On Airshows

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The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Snowbirds performing at the 2018 Fort Worth Alliance Air Show. They are as graceful as their name sounds.

Airshows are awesome. If you’ve been, you know; if you haven’t, go and find out.

I grew up going to airshows. My dad worked in the aerospace industry and took our family to as many airshows as he could in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I’ve been to at least fifteen by my reckoning, maybe as many as twenty. I’ve seen both the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels at least three times each, likely more. I’ve also seen a very realistic Pearl Harbor/Tora! Tora! Tora! reenactment with Mitsubishi Zeroes, several AV-8B Harrier demonstrations, and a rare Russian Mi-24 Hind helicopter flight. (If you don’t know what those are, follow the links!)

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Yours truly with the Mi-24 in 2016. “Never smile at the crocodile.”

My earliest airshow memory was talking to the pilot of an E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft at age three. He let me sit in the pilot’s seat, wear the headset, and play with the throttle controls. I then remember walking through the aircraft, past the computer workstations (where seats would normally be on a commercial aircraft), out the aft door, down the mobile stairs, and to where Mom and Daniel were waiting in the shade of a B-52 Stratofortress, Daniel still being in a stroller at the time. It’s all documented on an old camcorder tape somewhere, along with plenty of shots of vacant sky as a fighter jet whizzes past!

Airshows never get old for me; in fact, I appreciate them more and more as I get older. I still enjoy seeing the aircraft, but now I also enjoy talking to the pilots and crew. Most of them spend the day standing around in the heat, cold, or rain, just waiting for someone to ask them about their planes. You can learn some interesting things from striking up a conversation with them, and they’re more than happy to talk. I got to speak with a B-2 Spirit pilot this past weekend (though he left his B-2 back at Whiteman AFB, darn!). Dad told me that one time, back in the late 80s, he asked an F-14 pilot about the video targeting pod on his aircraft. The pilot looked at Dad incredulously and asked, as if it were classified info, “How do you know about that?” Dad replied, “Tom Clancy wrote about it in Red Storm Rising!” (It pays to read good books.)

Perhaps above all else, I enjoy airshows because they are tangible reminders of the sacrifices that American men and women make so that we can be free in this country. For every B-17 Stratofortress that survived World War II, there were hundreds that bit the dust or limped back home over European skies; and the life expectancy of a B-17 crewman was just a handful of missions, if he was fortunate. The men and women who build, fly, and support military aircraft do it not for their own sakes but for ours, so that we may live freely, safely, and comfortably on our own soil. They have my fullest respect.

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Yours truly with the “Texas Raiders” B-17 Stratofortress in 2016. This particular B-17 was used in a very iconic Don’t Mess with Texas commercial.

So, get online and find out if there’s an airshow near you. If there is, go. Bring your friends and family. Take good walking shoes, sunglasses, and sun protection—and a camera, too. Even if you know nothing about airplanes or aviation, go. Watch some air performances. Walk around the static displays. Talk to some pilots: ask them about their aircraft and what a day in the flight suit is like. Smile and thank them for their service. Many will autograph bulletins or even have posters they will autograph.

And, most importantly, have a great time and make great memories.

Coming soon: pictures from the 2018 Fort Worth Alliance Air Show. Stay tuned.

On Indelible Imprints: Music

A few days ago, I heard a song I hadn’t listened to in a long time play on the radio. It was one of those songs, one that I associated with a time and a place, when and where I first heard it.

A few days later, I thought of a book I hadn’t read in a few years. And yes, it was one of those books that my mind linked to a when and a where.

Needless to say, there are two things in life that have greatly affected me: books and music. I’m currently reading through Neil Peart’s Traveling Music, in which he gives a (musical) autobiography and explains some of the songs and artists that made him into the musician he came to be, and the points in his life when he heard certain tunes. In the spirit of this book, for mental exercise (and fun), I tried to recall as many songs and books tied to a memory as I could. For brevity, I decided to break this into two posts, starting with music. And now, for your entertainment, here is what I came up with:

  1. “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller — Probably the first song I “remembered,” and my favorite growing up. I remember dancing with Mom and Dad to this song in the living room of our old house.
  2. “Twenty-Five or Six to Four” by Chicago — In the car with Dad and Daniel in a Kroger parking lot, probably four or five years old. I thought the electric guitar solo was played by a trumpet at first, but Dad corrected me. (Thanks, Dad! Otherwise I might have taken up the trumpet!)
  3. “New Sensation” by INXS — On a VHS tape of missiles blowing stuff up at China Lake, California. No, really. Somehow or another, Dad acquired a VHS tape of footage from missile flight tests set to rock music. There are many other great songs on that tape (“Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin, “Just What the Doctor Ordered” by Ted Nugent, “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood), but “New Sensation” stuck with me more than the others.
  4. “Down to the Waterline” by Dire Straits — In the car with Dad and Daniel, driving to karate lessons. The three of us took lessons together for several years, and listened to the same cassette tape every time there and back. That tape also included songs by Jeff Healey, Charlie Daniels, and Foreigner.
  5. “Message in a Bottle” by The Police — In the car with Dad on the University of North Texas campus (Denton, TX) at a BEST Robotics event. This song impressed me with how well the music fit the lyrics, the theme of the song.
  6. Boston by Boston — I listened to this whole album several times during a family vacation to Durango, Colorado, before I started eighth grade. I’ll probably never be able to separate Durango from “More Than a Feeling” or “Rock and Roll Band”.
  7. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush — In the car with Dad while driving to guitar lessons. This song changed everything for me. (And if you didn’t figure it out already, being in the car with Dad is a recurring theme in my musical formation.)
  8. “Roundabout” by Yes — In the car on the way to San Antonio for my great uncle’s military funeral at Fort Sam National Cemetery. This was probably the first time I heard a bass guitar and thought, “That’s cool!”
  9. “Things Can Only Get Better” by Howard Jones — Driving Dad’s Subaru back home from Dallas after looking at a car I wanted to buy, but wasn’t a good option. Every car we’d looked at within my budget needed repairs or had been smoked in, and I was feeling a little down. This song lifted me back up, and still does.
  10. “Alive” by Pearl Jam — Jamming (no pun intended) in the guitar studio with Brian, my instructor. It was one of the first times I seriously played bass, and one of the last times we saw each other. Brian passed away just months later, far too young. I always think of him when I hear this song, knowing he’s still alive with Christ.

Those are just ten, and there are many more. Next week’s indelible imprints: books!

Receipts: Overlooked Journals and Time Capsules

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last year, I established a new method of tracking my receipts. I acquired twelve page protectors, labeled each one with a month of the year, and installed them in a three-ring binder. I decided I would save my receipts for a year by placing them in the appropriate page protector. This method has three benefits: first, it makes it easier to find a receipt if I need to return something; second, it makes it easy to throw them out a year later (when the page protector for the current month needs to be cleared out); and third, it provides an interesting glimpse into life one year prior.

This past rainy weekend in North Texas, I spent some time sorting a pile of receipts from the past five months into their appropriate page protectors. Having started this sorting method last August, I needed to clear out the August and September sleeves for this year’s receipts. The things I bought said a lot about what I was doing, and had done, this time a year ago:

  • Food and gas receipts from the Kansas City area (bro-trip to see The Great American Eclipse)
  • A packing slip from a scuba mask made to my eyeglass prescription (I was taking a scuba class at college)
  • An Amplified Bible I bought at Mardel (that I later learned is not the most accurate)

It’s amazing how much life can change in a year. I journal, and yet seeing some tangible examples of where I was and what I was doing one year ago brought on some nostalgia. The trip to Kansas City was one of the best ever. I learned that I’m “claustrophobic” underwater and I can’t equalize my ears, so no scuba for me. And that Amplified Bible is still sitting on my shelf, having only been opened once or twice.

I don’t want to say life was simpler for me a year ago, but I do miss many aspects of it. College was tough, but I enjoyed the freedom I had outside of classes and studies. I had less money but more time. I was applying for jobs in preparation of graduation. And I had different people present in my life for that season, whereas now God has brought completely different people into my life.

So, if you want to not only keep records of your expenses (you should) but also remember who you were a year ago, save your receipts. They tell a lot about you. If you’re like me, you might look at a receipt and say, “I can’t believe I bought that!” The tragic reality is that, one year from now, you’ll look back on your receipts and say the same thing.

Nice: A Four-Letter Word

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This isn’t a nice guy; this is a gentleman. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

There are so many words in the English language, so many of which that could be used in place of the word that’s the subject of this post. All of them are more descriptive and have a more positive sound. Consider these examples:

“That was very kind of him.”

“It’s a pleasant day outside.”

“Those are some good-looking shoes!”

Instead, we English-speakers, at least in the United States, tend to use a catch-all word that comes with some negative connotations: nice. Now, consider these examples:

Nice job, Mark; that foul cost us the game.”

“She’s a nice girl, but…”

And the quintessential quote from absent-minded mothers: “Play nice, kids!”

“Nice” seems so duplicitous! It’s probably just me, but I’ve never liked the way the word sounded, with that hiss at the end that some extend. Some people use it like it’s filler when they don’t have anything else to say or don’t care about what someone is telling them. “Oh, that’s nice.”

After reading books like No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover and its Christian counterpart No More Christian Nice Guy by Paul Coughlin, my dislike for all things “nice” has only increased. Think about what’s implied when two women are talking and one says, “I think Joe is such a nice guy.” When you think of Joe in this context, what comes to mind? Is he an emotionally strong man who is comfortable in his skin and knows what he wants in life? Or is he a man who, bless him, holds the door for a beautiful woman but doesn’t have the nerve to ask her out because he doesn’t think he’s capable (or worthy) of dating her? Ladies, be honest: would you date a man you or your girlfriends called “nice?”

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Is this a nice (ignorant) guy? Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There’s another thing I learned about the word “nice” from reading these books. Our modern four-letter word comes from the Latin nescire (“not know”) and nescius (“ignorant”) To be “nice” was to be an idiot, to put it plainly. The Latin found its way into Old French and eventually came to its current form in Middle English, where it simply meant “stupid.” Do you understand why I don’t like the word now?

I know not everyone uses the word this way, but I can’t help but bristle when someone tells me I’m “nice” or calls me a “nice guy.” I suspect their intentions are good, but sometimes I’ll ask them why they say that, or even tell them plainly, “I’d rather you call me good or kind than nice.” That goes for everyone: call me kind, but please don’t call me nice. In a way, I think it’s like Christ telling the church of Laodicea that he would rather them be hot or cold than lukewarm (Rev. 3:14-22, and yes I know I’m taking it out of context a bit). Let me be hot or cold, but not lukewarm. Let me be good or bad, but not nice.

I’ve all but banished the word from my vocabulary. In addition to the reasons above, I find that not using the word requires me to think of more descriptive, appropriate adjectives to describe things that would ordinarily be “nice.” Instead of talking about my “nice” lunch catching up with a friend, I’ll use a word like “great,” “fantastic,” or even “superb.” More generally, I’ve found that taking a moment to use a better word does more to further a conversation with others. It wasn’t just a “nice” burger I had, but a “juicy” one, and it wasn’t just a “nice” conversation that we had, but an “edifying” one. Those words create more vivid mental pictures (you’re picturing a burger dripping with flavor, aren’t you?) and elicit more interesting responses: “Juicy? Wow, I’ll have to try that sometime!”

To put a biblical spin on this, the Book of Proverbs wisely notes that “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23 ESV) and “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11 ESV). Apples of gold in a setting of silver—what imagery! Why throw out a boring, banal word like “nice” when you have so many other impressive words at your disposal?

Bringing it back home, I don’t want to give people reasons to call me nice. I want to give people reasons to call me good, kind, responsible, helpful, faithful, truthful, and wise. I believe that men who exhibit these characteristics won’t be called “nice” by anyone; they will be called other names, both good and bad, but they will wear those names as badges of honor, hard-fought in the battle of life. May it be so in my life.


Post Scriptum: This post is written unashamedly from my male perspective, and though I write about “nice” guys, I want to be clear that the same applies to “nice” girls, too. Ladies, don’t be nice, either! For reference, there is a No More Christian Nice Girl for you, as well.

Farewell to a Friend: Mazda 3

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The Super Mazda Brothers!

When I was a senior in high school, I bought my first car: a little yellow 2003 Mazda Protegé5. It had a 2.0L inline four engine, four-speed automatic transmission, and just under 200,000 miles on it. I paid cash for it (probably more than I should have due to the number of repairs that had to be done to it), and the man I bought it from was the original owner. In fact, just before we drove off with the car, Mom found a Polaroid-style photo of the man and his family in the glovebox, taken by the dealer on the day he bought it brand-new. (He didn’t knock the price down for that find, though.)

After a new radiator, an EGR (engine gas recirculation) valve clean (which took three days for Dad and I to do), a brand-new front end and hood from when I rear-ended someone, and I-can’t-remember-how-many other repairs, I decided to upgrade to a car I thought would (more) reliably get me to college and work every day. One year after I bought the Protegé5, I bought a 2005 Mazda 3 hatchback from a guy in Dallas. When I bought it, it had just over 110,000 miles on the engine and had just had the clutch replaced. That’s right: it was a five-speed.

It took me several hours spread over the course of three days to really learn how to drive stick, and then a month or so to really master it, including idiosyncrasies like hill starts, rev matching, and heel-toe braking (not something I used every day, but taught myself anyway). After that, though, I melded with that car.

Compared to the Protegé5 that soon became my brother’s car, my Mazda 3 was a step up in almost every way. It was quieter, it rode smoother, and you could actually drive over sixty miles per hour in it at lower RPMs. The dark interior, though cloth and plastic, looked and felt more luxurious than the drab gray of the P5. Being a five-speed, it got great gas mileage: I averaged 28 mpg combined over the course of my ownership. And, while the P5 would take off like a go kart, the 3 would actually keep going.

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Undoubtedly the best picture I’ve ever taken with my phone: Daniel and the Mazda 3 at Smithville Lake, Smithville, MO. We traveled over 600 miles that day, and traveled over 600 miles back home two days later.

Was it reliable? Yes, it was. I don’t recall a day when I didn’t drive it to school. It started up every time, had a hot heater and a cold A/C (important in Texas!), and always stopped when I needed to. Aside from replacing the MAF (mass air flow) sensor and cleaning carbon deposits off the intake manifold (I think Mazda engines, at least from this era, tend to run rich and leave such deposits), the car required no engine work. In fact, I would wager the engine to last at least 200,000 miles, if not more.

However, it did require work elsewhere. The headlights were so oxidized that I had to take the front end of the car apart and replace both assemblies. The suspension grew squeakier and squeakier throughout my ownership. I had to replace both front struts, and needed to replace both rear suspension assemblies (but didn’t). A motor mount caused a rough ride, so I had it replaced as well. These are things that do wear out over the normal life cycle of a car, and yet even as I replaced parts, things continued to squeak, creak, and groan.

Despite all this, I really bonded with the 3. In a way, I developed what some call “machine empathy” with it. I could feel when to shift gears without looking at the tachometer and isolate new rattles and squeaks from the existing harmless ones. It wasn’t the fastest or flashiest car on the road, but I felt like I operated it as an extension of my arms and legs, and that’s what mattered to me.

We had some great experiences together, too. It got me safely home during a surprise snowfall one afternoon (a rarity in Texas). It got me and my brother safely to Kansas City and back for the Great American Eclipse of 2017, and more recently to Austin and back. For whatever reason, rain is the car’s perfect weather. Everything just tightens up and smoothes out, and it’s one reason I enjoy driving in the rain.

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The Mazda parked on Baylor St. in Austin, viewed from atop the HOPE Outdoor Gallery.

It’s been a great commuter, get-around-town car for me. However, it has to stretch as a road-trip or travel vehicle. It’s fairly loud on the highway, it channels bumps abruptly into the frame, and it’s hard to pack out when camping. As I find myself traveling greater distances by road, whether in the Metroplex or on vacation, it’s sadly less and less pleasurable to drive. Though I’m torn, and I wanted to “drive it until the wheels fall off,” I’ve decided it’s time to acquire another vehicle.

So, this write-up is in honor of my intrepid little Mazda 3, which I have put through the paces during my ownership. It ain’t the young car it once was, but it’s still got a lot of life in it. It’s not a Honda or a Toyota, but I’m impressed that it runs and rides as well as it does at its age. It’s served me well, and I know it’ll serve its next owner well too.

Happy Birthday, Neil Peart!

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Bonus post! Today, the world’s best drummer and lyricist turns sixty-six. His name is Neil Ellwood Peart, OC (that’s Order of Canada for us non-Canadians).

You can go on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the Internet to read about his life, but I wanted to take a minute to write about how he has inspired me. Some of this is rehash from my post On Rush from earlier this year, so bear with me.

The first thing about the band Rush that captured me was the music; the second thing that captured me were the lyrics. As a fifteen-year-old, I had been exposed to a fair amount of classic rock, thanks to my dad, and of course that meant that I was exposed to the songs about sex and drugs. I liked the music I heard, but realized very quickly that not all of the lyrics meshed with my Christian beliefs.

Enter Rush, where all of a sudden lyrics were about mythology, philosophy, and culture. Everything about the lyrics seemed backwards compared to all the other music of its time: “Limelight” was about an introvert dealing with fame, “Subdivisions” was about growing up in the ‘burbs, and “The Analog Kid” was about a young man coming of age and facing a big life decision. Not exactly the kind of stuff that gets radio airplay (though the first two songs do!), nor kind the stuff that gets most people going, but the kind of stuff that gets some people thinking.

I soon learned, much to my surprise, that the drummer of the band was responsible for writing the lyrics! That could explain a lot! And yet, Neil Peart (pronounced “peert”) is potentially the least drummer-like drummer there is. When reading about his personal life, I learned that not only does he drum for a rock band and write lyrics, he writes books, rides motorcycles, drives fast cars, has introverted tendencies, and generally knows a lot about a lot. He’s probably the smartest drummer out there, and as I’ve said before, gives the Dos Equis guy a run for his money as the Most Interesting Man in the World.

I’m not a drummer, but I have a high amount of respect for Neil and look up to him as a musician. Why? He put it all out on stage. While touring with Rush, he played with an intensity for two or three hours, and at sixty-two years old! At the time, he’d been doing it for over forty years, almost non-stop. (He’s now enjoying a well-deserved retirement.) Some will disparage him for being too precise and calculated in his craft (and he might even disparage himself for that!), but I respect it. It shows dedication. He puts it all out because people paid to see him put it all out, and he holds himself to a higher work ethic than most.

He also knows what he wants in life. Since the late-80s, while touring with Rush, he traveled from concert to concert via bicycle or motorcycle, taking out-of-the-way routes across North America with his riding partners so he could escape the tour-bus lifestyle. He’s written about these and more riding adventures in many books, which are worth the read whether you love Rush, travel, philosophy, or all three.

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That brings us to philosophy. Neil has an interesting outlook on the world. He’s misanthropic yet sympathetic, epicurean yet modest, public yet private. He’s very much a realist, yet also somewhat of an idealist. He lives in the moment and tries to squeeze the most he can out of every single day, whether that’s motorcycling through the Midwest, playing to a sold-out show in Chicago, or spending time with his wife and daughter. After losing his first wife and daughter within ten months of each other, he realizes that life, and where we find ourselves in life, is fleeting. As he wrote in “Tom Sawyer,” “He knows changes aren’t permanent / But change is.”

That brings us back around to his lyrics, and I promise I’ll stop gushing. If anyone has inspired me consistently since high school, it’s been Neil via his lyrics. I can relate to the “modern-day warrior… whose mind is not for rent” in “Tom Sawyer” and the boy with the “fawn-eyed girl with sun-browned legs [dancing] on the edge of his dreams” in “The Analog Kid”.

This brings me to a common theme of much of Rush’s music: dreams. That’s why I connect with Neil’s lyrics so much; they are about people pursuing their dreams, or looking for how they can make their lives better somehow. As he says in “Mission,” “A spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission.” In “Middletown Dreams,” “Dreams transport desires / Drive you when you’re down / Dreams transport the ones who need to get out of town.” And, on the flip-side of life in “Losing It,” one of the few songs that makes me tear up, “Some were born to move the world / To live their fantasies / But most of us just dream about / The things we’d like to be.”

Neil’s lyrics have given me hope at some really low points in my life. Many times they keep me pressing on, pressing toward my own dreams. That’s not something I can say about too many other songs or bands. I know others feel the same way.

So, Neil, thank you so much for inspiring thousands of us to keep our chins up, hopeful for the future. Thanks for being sort of a kindred spirit to me. I hope you have a very happy birthday, and may God bless you.

For the rest of us, let’s feast on the masterpiece that is “Subdivisions,” live from Dallas during the Clockwork Angels tour in 2013, complete with plenty of shots of Neil’s work on the drums and, of course, his lyrics that hit home. Headphones are required.

On Reading

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Not me, but certainly where I’d like to be.

One of my earliest childhood memories is from when I was four years old, attending preschool at a local Baptist church. When Mom came to pick me up that day, I made a statement to her that I truly believe changed my life.

“Mommy, I want to learn to read.”

With that, instead of going to Kindergarten the next year with my friends, Mom started homeschooling me with first-grade curriculum, and I of course learned to read. That desire to read has never gone away—although I would say that advanced English classes in high school, where I was required to read certain books, did stifle it for a bit, but that’s beside the point.

What made me want to read? In preschool, we had a wooden bookshelf with many picture books propped up on it. I remember four-year-old me picking up a book and opening to a page with a picture of the Dallas skyline and some text below it, which of course I couldn’t comprehend—but I wanted to comprehend. Whether that desire to read came from genetics or from Dad singing me the ABCs while he changed my diapers, ultimately I believe it came from God.

I still enjoy reading. After a period during high school and part of college when I read only the books I had to, I again picked up the books I wanted to read. I enjoy all kinds of books now: fiction and non-fiction, old and new, secular and Christian (can a book be “Christian?”). I read because reading makes me think: I learn new information and glimpse new perspectives, compare and contrast the new with what I already know, and evaluate the insights. The “evaluating the insights” part is one reason this website exists.

I also read because it is a relaxer, a de-stressor. Sometimes, it’s an escape, a way to get my mind off a rough day. It slows me down yet keeps my mind engaged.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sadly, many people don’t read much anymore, or at least they don’t read books. We live in a world of constant information to the point of overload, where sound bytes and quick clips snag our attention for a few minutes at the most before we move on to something else. Video and images have all but supplanted the written word for information transmission, and certainly for entertainment. After a long day at work or school looking at a screen, folks come home and—guess what?—spend their evenings looking at a screen.

I’m not saying that it’s bad to unwind by watching YouTube or checking Facebook. In fact, I think learning how to do something by watching someone else demonstrate on YouTube is great! I also think keeping up with friends can be important, too. What I am saying is that it’s, for the most part, not mentally engaging. You’re being spoon-fed information instead of feeding yourself. Reading allows you to take information in at your own pace, stop, and interpret it how you will. In other words, you’re actually using your head, and I believe God gave us minds so we can use them by thinking critically.

Even for leisure, reading is hard to beat. A good novel will transport you into settings in a way that a screen still can’t do, indirectly conveying information and emotion using all five of your senses. (Think about it, a screen uses only two: sight and sound.) Instead of merely sitting as an audience to a character, you are there with the character, knowing what’s going through his or her mind and experiencing the environment.

There are many other good reasons to read: science says it’s healthy, and your budget probably says it’s cheaper than Netflix or cable (think of your local library or Half Price Books). You can do the research, or the math, if you don’t believe me.

Some people think reading is boring. I think they just haven’t found something they’ve wanted to read. The sad fact is, a lot of people think of reading as work, and for good reason, since kids in school are often tasked with reading books that they don’t find interesting, and college students are burdened with reading laborious, inscrutable textbooks. I get that because I’ve been there, too. The key is to find something you’re interested in, acquire a book about it (check the library!), and just start reading.

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Libraries are cool. Look at all those books! Photo by Tamás Mészáros on Pexels.com

Some people might be hesitant to start a book because they don’t think they’ll finish it. There’s a way around this, too: start reading short books and then work up to longer ones. Lists of short but edifying reads are a Google search away, and there’s nothing like finishing a short book to make you feel accomplished, especially if you don’t read very much. I highly recommend using the site Reading Length to determine about how long it would take you to finish a book.

Finally, if you want to read but don’t think you have time in the day to do so, I’m willing to bet you do but just don’t realize it. I read a book while I eat my lunch at work, and again in the evenings while “airing out” post-shower. Chart out your typical day and determine where you could “cut the fat” to squeeze in some reading. Like me, you could take a book to work and read during your lunch break. You could read while waiting for a bus, train, or airplane. You could read when you wake up, after dinner, or before bed. It’s those brief moments that add up to large chunks of time.

But, let us remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. —Ecclesiastes 12:11-12

Read and enjoy, the key word being “enjoy.” Use the gift of reading that God has given you, but don’t wear yourself out from studying. And, most importantly, use the gift to glorify God by reading the words of the Good Shepherd.

On What is Best in Life

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Photo by Leo Cardelli on Pexels.com

The past few weeks have been a blur for a number of reasons. Most of the time, I’ve felt like I was being pulled in five different directions and somehow my head and all my appendages are still attached to my torso. Many thoughts and concerns have filled my mind, both about the present and the future. About half of this is self-imposed; the other half is circumstantial.

Without getting into great detail, it came to a head yesterday. I felt lost, disconnected. I would describe it as “spiritual discomfort.” I couldn’t place the cause of the feeling. I put on my best face (plus some tunes) and pressed on through the day, but couldn’t escape it very long.

Mid-morning, I took a break and prayed. I knew I’d been moving at a million miles a minute and hadn’t done much towards my relationship with the Lord lately. I prayed throughout the day, asking God to forgive me for my lax prayer life and not trusting in Him as I’m making some life decisions and planning for the future. I asked Him to guide me according to His will, and that He would help me put aside anything of mine not in accordance with His plan for me.

Mid-afternoon, as I took another brief break, a verse came to mind. I have always, always, prayed that God would “lead me along paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3, ESV), and of course that I would know when and where He is leading me. However, it wasn’t Psalm 23 that came to mind, but another verse involving God’s will that I would do well to keep in mind, despite having it memorized.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecc. 12:13)

After the Preacher expounds on the fact that everything we experience in life is “vanity” or “meaningless” for the majority of Ecclesiastes, he ties his observations and exhortations up with this statement: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” That’s the meaning of life if there ever was one.

Conan might disagree, but what’s best in life is to do those two things: fear God and obey His commandments. Fear doesn’t mean we should be scared of God; fear means we should love and respect Him, knowing that He will indeed “bring every deed into judgment” (v. 14). We should love Him so much that we have no other gods before Him (Ex. 20:3); put simply, He should be the One we long for the most, with money, fame, and everything else we desire taking a backseat. Thus, we obey God’s commandments because we love Him and place Him above everything else, which includes our human desires.

In a way, I’m preaching to myself here. I’m terrible at putting God first, much less others. I’m young and want to be independent. I have dreams and desires. Oftentimes, I can get so focused on one objective that I acquire tunnel vision and miss everything else around it. And if I’m honest, I’m not always sure I want to follow God’s plan for my life because I think I’ve got a better, more fulfilling plan. And most of the time, I don’t know what to do about it but pray that God would continue to mold me into the young man He wants me to be.

I cycle through phases of closeness in my relationship with Christ. Right now I feel like I’m coming out of the trough again, moving along the sine wave back towards zero. I wish it weren’t that way, but I’m human and, as the hymn says, prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love. Oh that I could love Him more and my relationship move upward along a line graph! Even then, I would wane eventually because I’m still human, still a sinner. Thank God that, though I wander off time and time again, He’ll still let me return. Better yet, He’ll come after me and bring me back!

The best thing I think I can pray is that He would give me the desires of my heart (Ps. 37:4). I mean that twofold: I want Him to give me the desire, and then I want Him to give me what I desire. In other words, I pray that my wants will be what He wants me to want. (I’m trying to think of a better way to word this, but I can’t at the moment.)

Perhaps the things I desire in life already come from Him; they’re certainly not sinful desires, but I don’t know that they’re the most “spiritual” either. For example, I desire to be gainfully and successfully self-employed. I desire to travel and explore the world more often than I’ll get while working most jobs. Most would say that these are good, admirable dreams, but I can’t help but feel that they’re a bit shallow and superficial in the light of God’s Word. And yet, these things (and others more personal) are things I still long for.

If or when He gives me His desires for me, I believe I’ll know it, and I’ll want to pursue them. If He’s already given me those desires, then I’m going to pursue them with all my might. In all I do, I will aim to fear Him and keep His commandments, because that’s what is best in life.

man kneeling in front of cross
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Three Principles of Preparedness

grayscale photo of man standing on ground
This guy looks pretty prepared for whatever might come his way. Photo by abhishek gaurav on Pexels.com

I’ll admit it: I’m not a hunter or prepper. I’m not much of an outdoorsman or a survivalist, either. I spend most of my time in urban or suburban areas (though outdoors, when possible). However, I find the study of preparedness, regardless of location or circumstance, very interesting. When most people think of prepping, they think of guys carrying around bug-out bags in the middle of nowhere up in Idaho or Montana. However, prepping is not exclusive to the worst-case scenario of an EMP attack or nuclear fallout from World War III. While those are things to consider, we should all first consider our preparedness for everyday events.

Are you prepared to fix or change a flat tire if you have one on the highway? What if someone breaks in to your home in the middle of the night? What will you do if a snowstorm knocks your power out for three days straight? (It’s happened to me and my family in Texas, believe it or not.)

In the spirit of thinking ahead, here are what I believe to be the three crucial principles of preparedness.

1. “Be prepared.”

This is the Boy Scouts’ motto. It’s simple and easy to remember. In any situation you can imagine yourself in, this is the starting point: just be prepared.

If you run the risk of being assaulted on the city streets or in a parking garage, be prepared. Carry some mace, a kubaton, or even a roll of quarters in your fist with you. Know how to use whatever you carry. (That means practice!) Mentally run yourself through the situation of assault so you can visualize how you will respond defensively.

If you’re going on a road trip and there’s a possibility you might break down in a remote area, be prepared. Have AAA or roadside assistance through your insurance provider. Consider a satellite phone if you find yourself outside of cell service. Bring some food and water along so you can survive while waiting for help if it takes a while.

2. “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

Many proponents of gun ownership and concealed carry argue their case with this phrase, and I think they’re right, regardless of what liberals think. This doesn’t just apply to firearms, though. Going back to the street assault example, the chance of being mugged might be very low, maybe even negligible. But, in the event that it happens to you, because it does happen, you want to have a defensive weapon of choice on-hand. The last thing you want in an adversarial situation is to pull out your keychain and realize that your kubaton isn’t attached to it because you left it at home.

In the roadside breakdown example, a can of Fix-A-Flat might be enough to get a flat tire inflated long enough to get to the nearest garage. A portable jump starter might keep you from having to wait on a kind motorist to pull over and give your dead battery a jump. A flashlight and a jacket are two great things to have after sundown, with the flashlight in the glovebox and the jacket in the backseat or the trunk.

3. “Two is one, and one is none.”

This comes from the Navy SEALs, and I’ve already written a little about this in one of my first posts, On Redundancy, but it’s worth mentioning again. (I’m actually applying this principle in writing this post!)

I look at this phrase in two ways. First, have two of the same item on-hand in the event that one doesn’t work, or is misplaced, or gets borrowed—you get the idea. Keep extra batteries near battery-powered lanterns. Have two flashlights readily available. Carry two water bottles.

The second way I look at this phrase is this: take two different items that accomplish the same thing. For example, when camping, carry two or three different means with which to start a fire: flint and steel, matches, magnesium, maybe even a magnifying glass or eyeglasses, if you have them. Carry two different ways to purify water, such as purifying tablets and a LifeStraw.

A more everyday example would be having a GPS and a map or atlas in the car. On a family vacation to Fredericksburg last year, I ditched Google Maps in favor of a trusty Texas state map because Google routed us along US-67, which was closed for construction outside Cleburne.

It could even be as simple as having both an electric can opener and a manual one at home, or carrying cash as a backup to a card. (Another tip: some hole-in-the-wall restaurants and small businesses might not accept plastic, so always have cash available just in case. Don’t be the guy who has to leave his date at the restaurant and walk to an ATM, as someone I know once had to do.)

car road snow winter
I’d make sure I could dig this SUV out of the snow before getting out in it. A collapsible shovel and traction mats would be great to have. That guy probably needs a license plate, too. Photo by Chris Peeters on Pexels.com

In summary: have it, have it even if you don’t think you’ll need it, and have two.

Apply these three principles of preparedness to your life and you will feel more confident should the stuff hit the fan, regardless of what that stuff is. As you prepare, you may find yourself, as I did, envisioning “What if?” situations that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. If you believe Murphy’s Law holds true, and I tend to think it does, you can’t prepare for every possible contingency, but you can take steps to prepare for a worst-case scenario, whether that’s at home, on the job, on the road, in the air—anywhere.

On History Repeating — An Example

I am currently gleefully digesting Dr. Thomas E. Woods, Jr.’s fantastic book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Aside from generally making me angry at the left-leaning folks who “re-write” history in school textbooks, it is chock-full with facts that really change the way I see historical events.

This week, as I was reading about how bad President Roosevelt’s New Deal was for Americans, I came across a passage that stunned me with how relevant it is today. I re-read it three or four times. See for yourself:

The standard textbook provides all the details of Watergate and of Richard Nixon’s abuse of power (as indeed it should), but not a word about FDR as the pioneer of [political intimidation]. When the Paulist Catholic radio station of poor Father James Gillis in Chicago criticized FDR’s court-packing scheme, the FCC took its license away. As early as 1935, FDR requested that the FBI initiate a series of investigations into a variety of conservative organizations, and later in the decade secretly sought proof (which, of course, never came) that prominent members of the America First Committee, routinely smeared as Nazis and traitors, were receiving Nazi money.

Look at that. Investigations into conservative organizations. Hunting for “evidence” of foreign money. Conservatives called Nazis (before World War II, mind you). Doesn’t look like much has changed in the Democratic Party, does it?