Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Small Moments Fill Me With Wonder

My eighteen year old son, Jake, is an excellent trombone player. I was reminded of his play as I sat Christmas morning in Jefferson Baptist Church, in Baton Rouge, LA, watching a flutist and several horn players raise their instruments to their lips, then blow just the right notes.

Jake plays in churches, and in other venues. I sometimes watch him raise his horn, to maybe play solo notes in a silenced chapel or auditorium, and I wonder at how he can be so confident that the right notes are about to come out? He is immensely confident that just the right notes will come out at just the right moments. Why is he not more nervous? Why does he not fear failure to a palpable degree?

The answer, of course, is practice. But only partly. Jake knows he may crack a note, or fail in some other way, yet he accepts that he is imperfect. He is undeterred that some listeners may not accept his imperfections or failures. Jake takes a stand that their beliefs, and any condemnation those beliefs generate, are about the listeners themselves - and are not about him.

To take that stand to heart, and to act out of it, is a courageous thing. And that courage must be summoned not just once, but again and again - maybe during the same performance! It is our lot to be courageous one moment, fearful the next, then courageous again. The cycle is never-ending, because we never "make it" in this life. We never get to a place of solid and constant courage. If we are to be courageous, we must summon it again and again.

There are sparks of divine grace in those summonings. Glimmers of God. The sparks and glimmers cue us to turn our faces to God; and to wonder at the loving gifts he bestows upon us, and at his perfect plan.

For instance, why does a loving God allow fear in our lives? In his novel "Gates of Fire," Stephen Pressfield asserts that the opposite of fear is love. Maybe God allows fear so as to prompt us to turn towards Him, and to let ourselves be washed in His love - the true antidote for fear. Maybe God does everything so as to prompt us to turn towards Him.

Consider: If God allowed us to become constantly courageous, could we then still identify fear? Some of my loved ones have died. My love for them lives on, but my memory of the contours of their faces dims with time. I reassure myself: "Oh, their faces were like this...." But, were they really? Similarly, if I were constantly courageous, would the memory of fear fade, like the memories of the faces of my loved ones?

Without a close familiarity with fear, could we anymore identify courage? What would we measure it against? Courage would be constant, normal, mundane, taken for granted. Could we anymore identify a spark of divine grace in that courage? Would that avenue to God, paved with sparks and glimmers, be then shut off to us forever? I wonder. Humbly. And with great reverence.

Christmas morning, I was awash in wonder as I watched the flutist and the horn players: the beauty of the music, the skill and artistry of the performers, and the confidence and courage. All of existence intertwined perfectly, surrounding and flowing through the musicians and their instruments.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Teenager's Room

In Denham Springs, LA, where I sit on my futon bed in the room I am sharing with my nephew, Agent 90*, for the Christmas holiday. I spy:

  • 19 caps and visors neatly hung on the door
  • sports trophies, plaques, award medallions, and personal team photos
  • toilet items
  • walkie talkies
  • TV and Stereo remote controls
  • CDs
  • hand gripper
  • baseball bat weight
  • "Money Mizer" change separator
  • "Plinco the Monkey", awarded, by class vote, for being the most interesting student in Spanish class
  • LSU action posters: football and baseball - Geaux Tigers!
  • An LSU football, signed by Nick Saban, mounted on a plaque
  • hung on pegs: several colors of elastic baseball belts; plus football belts; plus lanyards, plus a dress belt
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • pillow shaped like football
  • football minihelmets: LSU and Dallas Cowboys
  • a closet stuffed with clothes top, middle, bottom, and spilling out
  • a 7 point rack of deer antlers(with an 8 point rack on the way!)
  • World globe
  • IPod
  • Collection of Quarters from 30 of the 50 states
  • Boom box
  • Board games: Stratego; Payday; Monopoly; Battleship; Scrabble; Rules of the Game; Texas Hold Em Poker
  • Daniel Boone style coonskin cap
  • DVDs: collection of Indiana Jones movies; Hoosiers; Bull Durham; Sahara; Friday Night Lights; Rundown - starring The Rock; Cast Away; Coach Carter; Longest Yard - starring Adam Sandler
  • the all important Playstation PS2, sitting upon the child's chair I grew up sitting in at our tables on Royal Oaks in Waco, and on Cromart Ave in Ft. Worth
  • an "Arrow of Light" from Boy Scout Pack 19
  • bag of baseball equipment
  • bucket of baseballs
  • about 8 pair of shoes: tennis, basketball, jogging, cleats, dress
  • bag of golf clubs
  • two LSU flags: one purple, one gold
  • special double issue of Field and Stream magazine, open to page on how to make your own hunting knife from an antler

*"Agent" stolen from Richard Lawrence Cohen

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Gift Project: A Cautionary Tale

Upper middle class kids gets all the toys they really want from Santa Claus. Most everything else is detritus, which fills up toy closets and basements until it overflows into the house proper.

I had an idea to write a children's book for my seven year old nephew. It would be about 500 words and 25 pages - illustrated with pictures from Google. I imagined the entire process would be about 5 hours of enjoyable project; as opposed to 2-4 hours of detestable shopping; for a gift my nephew didn't even know he wanted, and which would only swell the impressive toy overflow already spilling into his house. Writing a book looked like a genius idea!

With a loose outline in my head, I began to write on Thursday night. I love to write. When I'm really into it, I lose all track of time. I was really into it. I arose after 45 minutes, and it was over 4 hours later. Over the next 48 hours, I would easily spend 90 minutes rewriting and editing what I had already spent 4 hours rewriting and editing. The thing is, its not War and Peace. Its a children's book! And I kinda knew what I wanted to write before I began! I don't know why it took so long, but I couldn't have written what I wanted to write any faster.

Friday night, I began Googling pics to match the words. Its pretty hard to think of pics which illustrate concepts such as pride and hubris. Even when you know what pics you are going for, its pretty hard to find just the right ones. I am something of an idealist. I searched through pages and pages of Google pictures.

When you find the picture you want, you must determine an artistic placement for it on your page. If the action is exiting the right side of the picture, you don't want the picture action to be exiting the right side of your page, and vice verse, plus up and down.

I decided to make some pages simple and sparse; and to complicate some pages with groups of pictures and multiple sentences. By Saturday afternoon, I had finished color printing the pics into their proper page locations. I was happy with the pics. I was getting excited.

I began(low-tech style!) to print the text into the white space on the pages. I arranged the text by visual estimation, printed it onto a practice sheet, held the practice sheet and the picture sheet against the light, estimated corrections, and repeated the entire process as needed. I abused Print Preview to an obscene extent. It will never be the same.

I was surprised by the impact of the pictures upon the words. Lots of words were rendered unnecessary. I deleted a lot of words, changed a lot of words, and rewrote entire sentences. Where the pictures were fun, I often toned down the words. The finalized text, read without benefit of pictures, can seem dry and disjointed. Yet, together, the words and the pictures flow in a fun way.

The pages were finished late Saturday, and it looked like a good book. I had put an unexpected 15+ hours into the project. On the plus side, I had enjoyed the process, and was excited about the almost finished product.

I began to think of other 7 year old friends who might like the book. So, off to Office Max to bind a few copies, when, whammo! - color copying costs 69 cents per page! Still, I was excited enough by now that I spent $35 to make two bound copies for gifts. I don't think children would dig the book in black and white. I kept the original color copy for the future - just in case.

And that's how I turned a good and good hearted idea for a 5 hour project into 16+ hours of labor, $10+ of expended printer ink, and $35 of vanity spending at Office Max.

In future, if I print one pic per page, with simply arranged text, maybe I could produce the 25 pages in an hour. Add a 40 minute run to Office Max for a $4 binding, and there would be a gift for another 7 year old friend. Its a new plan!


Merry Christmas to All!

If you read my blog(and some people do!), all best wishes for a wonderful and loving holiday season.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Boy Who Thought Ahead

I wrote this as a Christmas gift for my 7 year old nephew:

It started when he was a young boy, and
he never went into the street
without first looking both ways:
he was a boy who thought ahead.

It continued when he played soccer.
He learned to act as if he was kicking
the ball into one side of the net,
then kick it into the other side to score a goal.
He knew the goalie would go for his fake.
He was a boy who thought ahead.

When the weather might turn cold,
he left the house with a hat or a hood.

When he had a big day coming up,
he went to bed a bit early.

When the bases were loaded,
he thought ahead.
He would throw to home plate on a grounder,
or check the runners if he caught a pop fly.

When he had homework,
he tried to get it done early.

Sometimes, he thought of good birthday gifts
for his family.
He would make a mental note -
or even write his idea on a paper
he kept in his drawer.
He was a boy who thought ahead.

He would watch
opponents' eyes
before a football snap.
The eyes would often tell the tale
of where the entire player would be going
after the snap.

He would study
where the opponent
might plan to move his chess pieces.

He would think ahead,
and open doors for his Mom.

He would fake
a basketball shot
to get his opponent
into the air.
He would drive to the basket
while they were coming back to the ground.
He learned to shoot lay-ups
from both sides of the basket.
He was a boy who thought ahead.

He learned good table manners,
so he would be a welcome dinner guest.

He only went swimming when an adult was present.

He ate vegetables so he would grow tall and strong.

He drank plenty of water on hot days.
He was a boy who thought ahead.
It was a gift.

the boy
became a bit
too proud
of his ability to think ahead.
He began to think ahead
when he really needed
to pay attention in the moment.

There's a Greek word
for allowing pride
to create overconfidence:
Hubris has caused trouble
for famous Kings and Queens and warriors.
Hubris will sneak up on all of us
when we least expect it.
It snuck up on our hero.
Too much thinking ahead
began to cause problems.

While he dressed for school,
the boy would think about brushing his teeth.
Sometimes he put on one red sock
and one blue sock.

When he brushed his teeth,
he would think about riding to school.
Sometimes, he accidentally put foot cream
on his toothbrush!

On the schoolbus, he would think about doing math.
Sometimes he almost got off the bus at the wrong stop,
until the driver called out to him.
Thinking ahead could be a problem!

When he went to recess, well -
he did focus on play during recess. Thank goodness!

One day, the boy sat down to talk with his Dad:
"Dad, thinking ahead can be helpful,
but too much of it can be unhelpful!"

His Dad said:
"True. The Bible says there is a time for everything.
So, there is a time to think ahead, and a time to focus on the moment.
Its pretty easy to figure out - how did you get confused?"

The boy's eyes twinkled as he remembered his goof-ups, and he smiled a mischievous smile:
"Dad, we must have Greek ancestors.
It was Hubris!
I was too proud and too confident about thinking ahead!"

The boy then recounted his misadventures.
He and his Dad laughed happy laughs,
without thinking at all.
The end.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Genius Mascots Denied: Part III & IV

Recap - I: Grandview, Texas:

Grandview Gravy? Denied!

Grandview Gravity? Denied!

Grandview Grasshoppers? Denied!

Actual mascot: Grandview Zebras

Recap - II: Tuttle, Oklahoma:

Tuttle Turtles? Denied!

Actual mascot: Tuttle Tigers

III: Frisco, Texas:

Frisco Freedom? Denied!

Frisco Treats? (Mascots = pretty wrappers around individual candies. Marketing tie-ins can raise funds for the school district or the athletic department. When football team gains a first down, band plays final line of the Rice-A-Roni jingle; or the jingle of whatever candy company has a marketing tie-in with the school.) Denied!

Actual mascot: Frisco Racoons

IV: Rolla, Missouri:

Rolla Fallas? (Helmet emblem = three overlapping autumn leaves) Denied!

Rolla Maulas? (Mascot = masked professional wrestler w/Jersey accent) Denied!

Rolla Koalas? (HOW could anyone NOT choose ROLLA KOALAS?!) Denied!

Actual mascot: Rolla Bulldogs

I weep for the school-spirited children of our nation.