Saturday, September 11, 2010

When Will I Learn Misery Doesn't Sell?

In 1971 I tried to sell the following dismal gag cartoons to Boy’s Life. Somehow the editor’s felt poisoned campers and cliff hanging kids weren’t in a nine-year-old subscriber’s best interest.
"You see? I told you earth worm stew would taste good."
"Yes, they're moose tracks, Jimmy. Pretty fresh, too."
"Tell me again how much fun we're having. I keep forgetting."
In 1977 I wrote and illustrated a children’s’ book entitled The Miserable Life of a Sockeye Salmon. What was I thinking? Here are the illustrations; I’ve spared you the maudlin text.

In 1982 I began drawing a 64 page graphic novel wherein the parish of a country priest gets kidnapped and held for ransom. Click here for the world’s first gander at Parish Snatchers. Our now 27 year old son was born at that time and I never took Pastor Amos beyond the first 7 pages. The world’s probably a better place because of it.

I mention these stories because it appears I just don’t learn. I’m currently working on a marriage-building board game for couples set in the Middle Ages: famine, plague, Inquisition, rebellions, leeching, torture, wars, no universal health care. I’m putting the feud in feudalism. A real crowd pleaser, huh?

Somehow I never inherited the “I like paintings of kids with big eyes” gene. Too bad. A velvet Elvis sells. For better or (probably) worse, I’m of the Bambi Meets Godzilla school of entertainment. Irony over tidy, adversity (sometimes) over victory, ambiguity, chaos, and puzzlement over cute.

This being the case, I now put on hold all plans for: 1) an expository essay reflecting on Jean Paul Sartre’s essay On The Viscous, wherein I deal once and for all with my aversion to things sticky, 2) a comic book version of Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death, and 3) a novella wherein Orthodox Priests launch a church in rural Ferndale and marauding iconoclasts wearing Carhartt disrupt the liturgy.

I better stick to cute; it sells, misery does not. Now if only I can make the middle ages cute. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

300+ Free Handouts on Counseling Topics

Follow this link to a library of free handouts used in my counseling/mediation practice which is informed by the values of historic Christianity. I've been selling these on line for a while and am now making them available for no charge. There’s still a charge for the data wheels and books but the handouts are gratis. After 30+ years of helping people work through difficult challenges our inventory of topics has grown. Here are the major headings. Use the site's search engine to track down specific topics of interest. Check ‘em out and load up that shopping cart with freebies!

Yours for better managed conflict, Erik

Affair Recovery
Anger Management
Character Building
Conflict Resolution
Counseling Topics
Difficult People
Family of Origin Topics
Fear and Anxiety
Marriage Topics
Miscellaneous Parenting Topics
Pastoral Topics
Personal Growth
Premarital Topics
Teenager Topics
Theological Topics

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Quick Mind Dump on Gaming


Pieter Brueghel, Children's Games

I loved playing Stratego as a kid. We raised our kids on (among other things) Husker-Du. Vicki and I would play Scrabble till the wee hours of the morning. When I was a youth pastor I met fans of Dungeons and Dragons.  I joined a chess club once (and quit when 10-year-olds kept beating me). Our three sons (Mario, Luigi, and Bowser) play uber video games (especially Portal). I notice Facebook folk play a variety of games. My guy friends are enthralled with baseball. I've known guys absorbed in fantasy sport games. I tweak Solitaire on my computer once in a while. I've visited several mega game stores in recent weeks. I delight in game reviewers on YouTube. We live in a gaming culture. There are lots of games out there!  I want to invent a new game and am looking for ideas. What are you favorites?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Stalking the Wild Dragonfly

Apart from the fact that I probably looked pretty goofy prancing around VanDerYacht Park in Ferndale with a plastic shopping bag chasing bugs, I was very happy when I nabbed this baby--all luminescent, glowy, with neon greens and blues.  This bug was thinking just before I caught him, "Even though mom said to stay away from tall spindly things waving white shopping bags I'm in no dan-" and then Snap! He just became an involuntary artist's specimen.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Homage to the R. A. T.* Boys** of Bellingham***

Homage to the R. A. T.* Boys** of Bellingham***
C. S.  Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien had their Inklings, Joseph Priestly and Ben Franklin had their Club of Honest Whigs, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley had their Algonquin Club, Dante Rossetti had his Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Picasso, Matisse, and Sartre had their Left Bank, Ken Kesey, Wavy Gravy and Stewart Brand had their Merry Pranksters, and Martin Luther had his Diet of Worms.

*R. A. T. = Readers and Thinkers group includes (from left to right): Marriage and Family Pastor in Cornwall Church of God, former CEO of mega food chain and current business consultant, baseball historian and senior pastor of Bellingham Covenant Church, flash fiction writer and head of the INN (college group at Western Washington University), baseball artist and senior pastor of Birchwood Presbyterian, counselor/mediator/erstwhile cartoonist, CEO of the NW's largest camping ministry (FIRS), and career coach and pastor of Christ the King.

** Not Pictured, Writer in Residence Second Baptist Church, Houston, TX

*** Best city in America

Monday, August 2, 2010

How Do You Say Moth?

Young Huck Finn calls his mother, “Hey Ma!”

Hear that “ah” sound in the word, “Ma?” Making an “ah” sound requires a wide-open mouth like when we say, “father,” “gaga,” or “Ali Baba.”

A sympathetic friend hears your tale of woe and says, “Aw!” This “awe” sound requires a circular mouth like when we say the words, “often,” “fawn,” or “shawl.”

There’s a subtle but important difference between these two sounds, “ah” and “awe.”

People on the east coast call the creature that flutters around porch lights, “mawth” (rhymes with “awe”) which is to me a richer, rounder, more manly way to identify this bug.

People on the west coast call these guys, “mahth” (rhymes with “ah”) which to me sounds smarmy, shallow, and insubstantial. It’s a wimpy way to identify a bug.

If you shouted at me, “Look out! Here comes a flying mahth,” I’d casually glance up with a disinterested air wondering what all the panic is all about.

But if you shouted, “Look out! Here comes a flying mawth,” I’d duck and cover and ask questions later.

If we’re going to talk about these critters, we have to get our dialects in sync. For practice, please repeat after me, “I often put a shawl around my fawn to protect it from moths.”

Do not say, “Ali Baba goes gaga when his father swats moths.”

So please, west coast folk, stop calling them “mahths” and start calling them “mawths.” It’s the right thing to do.

And think of the lives you’ll save.

Friday, July 30, 2010

These Games Don't Work

For years I've tried to create the next Rubik's Cube, Master Mind, and Scrabble game. I've failed but keep trying. Here are some old rejects.

Exhibit #1: Strained Glass. Arrange the colored circles into shapes that are both pleasing to the eye and useful for calculating simple math functions. Dismal failure.

Exhibit # 2: Scramble Face. Players splay the discs from the grommet and then carefully rearrange them to make a face. Since the discs are connected the level of difficulty is brain-numbingly easy. Grade? F-!
Exhibit #3: Spin Field! Games are supposed to entertain and challenge; this game bores to tears. Even with dice, movable score board, and running batters, it's a cross between Strat-O-Matic and a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  

Exhibit #4: Holzendatz. A solitaire game wherein one turns the many discs in an attempt to align 7 datz of the same color in a row. The trick is--some datz must be aligned with holz strategically hidden throughout, thus leading the unwary player down fruitless dead ends. It's so complicated I failed to jot down the solution key, couldn't align the datz, and gave up.
Exhibit #5: Dice Line. Players scramble the rings then take turns rotating one ring at a time attempting to align five dice in a row, in order.  Part Stadium Checkers, part Yahtzee, part sleeping pill.
Exhibit #6: Dot Face. If you squint and tilt your head to the side you'll see behind the holes a caricature face. On the actual game one can rotate the acetate on which is printed the black background and see the face clearly through the holes. This game is for the easily amused.  Would make a nice coaster, actually.
There are many more to display but a wave of sleepiness is coming over me. Hey, maybe I should market these as sleep inducing devices!

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Pearl Harbor Denier

You can try to convince me the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but you won’t succeed. It never happened.

• Pictures of Japanese Zero fighters? Photoshop.
• Films of sinking ships? Computer generated images.
• Eye witnesses? Conspirators.
• US involvement in WW II? A Tom Hanks invention with help from Steven Spielberg.
• Treaty documents? Forgeries.
• Underwater memorials? Think Magic Mountain.
• FDR’s Day of Infamy speech? Voice overs.
• Purpose of this fabrication? Stimulate the US economy after the Great Depression.

Hey, wait a minute. I’m not sure the Great Depression was real.

• Pictures of bread lines? Photoshop.
• Films of Hooverville? CGI.
• Eye witnesses? Conspirators.
• FDR’s New Deal? An invention by the current administration to justify bailouts, stimulus package, and a 14 trillion dollar debt.

Hey, wait a minute. I’m not sure the current administration is real……

Sheesh. I’ve got to quit listening to Jesse Ventura.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Motor Psycho Madness

Almost 30 years ago we moved to rural Whatcom County from Seattle. One of the first differences we noticed between city life and rural life was locals’ attitudes toward noise. After years of urban chaos—blaring sirens, honking horns, buses with air brakes, disturbed pedestrians shouting to themselves, and the ubiquitous jackhammer—we found the silence in Ferndale pleasantly deafening.

Not long after arriving, I visited a man who lived in the very heart of Whatcom County farmland. I found the guy riding his lawn mower in the middle of the biggest field I’d ever visited. During our brief conversation, he lamented, “Hear that noise? I hate it that civilization is encroaching on our privacy!” I strained my ears to hear what he heard. Bees buzzed. Crickets chirped. Clouds silently glided by. The sun beat down on us. Then, in the far off distance, I heard a faint train engine whistle, a mere whisper. And this guy was appalled at the noise!

Thirty years later and now I’m appalled at civilization encroaching on our privacy. While leisurely watering plants in our front yard last week three motorcycles raced past our house clearly NOT following the 25 MPH speed limit. What really got me, though, was the noise. The combined decibel levels of an amped up Jethro Tull concert, the deafening racket of diesel ferryboat engines, and misguided firecrackers going off next to my ear, couldn’t match the jarring pandemonium of these motorcycles. My ligaments disconnected from my bones, my blood pressure spiked, and my bladder beheld the garden hose with longing. Death by motorcycle noise? It’s possible.

Transforming sources of irritation is one of the skills I teach clients so here is my attempt at cognitive self-therapy. What possible reasons could these bikers have besides an evil attempt at murder by two-stroke engine for polluting airwaves with such disquietude?

1. They attended so many rock concerts in their youth that they, like Pete Townsend, have hearing loss. What I experienced as cacophonous bedlam they experience as purring kittens.

2. They’ve lived lives of powerlessness and this is their attempt at regaining a voice. As children, adults squelched their tantrums and this is an attention-getting payback.

3. Broken mufflers; perhaps they couldn’t help the noise and they were rushing to mechanic friends for beers and emergency repairs.

4. They are bumbling undercover agents infiltrating the Banditos and totally blowing it because even Banditos’ bikes aren’t that loud.

5. They're from PR trying to overcome the biker stereotype of being “dirty, leather clad men with shaggy beards covered in road dust riding around the country wreaking havoc and getting into barroom brawls” (taken from a website, Top 10 Notorious American Biker Gangs). If their campaign is successful, we’ll consider them nothing more than a bunch of noisy but happy-go-lucky guys out for a summer ride.

6. They are daring philosophers, ethicists, and politicians to weigh their individual rights against society’s collective rights. Do indeed others' rights end where our eardrums begin? It’s debatable, but who’s nervy enough to launch the debate?

7. This is an effort to promote fuel-efficient transportation. Their message? “We will woo you into giving up your gas guzzlers by destroying your hearing.”

8. They are existential nihilists bent on terrorizing peace-loving citizens who pay their taxes and water their lawns. Oh wait, that option doesn’t calm me down one tiny bit.

9. They are earplug manufacturers exercising First Amendment rights to free speech and are simply drumming up business.

10. They are noise junkies who've made huge strides in recovery. They used to fly fighter jets with the windows open, groove on 727s taking off, and use airraid sirens for an alarm clock. They’re working their way down to electric cars, mopeds, then the soothing sound of mountain bike derailleurs.

11. It’s a reenactment of family of origin issues. Like the Woody Allen character raised under a roller coaster, the noisier the better.

I’m still trying to get over it but I do feel better. Thanks for listening.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Bug's Life

I inherited from my dad a powerful reading lens. I used it today to draw small stuff; I attacked the world of bugs with my markers.  Just think what one could do with a powerful microscope. I could draw bee's knees.

Ode d' Sandal

If a pleasant experience is like a perfectly fitting shoe,
 what is a perfectly fitting shoe like?

This is my tenth and last summer
wearing a perfectly fitting pair of sandals.
They are falling apart.
One could say they are under their last legs.

Any sure footedness I've experienced
this decade of summer walking
is due in large part to these
hard working and uncomplaining sandals.

Goodbye friends. You will be missed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Free Book

I've always wanted to write a book wherein I quote Sartre, Solomon, and Simon Cowell. Well, here it is: Stealth Drawings: The Existential Quandary of Being Stared At.  29 pages of miscellaneous quotes from philosophers, psychologists, and theologians illustrated with over 100 clips from 30 years of sketching. Follow this link and type "stealth" in the search menu. During check out make up your own password. Let me know if you hit glitches.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fountain Pen as Mediator

I lost my favorite pen last week, looked for it feverishly without success despite this great web site: how to find lost things. For seven long days I had a sour attitude while taking client notes, writing in my journal, and making lists using inferior and off putting writing implements. I couldn't take it anymore and in a panic finally ordered two more similar pens off the web. Yesterday I pulled a shirt from my closet and in the pocket was the missing pen! Birds chirped, the sun came out, and my funk was lifted. I even spotted rainbows and unicorns in the back yard.

Why the obsession with this favorite pen? For 50+ years I've been an obsessive doodler, scribbler, and note taker and have tried hundreds, maybe thousands of different tools for writing—from crayons to key boards, from easy to smear crow quill and Speedball dip pens to Design Markers loaded with toxic xylene for quick drying, from maddening Rapidographs that clog to exotic grades of graphite sticks and felt tip markers. Nothing beats the fountain pen I discovered two years ago (Lamy details to come). Here’s why I’m a dedicated fan.

It’s comforting to hold a pen. Like a security blanket I find holding a pen oddly soothing. I type like the wind but the keys clatter, my sentences bump into each other, and important rough drafts disappear thanks to the too-easy-to-use delete button. A fountain pen makes me slow down and think.

A fountain pen is a low tech device, operable in dim light. Computer screens emit serotonin-boosting light and journaling at night by hand in dusky lumens has a calming effect. Plus, when I change the ink cartridge there’s a gradual appearance of the new color—turquoise, red, purple, blue or green (see photo). One takes one’s entertainments where one finds them.

Most importantly, fountain pens glide over paper surfaces effortlessly. Years ago I was a sign painter who dreaded jobs where I had to apply lettering to rough surfaces—splintered wood, untreated boards, and gritty cement walls. It’s like these surfaces resisted my artistic efforts. I know we shouldn't personify paper surfaces; they hate it when we do that. But I still get the feeling that writing surfaces are fussy; I believe that paper resents intrusive pencils, bossy ball point pens, and demanding gel pens.

But the fountain pen! Ahhh. A smooth flow of rich, opaque ink is one of life’s finer pleasures. You know those electronic devices we see on TV with several needles wobbling back and forth—seismographs, lie detectors, EKGs? I believe the rolls of paper on which those wavy lines appear welcome ink with pleasure because the data is applied with grace, delicacy, and finesse. Fountain pen ink is applied the same way. It is not imposed or forced upon reluctant paper; it flows, it glides, it is laid down with grace. And the paper cooperates! It’s the difference between plowing furrows in hard clay and gently planting seeds in prepared soil.

Writing instruments bring together two disparate entities that need help connecting: synapses and stationery. The fountain pen is the perfect media—from which we get the word mediator—accurately mediating between what brains think and what paper receives. By presenting with clarity and gentleness a writer’s thoughts, and representing to the brain how the writing surface is responding, a symbiosis takes place. Whether the surface is a note card, onion skin, or cheap note pad, a fountain pen does the job with artfulness, class, and elegance. It’s a marriage made in heaven.

Lamy details. One need not—but could—spend $10,000 for a collectible fountain pen. After years of experimenting my favorite fountain pens are made by Lamy, $26 - $235 each (ink is extra). I buy the $30 models and love them.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rejection at the Speed of Light

Today at 8:04 AM I submitted another humor piece to The New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs column, this time via email and a .pdf. They replied with this chatty and upbeat note:

Thank you for submitting your work to The New Yorker magazine. Your message has been forwarded to the Shouts & Murmurs department. You should receive a reply within three months.

Forty four minutes later (8:48 AM) I received this rejection notice.

Dear Erik, We’re sorry to say that your piece, “Love Tests,” wasn’t right for us, despite its evident merit. Thank you for allowing us to consider your work. Best regards, The Shouts Dept.

Using the latest techniques of cognitive therapy I imagine several possible explanations for this swift sucker punch.

1. Susan Orlean, Woody Allen, and David Sedaris all submitted the exact same article just moments before me and editors are squabbling over which of these luminaries gets the by-line.

2. The unsolicited manuscript rejection committee saw Toy Story 3 over the weekend and now nothing is funny by comparison.

3. The New Yorker staff accidentally left their "automatic rejection" switch on and no one actually read the 760 words I slaved over this weekend; I've been sabotaged by technology.

4. By fantastic oversight on my part I forgot to tell them I was born in New York.

5. By fantastic oversight on their part they assumed nothing funny could come from a town whose tallest building is Ferndale Grain.

6. God wants me to have empathy for the rejects on American Idol.

7. Garrison Keillor's prediction is true, "The future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75."

8. The Shouts Dept. received 18 million unsolicited email submissions this morning and due to budgetary cut backs neither reader had time to savor my scintillating and witty prose.

9. In a science fictiony twist of fate someday New Yorker rejection notices will command big bucks on eBay rendering today's lost royalties a mere trifle.

10. Maybe my piece was so disagreeable they bent the three month rule and immediately rid their offices of my loathsome submission like it was anthrax. Meaning, it wasn't funny. Enough. For. Humor. Connoisseurs.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Coffee Aficionados

I drink instant coffee but don’t offer it to guests; I pull out my secret stash of the good stuff. Last Saturday, for example, I took from its honored place on the shelf our high priced coffee made for complicated machines that use measuring cups, filters, and glass pots. I don’t know how to run such machines so I asked our daughter Emily to make a pot of real good coffee for our son’s graduation party. She did and I thought all was well. At least I enjoyed my cup of this gourmet blend served only on special occasions.

When the party was over I was puzzled to see how much coffee was still in the pot but secretly happy; I had leftovers for the next few days! On Sunday morning I poured cold machine-made coffee into a mug and put it in the microwave. On Monday morning I did it again, polishing off the remains—good to the last drop.

Imagine my shock when Emily at a later family gathering informed me she didn’t drink Saturday’s coffee claiming it was inferior to fresh ground beans. We like our kids to be firm in their convictions but her smugness was one bean short of hoity-toity. I protested, “What’s wrong with that coffee? It’s not instant; it’s made for coffee makers!”

Dad, that coffee is old!” she argued with more than a little fervency. “It smelled terrible!”

I said, “It wasn’t terrible. I reheated it twice since Saturday and it was great.”

At this news her husband Jason, all her siblings, and all their friends erupted. “What? You drank reheated coffee? The stuff Emily made from that old can?”

I marched into the kitchen, found the gourmet coffee, and presented it to them with flair, “What’s the matter with this can of coffee?”

Jason read it, “Fred Meyer Supreme Blend? They don’t even make that stuff any more.”

Daughter Olivia’s fiance Brandon removed the lid and sniffed. “This smells like old Saltine crackers and ground up twigs.” Elliot our 18 year old pulled some old Saltine crackers off the shelf for comparison purposes, apparently feeling this bolstered their case.

But it’s two pounds, seven ounces of real coffee!”

Jason turned the can over and read, “Use before August, 2003.”

You’re drinking coffee you got when Elliot was eleven!” came the cries. Apparently one is not supposed to drink, much less reheat, coffee that’s seven years old.

Brandon took the can and with flair dumped the contents into the garbage, “There! Now you can’t use it at all.”

Thoroughly chastened, I yielded. I couldn’t out-argue a mob of vociferous coffee aficionados, especially now that my secret stash was gone for ever.

So now I’m going to learn about coffee pots. I wonder how often one can reuse a filter and grounds.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Joy of Cigar Smoking

Today our family celebrated our fifth and last child's graduation from High School. Elliot's older brothers have developed a hankering for cigars so I joined them (again). I gotta admit, there are three things about cigar smoking I find pleasantly otherworldly: 1) sitting still--it's hard to run around with lit stogies, 2) shooting the breeze in the back yard with guys age 18-29 --Vicki and I have great sons and daughters who hang with great guys, and 3) joining the ranks of great smokers of church history--Chas. Spurgeon, Soren Kierkegaard, R. C. Sproul, C. S. Lewis, and Gandalf. When I was a pastor I'd quip, "Smoking won't send you to hell; just make you smell like you've been there." I'm now eating my words. Apparently the smell of cigar smoke isn't as vile as I'd been lead to believe.

I also learned that my sons realized too late that--due to dad's lack of sense of smell--they could have smoked like chimneys all through their teen years and I'd never have known it. They prudently waited until legal age before lighting up.

Lennon and McCartney taught me to, "Curse Sir Walter Raleigh he was such a stupid get." Ronald Regan taught me, "Smoking Hippies dressed like Tarzan, looked like Jane, and smelled like Cheetah." Mark Driscoll taught me, "Cigar smoking + Christianity = Holy smokes!" (I made up that last quote). W. Churchill, T. Soprano, and D. DeVito taught me, "Close but no cigar!" And the young guys in my life taught me, "Clip off the ends, spit a lot, and drink lots of water."

Congratulations, Elliot! We're proud of you. We light up these tightly wrapped and finely aged Dominican Republic beauties in your honor.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Creativity in 5 Minutes

Jeff Warren's Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness includes a brief but nifty summary of the skills of the creative (p. 50). I list them here with elaboration.
  1. Spontaneity: While contemplation and reflection are rare in our speed-of-light lives, one can think too much and too long. Fear of mistakes often paralyses creativity. Homework: try doing something impulsive this week (that isn't immoral, illegal, or fattening).
  2. Effortlessness: I once wrote a letter to (and got an answer from) Kurt Vonnegut telling him how hard I laughed at his description of a woman, "whose greatest act of creativity was squishing old slivers of soap onto a new bar of soap." Creative acts need not be rocket science. Homework: Pay attention this week to all those tiny acts of creativity you do in the normal course of a day. If you can't find any, squish slivers of soap together.
  3. Expressiveness: Social networking is fueled by expressiveness. Once I answered the question, "What do I care about people's daily breakfast menu?" I began to appreciate micro blogs as tiny acts of creative expression. Homework: post something on line this week; it lets your fans know you're alive and kicking.
  4. Innocence: Creative people are typically too naive to know that something can't be done so they try it anyway. The result? The Wright brothers flying machine, Edison's incandescent light, Salk's vaccine, Dean Kamen's Segway, and Chuck Hoberman's sphere. Homework: don't let naysayers, party-poopers, or pessimistic drudges rain on your parade. Keep believing you are capable of creating new ways of doing things.
  5. A lack of fear for the uncertain, ambiguous, or unknown: Control freaks, black and white thinkers, and the "highly certain" are generally not too creative. Homework: Instead of looking at the gray areas of life as threatening, see them as opportunities for creativity. A whole genre of Biblical literature is dedicated to ambiguity: wisdom literature (Job and Ecclesiastes in particular).
  6. An ability to tolerate bi-polarities and to integrate opposites: Juxtaposing two different things unleashes all sorts of new ideas. Creativity is stifled when, for the sake of harmony, one polarity is ignored, eliminated, or discounted. Homework: this week list all the things apples and oranges have in common.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Kirkegaard on a 7" wheel!

Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once wrote that he loved making simple things complicated. I in turn love making complicated things simple. For example, Kierkegaard's opening paragraphs in The Sickness Unto Death are notorious for being some of the most complicated sentences in the English language (translated from Danish, his mother tongue). They're even parodied on Youtube (very funny!)

Once you plow through his opening pages and get his nomenclature, the book is actually (to me) a spiritually edifying discourse. I've applied my wheel making hobby to this work and finished the first draft this weekend.

I'm tempted to start a new blog dedicated to the art of the volvelle...called, "Spinning My Wheels."

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Little Known Cultural Factoid From the '70s

After high school I spent several years hitch hiking up and down the west coast with buddies. Our lofty ambitions during this period of youthful folly were to spit in the Grand Canyon, sleep in the Painted Desert, and pan handle in Height Ashbury. We meandered through WA, OR, CA, AZ, NM, NV, and UT and spent hundreds of hours idling about freeway on-ramps with our thumbs out. Here comes the cultural factoid: the 6” x 6” posts of freeway on-ramp signs were plastered with the hand scrawled notes of a generation of aimless wanderers, personal notes beyond the ubiquitous “Impeach Nixon.”

“Jade, meet me in SF on the 14th. Sunseed.” “Flakey Foont, I missed you in Phoenix. Find me in Flagstaff next month. Mr. Natural.” “Amethyst, we waited 3 days and you never showed. Found Moose. Head to Elko. Look us up. Amanita.”

The freeway sign posts, eight to ten feet tall for maximum visibility, were literally covered with micro blogs on all four sides, from top to bottom, on every on-ramp from Salem to San Diego: Oakland, Bakersfield, Sepulveda, Yuma, Chico, Union Gap, San Jose, and more.

“Chrystal, busted in Redding, hung up in Sacramento, Oceanside soon. Opal.” “Marjoram, where’s that twenty bucks I loaned you? Chanterelle.” “Has anyone seen that chic Rainbow from Pismo Beach? Was supposed to be here last Thursday. Tell her Mossyfern missed her.”

Clearly, the odds of these messages actually reaching their intended audiences were slim. The pattern of pick up and drop off was random, subject to the whim of Good Samaritan motorists. But the sign posts did make for interesting reading while stranded for hours. The human need for connection always finds a way.

“Crazy Horse at Fillmore next month. Pickles, meet me there.” “Greenflower, where the heck are you?” “Great soup kitchen on Elmwood in Berkeley but don’t eat the tuna.”

Just think how efficient the nomadic 70s might have been had we had Twitter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Lawn Mower Proof for the Existence of God

St. Thomas would be glad to know someone’s finally added a sixth classical proof for the existence of God. Apologists who strike out using the ontological, cosmological, moral, teleological and contingency arguments can now argue unbelievers into faith using the Ariens, Snapper, Lawn Boy and Honda proof for the existence of God. Here’s how.

1. After months of backbreaking work of removing rocks, leveling dirt, planting seed, watering and weeding, lawns grow like crazy. But then people undo their work by cutting down the grass that took months to cultivate. It serves no evolutionary advantage for Homo sapiens to find pleasure in this bizarre practice. Such folly can only be explained by our fallen nature. If there’s a fallen nature there’s got to be a God whose nature we’ve fallen short of.

2. Some lawn mowing persons (me for example) rarely mow the lawn in the same pattern. The joy of making creative mowing patterns is evidence of the aesthetic in us. Where did such a bent come from? Why do moose or llamas not graze in oddball patterns? Because, not being created in the image of a creative God, they take no pleasure in art.

3. I’ve heard stories of some (not me) who mow others’ lawns for free. Such altruism can only be explained by a divine desire in us to serve others without reward. Where does this selfless concern for others come from--the selfish gene? We think not.

4. If we found an abandoned lawn mower in a grassy field it’s unlikely we’d conclude that the fossil fuels and carbon pistons spontaneously materialized out of thin air. We’d conclude some irresponsible teenager simply got lazy and quit mowing. Further proof of our fallen nature.

5. Some lawn mowers come equipped with a mulching plate to be installed when not bagging. Failure to install this device results in jamming the self propel mechanism. Persons who fail to put that plate in place (I’m not naming any names) recognize they lack intelligent design. By negation we know what is by knowing what is not. Some (still unnamed) lawn mowing persons know intelligence exists because they know they lack it. Ergo, intelligent design does exist (just not in my back yard).

6. People see differences between pre-cut and post-cut lawns (especially around our place). The cognitive ability to recognize newly shorn lawns requires image retrieval, memory comparison, and conclusion making. If this is mere neurology, a function of random synaptic connections and electronic impulses—like telemarketing or laugh tracks--why trust it? Every time an atheist appreciates a newly mown lawn they’re demonstrating their God given ability to trust their senses.

7. Tracking grass into a recently swept kitchen triggers strong emotions in some (I am again naming no names). The hard work of sprucing up the yard is for naught all because of a couple of measly blades of grass? Okay, it was a couple of handfuls. Picky, picky. So how does the Swept Floor VS. Mown Lawn controversy prove the existence of God? If unaided natural selection dictated the survival of the fittest, we’d take grass on the kitchen floor in stride. But because the lawn mower wants to get along with the kitchen sweeper, intelligent adjustments must be made. Now please excuse me, I’ve got some sweeping up to do.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Dudley Do Right School of Conflict Resolution

The 1960s cartoon Dudley Do Right smartly captured three roles played in contemporary disputes. In most conflicts one party plays the role of the evil Snidely Whiplash. He's the identified bully, provocateur, and persecutor who threatens the innocent and vulnerable Nell Fenwick. In family conflicts Nell is the victim, martyr, and powerless recipient of mistreatment. To the rescue comes Dudley Do Right of the Mounties! Dudley saves, protects, and fights injustice. As a conflict mediator I'm astonished how frequently everyone thinks they play the role of Dudley Do Right. Check this out.

A mother watches in horror as her husband tries to toughen up their son with what she thinks are unreasonable consequences. From her point of view, the harsh dad is like Snidely Whiplash picking on their vulnerable son (Nell) and she, playing the role of Dudley, comes to the rescue--interferes with dad's discipline, softens the harshness, and scolds the nasty Snidely!

A father watches in anger as their son manipulates mom and pushes her around. From his point of view, the son is like Snidely picking on a vulnerable wife (Nell) and he, playing the role of Dudley, comes to the rescue--protecting mom, scolding the son, and coming on like gang busters!

A son watches in fear as his parents fight like cats and dogs. From his point of view, dad is like Snidely Whiplash picking on his vulnerable mother (Nell) and he, playing the role of Dudley, acts out (misbehaves, flunks classes) to rescue his parents.

Everyone thinks they're the hero Dudley protecting the innocent Nell by fighting injustice. Or they think of themselves as Nell, the martyr being persecuted by the bully Snidely. Rarely do folks admit, "I'm the mean one, I'm Snidely Whiplash, I'm the one who stirs up the drama."

If you find yourself in conflict with two other people, pause and ask each one to describe what role they feel they're in--picked on Nell, rescuer Dudley, or bad guy Snidely. There's no guarantee that will end the fight but it'll give you a good laugh in the middle of it when no body fesses up to being a Snidely!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Temper's Temperature

There's a connection between anger and heat; where else would these phrases come from?

He lit my fuse.
She's a hot head.
She makes my blood boil.
I was in the heat of passion.
She exploded.
Our tempers flared.
She's like a volcano.
He's red faced.
Stay cool!
Chill out!
He burns me up.
My wroth is kindling.
We had a heated argument.
I'm steamed!
She burns me up!
Don't push his hot button.
I'm fuming!
She's venting!
There are degrees of anger.
Some anger is caustic.
He makes inflammatory remarks.
Don't blow up.
Simmer down!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

If I Worked for Microsoft

Microsoft has a reputation for asking job applicants weird questions to see how they handle off-the-wall inquiries: Why is a manhole cover round? How many cars are there in the USA? How many cubit feet of water pass by a chosen spot in the Mississippi River? How would you relocate Mt. Fuji?

I wonder what questions are asked of those who apply for the job of Job Applicant Question Writer. Here’s what I’d ask.

1. Which came first: the can or the can opener?

2. Who put the lava in lavatory?

3. Who put the mode in commode?

4. Who put the hroo in bathroom?

5. Who was the first to rearrange the spaces of that famous French phrase, “Wet hepeo ple?”

6. Who was the first to describe Kafka’s The Trial as Kafkaesque?

7. If given two choices which would you rather receive: dashed hopes or hashed dopes?

8. Is your dislike of discursive reasoning due to an intellectual incapacity or a highly selective standard of relevance which produces an insuperable indifference to matters bearing no apparent relation to those matters that do interest you?

9. Who was the first to rearrange the spaces of that famous rap lyric, “Uni Ted West and?”

10. Using just a lawn mower prove the existence of God.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

7 Views of Economic Shortage

Why are some people stuck in the middle (or lower) class? Why are some business owners not selling as many widgets or billable hours they used to? Why is cash flow not flowing for so many? Here are seven views of economic shortage (illustrated with references to scripture and culture).

1. Randomness. This view suggests there are no discernible or predictable laws of economic success.

  • Solomon said, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”
  • This is the premise of the Black Swan by economist Nassim Taleb, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow, and a host of mathematicians who study chance, luck, and lotteries.

2. Retribution. This view suggests moral or ethical failure is behind poverty.

  • The disciples believed this (“who caused this man’s blindness—himself or his parents?”) as did Job’s comforters (“God repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves”)
  • It’s a favorite of health and wealth preachers.
  • Richard Adams in his novel Shardik brilliantly described a superstitious tribe who read the random movements of a large bear as omens in response (retribution) for their undisciplined worship.

3. Good Products, Bad Capitalism. This view suggests an unregulated market squashes those without power.

  • James warns against unscrupulous bosses (“Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter”).
  • One can learn about this view from Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided and Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story.

4. Good Capitalism, Bad products. This view suggests the struggling widget seller may not be selling widgets because they’re bad widgets.

  • Jesus cleansed the temple because the products were being sold at exorbitant prices thus preventing worship, “In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.”
  • Just as bad-singing contestants on American Idol need a Simon Cowell to tell them they stink, entrepreneurs need an objective reality check.
  • Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations said the “invisible hand” of an unfettered market weeds out the bad products naturally.
  • Think dangerous Toyotas, tainted Tylenol, and contaminated tuna.

5. Good Product, Bad Worker. Even businesses with great products can go belly up if the owner is shady, unethical, or morally impure.

  • This is the message of Proverbs (“for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life”).
  • Similar to the retribution view, this view suggests moral turpitude may lie behind economic failure.
  • This caused doubts in Asaph who puzzled over the success of the unrighteous in Psalm 73; I wonder what he would have thought of oil rich Arab nations?
  • Willy Lowman in Death of a Salesman exemplifies this view of immorality and income.

6. Divine Determinism. This view leaves little room for human influence. One’s economic fortunes (or lack thereof) are determined by God’s sovereignty.

  • Deuteronomy states, “But remember the LORD for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.
  • James wrote, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
  • Economic shortfall is re-framed as divine discipline, character building, or opportunity to cast one’s self on the “frowning providence” of God.
  • Paradoxically, according to Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Webber, the Puritans believed that industriousness would earn God’s favor and could be measured in profit.

7. Passivity. This view suggests one’s earnings are commensurate to one’s faith and generosity.

  • Test me in your finances,” said Malachi.
  • If you’re not faithful in mammon, how will God entrust to you true riches?” said Jesus.
  • Since there are so many scriptural references that imply one shouldn't be financially ambitious (“Be content with one’s wages.” “Love of money is the root of all evil.” “Consider the lilies and the birds…they don’t sweat earning a living”), one is left trying to find the balance between foolhardy Zen-like passivity on one hand and greedy accumulation on the other.
  • Richard Foster, Phillip Yancey, Ron Blue, Larry Burkett, and others address this challenge.

What other views are there? How do you explain economic shortages?

Friday, May 7, 2010

What Comes After "Z?"

I woke up with this burning question, "What letter comes after the letter z?" to which I reply:

1. "Y" if you're listing the letters of the alphabet in reverse alphabetical order.
2. "A" if you're listing the letters of the alphabet in alphabetical order in sequence.
3. "S" if you're spelling the name Zsa Zsa.
4. "B" if you're spelling the name Zbigniew Brzezinski.
5. "O" if you're spelling the word zoo (on and on for zebra, zylophone, zipper, etc).
6. "N" if you're looking at a random rack of Scrabble letters.
7. "%" if you're inventing a 27th letter of the alphabet.
8. "Z" if you're into singers with long (long!) white beards.

Now, back to work.......

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quips/Quotes: Midnight Disease

Interesting quotes by Alice Flaherty (Midnight Disease) and my responses

Lewis Carroll wrote 98,721 letters in his life time (almost as many monthly texts as the average teen).

Highly productive would-be authors fill file drawers with unpublishable trash (she’s been snooping in my home office).

The drive to write produces a first draft; it is the drive to write well that produces the second, third, twentieth (would that more authors had the drive to write well).

If you don’t like the first or second doctor, see another. If you don’t like the fifth, though, it just might be you that is in trouble (words of genuine wisdom).

Queen Anne said admiringly of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, “How awful, artificial, and amusingmeaning awe-full, artful, and inspired by the muse (today she’d say, “How dope”).

Creativity is defined as novelty and value (my baked salmon is valuable but not novel; my made-from-scratch green smoothies are novel but lack value. I’ve yet to cook a creative meal).

Déjà vu, jamais vu—the feeling of never having seen something which is in fact familiar (like seeing my high school annual photos).

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “I don’t want to be a doctor and live by men’s diseases; nor a minister to live by their sins; nor a lawyer to live by their quarrels. So I don’t see there’s anything left for me but to be an author” (ouch! he just eliminated my callings as therapist, pastor, mediator).

Why Prolific Writers Write

I read the Midnight Disease to find out why some people write so much. Here are the options.

  1. Biology. An overabundance of neurotransmitters in the synapses of our limbic system influences our temporal lobes.
  2. Vocation. We have a sense of mission and we desire to propagate truth, beauty, humor.
  3. Hypergraphia. Like the workaholic, there’s a psychodynamic urge to write and we just can’t quit.
  4. Suffering. Misery shared is half the misery.
  5. Temperament. The artist in us “gets pleasure from the praise of complete strangers.”
  6. Post partum disorder. (Um, not for all of us).
  7. A visitation. One receives inspiration from the muse like receiving dictation by an outside source.
  8. Imago dei. Being created in the image of a communicating God prompts us to communicate as well. Well, not as well, but in stumbling imitation.
  9. Depression. Introspection is a very writerly trait.
  10. Compulsive memoirism. This is the fuel behind most blogs.
  11. Money (fame, fortune).
  12. Self therapy. “Language was the first mood altering experience” (p. 200).
  13. Self knowledge. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” (p. 218).

My hunch is that people with the compulsion to write a lot combine several of these motivations. What drives you to write?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kierkegaard Bibliography

Annotated Kierkegaard Bibliography

Soren Kierkegaard’s (1813 – 1855) literary legacy is massive, convoluted and confusing. To make sense of his pseudonyms, irony, humor, theology, philosophy, psychology, and profound depth, I could either plow through his authorship on my own (which causes fear and trembling in the most stalwart), or I could benefit from the works of love by others. I’ve chosen the latter. And I am glad I did. While there’s repetition in Kierkegaard, it would take ages, well, at least two ages, to untangle his philosophical fragments. I recommend tackling the works sited below (many of which are papers of one still living) in stages. On life’s way most of us, on imagined occasions and in various spirits, create a bucket list. Mine includes attaining purity of heart before I contract any sickness unto death. To achieve this I need practice in Christianity. And the upbuilding discourses below help me do this. So judge for yourself! Let not the concept of anxiety or the concept of irony prevent you from enjoying these edifying discourses. One last note before concluding. “Unscientific?” “Postscript?” I know the jargon seems endless. But if you read for self examination I’m confident you’ll blossom like the lily in the field and the bird in the air. (Note: how many Kierkegaard titles can you find hidden in this paragraph?)


Barrett, Lee C. III Kierkegaard (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2010). A new, brief (75 pages) and trenchant summary of Kierkegaard’s continued significance in modern theological thinking.

Evans, Stephen C. Kierkegaard: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press: NY, 2009). Since the author shares Kierkegaard’s Christian faith I trust Evans’ interpretations more than average. Rather than making Kierkegaard the “father of existentialism,” Evans clearly delineates the massive differences between Soren and Sartre, Camus, Kafka, Nietzsche, et al.

Evans, Stephen C. Soren Kierkegaard’s Christian Psychology: Insight for Counseling and Pastoral Care (Regent College Publishing: Vancouver, BC, 1990). I’m not sure this book will help you talk to clients or parishioners better (it’s theoretical, not clinical), but it will definitely clarify the unique role a Christian therapist or pastoral counselor plays in the spiritual formation of others. If you’ve ever felt sheepish for not being “value free,” this nifty essay (134 pages) will assuage your guilt. Evans draws from Kierkegaard’s whole authorship but primarily Sickness Unto Death and Fear and Trembling.

Garff, Joakim. Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography (Princeton University Press: NJ), 2005. Translated by Bruce H. Kirmmse. A massive (864 pages) and finely-detailed examination of Kierkegaard’s life and times. I loved it. At times, Garff is overly critical of Kierkegaard in my opinion. But whose heroes do not have feet of clay?

Gill, Jerry H. Essays on Kierkegaard (Burgess Publishing, MN, 1969). Older existentialist reading of Kierkegaard. If nothing else, the authors of these collected essays can take pride in the fact that they recognized Kierkegaard’s value to philosophy before he hit the big time (if the current resurgence of interest in Kierkegaard can even be called “big time”).

Hong, Howard. The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton University Press: NJ, 2000). Snippets of Kierkegaard’s major works arranged in chronological order. Read in conjunction with Garff makes for fabulous reading. It’s mind boggling how one Danish brain could ponder the things it pondered. Welcome to the world of genius.

Kierkegaard, Soren. The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Edification and Awakening by Anti-Climicus (Penguin Books: London, 1989). The book that got me hooked on Kierkegaard. The first two pages are famous for their obscurity, opacity, and off putting double talk. I’m sure many bailed on a career in philosophy when they first encountered the “relationship that relates to itself.” But press on and the book unfolds into a relevant psychology that predates (and in my opinion outshines) Freud. Highly recommended.

Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling: Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio (Penguin Books: London, 1985). Translated by Alastair Hannay. The theme of this trenchant but powerful book is faith. I still grapple with the Abraham/Isaac affair but Kierkegaard’s contribution to the discussion is essential.

Mullen, John Douglas. Kierkegaard’s Philosophy: Self Deception and Cowardice in the Present Age (New American Library: NY, 1981). One of my favorites. Mullen’s illustrations are dated (he references the hot topics of the late ‘70s: Open Marriage, the “new” fad of jogging, etc.), but I’m convinced that had this nifty paper back been published 20 years earlier we may never have had the hedonistic ‘sixties. Mullen does a masterful job of giving Kierkegaard his due as the relevant and powerful philosopher of our times. Don’t leave home without this book!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Why I am an Ag-NOSE-tic

An Interview with the Wheel’s Creator

So, what’s the story behind this weird wheel?

In creating this wheel I’ve played two roles and pitted them against one another. Like C. S. Lewis who, “thought in reverse for months” while writing the Screwtape Letters, I’ve played two roles, neither of which I ultimately believe. First, I play the role of Aromatician putting forth evidence and rationale for belief in the sense of smell. I do this by faith since I am indeed olfactory impaired. Second, I play the role of Ag-NOSE-tic, debunking the arguments for smell. I do this by faith since I do indeed believe that smells exists.
And the point is?

The strained and probably too obscure point of this double charade is to illustrate the futility of a type of Christian apologetics. The Aromatician (True Believer) represents a rationalistic and evidence based Christian apologetic. Regardless of their well crafted “proofs,” the Ag-NOSE-tic remains unconvinced. Furthermore, I hope to illustrate to the Ag-NOSE-tic (real agnostic/atheist) the pointlessness of their refutations. So what if the Ag-NOSE-tics (agnostics/atheists) can debunk rationalistic and evidentiary arguments for the existence of smells (God)? As long as our planet contains odors, Ag-NOSEtic disputations remain folly.

You’re saying Christians shouldn’t offer reasons to believe?

No, I’m saying embracing Christian truth is neither empirical, evidentiary, or rationalistic. Faith is existential. Just as one’s experience of enjoying an aroma is subjective (so I am lead to believe), enjoying the confidence of faith is subjective (which I in fact do enjoy). Jesus himself, in so many words, said evidence isn’t sufficient for faith.

  • Luke 16:31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "

  • John 6:36 “You have seen me and still you do not believe.”

  • OT Israel saw miracles in the desert yet longed to go back to Egypt.

Couldn’t this wheel tweak the faith of some Christians?

Yes, there are risks in creating this wheel. The Christian who bases his/her faith on rationalistic arguments (such as Aromaticians make on wheel side one), may be disappointed to see how easy it is for the Ag-NOSE-tic to refute them (on both sides of the wheel). A faith based on rationalistic “sight” rather than existential “faith” could conceivably be thrown into doubts by this wheel. I take that risk in the hope that other’s Christian faith will be strengthened.


By taking an existential leap of faith. Faith isn’t strengthened by getting better arguments, or refuting agnostic/atheistic refutations. Faith is strengthened when it shifts from evidence, rationalism, logic, and reason, to a commitment. I believe that many Christian apologetic arguments for belief are not only ineffective but ill-conceived. One cannot be argued into faith. God isn’t a theorem. Even if He were, how much faith is necessary to embrace 2+2=4? None, “and without faith it is impossible to please God.” Agnostics and atheists refute rationalistic straw men. Warrants for belief require other treatments (other wheels?). So while this wheel is indeed “anti apologetic,” my apologetic intent is to shift the debate away from an unbiblical ground.

Please compare and contrast Aromaticism and Biblical Theism.

One can’t choose to smell if their olfactory senses are impaired, whereas one can choose to believe in God (arguments regarding freewill and sovereignty notwithstanding). The evidence for aromas are convincing to those with a working nose. Warrants for faith are convincing to those with a working faith. How to get a nasally impaired person (such as myself) to experience smells is as mysterious as how to get a faith impaired person (such as an agnostic/atheist) to experience God. Unlike aromas, where there is no psychological bias for or against aromas, Christian theology suggests that there are psychological (spiritual) biases against faith. Attempting to overcome those biases with evidences frames the God question on faith-weakening rationalistic terms. Attempting to rationally convince an olfactory impaired person that smells exists is equally futile.

Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?

No. New priorities at home necessitate limited social life. Yet my inner world expands. All that pent up creativity must leak out somewhere. Why not roll all the things I love—irony, humor, wisdom, philosophy and the fear of the Lord—
into one (to me) highly entertaining volvelle?