Saturday, March 31, 2012

Capitals

we've all seen people who type like this.  for whatever reason, they choose to type and write without caps.  THEN THERE ARE THOSE PEOPLE WHO FEEL EVERYTHING NEEDS CAPS!!!  You feel like they're yelling at you, no matter what they're saying.  It's important to know when to use caps.

Some people care more than others about capitalization.  I don't care too much, except when it comes to God.  To me, when referring to any of the members of the Trinity, you should capitalize the pronoun you're using.  It shows respect.  It shows reverence.  Just food for thought.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Worf vs. Chewbacca



I really liked the premise of the T.V. show Deadliest Warrior.  But why let reality stop you?  I think there are some great "what if" battles lurking in the geeky realm of sci-fi and fantasy.  How cool would a Chewbacca and Worf fight be?  Pretty freakin' awesome.  So, here I present a fight between Worf and Chewbacca.

Background:
Worf:  Orphaned Klingon; member of a warrior culture.  He is dedicated to his people, even if they make him an official outcast from time to time.  Had a son with a woman, though he didn't find out about his son until a few days before his baby-mama was murdered.
Chewbacca:  He goes from being a preeminent member of Wookie society to being the wingman of a man who is in love with a woman who has a crush on her twin brother.  How the mighty have fallen.
Winner: Chewbacca has more to fight for

Attire:
Worf: Starfleet Uniform with an odd sash thingy.
Chewbacca:  Fur with an odd sash thingy.
Winner:  Tied

Weapons:
Worf:  Phaser
Chewbacca: Wookie bowcaster
Winner: Worf.  The phaser is smaller, yet quick and deadly.

Hand-to-hand Combat:
Worf: He's a warrior from a warrior society.  Practices in the holodeck everyday.
Chewbacca:  Spends his time in bars with his buddy Han Solo, who likes to get into barfights.  Wookies have also been known to rip people's limbs off.
Winner: Chewbacca would beat down the puny little Klingon.

Ships:
Worf:
Enterprise D:  Top speed of Warp 9.5; 42 decks; a crew of over 1,000;
10 phaser banks; 250 phton torpedoes; complex shield grid
Chewbacca:
Millennium Falcon:  Can do the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs;
skeleton crew of 2; a handful of lasers; shields
Winner: Sorry Han, the Millennium Falcon might have been able to take out the (chronologically) original Enterprise under Archer, but that's about it.

Back-up:
Worf:

Chewbacca: 

Winner: Chewbacca.  If it came down to a battle of wits, Picard all the way.  But since this battle is coming down to fur and teeth, Han takes it all the way

Worf:  2
Chewie:  3
Tied: 1
Winner:  Chewie out-mans Worf and beats him down in one of the ultimate nerd match-ups.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Lorax: Fun For All Ages

The Lorax is a film based on the children's book by Dr. Seuss.  If you haven't read the book, then there is something terribly wrong with you.  It's a classic, even if iit seemed rather weird while reading it as a child.

Last night, I had the opportunity to take Chloe to see the film.I think she summed it up best as I was putting her in her carseat:  "That was fun, daddy!"


We get into the theater a few minutes early, so I chase Chloe and visa versa to burn off some of her energy.  As the movie's getting ready to start, she asks for "sunglasses."  We had tried taking her to The Lorax once before and it was in 3D, as was Beauty and the Beast, the last movie she saw.  Because we had waited so long to see it, the only showings left are normal.  Chloe's intuition proved to be right; this movie would have been even more fun in 3D.


If you've read the story, you know the plot of the movie.  They stuck to it pretty well, with a few enhancements to stretch the short children's novel into a full-length animated film.  Dr. Seuss's widow worked on the project, ensuring that it would stay true to her late husband's vision.  The two main characters in the movie were shout-outs to Mr. and Mrs. Seuss.


The movie was very entertaining.  There was plenty of singing to enthrall young kids, slapstick comedy reminiscent of the 3 Stooges to captivate older kids, and deeper humor (along with a few political messages) to keep adults laughing.  My favorite line (paraphrasing from memory):  "If a boy does something stupid once, well, he's a boy.  It's to be expected.  If he does the same stupid thing twice, then it's for a girl."


Yet throughout, it was able to maintain its cautious duel warning to safeguard our planet from overuse and that one person really can make a difference.  Its a fun yet sobering movie that I plan on one day owning.

Why Young Adults Don't Go To Church Part Two

Yesterday, I posted part one of Why Young Adults Don't Go To Church.  If you haven't read it, read part one before you read part two.  Not all churches fall into these traps, but enough do that I think I can call these generalities.  Again, these lists are not comprehensive, but if you feel I've missed a major issue, comment and let me know.  If you think I've gotten one wrong or am completely misinterpreting or skewing the facts, again, comment and let me know.  This is a topic that is really important to me and I'd love some dialogue.

Adult/College Life and Church Life Don't Run On The Same Schedule

Think back to your days as a twenty-something, whether it was 5 years ago, 10, or if you're still in that life stage.  When do most "things" happen, be it dates, game nights, or whatever tickles your fancy.  It's usually on a Saturday night.  It's a good time to relax and blow off steam.  It's a good time to truly enjoy the weekend.

With a 2 1/2 year old, I don't get out much on Saturday nights anymore.  Before her though, it was pretty regular to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. playing cards, risk, or guitar hero.  I'd get what essentially a nap before I had to drag myself out of bed to start set-up for church.  There were plenty of mornings when I would finish up my task, try and find a quiet little corner, and take a nap.  It doesn't surprise me that Sunday mornings have such a sparse population of young adults.

Christians Are Hypocrites

Nothing turns you away from a person's viewpoint quicker than if that person's actions don't align with their words.  Unfortunately, there are people in the church who don't lead by example.  As evident by the #Occupy movement, there are a lot of younger adults are fed up with society, and when they see similar injustices and lack of integrity in the church, it turns them off.

We're Distracted And Exhausted

Between school work and holding down a job or two so we don't drown ourselves in school debt, many young adults have a lot on their plate.  Depending on what life stage their in, add marriage, kids or a full-time job to the mix and you have no time.  It's exhausting.

Add to this convoluted mess the sheer plethora of marketing, messages, and information that young adults are constantly bombarded with, and it's easy to see why so many young adults are dropping out of church.

Young Adults Are Full Of Skepticism

It wasn't that long ago that atheism was looked at as laughable or intellectually unfulfilling.  But that's not the case anymore.  Now, to many people, Christianity seems laughable and intellectually unfulfilling.  To many people, it seems as if you have to check your brain at the church door.  Too many church leaders expect the members of their congregations to take what they say as truth; not enough time is spent on apologetics, the study of why we believe what we believe.

To top it off, there is a constant barrage of media messages, all trying to sell something.  So when they are approached by a Christian, their defenses automatically go up, assuming that the Christian is trying to "sell' them something or take advantage of them in one way or another.  The only way to breach that barrier is by doing things the Jesus way--genuinely befriend them and let time show your actions and motives to be pure.

They Were Never There In The First Place

One of the biggest contributing factors to the lack of young adults in the church is that they were never in the church to begin with!  This generation is one of the most unchurched generations in a long time.  It's not just that young adults are turning away from the church, they were never there to begin with.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Young Adults Don't Go To Church

There is a spiritual problem in the current generation of young adults (which happens to be the generation I'm a part of).  Many young adults are not connected to a church.  There is a multitude of different reasons, but the majority of them boil down to a few generalizations.  This is part one; part two is coming.  If you think I missed a point or if you think I'm completely off-base, let me know.  This is an important topic to me, so I appreciate any thoughts you have.

Who Wants To Be Talked At?

The format of most Sunday morning morning church services is heavy on preaching.  There's nothing wrong with preaching per se, but it's not a format many young adults connect with.  Don't misunderstand me, there are times when preaching is the best format to download information to a group of people, but a less didactic technique should be pursued more often than it is.  Teaching and discussion helps the typical person retain much more.

Teaching and discussion are also more engaging.  Ask the average twenty-something if they get the daily paper.  Chances are very low that they do.  Why?  Something like a blog or Facebook post allows for the spread of the same news, but in a much more interactive and engaging way.  The passivity involved in sitting back and listening to a lecture (sermon) doesn't captivate the attention of most young adults.  The Gospel must stay the same, but way in which it is communicated should remain fluid, not stagnant.

Young Adults Don't Feel Like They Belong

People like to feel like we belong.  We are social creatures, and we usually seek out those that are most like us.  The fewer and fewer less adults there are in the church as a whole means that fewer and fewer young adults are going to take themselves inside the four walls of their local church building.  There are plenty of activities for the elderly, for men and women, for families, for youth and children, but the young adult demographic gets skipped over.

This is one that resonates with me.  I accepted the position of Youth Pastor with a church as an unmarried young adult.  It took me over two years to feel like I fit in.  There wasn't even a handful of young adults in the church; me and one other person.  Most of the church's activities were geared towards families.  That left me out of the loop unless I wanted to babysit.  I was already working for as low as $2.50 and hour--no way was I going to give more time to babysit.

Believe it or not, my thoughts to overcome this problem are not more separation but more cross-generational integration.  What made me feel like I belonged was a varied group of people--a family unit in more ways than one.  Thanks to Maus, Ronett, Brandy, Connie, Ed, Andy, Marc and Kelli, I actually felt like I belonged (and of course all of the wonderful kids).  I felt like part of the family and truly felt that I belonged.

There's No Bridge To "Big Church"

This one area that I know for certain I have contributed to in a negative way while serving as a youth pastor.  In America, we like to segment our ministries.  We have a children's ministry.  A youth ministry.  A men's ministry.  A women's ministry.  Singles, convalescent, and, occasionally, a young adult's ministry.

I think that's okay to have all of them separated out sometimes into the affinity-based groups, but we do it too much.  They feel like part of the youth group, but feel out of place amongst the church body a whole.  There's not enough integration, especially when it comes to youth.  Maybe it's because we feel the youth will get bored with the sermon in "big church" (though, if the youth are bored with it, there's a decent chance the rest of the congregation isn't paying much attention, either).  Maybe they don't dress right or nice enough to be included with the rest of the congregation.  Maybe they're too ADHD and off the walls.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

And when they become full-fledged adults, there's not much to keep them at church, especially if they move away for college.  They need help with finances, with meeting new people, a care package, or even free pizza.  But there are few churches offering those things, and with no real sense of belonging to a church as a whole

We've Been Hurt

This one is a biggie, which is why I've saved it until last (for today, at least).  It's also one I deeply identify with.  Some people feel rejected by the church because they've been ostracized for dressing differently, not knowing enough of the secret, Christian language known as "Christianese," or asking too many of the difficult questions.  Maybe they've had doubts or been unsure of themselves and were met with ridicule instead of a friend to listen to them and help sort everything out.  Maybe a well-meaning individual responded to a deep, traumatic issue in a way that devalued that person during a time when they already felt vulnerable.  Maybe they were abused in one way or another.  Who knows.

The list of hurts goes on and on, but many pastors unrealistically expect believers to get over their trust issues overnight.  It doesn't work that way, especially when most churches never seek forgiveness for the wrongs they have in one way or another perpetrated.

Stopping these hurts is only part of the solution; people will fail and individuals will be hurt by churches.  When that occurs, when we see encounter someone who bears a grudge toward the church, we leaders must be proactive in seeking forgiveness, even if we were not the actual ones to do the harm.  Healing cannot happen until forgiveness does.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow, and again, please let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Luke, I am your father!"

That is one of the most famous lines from the Star Wars saga...yet it was never uttered, much like many of these movie misquotes:




People remember what they want to remember, when they want to remember it.  When it comes to God, people have a tendency to misremember and misquote Him.  In the same vein as misquotes are the numerous instances where people like to take the Bible out of context.  One Bible verse that I really don't like because of how often well-meaning yet slightly ignorant/lazy Christians tear it out of context is Jeremiah 29:11:  "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Taken out of context, that seems like a great verse to have prayed over you.  But if you take it in context of the letter that God has Jeremiah write to the exiles...it doesn't quite seem like something you want prayed over you:

1 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
 4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I CARRIED INTO EXILE from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.
 10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.  I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”      (excessive emphasis mine.)

God forcibly uprooted these people from their homes, carried them into captivity, and told them they would remain there for 70 years.  It puts the 11th verse in a much different perspective.

The more that I hear that verse and think about in the overall context, the more I begin to become "okay" with the fact that God does stuff like that to His people.  I don't like it, but God knows more than I do, so I need to trust his plan for everything.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Red Planet, Here We Come!

Sweet!  I could potentially retire on Mars!  I knew about Virgin and the handfull of other companies racing to close the gap to be the pioneers of the first true space tourism market, but I had not heard that plans were in the works by a private company to take people to Mars.  Way to conquer the final frontier, SpaceX! 

They're a company that is currently contracted with NASA for 12 flights to the International Space Station.  I guess after that they'll be gearing up for a Mars trip.  According to an interview with BBC, their plan is to get the cost of a trip to Mars down to $500,000 a person.  While that is definitely more than I could ever afford, it's a while lot better than the nearly $50,000,000 NASA currently pays Russia to take a single American to the ISS aboard one of their rockets.

As a self-pronounced geek, I find this titillating.  Maybe when I'm an octogenarian I'll be able to get a job as a tour guide or something with them and spend some time on another planet!  It amazes me to see how tangible this is.  One hundred years ago flight was still in its infancy, and now inter-planetary travel could be somewhat common for the rich by the end of my life-time.  I wonder if any of my great-grandkids will listen to the call of the unknown and colonize the Red Planet?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Who Doesn't Love A Good Story?

My wife and I had a good evening last nightt.  Except for the part where we went to Starbucks, got our drinks, sat down to relax, and were told that they will be closed in four minutes.  What kind of Starbucks closes at 8:00 on a Friday night?

We made our way to Barnes and Noble, drinks in hand, and sat down to read together.  We sat down and read a portion of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, which is my favorite play of all time.

I'm not an avid fan of plays; I've probably only read or seen a dozen and a half plays, if that.  From what I have read, however, Sophocles is by far my favorite playwright.  Shakespeare, one of his biggest competitors, falls short.

To me, Shakespeare always seemed a little pretentious.  Maybe that stems from the type of people who go around quoting Shakespeare, maybe it's because Shakespeare neglected a thesaurus and instead decided to make up nearly 2,000 words, expecting his audience to comprehend.

But there's a deeper draw to the tragedy of Sophocles.  A man who plucks out his own eyes after discovering the grotesque life he has inadvertently led.  Another who tries to kill his enemies, but is temporarily blinded, slaughters livestock instead, then kills himself for his inablity to wreak havoc on his foes.  It's epic.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Titanoboa: King of Snakes

Note: This behemoth is NOT a prop or marketing gimmick
from Hollywood's latest sub-par Anaconda sequel; this
gigantic thing is a life size model!
I would SO own one of these giant snakes for a pet.  The Titanoboa was the largest snake ever to slither its scaly body across the prehistoric past.  This monstrosity grew to a length of 40-50 feet long, approximately three feet in diameter, and weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 pounds

Currently, the life-size model created by the Smithsonian is on display in Grand Central Station in New York.

Please pass this fun information on to anyone with a paralyzing phobia of snakes.  Now they just need to find a 10-foot tall Tarantula to make the nightmare complete.  For a fun, hypothetical mash-up of extinct reptiles, check out this video


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Making A Difference

It feels good to make a difference.  I don't want to get into an argument as to whether or not philanthropic efforts are truly altruistic or whether they are much more narcissistic than we'd like to admit.  I want to focus on the fact that when we help others, it brings us fulfillment.

One thing my wife and I tried to do weekly (before we were married and were working full-time) was to take a hot meal to the homeless.  We'd cook something, grab some cold drinks, and head out to find someone in need.  Everyone was grateful, and most wanted to talk.  So we did.  Occasionally, we were able to sit down and share a meal with the person.  Some people we saw just once, others we were able to take to more and build a friendship.  It was awesome to be able to minister to them in such a tangible way.

Next time you see someone in need, don't just look the other way.  Don't just dig in your wallet for a $5 or a $10.  Slow down and stop.  Talk with them.  Share a meal.  Get to know them.  Make a difference in their lives, and allow them to make a difference in yours.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

One of my favorite stories: Njal's Saga


Njal's Saga was my first introduction to Norse literature, and I don't think I could have picked a better place to start.  Before I get into what makes this story so worthwhile, I want to delve into the Icelandic Sagas themselves.  The sagas are a large selection of stories--49 of them to be exact, along with multiple short tales.  The action in the sagas takes place anywhere from the 9th century to the 11th, though they weren't written down until the 13th and 14th century.  Essentially, they were the precursor to the European novel.  They were written as prose, not poetry, albeit rather sparse in much of its description.  You never see inside the minds of the characters, rather, the story is moved along primarily by simple dialogue.  Unlike many of its popular poetic cousins, such as the Nibelungenlied, it did not tell the tales of kings and queens.  Iceland lacked kings and queens; it was a land of farmers, whom the sagas focus on.

Njal's Saga has a diverse group of characters.  There is Njal, wise lawyer and farmer; Gunnar, the mighty warrior with an aversion to killing; the manipulative Mord; beautiful Hallgerd who seems to have no regard for the lives of others; the noble Kari.  Nearly every archetypal character is present to some degree or another.

The saga opens with the betrothal of Hrut to Unn.  Before the marriage occurs, however, Hrut goes away to raid and pillage across northern Europe like any good Scandinavian did.  He is not faithful to his bride-to-be, and when the woman he has an affair with finds out, she curses his upcoming marriage.  Early on in the marriage, things fall apart and Hrut and Unn divorce.  The dowry that Unn's father paid to Hrut should revert back to her father, but Hrut challenges his former father-in-law to a duel over the dowry, an act which is perfectly within Icelandic law.  But because of his reputation, Hrut's challenged goes unanswered.

The saga then follows Hrut's niece, Hallgerd, a woman of impeccable beauty, through her first two marriages; they both end with the death of her husbands.  They are killed by Hallgerd's foster-father in response to arguments between the married couples.  Hrut, proving himself to have some honor and compassion, avenges the two deaths by killing Hallgerd's foster-father, despite the blood ties between the two men.

The saga then changes focus to Gunnar and his close friend Njal--the two main characters in the epic.  Hrut is an outstanding warrior and Njal is one of the wisest lawyers in the country.  In disguise, Gunnar goes to Hrut's farm and tricks Hrut into starting the legal process to reclaim Unn's dowry from Hrut.  Using the same threat of force used by Hrut, Gunnar manhandles Hrut into giving the dowry back.

Despite such tenuous beginnings, a bond of friendship develops between Gunnar and Hrut, enough that Hrut intercedes on Gunnar's behalf to make a formal marriage proposal for Hrut's niece, Hallgerd.  Despite the warnings of both Hrut and Njal, Gunnar marries Hallgerd.

Not too long after their marriage, Hallgerd and Bergthora (Njal's wife) find themselves in an angry dispute.  Hallgerd escalates things when she charms a newcomer to her farm to go and kill one of Njal's men.  Retaliation and vengeance are had by both women in constant escalation while their husbands Gunnar and Njal settle with each other each time and remain on excellent terms.

Things come to a head when Hallgerd has the foster-father of Njal's sons is killed.  One final act of vengeance occurs; Thrain, a kinsman of Gunnar and Hallgerd, is present for this final act, an event that will deepen later conflict.

The saga then turns towards Gunnar's feuds.  The first of these is caused by his wife--no surprise there.  She has one of their slaves break in and steal from the house of an unsavory man named Otkell.  While chastising his wife for her harmful actions, he slaps her.  Hallgerd promises to repay him one day.  Gunnar then tries to make immediate amends with Otkell, but his offer is refused.  With Njal's help, Gunnar wins the ensuing lawsuit.

The narrative then winds its way amongst the rest of Gunnar's plentiful blood fueds; the lives of many men are given up so that each man may attain the honor he believes is due to him.  While Gunnar is at the forefront of these events, a shadowy figure worms his way behind the scenes, manipulating situations to the disadvantage of Gunnar.  This man's name is Mord.  He is the daughter of Unn, the first wife Hrut.  The same Unn whom Gunnar reclaimed a dowry for.  (If you ever wondered where Tolkien recieved inspiration from for some of his complicated genealogies, look no further).  Mord despises Gunnar, and learns that Njal prophesied that if Gunnar killed twice in the same family, it would cause his death.

Like a masterful chess player, Mord maneuvers and manipulates people with grudges against Gunnar until Gunnar is forced to kill again to save his own life.  As part of his punishment, Gunnar is forced to leave Iceland for three years; if does not comply with this, he will be labeled as an outlaw and anyone who wishes to kill him without fear of legal recourse.

As Gunnar is departing, he is overcome with love for his homeland, and opts to stay instead of leave.  Knowing the time has come, Mord gathers together a large force of people who still hold a grudge against Gunnar.  The small army attacks Gunnar in his home where he fends them off until his bowstring is cut.  He implores his wife for a strand of her hair to restring his bow with but she refuses, enacting her revenge for the slap she received from her husband.  Finally, Gunnar is slain after collapsing from exhaustion.  He has killed two and wounded 16 others.

On behalf of the fallen Gunnar, as well as his family and friends, Njal helps institute a settlement to prevent further bloodshed.  Conflict doesn't stop there, however.  It continues with the introduction of Kari and revisiting the minor bit that Thrain had in the killing of the foster-father of Njal's sons.  For this and another episode that brought shame and discomfort to Njal's sons, they ambush and attack Thrain.  Njal, the master politician, helps arrange a settlement that is agreeable to both sides.  Part of the settlement involves Njal adopting Thrain's son Hoskuld as his foster-son.  Njal loves the boy and raises him well, eventually finding him a wife named Hildigunn.  In the process, Njal alters the political structure of Iceland and is able to bestow a formal "chieftain" title on his foster-son Hoskuld.  During this tangent that describes how the "modern" Iceland of the author's time came to be, the coming of Christianity to Iceland is also recounted.

Finding himself forgotten as a chieftain, grows jealous of Hoskuld's power.  He manipulates Kari and Njal's sons into attacking and killing Hoskuld while he is planting a field.  Flosi, Hoskuld's wife's uncle, is chosen to take vengeance.  A settlement is nearly reached at the Althing, a yearly assembly of local leaders, until peace talks break down from an insult by Njal's grim and fatalistic son, Skarp-hedinn.  Both sides leave the Althing knowing that this will only be settled by blood.

Flosi leads a 100-man army to attack Njal's farm, which is only held by 30 men.  Flosi allows the women to leave unharmed, though one of Njal's sons is beheaded for disguising himself and trying to escape with the women.  Flosi then implores Njal and his wife to leave the farm so that they are not killed; they stay because they would rather die with their children and grandson.  Even though it is dishonorable, Flosi knows the easiest and quickest way to win is to burn the farm down, so he does.  Kari is able to escape, but none of Njal's sons are able to, nor is Kari's son Thord.  Flosi knows Kari will take vengeance upon Flosi and all present for the burning.

At the next Althing, both sides gather to settle the dispute.  Flosi's side bribes one of the finest lawyers in all of Iceland to represent their side, while Kari blackmails Mord for his side.  Kari is also backed by Thorhall, a foster-son of Njal and the best lawyer in Iceland.  Thorhall is kept away from the legal battle, however, because his infected leg prevents him from walking very well.

The legal battle then follows, each side drawing proverbial blood while drawing upon laws and statutes that seem rather archaic at times.  Finally, Thorhall has had enough.  He lances his boil and escalates the legal battle to a physical one.  Several people die, including Flosi's brother-in-law.  Eventually a few clear-minded men are able to separate the two sides and garner a peace agreement.  One man, Hall of Sida, refuses compensation for his newly slain son in order to bring about peace.  Moved by his sacrifice, all but Kari and Njal's nephew Thorgeir agree to the settlement.  All of those who had a hand in Njal's burning are exiled.

The final chapters of the saga detail how Kari hunts the burners down, both within the borders of Iceland and abroad.  One of my favorite moment of the saga is when Kari hunts one of the burners down to the Orkney islands.  The burner is sitting in an Earl's hall while giving a very slanderous account of those killed in the burning.  Kari cuts him down in the middle of his story.

As Kari is returning to Iceland, he is shipwrecked.  He goes to Flosi for help, and the two are reconciled.  Kari marries Flosi's daughter, Hoskuld's widow, and we get the equivalent of a medieval "happily ever after."

Njal's Saga is a beautifully complex tale of vengeance and reconciliation.  Some of the characters, such as Gunnar and Njal, were more than likely real people.  Other characters were pure fiction.  Some events such as the advent of Christianity and the beginning of the Fifth Court actually happened, while other events are fanciful.

This is the first of the Icelandic sagas I read, and it has been the best of the nearly dozen I have had the pleasure of reading.  It's too bad that the sagas are ignored by the education system; they should be required reading alongside Beowulf, The Odyssey and Shakespeare.  The sagas are one-in-a-kind prose that sweep you away to the lives of farmers in medieval Iceland.  I have yet to read a bad saga, though Brennu-Njáls saga is by far the best of them all.  It is definitely worth a read.


Man, we've got a cool planet

With the exception of Paleontology, I've never been a fan of Geology or any of the Earth Sciences.  Then I took a Geology course a few semesters ago.  Didn't change much.  It give me a better understanding of how this massive planet we live on works.  I've gotta say, we've got a cool planet.

I found a graphic about a week ago that puts it beautifully.  I don't know why, but I can't post the image here and the HTML code won't display it, so I'll have to link it instead.  This awesome planet we've been blessed with is really amazing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What we know


There is an old proverb that says "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."  It might have been a crazy history teacher who coined the phrase in order to validate his position, or it might have been a wizened old sensei that looked like a mesh of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Gandalf.  Who knows.

I do think there is some truth to the statement.  If we ignore the past, then we will be ignorant of the mistakes of our ancestors and much more likely to repeat them.  But if we learn from them, then we will become a much healthier society.

The same is true for ourselves.  If we completely ignore our past mistakes, then we are doomed to repeatedly fail.  But if we own our mistakes and learn from them, we will become better people.

How well do you learn from your own history?

How well do you learn from the collective history of mankind?  I was forwarded this test.  Supposedly, "the average score for all 2,508 Americans taking the [preceding] test was 49 %; college educators scored 55%.  Can you do better?  Questions were drawn from past Intercollegiate Studies Institute surveys, as well as other nationally recognized exams."

Take it, see how well you do, and leave a comment with your score.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fooling Ourselves

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" Hebrews 4:12-13

Humans are prone to lying.  We lie to make ourselves look better, to get even, or to get out of a tough situation.  We even lie to ourselves.  If we lie to ourselves often enough, we can start to believe it.  I've done it more often than I'd like to admit.  Sometimes I realize that I've fooled myself, sometimes I've convinced myself of the lie.

But we can never fool God.  He sees our motives.  He knows why we do what we do.  He knows if we are being altruistic or selfish.  He knows if we are lying or not.  Food for thought.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Giddy as a School Girl

Thanks to a recent announcement from the History Channel, I'm as giddy as a school girl.  The History Channel, in conjunction with a few other organizations, is set to start filming a series entitled Vikings, which, as the title gives away, focuses on the fearsome Norse culture which terrorized Europe from the end of the eighth century into the eleventh century.

The series will focus on Ragnar Lothbrok, one of the most brutally effective Vikings of his day.  He rose to prominence, united tribes, and established a kingdom in France, periodically threatening to invade the rest of France if they didn't pay him enough ransom.  Once they paid, he usually invaded anyways.  This is my theory, but I think this may be the start of why every French person is terrified of anyone with a Teutonic heritage.

Unlike many shows and movies that portray Vikings as uncultured barbarians, Vikings is from the perspective of the Vikings themselves.  Hopefully this will eliminate much of the historical skew that peppers the History Channel.

It is being filmed in Ireland and at other sites throughout Northern Europe.  Vikings is set to premiere sometime in 2013, during a week I will undoubtedly drink from only my horn, use the runic "thorn" character in place of "th," and occasionally challenge people to duels.  I  It will be epic.

For the original article that brought me sunshine on this cloudy day, visit this web page.

James


I really like the book of James.  He has a way of really connecting with his readers.  Ultimately, I think this stems from who he was as a minister.  He wasn’t raised as a Christian.  Jesus was his brother, but James didn’t come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah until sometime after the death and resurrection of Christ.

Once he believed, James really dug into the meat of Christianity.  He became the head of the Jerusalem church, which was basically the center of Christianity.  It’s where some of the largest debates, such as the circumcision controversy Paul references in several of his letters.  Jerusalem was also a victim of Roman brutality do to Roman-Jewish conflicts.  While the Bible doesn’t speak of James’ death, tradition says that as Roman soldiers drug him out of a church, it was noticed that his knees had become bloody and raw from the sheer volume of time he spent on his knees in prayer.  James wasn’t some theologian sitting in the high ivory tower of academia; he was in the trenches of ministry.  He lived, breathed, and eventually died for his faith in Christ.

The book of James is about real conditions in the church.  Real temptations.  Real trials that people face everyday.  James, speaking from the trenches of ministry, tells us how to practically live out our lives as Christians.  While healing to wounds of the broken and destitute, he delves into the true nature of Christian wisdom.  No matter what mile-marker you happen to be standing next to on the road with Christ, it’s full of great advice for the everyday Christian.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nibelungenlied

The title of "Nibelungenlied" is quite a mouthful to say aloud.  Nearly as complex is its story, woven together from two independent and loosely related sources.  The first half relates the story of Siegfried wooing his future wife, Kriemhild.  In order to secure her hand in marriage, he has to help Kriemhild's brother, King Gunther, woo his own infatuation, Brunhild, Queen of Iceland.

In order for Gunther to gain Brunhild's permission for marriage, Gunther must beat the incredibly strong Brunhild in a series of strength tests so difficult that only one man could pass: Siegfried.  So Siegfried dons his cloak of invisibility and lends a hand to Gunther.  With the aid of his friend, Gunther is able to win the fearsome yet stunning Brunhild as his bride.  They sail back to Gunther's homeland and have a double wedding ceremony:  Gunther and Brunhild alongside Siegfried and Kriemhild.

Marriage problems arise early on for Gunther and Brunhild.  The source of Brunhild's incredible strength is her virginity, and in order for Gunther to consummate his marriage, he must overcome Brunhild by force.  It is her final test to ensure her husband is the worthy man she requires.  After being tied up all night by his new wife, Gunther again enlists the help of Siegfried, who in the guise of his invisibility cloak, holds Brunhild down so that Gunther may finally consummate his marriage (in the original source, it is likely that Siegfried himself deflowered the new queen).  Unbeknownst to Gunther or Brunhild, Siegfried take one of Brunhild's rings, a symbol of her virginity, and gifts it to his own new bride.

Everything is going fine, except that Brunhild erroneously believes Siegfried to be Gunther's vassal (for that is how he was introduced to Brunhild during the contest for her hand in marriage), and she is appalled at how Siegfried and his wife do not show enough honor and respect to Gunther and Brunhild.  It finally erupts into a public arguement between the two wives, each fighting for respect and honor for their own husband.  Kriemhild, in full view of everyone around, displays the ring that Siegfried gave her, showing the court that Gunther was not man enough to consummate his marriage by himself.

Shamed, Brunhild begs Gunther to avenge her dishonor by killing Siegfried, the man who was responsible for saving Gunther's kingdom and winning Gunther his bride.  Gunther finally concedes, and helps to ambush Siegfried while they are on a hunting party.  Hagen, one of Gunther's best men, had previously tricked Kriemhild into revealing the one spot on Siegfried's body where his skin was not impenetrable.

Kriemhild is overcome with grief and every thought is consumed with getting revenge for her fallen husband.  Eventually, she is approached by a powerful king named Etzel.  History better knows him as Attila the Hun.  His first wife has died, and he has heard that Kriemhild's beauty is surpassed by none.  Finally, she agrees and leaves her Germanic homeland for that of Poland.  While there, she rules well, but is still consumed with revenge.  She is able to trick her brothers and Hagen into coming to Poland.  While there, she entices one of her vassals to slaughter the squires of Gunther and his knights; she also manipulates her son into striking Hagen.  In retaliation, Hagen decapitates the boy, and with the prince brutally executed in front of everyone, all out war begins.  King Etzel's forces are completely outdone; their superior numbers mean nothing.  Finally Dietrich, a displaced Gothic king, comes to Etzel's aid and finally captures the two remaining foes: Gunther and Hagen.  He delivers them bound to Etzel.  Kriemhild, out of enraged over her lost treasure and murder of her first husband, decapitates her brother Gunther.  She brings his head to Hagen, whom she then decapitates.  Furious at the shameful treatment of guests, Hildebrand, mentor of Dietrich, kills Kriemhild, thus completing the cycle of vengeance and murder.

"Nibelungenlied" is a fairly long poem, longer than Beowulf--the classic by which most other Teutonic epics are compared to.  It is a very finely polished poem, though there are areas where you can see the final author debating between tradition and plot element which his Christian audience will not find offensive, such as whether or not Siegfried raped Brunhild and Kriemhild knowingly throwing her son's life away to start a fight with Hagen.

It is a masterpiece to be sure, but there are a few places where the story lags.  That's really my only criticism of the piece.  Anyone interested in medieval Germanic literature beyond that of Beowulf will find this entertaining.  If Beowulf is not to your liking, however, then you will probably find this rather boring.

"Nibelungenlied" has been compared to a German Iliad for its portrayal of ancient, semi-forgotten mythical characters.  This story was the basis for Wagner's famous Ring Cycle.  In my opinion, it's worth the read.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

A few weeks ago I finished "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," a 14th century medieval epic poem based on Arthurian legend.  For being a classic, and my nearly insatiable appetite for medieval literature, it didn't keep my attention that well.  The basic premise is that the Green Knight, this guy empowered with magic from Morgan Le Fay, is sent to test the integrity of King Aurthur and his knights.  Gawain accepts the challenge and puts his own life on the line.  But, true to chivalrous fashion, he passes with only a slight blemish on his record.

The concept itself is fun; I really liked the "beheading game" aspect of the plot.  The translation was superb--it was in modern English, yet it retained much of the alliteration and rhyming scheme of the original language.

Still, overall it wasn't as good as I had expected it to be.  "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is worth the read if it's your forte, but otherwise, skip it.

Day 0.5

So, this whole getting healthier thing...it's not quite going the way I'd like it to.  Eating healthier isn't too difficult, consuming smaller portions is all mental, but what I'd really like to do but I'm not is to exercise  I'm going to blame the rain for hindering a morning walk.  No, I'm not joining a gym.  Anyone have any ideas for cardio that I can do in an upstairs apartment?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Treasure


Imagine that you are minding your own business when a friend approaches you.  Not just any friend, but a close friend, a trustworthy friend, an honest friend.  Someone who is not prone to wild tales or fanciful lies.  This friend tells you that there is an immense treasure buried in a field—a million dollars in gold!  But they don’t just give you ambiguous generalities, they give you the address of the field, and tell you it’s on the north side of a shrub.  They tell you the treasure is in a chest buried twenty feet down and give you all the tools you will need.  They even offer you their help if you want it.  You take the picks and shovels and head out.  You pull up to the field, locate the shrub and start digging.  You get one foot down.  Then two.  Then five.  Then ten.  But it’s hot; you want something to drink.  You get down to 12 feet.  You’re hungry.  You get down to 15 feet, but you’re tired.  You get down to 18 feet, but your back starts to hurt.  You get to 19 feet, just one foot away!  But you stop to rest, get something to eat, something to drink, to get out of that hot, beating sun.  You know that it’s only another foot or so down, but you begin to question whether or not this treasure is worth it.  It would be really nice to just get home, take a nice, refreshing shower, and relax on the couch.  So you decide to pack up and head home.  You decide the treasure just isn’t worth it.
It’s kind of ridiculous to think that someone would give up when they are so close to something so valuable, but too often, we as Christians do the same thing with God.  We know exactly where He’s at.  We know how to connect with Him, but we stop short.  We get tired.  We get busy.  We get distracted by everything around us.  We don’t dig deep enough, and we fall short and accept a mediocre (at best) walk with Christ.

But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” James 4:6-10 NASB

Five Guys Burger

Note: This is not an actual picture of my food.  I was hungry
and at it all.

Yeah, I'm trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to eat healthier, but yesterday I decided to break down and I took my wife to Five Guys Burgers in Vacaville for a lunch date (Note: my wife disagrees with the terminology "eating healthier" because she views portion control as different from eating healthier). It was some grubbin food.

The menu was a little different, because a "little cheeseburger" is full size, but there is only one burger patty.  A regular has two.  I like their thinking.

My wife ordered a "little cheeseburger" and I had a double patty bacon cheeseburger.  We split an order of large fries and a drink.  I've heard some great things about Five Guys, but read some not too flattering reviews of the place online.  After eating there myself, I'm not sure why I saw any negative reviews.  They are amazing!  The bacon was cooked to perfection, I received a heaping portion of grilled and regular onions, the fries were some of the best I've ever had.  Crunchy on the outside, still fluffy in the middle, and more salt than is normally put on fries.

The atmosphere of the restaurant a quaint, 1950's-esque diner.  Very much like a quieter, more expensive version of In-N-Out.

That brings me to my final point and the only negative: price.  For a burger joint like Five Guys, I think $20 is a little expensive for two burgers, a large order of fries and a drink.  Mouthwatering food, but pricey.  Not sure when I will be back because of cost, but I will definitely be back.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Day Zero

If eating and being healthy was easy, we'd have an entire nation of skinny people.  Instead, America's shape is round.  As a person who enjoys salty and fried foods too much, I am as guilty as the next person of overindulging in substances that are mislabeled as "food" instead of "toxic waste."

But I want to live a long and healthy life, and I don't like the idea of having to go in for surgery every few years for a quadruple bypass.  Works for my grandfather, I'm sure it will work for me, but I don't want to risk it.

I've been trying (somewhat successfully) to eat a little healthier.  Unfortunately, the next step involves me getting off my too large butt and getting more exercise.  Don't misunderstand, I'm not against exercise--I love it.  But with my schedule the way it is, I have Saturday nights, Sunday afternoon/night, and a precious hour or two in the evenings that I can call "mine."

So, I'm going to try and be more active and to eat healthier.  We will see what tomorrow brings--hopefully an improvement.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Digging In



“Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:7-10)
Man, when God show that to me a month or two ago, it hit me like a brick.  The simplicity of it is beautiful.  If we want to dig in and draw closer to God, this is what we need to do.  We need to submit ourselves to God.  We need to treat Him as Lord and Savior of our lives.  Mere lip service is inadequate.  It’s nowhere near enough.
We need to resist the devil.  Whenever he puts some temptation into our mind, when he tries to get us to fall, to stumble, to sin, we need to resist it.  Don’t entertain any “what-if” thoughts.  We need to take that thought captive and throw it out of our mind.  We have God on our side, and the devil is afraid of God’s power.  If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.  It’s really that simple.  If you’re going through a dry spell, if you want to dig deep in your walk with God, then draw near to Him.  He will draw near to you.
But as a part of digging in and drawing near to Him, we need to cleanse ourselves.  We need to purify ourselves.  God will definitely help, but I truly believe that as a part of drawing nearer to Him, we need to initiate that process.  And part of that does involve us being miserable, mourning, and weeping, as James put it.  Part of that does involve our laughter turning into mourning and our joy turning into gloom.  Why is that?  It’s because it’s all a part of the process of repentance and humbling ourselves.

Government

I found this and figured I'd pass it along.

 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How do you measure a life?

How do you measure a life?  How much cash you have stashed underneath your mattress?  How many kids you have?  How well your in-laws like you?  How many people come to your funeral?  How many times you've prestiged in the newest edition of Call of Duty 8: War of 1812?  What does it mean to truly live?  This day by day existence where we inch along, doing the same things day after day can't be all there is.

I think the value of your life is measured by how many other lives you touch, and how you touch them.  I think this raises a few good questions:

  • When your time is up, how do you want to be remembered?
  • How do you want to be measured?
  • If you were to die today, how would you be remembered?  How would your life be measured?

"Every man dies, not every man really lives."--Mel Gibson in his faux Scottish accent as William Wallace

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mythology

Mythology has fascinated me since I was young.  It saddens me to admit, but what kicked off my interest was Disney's movie Hercules.  After it came out, I remember many days where I ignored recess in favor of reading overviews and generalizations from the breadth of the Greco-Roman pagan pantheon.

In the fifteen years since that spark was first kindled, I've grown and developed a deeper appreciation for the mythology of various cultures.  Despite a few common themes, the stories are as varied at the people who originated them.They're captivating, funny, and, at times, disturbing.

My favorite involves Loki tricking a blind man into throwing mistletoe hard enough at his own brother.

Anyone out there have a favorite myth?

Reflections

We're not perfect, are we?  I know I'm not, and, no offense, but I assume you're not either.  I've got my own issues that I need to work through.  We all do.  One of the big ones, one I will probably have to deal with till the day I die, is my dislike to let things go.  I've gotten better, but there's still a lot of work to do.

As of late, I've been reflecting on my past life decisions.  Some I would do again in an instant (love you Destree!), some I wish I could change, and for other decisions, I wish I could have the best of both worlds.  I wish I could have had both options.  I guess what it boils down to is my desire to create my own life.

On the surface, that sounds fine, doesn't it? It sounds normal.  But as a Christian, it doesn't quite work out that way.  God and I don't always see eye to eye.  God's ways are not my ways.  His thoughts are not my thoughts.  (Paraphrase of Isaiah 55:8-9).  He has different plans for me.  And I'm following them to the best of my ability.  But sometimes, I want things to go my way, not God's.  That can be damaging, because then I tend to view everything through a negative lens.  I might view aspects of my life as barren when in fact they are luscious and green.

It's all about your view.  Really, it doesn't matter if your perspective is pessimistic, optimistic, or realistic, if your view is focusing on behind you, what's already happened instead of facing forward and embracing the opportunities God has placed before you, then you're not living the life God has called you to.


Personally, I need to let go of the fact that I underutilized some truly amazing opportunities God gave me.  He has now blessed me with different and better opportunities.  "Both" is not usually one of the options God gives us.


Am I alone out here?  Or does anyone else have occasional problems with letting go and letting the past rest in silence?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

No!

A few years ago Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan starred in a movie called Cop Out.  I never saw it, but I heard it was mediocre at best.  What I do remember, however, is the preview.  Willis and Morgan play two cops who have a suspect in the back seat of their car.  The suspect says "Knock, knock."  Tracy Morgan's character goes on a minute long rant of saying "no."  Once he's finished, Willis replies Who's there?"  That scene, at least, is hilarious.

Have you ever just wanted to tell someone "no" like that before?  I know I have.  Some people are great at telling others "no."  Some people have a hard time drawing the line and feel that they have to say 'yes."  I, unfortunately, fall in the latter half.  I find it difficult to say no.

At a former church I used to attend, I found myself burned out because of my inability to say no.  Truth be told, it led to me feeling that I had been taken advantage of; feelings of distrust and resentment built up.  Not good.  I've learned that it can be difficult to admit that you have limits and can't do everything, but it was not a pleasant lesson to learn.  Learn it the easy waypossible.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Memory

Memory is kind of a big deal.  There are supplements you can take to help improve your memory.  We rue the slow march of time that threatens to eat away at this precious resource.  But memory loss doesn't wait to hit us when we're old; it can hit us rather young.

Spiritual memory loss.  It's what happens when we forget what God has done for us.  It happens to the best of us; Elijah went from a spiritual high on Mount Carmel to running for his life to wanting to lay down and die. (1 Kings 17-18).

We do the same thing.  We forget what it is that God has done for us.  And in that waning, doubt creeps in, undermining the foundation we've built on God.  It's kind of a bad thing.

So how do we combat that?  Simple, we remember.  We find things that remind us of all the ways God has blessed us.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I am not looking forward to the upcoming elections.  I love and am very blessed to live in a country that has the freedoms we do, including the freedom to openly complain about the mess we're in.  Too often, we overlook how truly lucky we are to live in a place where we can openly air such frustrations.

What I don't like, however are our choices for leadership of our nation.  There's no way I will vote for Obama; I didn't like him four years ago, and I still don't like him today.  Looking at the Republican candidates, I am wholly underwhelmed.  It's looking like it might boil down to Romney or Gingrich.  Really?  Those are my two choices?  An inept politician or a total scumbag?  Come on, as the third most populous country in the world, can't we churn out better candidates than those three?

Oh wait, we can.  They all seem to be in third parties, however.  So if you want to vote for someone who can do the job, is a decent individual, you have to sacrifice your vote for a politician who can't win.  The best you can have is 2 out of 3, and quite frankly, that's just not good enough for me.  When will things change to a place where we can have a candidate who is an upstanding individual, able politician, and who possesses the ability to win the election?

Hold on, I hear something.  Is that the sound of two cats mating?  Nope, it's just the sound of the American people being screwed again by the bureaucratic, top-heavy government.  Again.