An Open Letter


We humans are terribly experiential creatures. We can know about something that we’ve never seen, we can believe something we’ve only been told, but it’s not the same.

We don’t know something that we’ve only heard the same way we know something we’ve experienced. We believe in protons and Zimbabwe and George Washington, but not in the same way we believe in hugs and cars and mothers.

At this point in your life, you’ve heard a lot about this person called “you,” from parents and friends and teachers and lovers. And they all have some interesting facts and opinions and descriptions of “you.” But even though you’ve seen a little bit yourself, you haven’t really experienced you.

Go. Go new places. Do new things. Wear new clothes. Sing new songs. Eat new foods. Read new books. Seek. Explore. Discover. Keep the ones that are you. Throw away the ones that aren’t, no matter who tells you they are. You’re more amazing than anyone can describe to you.

And, somewhere in your exploration, you will find you. And, for the first time, fully experience you.

And, when you do, you will truly believe in you.

No E's Allowed

From a Plinky prompt: "Write a 100-word story without using the letter "e" in any words. (It's a tough one!)"

Second quilt and pillow

I’m waking up, abandoning my pillow, moving toward starting my day. Morning tasks await — a blur of soap, toothbrush, shampoo, shirt, pants, milk, oat grains in colorful sugary form. In my car and off to work. My Mac BONGS as it starts up; hours in my chair await as I do my duty for God and country, probably mostly country. Finally — finally — I’m through. It’s Monday night, a night for practicing improv, sharing laughs, having fun. Hours pass, laughs do, in fact, occur. I go back to my halls, to my room. My pillow is waiting. Zzzzzzz.

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Rebel Neighbear

Well, to the best of my knowledge, Ole Miss can now claim to have the only athletic mascot that moonlights selling insurance.

Thankfully, he’s very clearly not also the Shoney Bear, and he keeps his shirt on when he’s not fighting forest fires.

Just Like A Prayer

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 “Prayer.”

I’m behind on writing these, and I’ve been pondering this one for a while before finally finding time to write it, so it’s been through several mental iterations before I typed the first letter.

I’ve been working through my thoughts lately on corporate prayer, and had planned to write about that. Should we pray differently in groups than we do alone? Should we close our eyes when we pray in groups? Things like that. (I’m leaning towards “no” to both, for what it’s worth.)

But even though that’s where I am with my current rethinking of the topic of prayer, for some reason, I really felt like I should go back a bit in writing this post, and tell the story of a pivotal time in my prayer life. So I will.

"Praying Hands" (study for an Apostl...

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I never stopped praying after the divorce. Not really. Not completely.

Oh, I came very close. Basically, I did everything but stop praying then.

My faith in God wasn’t shaken. But my faith in my relationship with Him was.

What was the point in praying? If He really cared about me, if He really listened, I wouldn’t be in this situation to be debating this issue.

I had prayed. Really I had.

I’d prayed for Him to fix my marriage. I’d prayed for Him to give Nicole a willingness to work things out. I’d prayed that He make me a better husband.

My mom told me a story not long afterward about when I was a child, and when I broke a toy, I would take it to my father, and say, “Fix it, Daddy.” Back then, I lacked the understanding to actually put it that eloquently in my prayers, but that was pretty much the sentiment. My marriage was broken. “Fix it, Daddy.”

But He didn’t.

Or, at least, my marriage ended.

So what’s the point of praying? I had shared with Him my heart, and He had shown how much He cared.

I kept praying. But my prayer was almost bitter, like the bit from the old Five Man Electical Band song, Signs — “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine.” I told God what was going on in my life, how I was feeling, what my issues were, and so forth.

But I asked for nothing.

No requests, no intercession. I didn’t pray for others out of a feeling that I would be hurting them more than helping them.

I’m not sure how long this went no. Weeks? Months?

I do know what changed it. It was the smallest of things. Something that normally a person probably wouldn’t notice or pay attention to. But something that made a huge difference for me.

My sister-in-law said she was praying for me.

It helps in telling this story if you know Erin. She’s kinda amazing. Jonathan did well. She’s pretty and she’s smart, but most relevant to this story, she’s incredibly sweet and has a beautiful heart. She’s also the mother of two of the greatest kids on the planet.

In my hurt, in my despair, in my confusion, I could believe that God didn’t care about my prayers. That He didn’t care about what I wanted.

But even in my hurt and despair and confusion, I couldn’t believe for a moment that He didn’t care about Erin’s prayers. Not for a second.

And, using the transitive property, if God cares about Erin’s prayers, and Erin is praying for me, then God has to care about me.

I couldn’t escape it.

Regardless of how I felt, I had to bow to the superior power of logic.

I went to the track near my house where I do serious prayer, and had a heart-to-heart with God about it. I wish I could say that it brought about a sea change in my prayer life, but it didn’t. And, really, that was probably better. I didn’t get the answers. But I got a whole lot of questions, that I’m still trying to answer.

There was a phase when I prayed, but only that God do things that could be accomplished through me. Don’t change the world, change my heart. No “poofing,” no prayer for anything that required the supernatural. This related to the “We pray to love” phase, when intercession focused on wanting God to soften my heart toward people so that I would want to stand in the gap for them.

This was followed by the “remake the world” phase, praying boldly to ask God to do things so huge they could only be Him. And during this time I learned that, during the current age at least, God can remake the world, but it’s still fallen. He can do anything, but man can still ruin it.

I assumed that one or the other of these approaches had to be better, but since then, I’ve been working to find some balance, to let them be different instruments playing together in harmony. And still seeking another better route.

I guess, if anything, I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter. If I’m in a relationship with someone, I’m not going to sit around debating what sort of strategy I should use for talking to them. I’m just going to talk to them.

Same with prayer. Really, it should be about saying to God what we feel like saying to God. Treating Him not like a bureaucrat to whom we have to submit requests in the proper format, but like a caring Father, albeit an omnipotent one, who wants what’s best for us.

But the other lesson in all of this is that we don’t always know what our prayer accomplishes. In a very real way, Erin’s prayer for me was fulfilled, but almost certainly not in a way that she imagined. But her prayer for me, and her incidental comment that she was praying for me, made a huge difference.

Really, I should pray like I believe my prayers will do for others what hers did for me.

Father, help me to do so.

Talking Up Space

I’ve been a bit quieter than usual here lately, and part of the reason is that for the last couple of weeks, a decent number of my spare brain cycles have been going to support an exciting project we’ve been involved in at work.

I’ve written before about the fact that my coworker Heather got approval to write an official NASA blog about her work as an education writer. The blog recently reached the end of its first pilot phase, and is currently undertaking a rather cool project — a live downlink with the International Space Station.

After the space shuttle Discovery launches on its final flight next month, Heather will talk to a member of the crew while the shuttle is docked with the space station for about 20 minutes. Live downlinks are a rare opportunity, so it’s more than a little neat that she’s getting to do this.

Since this is a project for the blog, we’re bringing an education focus to the event, and we’re doing that by working to involve students in the interview. To accompany the blog, we’ve established Twitter and Facebook accounts that we’re using to get student opinions. Due to government restrictions we didn’t have time to get waivers for, we’re doing that primarily in the form of letting students vote on which areas they’re most interested in hearing asked about. Even so, it’s a very rare opportunity for the student public in general to be involved in an event like this.

It’s a really neat project, and Heather’s doing some great stuff with it (and I’m having a lot of helping).  I encourage you to go check it out and follow and like and vote and subscribe and retweet and share, etc.

A Voyage to the Moon

From a Plinky prompt — “If you were offered a free trip to the moon, would you go? Why or why not?”

Puerto Madero and the Moon

One-way, or round trip? That might make a difference. Maybe.

My answer to this pretty much always would have been “yes” — the novelty of being one of the only people to have been there, the excitement of exploring somewhere new and unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, the awe of seeing first-hand the terrible beauty of the “magnificent desolation,” the experience of actually BEING THERE.

And all of that was without any actual experience. If you’ve never really felt the one-sixth gravity of the surface of the moon, trust me, it’d be worth the trip.

I had the opportunity to go on a Zero-G reduced gravity flight a while back. The plane goes up into a huge arc, and then back down, and then back UP and then back DOWN. Inside the plane, you don’t really feel the up and down. What you do feel is that, as you go over the hill, for about half a minute, gravity goes away. It’s a rather interesting experience.

On my flight, we got about 15 weightless parabolas, spent floating in mid-air. Rather fun, to be honest. We also got two arcs at one-third G, the gravity that you would experience if you were walking on Mars.

And, because the Mythbusters were on our flight filming a segment debunking the conspiracy theory that the moon landings were faked, we got extra parabolas at lunar one-sixth G.

Space exploration is kind of my forte. I’ve studied what it’s like to experience weightlessness, lunar gravity, etc. I’ve talked to people who have experienced both. I was surprised at what a surprise one-sixth G was.

In orbit, you’re weightless. Weightlessness was interesting, but not surprising. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but upon experiencing it, I had somewhat of a “well, that makes sense” reaction. On Earth, there’s gravity. On the moon, there’s gravity. So the moon should be more like Earth than space, right? I expected something like everyday walking around, but different. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

One-sixth G was like being weightless without being untethered from the surface. You could jump high enough that you basically experienced freefall coming back down, but you did always come back down. It was amazing. It was freeing. And, yeah, I would definitely make the trip to experience it for more than half a minute at a time.


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Another Sunday — Sojourn IV

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.

Jesus and the centurion in Capernaum (Matthew ...

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Another Sunday teaching kids at Sojourn. This week, the lesson was about respect.

It was interesting timing; I came out of last week annoyed and frustrated at the lack of respect that a small number of the kids had shown to me and their peers during the lesson. Frankly, I really didn’t want to have to teach this particular lesson to that particular group; it seemed very much like a case of casting pearls before swine.

As it turned out, those kids weren’t there anyway. It was a much smaller group, and pretty much the opposite of the class from the month before — rather than being too disruptive, they were too quiet; it was hard to get answers to questions initially (though they eventually warmed up a bit).

The lesson was out of Matthew 8. A Roman centurion comes up to Jesus and tells him his servant is sick. Jesus says, “No problem, I’ll go heal him.” And the centurion says, “Dude, you don’t have to do that. I know you can just give the word, and he’ll be better.” The centurion explains that, being an officer over large group of soldiers, he gets the idea of authority. All he has to do is give the order, and what he orders will be done. He gets that Jesus has an even greater version of that sort of authority. “You give the order, Jesus, and it’s done.” Jesus is all impressed, saying that in all of Israel He’s never met anybody with faith like that. He tells the centurion he can go home, that He’s healed the servant like he asked.

It’s a cool story. I like the stories were somebody gets it. The stories where Jesus is happy, the ones where, without it being written, you know He’s grinning. I’ve written before that I think there are a lot more of these than we acknowledge; tone of voice can completely change the meaning of the same words. I think people tend to read Jesus as dour when there was actually a grin on His face or a sparkle in His eyes. I think Jesus had a huge smile when Peter fell in the water and Jesus called him “ye of little faith.” But all of that’s beside the point. There’s no question Jesus was proud of this guy for getting it.

The lesson was about respect, and we talked about that. For the centurion, life was about authority. If he had a problem, he gave the order for it to be resolved. If he couldn’t, he went up the ladder to someone who could. If he lacked the authority, he would go to someone with more authority. He expected respect from those with less authority; he gave it to people with more authority. Jesus had authority to do something he couldn’t, so he respected Him. The kids and I talked about ways they could show respect to God.

But the authority part of it is fascinating, too. The centurion had authority over life or death. At his word, he could cause someone to die. Conversely, he could allow someone to continue to live. He got that as Proverbs 18:21 says, “the tongue has the power of life and death.” He had no reason not to believe that Jesus could order healing for the servant. We fail with that sometimes. We believe in the theory of an omnipotent God, but we have trouble with the reality of it. We have trouble with the fact that a God who could do everything could do anything.

What can your God do?