My Vacation Photos

I may yet write some more about the time that I was in Florida, but, in the meantime, I wanted to go ahead and post some pictures, because I know everyone is dying to see my pictures. The VeggieTale picture isn’t technically from the trip, but I needed to be able to include it somewhere, right?


Chocolate or Vanilla?

From a Plinky prompt: “Chocolate or Vanilla?”


Giant Vanilla Cupcake

Probably one of my defining characteristics is that I’m pretty anti-vanilla.

And not just vanilla in the literal sense, but even moreso the figurative vanilla.

I don’t like the plain, the default, the norm.

I don’t care for vanilla ice cream. At least not unless it’s as a base for tasty toppings.

Given a choice, I’ll get the pizza that’s not pepperoni. I will not eat bologna sandwiches. I eat plain potato chips only as a means of consuming dip. And so on and so forth.

There are a few exceptions. I drink Diet Coke, probably the most normative of diet drinks.

So getting back to the question, it depends on what we’re talking about. With ice cream, my preference would be neither. Both options are pretty vanilla. Give me fried ice cream, or blackberry cobbler ice cream, or pumpkin pie ice cream, or whatever else happens to be new in my grocer’s freezer.

But, if I have to choose between the two, I’ll go with chocolate ice cream, because it’s a little less vanilla.

But if, on the other hand, we were talking about, say, flavors of milk, I’d go with the vanilla milk, because chocolate milk is totally vanilla.

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Planting Seeds

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Gardening.”

"The Garden of Eden" by Thomas Cole ...

Image via Wikipedia

In my defense, I tried. I’ve been trying to think since writing my last post about what I could say about gardening. I’m for it? I mean, not like in an “I’ve got any desire at all to do it myself” sort of sense, but more in a “hey, if you want to do it, go for it” sort of way. But that’s not really much of a post.

To make it practical, I could say that if you are interested in the topic of gardening, you should check out the works of Felder Rushing,but that’s still not a whole lot of meat for a blog post.

I even considered getting all metaphorical and talking about, like, the Garden of Eden, or some sort of parable-esque use of gardening as a way of talking about evangelism, but I’ve got nothing that wouldn’t jsut seem forced.

So, that’s it. Sorry. Anything about gardening you want to discuss?

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Another Sunday — Sojourn VI

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

John the Baptist baptizing Christ

Image via Wikipedia

So, Sunday, I was teaching kids at Sojourn again. I’d studied my lesson on John the Baptist and was really feeling pretty good about it. Unfortunately, when I got to church, I discovered that I had accidentally downloaded the wrong materials and that I was, in fact, actually supposed to be teaching about Gideon. Whoops.

So I quickly reviewed the materials about Gideon, and was able to successfully tell a decently engaging story about him, instead. Which was a shame, because I was really looking forward to doing the quiz provided in the materials about eating bugs.

Continuing the theme of the week, various and sundry random thoughts about the experience:

– It surprises me sometimes how much my Bible literacy has increased, or at least how much it feels like it has. I was able to switch gears so quickly in part because I was moderately comfortable with both stories, enough that I was able to brush up adequately just in looking over what points they wanted made from the story.

I’m not really sure what’s changed, but I credit it in part to a change in how I think about the Bible. I was raised with the impression that the Bible was a collection of verses that you were supposed to memorize, a task that was rather daunting and really not particular compatible with my skill set. I always felt like I didn’t “know the Bible” because there weren’t enough verses and chapter and verse citations that I could rattle off. Over the past couple of years, I’ve changed to thinking more about the Bible as an anthology of related and interconnected stories, and focus less on memorizing the verses than knowing the stories. It’s made the book as a whole make a lot more sense to me, and made it much more accessible to use.

– I was a little glad not to be teaching about John the Baptist. I commented ahead of time that I was going to have to make a real effort to behave. That’s another thing that’s changed in the past couple of years about how I access the Bible, is I’ve tried to work to have a better understanding of cultural context for the stories. And the story of John the Baptist develops some interesting ramifications when you look at it in a Jewish rabbinical yoke context. A big part of the guy’s ministry is saying, “Hey, look, you don’t have to do ‘religion’ they way you’ve been taught you have to. I’m not in the temple. You don’t have to be, either.  You don’t have to go to ordained ministers to learn about God. God’s bigger than all of that that.” But that’s probably not what they were wanting me to teach the kids.

– Gideon, on the other hand, was just fun. I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories to kids much more frequently lately, and I felt like that came through for me during the story I told Sunday morning; I felt like my actual delivery was better. I’ve talked in the last few Sojourn posts about feeling like I was struggling to keep the kids engaged and focused. Sunday, i didn’t feel that way at all. And that was nice.

– We studied John the Baptist in my Journey Group recently, so he was fresh on my mind. My most recent interaction with Gideon, on the other hand, was in fleeces. The angel appears to Gideon, who’s like the most unlikely action hero ever, and tells him he’s going to lead an army into battle against the rather daunting Midianites, and he’s going to win. And Gideon goes home, and says, “Hey, God, look, um, before we do this thing, I want to make sure that was, like, a real angel and all, so, if you wouldn’t mind, I’m going to put a wool rug out, and when I wake up tomorrow, would you be so kind as to have the ground be dry and the fleece be wet?” So he goes to sleep, and wakes up, and sure enough, dry ground, wet fleece. So that night, he says, “OK, God, thanks for the wet fleece and all, and, see, it’s not that I don’t believe, it’s just that I’m not really sure that I believe, you know? So if we could maybe make sure that last night wasn’t some sort of super-absorbant fleece abnormality, I would really appreciate it. So maybe could we do it again, only reversed? You know, wet ground, dry fleece?” So he goes to sleep, and wakes up, and, sure enough, wet ground, dry fleece. And so after some exciting stuff about God telling him his army’s too big and people drinking water the wrong way and trumpets and torches in jars and stuff, sure, enough, badda bing badda boom, Midianites are gone.

And it’s something Christians like to latch onto, this putting out our fleece bit. I did it earlier this year, and still have no clue what to make of it. I hoped I’d get some great insight from the lesson in that respect, but, really, not so much.

How about you? Any thoughts on putting out fleeces? Have you done it? How’d it turn out?

Various and Sundry, Part Something

Things going on in my life lately that aren’t worth entire posts:

– I have a few buy-one-get-one-free tickets to Saturday’s Face2Face Improv show for people that have not been to see us before, and would like to. That said, I won’t be in the show, which might actually be a plus in some people’s book. I will be in a show Friday at Kenny Mango’s Coffee Shop in Madison. I will not be in tomorrow night’s show at Sam & Greg’s, but should be back next Tuesday.

– After writing that post a few weeks back about Apple’s recent successes, etc., I decided that I should be an Apple stockholder again, so now I am. And, yes, I’ve already lost money. Wheee!

– I forget if I blogged about the contest that was being held as a collaboration between NASA and craft site Etsy to create space-themed art projects, but the finalists have been posted in the three categories, and include an awesome space-Western shirt designed by my friend Melissa Meek, so you should go vote for her.

– The book I co-wrote with astronauts Owen Garriott and Joe Kerwin,  Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story,has been selected for a paperback edition. It won’t be available for another year, however, so don’t let that stop you from buying the slightly-more-expensive-but-better-quality hardcover edition in the meantime. But, hey, I’ll be a paperback writer, paperback writer.

– I wrote a post earlier this year about wanting to participate in The Jonah Project, in which people with differing viewpoints read The Unlikely Disciple and then discuss it. Well, I found my nemesis, applied for the project, got selected, and, finally, after a very lengthy delay, received the books, and finished reading it. I’m participating in the project with my good friend Joe Gurner, and the resulting discussions have been very interesting. Joe and I had a general idea where the other stood on a lot of issues (to wit, as far from the other as possible), but I think this may be the first time we’ve actually really discussed a lot of those things, and it’s been fascinating. I’m blessed (can I say that? lucky?) to have a friend with whom I can have such an enjoyable conversation about such loaded topics.

– After our unsuccessful attempt to watch the space shuttle launch, I took Heather’s sons out this weekend to launch model rockets, as an attempt to capture some of the excitement the scrub didn’t inspire. Needless to say, I was utterly unable to put anything in the air. Sigh. Rather embarrassing to be such a poor space pitchman to a sympathetic audience. They were really good sports about it, however, and we’ll probably try again soon.

– ADDENDUM: Welcome to the world, Baxter Hughes. Hope you enjoy it! You’ve got a good tour guide to start you out, kid.

Bear With Me

Rebel Black Bear

I wrote once before, briefly, about the new Ole Miss mascot Rebel Black Bear, but I’ve been meaning to revisit it since.

First, I feel a certain amount of obligation to support the decision. I wrote a while back, and have ranted at length on various occasions about how much it bothers me that Ole Miss has been gradually losing any unique identity. For the first time in over a decade, since the ill-fated “M Flag,” something that was taken away has been replaced. The bear isn’t Colonel Reb, but at least we have something that’s “ours” that we can put on shirts.

Second, my generation, and those before me, aren’t going to embrace the Black Bear, at least not any time soon. I grew up with Colonel Reb. I wore shirts with him on it. He was very Ole Miss to me. He was our mascot, and we love him. No matter how good an idea they come up with, it’s not going to have the history and established affection of Colonel Reb. So I have to acknowledge to myself that I couldn’t have that be an expectation for the mascot selection.

Third, yes, I cast my vote, and, yes, I voted for the Black Bear. As I said, I didn’t love it, but I didn’t love any of the options. So I asked Heather what she thought her boys would like. Because, like I said, the new mascot isn’t for my generation, or the ones before me. It’s for the students yet to come. There are kids today in first or second grade in Mississippi that have never seen an Ole Miss mascot on the field. For them, the Black Bear will be their Ole Miss mascot, the same way Colonel Reb was mine. When they’re at Ole Miss, they’re going to love the Black Bear the same way I loved Colonel Reb. So the question I asked in casting my vote was, which choice is most likely to inspire those feelings in kids that are children now, and will grow up with whatever we vote on.

There’s some irony to the Black Bear. In tying it to Ole Miss, the mascot committee cited two bears with Mississippi connections, the one in William Faulkner’s “The Bear,” and the Teddy Bear, which has its origins in Onward, Mississippi. Scratch the surface, and not only are these both two stories of bears in Mississippi, they’re two stories of bears that got slaughtered brutally.

Perhaps it’s a decent choice for an Ole Miss mascot after all.

There Goes The Sun

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Sun.”

solar mass ejection

Skylab image of one of the largest eruptive solar prominences ever recorded.

The sun. What is there to say about it? It’s hot. It’s bright. It makes day. It’s good to have. I like it.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to rethink about the sun.

And, really, why bother? Some friends of mine rethought the sun for all of humanity better than any of us are ever going to back in 1973, and you can read about their thoughts in the seminal space history volume Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story,available wherever, um, it is sold.

So, lacking any Earth-shaking insights about the sun, I’m going to go in a different direction. One, ironically, dealing with Earth-shaking insights about the sun.

The sun, they say, has about seven billion years of life left in it. Which, really, isn’t that bad, considering that 7 billion years, they say, is about half the age of the entire universe thus far. Of course, the Earth won’t receive the full benefit of those 7 billion years; the planet will be gone long before the sun in one of a variety of ways.

Somewhere around the 5 billion year from now mark, the sun will expand into a red giant, becoming so large that will encompass everything through the orbit of Mars, easily including the current orbit of this little planet we call home. For those not sure about the science, being inside a star would be hazardous to the health of any life on the planet.

Of course, I’m careful there to say the orbit of Earth, rather than Earth itself. There are those who believe that the sun will not, in fact, swallow Earth. By the time the sun expands that large, it will, they say, have lost such a substantial portion of its mass that the orbits of the planets will change, and that Earth will be spiraling outward into space as the sun expands. This, to be sure, doesn’t really help anyone on the planet any; rather than meeting a fiery end, they’ll meet a frozen one.

Other scenarios focusing on solar heating or rogue stars give a lifespan of anywhere from 500 million to 30 billion years for some form of life on the planet, give or take.

The point is this — We’re all doomed, so why bother?

Just kidding, of course. Sure, the planet’s doomed, but we individually are gonna be gone long before that, so Earth’s eventual demise shouldn’t affect your personal “why bother” meter either way.

The point, really, is this — the natural processes that govern our universe dictate a natural end to our world, in whatever form it may come.

Ultimately, I believe science and religion are two halves of one thing, the quest for understanding of creation and its Creator. You cannot truly understand one without the other. I believe in a God who has created a universe based on a finely tuned set of operating principle, and a believe in a universe that speaks to the nature of its Creator.

Going a step further, God has created a world with an expiration date. I do believe that God acts in addition to and sometimes outside of the operating principles he established, but I believe He generally lets them do their thing. And those operating principles dictate a world that, without requiring any action on His part, will come to an end.

Now, me, personally, I don’t believe the human race has another 30 billion years in it, of 5 billion, or even half a billion. But I do believe, left to its own devices, humanity will come to a natural end.

Again, that doesn’t mean that God won’t end humanity’s physical existence before that. But, increasingly, I’m not entirely sure how I believe about the end of the world.

I’ve struggled with the issue for a while. I believe God was deliberate in creation. It strikes me as very cool, for example, the way Earth has been designed to provide us with power of varying levels as our intellectual sophistication increases, starting with fire, which is both easily understood and easily harnessed, and going on through electricity, which has only been fully understood and harnessed during the lifetime of the United States, or the atom, not fully revealed until the last century. Throw things like petroleum in there, and the amount of planning ahead that He put into it is really pretty outstanding.

And then throw in things like antimatter and zero-point energy. History would indicate to us that if God created a universe in which it was possible to harness energy from the reaction of matter and antimatter, He did so with the idea that we would do so. He designed the universe that way not frivolously, but deliberately; it was another tool He created for us to use.

Likewise, He put the moon in our backyard, close enough that we could, eventually, touch it. I tend not to believe He did this unthinkingly; that He was surprised when we landed there. If that’s the case, then I tend to believe He put the other fun toys in our solar system there for us to play with as well.

We’re just not there yet.

And that makes me believe that He’s not quite done with us yet.

I’m not entirely sure what I do believe about eschatology, but I have a hard time agreeing with those that argue that the end is imminent, that God is going to end the party before we’ve finished opening His presents. I believe He put the moon touchably close so we would go there, and that He thought it was really cool when we did. I imagine God was beaming on July 20, 1969 in the way that only a proud parent of kids who have done something amazing can. I imagine if He doesn’t get to see us explore the really cool red planet he made for us and put right there in our neighborhood for us, He’s going to be kind of disappointed.

I’ve been reading lately, somewhat accidentally, on alternate schools of thought on Biblical prophecy. In particular, I’m intrigued by the view that most, if not all, “end-times” prophecy was actually fulfilled in the first century, as Christ indicated to his apostles it would be. I’m not entirely sure I fully understand that scriptural interpretation, but, then, I don’t really fully understand the more commonplace modern interpretations, either.

I also tend to believe that if those prophecies refer to something yet to happen, they are intended more for us to recognize them when they do than to try to figure out when they’re coming. I think there are far more practical things for Christians to do with their time than to try to puzzle out something even Christ said He doesn’t know. If it’s coming, it’ll come when it comes.

In the meantime, I think we should spend less time worrying about when bedtime is and more time enjoying the toys He gave us.

Are You With Me!?

OK, I’m finally getting around to catching up on some stuff that I hadn’t had the chance to blog yet.

A couple of weeks ago or so, I went to my fifth Cowboy Mouth show, at Workplay in Birmingham.

I’ve blogged before about seeing Cowboy Mouth, and don’t really have too much new from this experience to write.

I went with Heather, and the experience of going with her to her first Cowboy Mouth show was pretty cool, but she’s already written a post on her blog about it that was better than anything I would say and so good it got feedback from the band’s management.

So instead of trying to add anything new word-wise, I’ll just acknowledge that it’s already been said, and instead share some pics that I took during the concert with my iPhone, and which, all things considered, I’m moderately pleased with.

My Own True Words

know that these are my own true words
even if your approval is my sacrifice
– Rachael Sage, “Sacrifice

“I hate blogging. There. I said it.”

Obviously, there was no way I was going to ignore that status that a writer friend had posted on Facebook.

“Interesting. Why?”

Me, I love blogging.

I’m lousy at it, for any number of reasons. I write sloppily here. My posts aren’t all finely crafted jewels. I’m inconsistent about how frequently I post. I don’t do anything to increase my audience. I don’t have an overarching theme that defines the blog.

But that’s exactly why I love blogging. It’s writing, at its purest.

So I was intrigued by why Laura, a writer, would hate writing. Not only hate writing, but hate pure writing, with no obligations. After all, she writes a pretty decent blog.

The problem, she revealed, is that she writes her blog with a purpose, and the purpose isn’t to write. She writes it as “a platform for my fiction,” she explained, using the blog in hopes that it will make it easier to get a novel published. The blog is essentially another obligation, a part of building a brand in order to become a published author. It’s work.

And she’s not the only one. She cited a blog post I had also read recently by author Don Miller, “To Kill A Blog.”

Miller, the author of a million books, including the quintessential Christian Revolutionary tome “Blue Like Jazz,” had this to say:

So lately I’ve been considering killing the blog. And in a way, the idea terrifies me, because the old adage “publish or perish” is true, and in an age where people aren’t reading books, the adage might as well be “blog or perish” and soon will be “twitter or perish” and I am sure this will all be replaced with an even more brief and perhaps visual way to communicate with each other.

The writing life has changed. And my fear is the true craft is dead.

So the question is, do you publish (blog) what people will read, or hone a craft and publish hard-earned books that may never be read? I’m leaning toward the good book unread.

So here’s a question? What writers have you read this year who have no online presence? Does it honestly make a difference to you?

I wondered how much of Laura’s worry is valid concern, and how much is uncertainty caused by changing times. I’ve seen several people turn blogs into books, but it’s generally a literal transition; they write a blog, it becomes popular, and a publisher binds it so they can all make money off of it. I’m not aware of authors who publish books based on unrelated blogs, but maybe I just don’t pay enough attention to those sorts of things.

And the crossover seems to me to be even less true in fiction. I’d be hard-pressed to name any fiction authors who were known first because of their blogs. Again, maybe I’m just out of the loop, but who are the fiction bloggers turned authors?

There seem to be two major types of blogs — thematic, and personal. For a while, I kept a space blog, a place that was dedicated to news and commentary about space and space exploration. To be sure, these are the types of blogs that are more likely to turn into book deals. Now, I keep a personal blog, a place where I write what’s going on with me and what I’m thinking. Myself, I’m more likely to follow the latter type, even if they don’t get people published.

I blog because I enjoy blogging.

In the morning, I go to work, and sell words to NASA. I come home, and write words that I owe the University of Nebraska. I craft words, made to order, for other people, to make the shareholders, from my editor to the readers, happy.

My blog is for me. I own it, completely. It’s what I want to write, when I want to write it, and nothing else. It’s the blank sheet of paper that I can put anything on I want, without having to worry about whether anybody else likes it.

I write because I’m a writer. It’s what I do. I enjoy putting words together.

I’m blessed that I make money doing it. But if I didn’t, I would do something else for money, and write anyway, for the love of writing. Not for money. Not for fame. Not for being published. But for writing. When writers lose sight of that, they become craftsmen.

My advice to Laura, and to any other writers?

Write what you love. Love to write.

If you can reach a point where your main writing is what you love to write, then awesome. You’ve made it. Life doesn’t get better than that.

But for the rest of us, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Our main writing is at least as much to please others as to please ourselves.

So find an outlet that is for you. Keep a journal. Start a second blog if you have to. If you feel like you have to write something in particular for someone else, be it to pay the bills or to get published or to get famous, then that’s fine. But NEVER stop writing for yourself. Because it’s the only thing that will keep you sane. If you don’t own any of your own words, if you don’t write any of them just for yourself, there’s nothing of yourself left in the writing.

And you’re not a writer anymore.

There’s a huge difference between Michelangelo and the guy that paints the walls of your house. As a writer, which do you want to be?

Whatever you do, never, ever stop writing for yourself. Always write something that you would still write if you knew no one would ever read it, something you would write because the very act of writing it makes you happy, fulfills the fact that somewhere deep in your soul that has nothing to do with publishing or readers or money, you are a writer.


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