was a bit muddy in that ditch.

On the Protestant side, as I've made known in previous blogs, we have the worship of the bible. Just because you put the word "Holy" on the cover, does not automatically make it an object of worship. I believe that the bible CONTAINS the word of God, but it is NOT the word of God. There are many things in there that are clearly historical in nature, and statements made by the writers that tell you what you are reading is their opinion and not that of the Lord. (For example, the tradition of dedicating children instead of baptizing them is based on something Paul said, and not the Lord - 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 NKJV)

There is a passage in the epistles (2 Timothy) that says all scripture is given by inspiration of God. This is one of those passages that I hear quoted to prove that the whole bible is inspired of God, and therefore worthy of the title of "Holy". I like to point out that when Paul wrote that letter to Timothy, he was not referring to the letter he was writing as scripture! That's a lot of hutzpah! In actuality, whenever "scripture" is referenced in the New Testament, what is referred to is the OLD Testament. That was all they had! They had no idea that what they were writing was going to be compiled into a book.

So, on one side you have the worship of the bible - that everything in it is pure, inerrant, and holy, and on the other you have touching rosaries to pictures of Mary to get blessings - which is found NOWHERE in the bible.

Extremism is found on both sides of the aisle, for sure. It's easy to go from one side to the other. If man says it, most likely it has an agenda and is full of error. Think of the extreme sides when it comes to climate change, evolution, religious beliefs, politics, and whether or not coffee (chocolate, or eggs) is good for you.

So in closing, consider taking a spiritual Breathalyzer, try to walk the line, and stay out of the ditches!

(The title is inspired from Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" - "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. … I walk the line.")

© Emittravel 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

A "Death Angel" Christmas

Since Lisa and I got married there has been a melding of family "traditions". One of the ones she brought to our house was the invasion of little elves.


You may know them as the recent incarnation of "The Elf on a Shelf". Apparently, her father gave them the name "Malakh ha-mavet".


Please understand, Malakh ha-mavet is the Hebrew word for Angel of Death, so calling these cute little elves this, adds a whole new dimension to our holiday festivities.


With my in-laws living in Florida, we alternate Christmases between Florida and Ohio. On the years we are home, we deck out the place with the tree, wreaths, flowers, statues, lights, and of course, the malakh ha-mavets. On those years we are not home, we don't put out all of the decorations; only a few things, and of course that means the malakh ha-mavets.


We think our cat, Harley, lets them in.


From there they take over the place.


There's even one in my Jeep.


As with the Elf on a Shelf, they will move around the house.







And with a name like malkh ha-mavet, we don't think they are spying and sending reports back to Santa of whether we've been naughty or nice. We think THEY are the naughty ones!


May you and your families have a wonderful Christmas!


You and the pink flamingo you rode in on!!

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Me, Myself, and I

I wanted to follow up on a comment I made on my last blog ("You Don't Say!"). It was rather in passing, and was actually added during the final read through. "NOTHING like worshipping with live music." Even though I was there in spite of my sabbatical, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to worship with the music team I was so fond of playing (harmonica, percussion, and vocals) with - even if was not "with" them, but in the congregation.

Worshipping God at home has two disadvantages: the songs on the recordings are usually pitched in a way that my harmonicas seem out of tune, and, more importantly to me, there are no words projected on the screen. Ours is a church without hymnals. We use PowerPoint projected on the wall/screen at the back of the platform for the congregation. There is a duplicate projection on the back wall (for the singers on the music team, and so the preacher can see where he/she is at during the sermon by which slide is being projected). Since I am normally adding harmonica (can't sing while playing) or percussion (can't sing while playing - I come from a predominantly Caucasian family, and we all know white guys have no rhythm. How many people you know COUNT while playing a tambourine?!?), I really don't know the words to the songs. So, singing them at home I find myself mumbling my way through them.

One of the things I've been noticing during my sabbatical is that a lot of the music we use for praise and worship is "I" focused. "My God, is an awesome God. He reigns, from heaven above." "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, and now am found. Was blind, but now I see."

During my visit we sang one where I found myself changing the lyrics part of the way through. Here is the original:

"Awesome" by Charles Jenkins


"My God is awesome, He can move mountains
Keep me in the valley, hide me from the rain
My God is awesome, heals me when I'm broken
Strength where I've been weakened, forever He will reign
(repeat)

My God is awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome
My God is awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome

My God is awesome, Savior of the whole world
Giver of salvation, by His stripes I am healed
My God is awesome, today I am forgiven
His grace is why I'm living, praise His holy name

My God is awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome
My God is awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome

He's mighty, He's mighty, He's mighty, He's mighty
Awesome, Awesome

He's Holy, He's Holy, He's Holy, He's Holy
Awesome, Awesome

He's Great, He's Great, He's Great, He's Great
Awesome, Awesome

Deliverer, Deliverer, Deliverer, Deliverer
Awesome, Awesome

Provider, Provider, Provider, Provider
Awesome, Awesome

Protector, Protector, Protector, Protector
Awesome, Awesome

My God is awesome, He can move mountains
Keep me in the valley, hide me from the rain
My God is awesome, heal me when I'm broken
Strength where I've been weakened,
Praise His holy name"

First off, I want to say that is a wonderful song. I add a bass harmony at church, some simple cabasa percussion, and find I can't keep my feet still. I'm not dissing it. But I want you to go back and look at the pronouns. God is referenced as the third party "He", whereas the focus of the song is in actuality in the possessive "My". "I want to tell you that it is MY God that is awesome. MY God moves mountains. MY God heals ME when I'M broken. You should praise His holy name."

Is that the focus of worship? It's one thing to sing a song like this in front of an audience, but when you are leading the congregation in worship, the focus should be on God, not on my telling you about Him. The desire is to have the congregation sing WITH you in worship, not listen to you.

Next time you are worshipping, try changing the pronouns and give Him the honor He deserves.

Oh God You're awesome, You can move mountains
You keep me in the valley, hide me from the rain
Oh God You're awesome, You heal me when I'm broken
Strength where I've been weakened, forever You will reign

(repeat)

Oh God You're awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome
Oh God You're awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome

Oh God You're awesome, Savior of the whole world
Giver of salvation, by Your stripes I am healed
Oh God You're awesome, today I am forgiven
Your grace is why I'm living, praise Your holy name

Oh God You're awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome
Oh God You're awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome

You're mighty, You're mighty, You're mighty, You're mighty
Awesome, Awesome

You're Holy, You're Holy, You're Holy, You're Holy
Awesome, Awesome

You're Great, You're Great, You're Great, You're Great
Awesome, Awesome

Deliverer, Deliverer, Deliverer, Deliverer
Awesome, Awesome

Provider, Provider, Provider, Provider
Awesome, Awesome

Protector, Protector, Protector, Protector
Awesome, Awesome

Oh God You're awesome, You can move mountains
You keep me in the valley, hide me from the rain
Oh God You're awesome, You heal me when I'm broken
Strength where I've been weakened,
Praise You're holy name

Change the focus and make the worship conversational. After all, you are worshipping Him. And He IS awesome.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

You Don't Say!

As we grow up, there are a number of words deemed "inappropriate" to say. There was one that was the most egregious of them all. It's funny to me when I think about it: my parents said it all of the time. And now, as an adult, I find that using it is one of the most difficult things to do. You know which word I mean:

No.

That's right, "no". (What word were YOU thinking?!?)

There are some people with whom I have a harder time with its usage than others. Those tend to be friends. You'd think that would be my wife … or my boss. Nope. Friends. I find that I will put myself in an uncomfortable position later, so as not to use the word now. Let me give you a recent example.

For those of you who normally follow my blog or are intimate enough in friendship with me know, I am on a "sabbatical" from "intellectual Christianity". For those of you who aren't aware, you can check the following: one, two, three. A few weeks ago, my friend Jim and I were out having dinner, when he mentioned that the building fund offering song we did last year ("12 Days of Christmas" was being requested for another go.

As a quick overview: my church has a mortgage (insert sarcasm font - "shocking, I know"), and on the first Sunday of the month receives a special offering to help reduce it. Usually, we take a song, rewrite the lyrics, and perform it like the original. Usually the song is a humorous and "Christian" retelling. Thus the non-traditional "12 Days".

Since I was the lead vocal, Jim asked if I wouldn't mind leading it again this year. I, of course, told him, "No. I am on a sabbatical and am uncomfortable with the idea of standing before the congregation after being absent for these many weeks. This is a needed time and I need this separation."

Truth? I said, "Sure."

As the weeks went by, I more and more regretted my inability to say, "no". Just over a week ago, Jim sent an email out to those doing the song that we would have a rehearsal on Sunday (last week) after service to run through it. I emailed him back and got a good estimate of when that would be, since I did not plan on attending the service. I could see cars leaving the parking lot as I approached, so I knew that either service was over, or that those who bail early (for brunch?) were on their way out. I parked, walked in with minimal contact, and did the rehearsal. (The rehearsal consisted of one, train-wrecked run through.) I got caught by a couple of friends on my way out the door, and I was on my way home.

Part of my trepidation was that I did not want to have to explain everything to anybody for my absence. ("Read my blog, for cryin' out loud! I posted the links four times on Facebook!!") Partially, because I didn't want to make it seem like I was disrespecting our pastor. My wife said that it was not anyone's business, and that I did not owe them anything. If asked, just tell them I was on a sabbatical. That should be enough. If pressed, then they asked for it! That helped with my attending the rehearsal. I still had to be there for the performance.

Today (as this is being written) was the performance. A run-through rehearsal is done BEFORE the service starts, and the song is performed at the END of the service. That meant I had to be there at 09:30 for the rehearsal, service started at 10:00, and the song should take place around 11:15. My plan was to get there, do the rehearsal, and leave until the time for the song.

I got there at 09:30. I walked in and immediately went to the back room (behind the platform) to drop off my stuff. There was a special ensemble performance taking place for the regular offering, and they were rehearsing, so we didn't start our rehearsal until 09:40 or so. Fortunately, we had a chance to run over it twice (as the first time through was another train wreck. Second time came out great.)

I went in the back until the praise and worship portion of the service started (again, minimizing my contact with folks). I "snuck in" to the sanctuary through a side door, and spent time praising and worshipping God. NOTHING like worshipping with live music.

After it was over, I went back through the same door to hang out in the back room until time for the song. From there I can hear a muffled version of the service (occasionally listening by the door to determine where in the service it was). I visited with two members of the music team who came through, read, and watched the clock.

As I mentioned above, the building fund offering should be around 11:15. 11:15 came and went. Today we had a guest speaker who did not speak English. He would make a statement, and it would be interpreted. He would make another statement, and that would be interpreted. So, in actuality, the sermon took about twice as long.

When the sermon was over, close to noon, the pastor came up and said that the building fund would be postponed until next week. I turned to grab my stuff and head out the door, thinking that there goes three hours of my life I'll never get back. Jim opened the door to tell me what the pastor had said, and asked if I would be willing to come back and do the song next week. I told him, "Sure Jim. No problem. I'd be happy to come back and do this all over again."

Actually, I said, "Maybe you can find another song for next week."

I was proud of myself. I said, "No."

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Swat a Day, Keeps the Gum Away

Last week my wife and I had a discussion that was quite heated and passionate. Because it originated with a statement she had made, she asked that I would let her blog about it first, and wait to write my own take on it. I agreed. Last week I posted a poem, whereas she posted "I'm So Tired". Today I'm giving you my take (and please, read hers first).

From what I can tell, the desire of public education today is purely nostalgic. By that I mean we want "the good old days", when kids behaved in schools, and results were good. (By "we", I mean the folks in Washington, D.C., who I will lambast later). Today's public schools are overwrought with disciplinary problems, and lowered results. Back in the good old days, we produced children of such intellect, that they helped beat the Russians to the moon. And the worst thing you had to deal with were kids chewing gum and talking in class.

Okay, you want the schools of the 1950s? I'll give you the schools of the 1950s. You ready to make some changes? Then, in order to have those schools, and their educational results: Segregate the blacks, keep non-English speaking children out, bring back the paddle, and take all Learning Disabled (LD) students and put them in the mental wards or special schools (remember the "short bus"?) where they belonged (or counseled to drop out and focus on getting a job).

Of COURSE today's schools have lower results than back then. For one thing, there is more to learn today. We are more technologically advanced, more "one world", than ever before. Two plus two will only get you so far. In today's world of computers, you need so much more to succeed.

Did you know that today, public schools are unable to refuse accepting ANY students? That war over in the Middle East? Produced a bunch of immigrants. You know, a bunch of kids whose primary language is NOT English? Guess where the kids go to school? They go to the public schools. You know what? That is a good thing! I love the idea of different cultures coming to America and merging together. Remember the whole "melting pot" concept? I live on the west side of Cleveland. One of the things I LOVE about here is that there is so much diversity when it comes to FOOD!! You can keep your Applebee's (no offense: I love Applebee's). Give me mom-n-pop places with names I can't pronounce.

Today's public schools have LD students. And today, more kids are diagnosed LD than ever before. What do you think happens to all of those test scores when you add in the LD students? Should we get rid of them? As the husband of a public school teacher (which I am telling you, if you didn't happen to read her blog article - shame on you!), I have had the opportunity to attend some school functions over the years, and have met some of her LD students. They are the most delightful kids I've ever met. Genuine, honest, and tend to "suck the marrow" out of life. By the way, LD also includes those with physical challenges. To watch the other students treat them as any other student, is a sight most bigoted adults NEED to see.

Who do we turn to then? Who will fix our problems with public schools? We need people with the wisdom, the experience, and the passion to reach into our educational system and provide solid, forward-thinking solutions. Unfortunately, I give you our political leadership in Washington (time for some good, old-fashioned, lambasting!)

(The below needs to be read out loud. Preferably while standing on a chair.)

Our benevolent leaders in Washington have made the issue of public education a(nother) top priority. So, what do these folks, who have never worked an honest day in their lives, who have never stepped foot in a public school (you know, private schools for them and their children), and who, as a bunch of failed lawyers (which is why they are in politics in the first place), who have no concept on how the education system works, do? They take money from lobbyists who represent companies that SELL tests and curriculum and force it upon the schools. They keep finding ways to punish teachers, the very people who you entrust with the education of your children, so that they will spend more time getting your kids to memorize the answers to tests, than actually educate them. Because, after all, they need to get good test results, and then PAY additional fees to access the data of the results. All so some lobbyist can have money to spend on politicians so that the politicians can sell out their responsibilities to the highest bidders.

Yeah, they suck.

(I told you there would be some lambasting!)

So, how DO we fix the education system? As I said above, we need people with the wisdom, experience, and passion to provide the solutions. I am NOT that people. I have the passion, but lack the wisdom and experience. Who then? How about those who have been IN the education system, for starters? How about letting them come up with ideas and ALLOW them to implement them? How about getting the damn lawyers off their backs, so that when a child DRAWS a picture of a gun, or (oh my God) makes a gun shape out of his fingers, teachers don't have to go off all half-cocked (pun intended) and make a bid deal out of it, for the fear of getting sued! Allow them to focus on YOUR kids and teaching them.

And another thing: you parents need to get more involved too. A teacher spends maybe 40 minutes with your kid. You have FAR more impact on their lives than any teacher will ever have. I challenge you: when a person reflects on who their biggest, positive influencers are, don't let it be a teacher they mention. Not that teachers shouldn't be honored, but a parent who works with (and not against) a teacher, will go a long way to influencing their child to succeed in their education and other pursuits far more.

I guess I am saying that yes, it's broke and it's time to fix it. It is up to us to make sure that it is fixed right. Punishing teachers is not the solution. Sure, there are some bad teachers. But the majority of them are not. They didn't take the job for the summers off. Hell, as a husband of a public school teacher I can honestly say, you couldn't PAY me enough to do her job.

And neither could they you.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

No Costume Required

(The below was written and posted to a site long before I started this blog. I am (re)posting it here for your enjoyment. It includes the original description notes at the end. -j.p.)


You said the words:
"Good bye"
and my heart broke.
I could almost hear it shatter.
 
No last kiss.
No last embrace.
I miss your taste;
the feel of you in my arms.
The softness of your hair against my cheek.
 
I ache for you.
Tears have yet to dry.
I long to go into hiding;
run from everyone.
I want to be alone;
yet being without you makes me alone in a crowd.
 
So,
I am disguising myself.
You wouldn't recognize me.
If we meet at a party you would pass me by.
I am going as a "broken heart".
No costume required.
 
J.P. Wiegand
© Emittravel 2003

Originally this started as a concept for a greeting card; sort of an "I Miss You / Halloween" type. The card would have had a picture of a person with a large heart (like those "The world is coming to an end" signs) on the front with the line: "This Halloween I'm going as a broken heart"; on the inside would simply be the words: "No costume required."

The person? Same lady as "Wrapped in Unconditional Love". In this case,
time does NOT heal all wounds. -j.p.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Clothes Really DO Make the Man (or Woman)

So what, exactly, is the right thing that one should wear that presents confidence, and a well-adjusted self image? Is it an expensive suit? A red (power) tie? Polished shoes? Or a sharp hat? (I'm a wearer of hats, so I had to include that in the list.) As for the ladies, would the same items, outside of the tie, be on the list?

Any of the above would most likely work, but what if I told you that the one, sure-fire item that you could wear was your "birthday suit"?

My wife is the most beautiful woman on the planet. Of course, I'm biased: I'm madly in love with her. But what was it that drew me to her? The person I fell in love with was (and is still today) confident, beautiful, and enjoying life. It wasn't what she wore on the outside, but what she wore underneath her clothes. She was (and is to this day) what I would call "comfortable in her own skin".

She laughingly says that I came along and ruined her plans. She had no intentions of getting married until she was 80. We were acquainted with each other in high school, but didn't get together until our 20-year reunion. Two years later we were married. We halved her plans! But why me? She says the same thing: I was comfortable in my own skin. I've told my wife that I'm so glad we didn't try to get together 20 years ago. I don't think she would have liked the person I was. For one thing, I was not comfortable in my own skin back then.

So, what, exactly, does it mean to be comfortable in one's own skin? It doesn't mean you have all of the answers. It means you are okay with knowing what you do, and not knowing what you don't. It doesn't mean that you have reached the pinnacle of growth. It means you are comfortable in the position you are in in life, and are open to the changes to come. And it doesn't mean that you are necessarily happy with the way you look in the mirror. It means you are respectful of the image you see, but are not afraid to give it the T.L.C. that it deserves.

My youngest niece is 15 years old. I personally can't believe it. She is in her freshman year of high school, whereas I keep thinking she is just going into first grade. But that is my own hang up; her being my youngest niece. In reality, she is an incredible young lady. One of the coolest things about her is that she is her own person. She doesn't follow a crowd, nor does she see the crowd and "rebel" against it. She is, at 15, comfortable in her own skin. Do you have any idea how rare that is?

If you have been a reader of this blog for a while, you may be asking how I can say I'm comfortable in my own skin, after making the decision to go on this sabbatical from "intellectual Christianity" (see: "Oh to be Ignorant", "Hey, Babe: Take a Walk on the Quiet Side", and "Where Do We Go From Here?"). Please understand, it takes BEING comfortable in one's own skin to make a decision such as this. This was not the action of someone who was looking for something to make himself a "whole" person. A person who is "co-dependent" on something - even church - could not make such a decision. That type of person would simply be running away from things - or running towards something else. You know, looking for something to make them "whole".

Life brings many opportunities and challenges. With those opportunities and challenges come decisions that can turn out to be wise or foolish. The secret is, that no matter the outcomes, you have to be okay with who you are.

Learn to be comfortable in your own skin: it's the only "power suit" one ever needs to wear.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Developers! Developers! Developers!

Some of you who follow tech news will undoubtedly recognize the title of this blog article as a quote from former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer. I feel a kinship to Mr. Ballmer: we both like to rant. He, from the stage of Microsoft events - and possibly the sidelines of Los Angeles Clippers' games, and me, from the digital pages of this blog.

Rest assured, even though this particular article will deal with technology and developers, I have great affection for those who spend their days huddled in front of computer monitors writing line after line of code. My day job is that of Executive Assistant to the Chief Technology Officer, and administrative assistant to a staff of over 150 I.T. and business analytics folks. I also spend much leisure time listening to podcasts from the likes of individuals as Tom Merritt (@acedtect), Paul Thurrott (@thurrott), Mary Jo Foley (@maryjofoley), Patrick Beja (@NotPatrick), Jonathon Strickland (@JonStrickland), and a "digital Jesuit" named Robert Ballecer, SJ (@padresj). Sometimes, though, I think that what comes out of the keyboards of some developers leave the customer's best interests out of the mix.

This past summer, my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting a number of great folks at an event in Salt Lake City, Utah called "Nerdtacular". Along with some fantastic artists, musicians, and simply "geeky" podcasters, we got to meet people like Josh Freeman (@jdfreeman11) from San Antonio, Texas. His Twitter bio states: "Software Engineer. @thefullformat host. Netflix C-list horror connoisseur." He also tweets statements like "Design better software today than you did yesterday. Continue doing so until the day you stop writing software." and "If sleeping is the human version of rebooting, is dying the result of an uncaught exception?".  Josh is the inspiration for this article.

"Dear Developers. The removal of a feature is NEVER considered an upgrade. Signed, Your Customers." - me.

The above is one of my major gripes regarding technology. Here's an example why:

Back in the day, Microsoft came out with their iPod competitor: the Zune. I have one of the 30 GB brown "bricks", and I really like it. It holds a large chunk of my music collection, but not all of it. I have auto playlists that I use to dynamically go through my music collection. For instance, I have one that pulls all songs, minus genre:Christmas, with a play count of less than one, shuffles it, and limits the playlist to no more than 30 GBs. I sync that playlist and start enjoying the music. When next I synchronize it, those songs that no longer fall into the playlist criteria (for instance, a play count of less than one) will fall off, which updates the overall playlist, and syncs new songs back to the device. This way I can work through the 26k+ songs in my collection without hearing the same Billy Joel song over and over (not that THAT would be a bad thing!)

The desktop software the Zune used was also called Zune - a kind of iTunes. You could play music through your computer, or sync it to a device. This was built on Microsoft Media Player (11?) All was happy in the world, until Microsoft came out with its new Zune HD player. When this device came out, a "new" desktop software was released as well. Microsoft came out with their own Market Place, and the Media Player core was not sufficient to do it. So, they rebuilt it from the ground up. And, since they were under a deadline to get the software out there to match the Zune HD hitting the shelves, many of the features were missing.

"A fast approaching deadline is the most important reason to have code reviews, not to skip them." - Josh Freeman

One of those missing features was the ability to generate auto playlists. Yup! One of the most useful features - a carryover from Media Player - and it was "removed". Okay, maybe not "removed". Just not in that current build. After a time of many people complaining in the forums, missing features slowly returned. But that took time. (And don't get me started about the mainly-useless Xbox Music either!)

I understand that sometimes a program needs to be rewritten from the ground up. Sometimes the program becomes so large that it slows down your computer just running it!

"More code doesn't necessarily mean more better." - Josh Freeman

What's even more annoying, is when you install an update to software and it "breaks". One of the reasons TO update is to fix security holes. Not updating software can therefore be a risky proposition. Unfortunately, most updates do not let you know what is changing, until after you've updated and it becomes a mess. Let me give you an example:

You have replaced your refrigerator with the newest model. Not only does it keep the food cold, it has many adjustable shelves, an ice maker, a water dispenser, and a beautiful stainless steel exterior. Very nice. One day, overnight, an "update" gets pushed. When you walk in your kitchen you find that your refrigerator is missing all of the shelves (the food is piled on the bottom), the ice maker doesn't work, the water dispenser is missing, and the stainless steel exterior is now a vinyl-clad hot pink. When you go online you find many other people complaining. The only responses you get are "the shelves will be returned in a future update", "we are aware of the ice maker issue and are working on it", "what water dispenser?", and "the color is a UI upgrade." At least the food still stays cold.

So, please, developers, and those managers pushing the deadlines, keep us, your customers in mind when you make changes. The future of your products depend on it! (Remember Vista, Microsoft?)

"Feature - feature - break - feature - break - fix - break - test - fix - test - fix - break - feature - break - break." - Josh Freeman

(Special thanks to Josh for inspiring this post: looking forward to seeing you at a Nerdtacular again soon! -j.p.)

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Is This the Hill You Want to Die On?

There are currently about 121 people/things I follow on Twitter. By "things", I mean like @LHSRangers - the high school where my wife @lisamwiegand teaches. One of the people I follow, is a very intelligent young lady named Jedediah Bila - @JedediahBila - whose descriptions of her life in New York bring lots of laughs. Her Twitter profile says she is "TV host. Author. Columnist. Radio personality. Former Professor/Dean. Animal lover. Superhero wannabe. Was juicing kale before it was cool." Again, worth the follow.

I was going through my feed, when I came across her following tweet: NOM, you've embarrassed yourselves. Badly. "Marriage Group Backs Liberal Dem over Gay Republican": bit.ly/1wFBkxp via @BrietbartNews

My brain immediately went, "WHUH?!?!?"

First off, for clarity, "NOM" stands for "National Organization for Marriage". They have stated that they will "actively oppose" the candidate for the GOP and will endorse the Democrat, even though they say that he is wrong on the issues.

Around the same time, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, announced that he was gay (I don't think there was any connection between the two events). Included in my Twitter feed were posts of a map of the United States showing in which states Mr. Cook would have lost his job for being gay. Most of the map was colored unfavorably for those who "butter their bread on the other side".

In a previous blog article ("D.O.M.A. is D.U.M.B") I make it pretty clear that "I'm not anti-gay. I'm not pro-gay either. When it comes to the world, I'm ambivalent-gay." Just wanted to make that clear up front.

Let me try to explain something here: when you are voting for a politician, what you are doing is playing the part of employer (or Human Resources) and are saying, "Yes, I believe this person is qualified to do this job," or not. When you are looking to fill a position you look for skills that show that person can do a good job. A good job. That that person can do a GOOD JOB. Does it really matter what color their skin is? No. Does it matter if they like football or not? No. Does it matter if they prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate? No. (But, for the record, I do prefer dark over milk.) Does it REALLY matter what a person's sexuality is when it comes to doing a GOOD JOB? If I REALLY have to answer that …

But I guess I really do, since I'm writing this.

The thing about the NOM thing is that they would RATHER support a candidate whose stance on issues is considered "wrong" than support a candidate whose stance on issues is considered "right", but turned out to be gay. For people with this mentality, I think a voting booth is a dangerous place, and they should stay far away.

Maybe this will help: Imagine your house is in need of repair, and you need to hire the best carpenter you can find. You find out that the carpenter is gay. So you instead, hire the mechanic - because he isn't. The mechanic will make a mess of your house. But hey! At least you know he isn't gay!

But J.P., don't you know that presidents, and some governors, select judges? Yes, yes I do. Two things: First, judges aren't the supreme rulers (see what I did there?). There are checks and balances built into the system. The problem is that the other two parts of the government need to check and balance - and they don't. And second, the number of judges they can select is far smaller than the myriad of other things they do in their positions, having NOTHING to do with their sexual orientation.

For some reason, there is this mentality that if a Republican is gay, they will abandon everything else to push the gay agenda. That means, for instance, if they are for less spending, less government, and a stronger military, they will abandon those and only push for things that help place "rainbows" on everything. So instead, people vote for the person who will push more spending, more government, and a weaker military, but whose sexual orientation won't have any effect on doing the job.

So I ask you: is this really the hill upon you which you chose to make your stand?

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here?

It's been a week since I started the sabbatical (see "Hey Babe: Take a Walk on the Quiet Side"). I figured I'd provide a few observations, and ask a small favor from you. I have a wonderful wife, where many of the observations come through conversations with her. She IS the source for most in my life. As I write this, it is currently 16:45 on a Sunday. Our cat, Harley, is acting extra mischievous and finicky. My wife figured out it was after 16:00 and he was desiring his afternoon snack - something I'm prone to overlook. She is gifted, I tell ya!

She reminded me of something I've asked her in the past when it came to Lent. Most people who observe Lent, do that by giving up something - hopefully of value to them. For me, giving up Brussels sprouts would be the perfect option, except for the fact that I won't eat them at any time (Yick!). My question is not what one is giving up, but with what is one replacing that thing? The replacement is supposed to help provide focus during this season. For instance: give up video games and provide care for an elderly neighbor. So she wanted to know, since I've "given up church", with what am I replacing it?

(Side note: I wrote an email to the couple who have been leading the worship team for the last year so that they would know what was going on - I really don't know who actually reads this blog! In the email I stated that I was taking a sabbatical from "intellectual Christianity". I think that best sums it up.)

I told her that the observation of Lent was based on religious practice. Most people will only do such an act during the Lenten season. Once it is over, they're done. I did not approach this sabbatical based on a religious practice. Actually, this is more of a pressure release valve. I needed to walk away before I found myself in a more precarious position in my faith.

She then asked me how I will know when/if this sabbatical will be over.

I told her that it would probably be similar to how I knew to take the sabbatical. This was a slow build up over time. I knew when it was time to start. I'm figuring that it will end in a similar fashion.

I purchased a bite guard about a month ago. It's a small device that keeps your teeth from grinding together at night. I decided to purchase one because I found that when I woke up in the morning, I wasn't able to bite down - put my teeth together - without extreme pain. As I mentioned in "Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Guess My Name", grinding my teeth will culminate in severe headaches that wake me up at night. My wife noticed that once I came to this decision concerning the sabbatical, I haven't used the bite guard. This has apparently been a source of stress - stress that manifests itself in the grinding of my teeth. Another sign that this has been a good decision.

Which brings me back to her last/first question: Since I'm not going to be attending church for now, with what am I going to replace it?

I told her the one thing that I'm going to miss the most during this sabbatical is worship. I'm an advocate of, but a terrible representation of, private worship. I need to keep that focus in my life. My wife wants to support me in this, and suggested going somewhere on Sundays to remove distractions and meditate. That's one method.

The other method brings me to the favor. We have a large music library. So large, that there is no way we could actually listen to it all over the course of a year (you know, during times of consciousness). I listen to little-to-no radio because of it. Here's the kicker: the majority of that collection came from referrals. And that's where I need you. Our collection is quite weak when it comes to "worship" music. We have quite a bit of "Christian" music, but most does not bring one into a state of focus upon God (you know, "worship").

Would you take a moment and provide me music that you find helps you focus on God? I'm looking for artist names, song titles, and even whole CD titles (yeah, I still purchase physical media!). This request is not just for those Christian friends of mine. If there is music that you find brings you into a meditative state, that helps you focus on the "other", the less-about-you, I would love to know that too.

You can let me know easiest as a response to this blog in Facebook or Twitter (Twitter is the best - @nocturnecsh). Or, if you already have my email address, please feel free to drop me an email. I'm hoping to do some shopping soon, so your help is greatly appreciated.

So in answer to the title of this blog ("Where Do We Go From Here?" - taken from the Alan Parson's song, "Games People Play"), I think that a stepping away from the "intellectual", and a stepping toward solitude and devoted worship is where I'm headed.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hey, Babe: Take a Walk on the Quiet Side

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog called "Oh to be Ignorant", where I shared my desire to step back from the painting, stop staring at the brush strokes, and take in the whole "picture" of God. I wanted to share what has happened since, to let you know where that blog has taken me, and the uncertainty of where I'm going.

(If you haven't read "Oh to be Ignorant", please take a moment to read it before going on - it will help you understand what follows.)

My wife described what I've been feeling as "burn out". I think she's right. I'm not burned out on God, though. I’m burned out on the brush strokes - the driveway. To misquote Festus to Paul, "Much learning is driving you mad!" (Acts 26:24b NKJV) This is not something new. One of the symptoms of my burn out has been the complete emptiness I've been experiencing sitting through sermons over the last several months. Yes, I said "several". This is not new to me. Again, the sermons have been of high caliber - perhaps too high.

Last week everything came to a head. When we woke up Sunday morning, I told my wife that I just wanted to skip church. She said we should go - since it was a guest minister. I told her I "knew" what he was going to preach on (it was announced the previous Sunday), and I didn't want to go. We went anyway. After the service she said to me, "Halfway through I realized you were right." As a husband, I find those words don't come very often!!

The topic was "Healing Generational Issues". He pulled passages from Lamentations, Exodus, and Jeremiah (all Old Testament) to show where generational curses (sins of the fathers being passed down to the sons) is both acknowledged and contradicted. He then went on to show how the paradox (his word - used incorrectly I might add) can be reconciled. At one point I pulled up John 9:1-3 (New Testament) on my tablet and showed it to my wife. The passage is a discussion between Jesus and His disciples right after He heals a blind man. They ask him "who sinned? He or his parents?" Jesus replies "Neither!" Which, to me, totally wipes out this guy's total sermon. Also, not only does the passage contradict his entire sermon, there is no instance - that I've seen - where Jesus breaks a generational "curse".

He also brought up the "value" of praying in "The name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth Who came in the flesh". In other words, praying in the name of Jesus was not sufficient for this type of prayer. I concluded that this guy was a moron. So much for the value of a minister who has the title "Dr." in front of his name. Besides, I heard this kind of "preaching" back in the 1990s. We were right back to the Name-it-Claim-it-You-can-have-what-you-say-Positive-Speaking baloney that was so prevalent back then.

I spent the rest of the sermon catching up my journal - trying to ignore the blather.

During breakfast (a common thing for my wife and I to do after church) we had the discussion that culminated in a decision. A decision that some of my church friends may not agree with. I decided that I needed to take a break from church. Not God. Church. We call it taking a "sabbatical". I'm not church hopping. At this point I have no expectation of permanently leaving the church I attend. I just have no intention of attending ANY church. I will miss worshipping God in church - since I have NO qualms concerning the praising of God. I just can't go from worship-to-the-offering-to-the-car in good conscience.

I needed to tell someone at the church my decision. I didn't want to be one of those people that you suddenly realized disappeared - you know the ones, where you really can't remember the last time you saw them. And since I've been a member of the worship team for a long time, it was prudent that I told someone in leadership. I contacted the person who has led the worship team, the person I've been able to share concerns with over the years, and met him for dinner. He said that he understood my decision, said we needed to keep in communication (a.k.a. "accountability"), and that he would let the rest of the church staff know.

After dinner we went to the church - he went to make sure it was unlocked. I wanted to remove all of my equipment. There are too many idle hands that mess with things that aren't theirs. I packed up my Jeep, turned off the lights in the sanctuary (with a quick prayer) and went home.

And it's done. How long will this sabbatical last? I have no idea. I know that I'm going to do my best to step back and get as far away from the brush strokes as I can.

If anyone asks, tell them I'm taking a walk on the quiet side.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wrapped in Unconditional Love

This was the most painful poem I've ever written. Between each phrase I paced the floor and sobbed - not wept; sobbed. It seemed to take forever to express the ache.

It took four months for me to sit and write after that. I just didn't have the courage to put myself through it again.

-j.p.

© Emittravel 2014


Wrapped in Unconditional Love
 
Love
Overwhelming
All consuming
Beyond anything ever known before
Every thought
Every passion
Every breath
Focused on one

One
Beautiful
All encompassing
Beyond anyone ever known before
Every word
Every motion
Every breath
The focus of my existence

Unattainable

I cry out with love
But you are gone
I seek you
I search for you
But you are not there
You stand before me
But you are far away
You long for another
Shutting me out

My heart reaches forth
Grasping the air
Wanting nothing but you
You smile and turn away
Looking for the love
Of one who has shut YOU out

Does your heart cry for him?
Like mine does for you?
Do you know the pain?
Wrapped in unconditional love?

To hold you again
To proclaim my love for you
As I fall into those eyes once more

Time
Moving
All knowing
Beyond the ability to control
Every desire
Every prayer
Every moment
Waiting just for you

J.P. Wiegand
© Emittravel 2003

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Oh to be Ignorant

There is probably nothing more irritating to an old Christian, than a new Christian. They are so excited. It's Jesus this, and Jesus that. Every prayer seems to be answered without delay. And they are simply oozing with sticky, sweet, joy. You know what I mean, don't you? Better yet, you remember BEING that, don't you? Now you are in the group that tells them to calm down. Not to be so obnoxiously evangelical. You're already a Christian - you don't need to hear them singing every new Christian song, and don't want to see them wearing all of those obnoxious t-shirts covered with clich├ęs and slogans. You've matured. You've grown. You've become stale.

How do I know this? Because I'm stale.

What happened? How did I get this way? My story from when I first became a Christian to now is rather long and detailed, so I won't go into it too much here. Let's just say that the saying is true: the more you learn, the less you know. Let me explain.

Have you ever tried Google Earth? You start off looking at the Earth, and start zooming in. Click, by click, by click you get closer and closer to the Earth's surface, and see more and more details. Pretty soon you went from a big ball of blue to your driveway. That's so cool. Tell that to the crew of the Apollo 8 mission. As they orbited the moon, they watched the Earth "rise" and quoted the first ten verses of Genesis: "In the beginning, God … " The beauty and majesty of the Earth from space has had similar impacts upon those fortunate enough to "… have danced the streets of heaven, and touched the face of God." (Cuthbert Hicks) It's not the minute details of the streets, it's the overall beauty of the Earth seen from 100 miles above it.

(I have used the phrase "Five thousand foot level" several times in previous posts in reference to viewing the Bible. It sounded good, but in retrospect I should have used something more akin to 528,000 feet. But to be consistent, I'm going to continue using five thousand.)

Christianity, at least in the varieties I'm familiar with, starts off looking at God from such that low Earth orbit (100 miles). As you read the Bible, expose yourself to sermons, books, and other sources of knowledge, you get "closer and closer" to God. Soon you find you've broken through the clouds and gotten right down to your driveway. Some would say that is a good thing. At one point in my life I would have agreed. Today? Oh to be ignorant.

Let's look at it with another example. Have you ever looked at a painting? Not a print of a painting. Not a picture of a painting on the internet. A real, honest-to-goodness painting? Gotten so close to it you could see the individual brush strokes? That is where I am in my Christianity. I've heard so many sermons, read so many books (including the Bible, over and over), that I've gotten right up close to the brush strokes of God. The problem? I've forgotten what the overall picture looked like. I forgot the beauty and awe of God that I first saw when I first saw Him. I've spent so much time getting to know about Him, that I've forgotten Him. And what's worse, without my reading glasses, I can't even enjoy the individual brush strokes!

I want to be ignorant again. I want to wipe out all of those years of study and go back to that simple joy of meeting Him. If you had asked me what made going to church such an impactful part of my life, I would have told you it was the sermons - the powerful preaching. Not today. Today I would soon as much leave before the sermon starts. Go from worship to the offering to the car. I don't even mind the offering - to me it's an extension of the worship.

I'm a little biased: I happen to be on the worship team of our church. I sing, and play blues harmonica and a little percussion. For me, I find it "easier" to worship God from the platform than from the congregation. I find I worship God through the instruments. There was a Sunday a few weeks ago that the worship leader (who happened to be sitting at the piano) had tears running down his cheeks while he played. He was worshipping God through his playing. If the church asked me to step down from the worship team, I'd find I'd have very little reason to keep coming.

To be honest (if that above wasn't honest enough), if it wasn't for the fact that I'd end up leaving my instruments still on the platform, I'd leave right after the offering anyway. Its not that the sermons are no longer good - they are still phenomenal. I just find that I'm so empty sitting there. I am no longer interested in one more "nugget". One more Greek translation of some amazing truth of the Bible.

Jesus said to "Come unto me like little children." (Matthew 18:3). Some believe that that means that you come to Jesus as a little child and grow up from there. What is the most "popular" prayer in the Bible? It's called the Lord's Prayer. It starts off with "Our Father, Who art in Heaven. Blessed by Thy name." Do you know what that really says? "My Daddy, Who lives in Heaven. Blessed is Your name." Daddy, not Father. It's a word of endearment. Those who have translated it "Father" have done a great disservice. We are to come to Jesus, and continually come to Him, as a little child.

When I was a child I would reach up my arms to my daddy. He would pick me up and place me on his lap, and hold me. Today? We go out to breakfast and talk man-to-man. The thought of him picking me up and holding me on his lap is absurd.

I want to go back to climbing into God's lap. I want to be a child again. Oh to be ignorant.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yeah, But Should the FOX Say It?

Sometimes known as the "Fourth Estate", the press has a long history of keeping the government in "check" in its role as the ears of the people. So important a role, that it is even referenced in one of the pinnacles of our constitutional rights:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

For one sentence, that statement covers a lot of ground! Unfortunately, with such a sentence, there is a lot of room for interpretation. For instance: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" can be taken that Congress shall make no law that respects a religion, one that respects an establishment of religion (like a church building), or one that respects the establishment of a religion (like coming up with a new one, or making a state religion like "The Church of England"). What about the inverse? Can Congress make a law that disrespects one?

Also included is the abridgement of the freedom of speech or of the press. Abridgement means a shortened or condensed form, or a limiting of someone's rights. Cliff Notes are study tools that give a good idea of the first definition. The focus in the amendment is the second definition. We have the right to say what we want. However, we have laws against slander and libel. Slander deals with making false statements against someone. Libel is a false statement against someone that is published. We have freedom to say what we want, even if it offends someone. It's just that that statement cannot be false. You have the right to have an opinion. Heck, the name of this blog is "My Humble But Accurate Opinion". Opinions are views or judgments made, but not necessarily based on facts.

If I say, "The President of the United States dresses in drag and chases neighborhood children," that would be slander. If I published it, that would be libel. But if I say, "The President of the United States has policies that I think are detrimental to the well being of this country," I am giving an opinion. The first is punishable according to the law. The other is protected speech. As a blogger, I have the freedom to give my opinion. Hopefully that also means that I've given my opinion at least a little research background prior to giving it to my readers.

Can I see a show of hands from all of you that hate FOX News? Okay, how about those of you that hate MSNBC? I'm sure you all have your reasons, and I probably will agree with you on them. Here's my point: why are these types of "journalists", members of the "press", allowed to make such outrageous, may I even go far as to call them slanderous, statements and hide under the umbrella of "freedom of the press"?

As I stated above, the press was designed to keep the government in check. It has a responsibility to keep the government honest by holding them accountable to the people (you know, their constituents - a.k.a. "the voters"). But there is a major problem when the press stops reporting the news and just gives us their opinions PORTRAYED as news. There is a major problem when the press buries a story it doesn't like because it goes against their opinions or beliefs as to how the government should be doing things. There is also a major problem when the press reports things that in turn can cause detriment to our armed forces. You know: acts of treason.

What is the difference between a blogger and a journalist when both are simply giving opinions? Do bloggers fall under the same protections of the freedom of the press?

But is it the fault of the press? With the news networks being all owned by the entertainment industry, and ratings and advertising dollars the focus, is it any wonder that they act like they do?

Many are the solutions to fix this. Here's one that I think will help: change the name of the news organizations and make sure they are clear on when they are giving facts versus their opinions.

Change "FOX News" to "FOX News and Opinion".

© Emittravel 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

The "Last" Day of Summer!

Okay. As I write this, it's NOT the last day of summer. According to the calendar on the fridge, the autumnal equinox, or first day of fall, isn't until September 23 (over two weeks away), but around our house, the dog days of summer have come and gone. Let me explain.

We own a 2004 Jeep Wrangler. This baby is road-salt grey, with full doors, and a soft top.


Some time in early spring, we unzip and remove the side windows and back window, and store them in the basement. That's right. We don't keep them around in case of sour weather. What we do is that whenever rain is probable, we try to park facing west, roll up the glass windows, and rock the seats forward. One time I left the Jeep too close to my house (this was before Lisa and I got married and we bought the house we have now). The gutters didn't have that much of a pitch, so in heavy rains more water would flow over the sides of the gutters than make it down the downspouts. There was a really bad storm overnight and the water came over the sides of the gutters - right into the Jeep. When I left for work, I found about eight inches of water in the driver's side floor. I took an industrial vacuum and removed the water, went to work, and then looked up every drainage plug that resides under the carpet. At lunch I grabbed some needle-nosed pliers and proceeded to remove all of them. Now, when it rains, any water that gets in drains. Of course, this means no driving through rivers …

With the seats rocked forward, we have had very little issue with the seats or dashboard getting wet. It takes a Hell of a storm for the rain to blow that far in.

The Jeep is a soft top. As I like to say, there is only one kind of Jeep: the Wrangler. The others are just SUVs with Jeep logos. And I don't like the removable hard top Wranglers either. They are too much hassle to take on and off (and store when off). If you are going to buy a Wrangler with a hard top, just go ahead and buy one of the SUV versions.

It's not like I take the top off that much though. Most people who know me know that I rarely go outside without a hat. I own quite a few. I like to say that I own more hats than my wife does shoes (but she's working on it!) I have 21 hats (which includes only one baseball cap - not including winter "ski" caps used for shoveling. I'm referring only to those with brims.). The thing about hats and open air Jeeps, is that when you go over about 35 mph, there is usually enough wind to take the hat right off your head. One of those hats I keep in the center column of the Jeep - you know the kind: has one of those strings that go under your chin - for those times without the top.

Fedora

Barma

My wife isn't "hatless"!

We leave the Jeep windows out until just after Labor Day weekend. At this point it is (usually) warm enough to reinstall the windows. If we wait until it gets too cold to put the windows back in, everything becomes too stiff and reinstalling them is a pain! Today was not one of those days. It hit over 90 degrees today. Though I have to admit, putting the windows back in when it is 90 degrees is also a pain.

Do you have any end of the season rituals? When is summer over for you?

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Ice Bucket "Threat"

Currently, there is a big fundraising drive for the ALS Association. ALS is the organization fighting Lou Gehrig's Disease. Somebody had the bright idea to create what is called the Ice Bucket Challenge. You pour a bucket of ice water over your head - capturing it on video - and then challenge one to three others to do the same. The idea is, if you do the challenge, you give a donation of $25. If you don't, you give a donation of $100. In other words, the ice bucket is a "coupon".

My company has gotten into the act as well. A few of the executives did this, and challenged the entire staff to do it. They notified the media, and will be doing a simultaneous dumping at all of the company's locations. They want staff, family, and friends to participate.

Here is where I bring out my "I don't like kids. I don't play games. Get off my lawn!" attitude. The challenge is bringing in record donations - that's a good thing. What bothers me, is that this is purely based on extortion and peer pressure. I, for one, have a tendency to buck any trend. I don't even tend to participate in company picnics or "fun day" events. If everyone is doing it, I find I'd rather not.

Most would consider me an extrovert, so when I decline such things I get confused looks and peer pressure; which further pushes me away from involvement.

I probably can come up with a half-dozen or so "reasons" for my attitude. A psychologist would have a field day. And I'm sure a half-dozen psychologists would come up with a half-dozen different "sources" from my childhood. But am I hurting anyone in this? It's not like I won't donate to the ALS. We have a charity fund for such things. But I won't be donating an amount based on peer pressure. Even if I'm "double-dog-dared". I'll donate what we would normally donate to a charity.

For those of you thinking I'm nothing but a cad, I'll put it to you this way: I don't wear the pink ribbon, but I do give my green cash. Which of the two ultimately has value? The first can be considered a badge: "Look at me! Look at me! I'm wearing a ribbon!" The second? Whether you know it or not, I AM helping to make a difference. And frankly, I really don't care if you do.

Bottom line: if you feel ALS Association is a worthwhile cause, write a check. If you don't - you can always go "soak your head".

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Where is the Compassion?

In a previous post I describe the process I go through when writing poetry. Not a lot of head - mostly heart. This post, though not poetry, is affecting me in a similar way. There is a cry in my heart: Where's the compassion?

I have a friend. A guy who has opened up his heart to me. Allowed me in to share in his pain. Funny thing is, I'm not the "first" of his friends during this season of his life. He has had others who were there to be with him farther back in his story than I have been. But the difference between them and I, is that I'm still here to share in the joys as well. They are noticeably absent - and missing out.

I don't want to share here too much of his life. That's up to him. What I can do is take you back several years and share something similar in my own.

Some of you may be aware that Lisa is not my first wife. I call her my "final" wife - because, no matter what happens, I'm NOT doing this again! I was married previously for nine and a half years. This was shortly after I got out of the Navy. How to describe the relationship? To put it simply: the first three years were hell. I thought I had done something terribly wrong and lived in a continuous state of guilt/pain/anger. After that first three, I realized that I did NOT do anything to bring this on. Being a Christian, and coming from a family where "divorce" was not an option, I stuck through it for another six and a half - best described as riding a roller coaster: but where a roller coaster is hills and valleys, this was plateaus and toilets (toleration and misery). I finally had enough and the marriage ended in divorce.

I'm not kidding about the above. When I told my parents that I was getting divorced, instead of trying to talk me out of it, they said, "We were wondering when you would come to that point." They knew it all along.

I had a friend that allowed me to open up my heart to him. He shared in my pain and confusion. We had many long talks over the bible and what the "right" thing to do as a Christian was. Part of it, to be honest, was for him to come to grips with my divorce as a Christian as well. I loved him for being there for me. And I loved his wife for letting her husband spend so much time with me.

After being divorced for awhile, I met a wonderful young lady named Amy. She was sweet, funny, intelligent, and a gorgeous redhead! The only thing she wasn't, was a Christian. She and I became an item. She even moved in with me. And my friend - my confidant and support - abandoned me. I was living in sin, and therefore he was justified in walking away.

Amy and I were together for quite awhile, though eventually we moved in different directions and she moved out. (I'm thrilled to say that one day she called me to let me know she had become a Christian. We never got back together, but that was great news. I'm still thrilled for her - even after all these years.)

Keeping this brief, I met Lisa at our 20th class reunion and we eventually started hanging out, then dating, then engaged. During this time I would mention my friend. I reached out at different times, in different ways (Christmas cards, text messages, and the like), and sometimes at the prompting of Lisa. She saw the longing in my heart to get back with him, and wanted to see that happen. Over time, he and I did eventually bridge the communications gap and even started to mend the tear in our friendship. Happy to say that he and his family were present at our wedding, and we've maintained a friendship ever since. Part of me knows it is not on the level it used to be, and who knows if it will ever get back to that again. Maybe it shouldn't. It's probably more reciprocal now. And I'm just happy that he is there.

Again, the cry in my heart is "Where is the compassion?" Going back to the friend at the beginning of this article, I'm thrilled to be sharing in the joys of his life. And I ache with him over the absence of those others who have abandoned him.

Is it justifiable for a Christian to abandon someone who is "in sin"? I know there are plenty of verses in the bible that talk about not even eating with someone who is a sinner. Many of those verses are pulled from the epistles (those falling between Romans and Jude). That is also the area of the best buffet-style Christianity. You know, pick a little of this, and ignore what you don't find convenient. If we took everything contained in the epistles literally, we'd have a very different Christianity today. And to be honest, believing that much of what is written there has heavy cultural influences, I'm glad we don't. Regardless, it is in there where the justification comes from.

(Unlike some of my other blog articles, I'm not going to quote long passages of the bible. I'm going to give you the references and trust that, if you are interested, you'll look them up yourself.)

Looking at the life of Jesus sometimes gives us very different perspectives than the epistles. Some things are because Jesus was living "under the law" - the time prior to his crucifixion and resurrection. When the "rich young ruler" asks Him what he must do to gain eternal life, Jesus doesn't give him a tract with the quick way to salvation printed on it. He doesn't tell him to simply believe on Him. He tells him to obey the law. In the book of John, Jesus also gives us something that my friend's "abandoned ones" missed: compassion.

Look at John chapter four. This is the passage where Jesus' disciples leave him sitting by a well while they go to buy some food. While there, a woman of Samaria (a people known as "dogs" to the Jews of the day) shows up to draw water. Jesus asks her for a drink, which spawns a conversation of real/spiritual and the "right" places for worship. At one point Jesus tells her to go and get her husband. She responds that she doesn't have one. Jesus acknowledges her honesty and points out that she has had five husbands, and is currently living with someone who is not her husband.

My New King James Version has a heading over John, chapter four: "A Samaritan Woman Meets Her Messiah". Before I started writing this I realized I had never noticed that before. The passage implies that she has met the Messiah, but never outright states it. The best part, and the reason I bring it up, NOWHERE do you see Jesus shun, condemn, or abandon the woman because of her being a Samaritan who is living with someone not her husband. What you do see is Jesus showing what is most important to her: compassion. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times where Jesus tells the person to go and "sin no more". Not here.

Why do I consider this compassion? I'm reminded of a friend that was at our 30th class reunion. She introduced us to her "cabana boy". She said that she has had two failed marriages and has come to the conclusion that marriage and her just don't get along. She has been with her "cabana boy" for nine years. Sounds like what they have is working for her.

I've heard many times over the years that the reason she was at the well at that time of the day was because she was living in shame. Possibly a prostitute. Once again, I've read this many times and I don't see that. Makes for good preaching, but maybe - just maybe - it was just what was working for her.

Jesus looked past the "sin" and showed a compassion that brought salvation to not only this woman, but a large part of the city.

There's a lesson there for each of us.

© Emittravel 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Middle East Peace - An Oxymoron?

First off, a statement of the obvious: the Middle East is one messed up place. I think we can all agree upon that. And no matter what anyone has done, peace in that region has been a fairy tale dream at best; a major catastrophe of "biblical" proportions at worst.

I keep wondering why we are so heavily invested in trying to barter peace there. The Left says that it is all about oil. The Right says we need so support our allies there. In one sense, they are both right. In another, I think they are standing on flimsy arguments. Let's take a look at the Left's side of it first.

Oil. Black gold. Texas "T". (Wait, did I just alienate some of my readers? Sorry 'bout that. Guess I'll have to go dunk my head in the ol' "cement pond".) No matter what Earth Day advocates have said, oil is still this nation's blood. No other energy source even comes close to the power and convenience of oil. We, in the United States, used to produce most of what we needed ourselves. Thus the "Texas 'T'" reference. But costs to produce it here have become so astronomical that it became cheaper to import it. That's where the Middle East comes in. That area of the world is one of the areas we get it. It's not the only place, but any drop in production there has a significant enough impact upon our nation that we will do anything to keep it flowing. Even poke our heads in wars of solely religious significance to those who live there.

Now, the Right says that we are there to support our allies. You know, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the on-again-off-again love affair with Iraq and Iran.

When we went into Iraq under President G.W. Bush, we were going in based on "supposed" Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Saddam Hussein even used them on his neighbor (Kuwait). We had "Intelligence" reports (I put that in quotation marks to signify that I question the validity of the existence of governmental "intelligence") that said he had them. After much feet dragging with the useless entity known as the United Nations, we finally went in to find that no, he didn't have any. "Bush lied / People died" became the chant of the left. But did he really lie?

Saddam DID indeed have WMDs. I'm not going to argue what happened to them during the foot dragging. That's not the issue. He DID have them. How do I know? Let me ask you a question: Where do you think he got them? Saddam was put in power by the U.S. as an "ally". We supplied him with the weapons to protect him from his neighbors. Do you honestly believe that Iraq had the technical knowledge to actually create and store such weapons? Really? Hell, even Iran - the country most-likely-to-get-a-nuke relies heavily on Russia for weapons. Most of the weapons these countries use are stamped "Made in" some other country than their own.

Which brings me to the whole "ally" argument of the Right. Why do we consider those religious nut jobs our allies in the first place? If we, the U.S., were to be invaded by a hostile nation, do you think any of those nations are going to send troops over here to support us?!? Yet, we send our troops there to protect them. Why? I'll tell you why: those nations are not our allies - they are our vendors. Our suppliers. I'd like to see the cost analysis comparing the cost of producing our own oil, or obtaining from non-hostile environments, versus the cost in weapons, aid, and the lives of our troops (yeah, place a dollar amount on THAT) currently spent.

"But J.P., Israel is not a source of oil. They ARE our ally." Israel "needs" our support. Is it really supporting them that when they are attacked we help barter a TEMPORARY cease fire that their enemies have CONSISTENTLY broken? You want to support Israel? Let them take care of themselves. They are fully capable of doing it on their own. Sure, that means those attacking them will have civilian casualties. In war they are called "collateral damage". If those civilians are in support of their government attacking Israel, they cannot be considered innocent civilians. If those civilians are not in support of their government attacking Israel, they have the responsibility to do something about that government.

I've read that the worst kind of call to respond to for the police is a domestic dispute. There's something to that.

As I mentioned above, those in the Middle East are fighting over religious differences. Do you realize, that before the Islamic takeover of those nations (think: sharia law), Muslims in that area were the leaders in technological and scientific advancements? Not so much any more. Their religious system has stifled any growth in those nations. And they want to force everyone else to follow suit. According to them, Israel has no right to exist. I've read the bible. It's hard to make the argument whether they have the right to that land or not. But they've been there for years. Should they now be kicked out because it belonged to someone else years ago? Let me ask my fellow Americans specifically: Would you move out of your house freely and hand your land over to the Native Americans/Indians/whatever-is-PC who lived there before? Do you think Alaska needs to go back to Russia? Heck, it was their land before it was our land.

This is a religious war. I say leave them alone and let the best God win.

© Emittravel 2014