“Saving Skylab” Launches Tomorrow


TL;DR – You should watch Hubbell Power Systems’ Saving Skylab documentary, premiering tomorrow.

Long version: There’s a short story I like a lot in Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story about this guy named Cliff Bosch. Skylab has launched, and had its anomaly during ascent, and the micrometeoroid shield and one of the solar arrays are gone, and the other solar array is stuck and won’t deploy, and teams all over NASA are figuring out how to resolve the situation in time to launch the first crew. And some engineers at Marshall working the solar array issue get the idea that what might help is a “limb lopper” like lineman use to cut back tree limbs at a distance. So they call the AB Chance Company in Centralia, Missouri, and end up talking to Cliff Bosch. Long story short, Cliff ends up throwing a bunch of tools in a box and hoping a ride on the head of MacDonnell Douglas’s Aerocommander and coming down to Marshall. Before the end of the day, he’s having to call his wife who doesn’t know he’s gone, telling her he won’t be home that night, and hopping a flight to KSC.

It’s a tiny anecdote, but I love the story of this “ordinary guy” that woke up one morning and randomly helped save a space station.

Well, last year, I was contacted by someone from Hubbell Power Systems, which now owns AB Chance, which is still around, and still makes lineman’s tools. And this story has been part of their corporate mythology for almost half a century, but they didn’t have the NASA side of the story until they stumbled across my book. And now they wanted to make a documentary. So they did.

Selfishly, I love seeing that tiny story brought to life that way. They talked to Chuck Lewis, the Marshall guy that was the interface to Chance – and who it turns out still had the original receipts for the tools and one of the original tool prototypes, after it was given to him by a friend of his who’d taken it home after the Skylab rescue and been using it to cut deer antlers. But they also talked to people I didn’t on the Chance side, so it was neat getting the other side of the story. It’s beautifully shot and edited; they even made me look decent.

Point being, coronavirus has scuttled their original plans to debut it tomorrow at an IEEE power convention, but they’re sticking with the original date – National Lineman Day – with an online debut at 11 am CDT tomorrow. “Saving Skylab” is a free watch, and you can find out more and see the trailer at the website I linked to at the top. I’ve seen an advance screener; it’s about half an hour long and, in my admittedly very biased opinion, well worth it.

Review: “Love Changes Everything” by Micah Berteau


 

How is God like a Nintendo game?

Relative that question, there are, I’d argue, two types of people:

Those who are intrigued and would like to know the answer, and those who roll their eyes.

Which of those camps you’re in will most likely determine what you would think of pastor Micah Berteau’s “Love Changes Everything.” If you’re in the eye-rolling camp, you may want to stay away. If you’re in the intrigued camp, this book may well be for you.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and in the case of “Love Changes Everything,” that includes the description on the back cover, which will tell you that this is a book about the Biblical book of Hosea. 

Hosea, the story of a prophet whom God instructs to marry a prostitute and then to literally purchase her back after she leaves him, is a challenging text. There are deep truths about God there, which at a surface reading can be both beautiful and troubling. 

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your camp, this is not a book about Hosea. (If you would like a book that is about Hosea, one of the best may be Francine River’s “Redeeming Love,” a novel set during the California Gold Rush which captures the beauty and import of the book of Hosea captivatingly.)

“Love Changes Everything” does mention Hosea as much as it mentions anything. A third of the way through, for example, you’ll have read a good four of five paragraphs about Hosea. But to say it’s a book about Hosea is a stretch.

What it is about, as one might gather from the title, is Love. Specifically, God’s love, and what it means to to be loved by God and to love God.

It uses Hosea as a way to talk about that topic, but it also uses Nintendo games and GPS and toddler cups and cabinet doors.

In fact, it uses those things more liberally than scripture. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing – Berteau’s claim that Martha and Lazarus’ sister Mary had been a prostitute strikes me as dubious, as does one of his major claims about the Hosea story.)

Berteau uses these copious everyday analogies to personalize and humanize scripture. This is a book not for someone looking for a deep exegesis of scripture, but for someone looking for a more relatable way to connect to it. Berteau uses his own life, and the culture around us to make his points accessible, to make the Father’s love as tangible as, well, a father’s love.

I’ll admit that I found it a mixed bag – his GPS analogy that we don’t always get direction while we’re still going the right way resonated with me, his Michael Jackson reference that Jesus is the “Smoothest Criminal” perhaps less so. (I suspect I’m probably a little older than the target audience, so your milage may vary.)

All in all, “Love Changes Everything” is an engaging and energetic introduction to God’s love for those seeking a new  approach a new understanding.

(Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Handlebar publishing. Also full disclosure: I’m in the eye-rolling camp on the whole Nintendo thing.)

Almost a Review of First Man


When the movie Gravity came out a few years ago, interesting conversations were had about what sort of movie it was. It was about spaceships doing spaceship things, which would generally make it science fiction, but all the spaceships were real, and science fiction uses involves made up things.* I looked forward to seeing that trend grow – the idea that space was just another place that a movie could be set.

Exhibit A: First Man.

As apparently must be mentioned in any discussion of First Man, this movie is not The Right Stuff or Apollo 13.

Those were space movies. This is a movie set partially in space.

Specifically, it’s a family drama – an intimate and personal portrait of a family; a family in which the dad has a rather unusual day job. A day job which involves the movie being set partially in space. Because everyone works somewhere, and sometimes that work involves travel.

I came out of watching First Man the first time, and immediately starting discussing it with the person I watched it with. My immediate reaction – I’m still processing. Honestly, that was still largely true a week later when I saw it again.

I’d had this sense that First Man wasn’t going to be what a lot of people thought it was going to be, but it wasn’t anything I thought it would be, either.

The story of the Armstrongs unfolds in a way that is deeply personal and unflinching; the story it tells and the way it is told mesh deftly – every intricacy of how the movie is shot tells its story.

I’ll admit I have mixed feelings about the subject – Having had the opportunity to meet and talk with Apollo astronauts, to get to know them as people, I made the decision that I wanted Neil Armstrong to stay larger than life for me, more legend than human. The Neil Armstrong in this movie is very human; but while it’s largely exhaustive in its pursuit of accuracy, there are a few moments of speculation that shift it back into the status of legend, growing and changing in each retelling.

The result of my processing is this – I really like the movie for what it is; a well-made biopic of a fascinating man, and the vanguard of the era of movies that just happen to be set in space.

And for space just happening to the setting, the space part is done as well as, if not better than, any movie before it. The space scenes here aren’t sexy or glamorous; they’re realistic in a way I don’t think I’ve seen before, and all the more powerful for it. I strongly suspect this movie captures what it was like to actually ride in these vehicles in a way that’s never been done before.

I almost hate to acknowledge it, but even just this week I’ve had people bring up the flag-planting controversy, and I’ve seen speculation it hurt the box office. Yes, it’s true that you see the flag on the moon without seeing the frankly anticlimactic moment its planted, but that’s missing the point. The sad irony is that unfair criticism are keeping people from watching what is almost certainly one of this year’s movies that most celebrates America.

With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 now less than a year away, First Man makes a half-century old story fresh enough to inspire in a new era of exploration.

*Of course, the orbital mechanics in Gravity were science that was fiction, but I’m actually on the side of the filmmakers on that one.

Review: “Hope of Nations” by John Dickerson


If there’s one thing many modern Christians do well, it’s despair for the state of the world. Either the modern age is the end times, or it certainly should be. 

John Dickerson’s “Hope of Nations: Standing Strong in a Post-Truth, Post-Christian World” is a handy guide for that mentality, which is both everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with the book.

The premise of the book is this: Modern society is abandoning capital-T Truth, which seems to pendulum between being the belief that there are some things that are more than just opinions no more valid than other opinions, and being God. This new “anything goes, everything’s equal” mentality is leading to a worldwide cultural decline and societal collapse.

At its best, the book has practical advice for living as a Christian in that world, both in terms of how to recognize “Post-Truth” fallacies, and in terms of how to live in such a way as to make the world a better place. How does Christianity prove its relevance and merit in a world decreasingly likely to accept “because it’s true” as a compelling argument? “We should not be outloved,” Dickerson challenges in an example of the strongest parts of this book. 

Unfortunately, such points are scattered sparsely throughout the book, and, most often, buried toward the end. How this is received will depend on the reader. At one end of the spectrum, the book seems unlikely to make much impact on a non-Christian; it’s “preach to the choir” approach seems more likely to alienate than convince a reader not already in Dickerson’s doctrinal camp. To the reader of a similar mindset, however, that choir-preaching could be a welcome pep-rally, a reinforcement that things really are as bad as they thought, and that those they were inclined to blame really are at fault. 

For myself, I would have preferred more meat and less pep rally. I found myself wanting to give up on the book after multiple recountings of the same anecdote about just how depraved those folks in San Francisco are, and disappointed when I finally reached a chapter challenging Christians wanted to make a difference to be “Known for Doing Good in a Post-Church Era” that the pages it spent exhorting the reader to “do good” never got around to positing what might be recognized as “good” things for a Christian to do in today’s society.

The meat of the book is good, but your enjoyment of the book as a whole will entirely depend on whether you find getting there a slog or a celebration.

Review: “The Master’s Mind” by Lance Hahn


There is a line, toward the end of Lance Hahn’s “The Master’s Mind,” that sums up the heart of the book in both its depth and simplicity: “Repent doesn’t only mean to turn away to be change one’s mind and start agreeing with God.”

For those who perceive Christianity as a religion fueled largely by “Thou Shalt Nots” – whether believer or otherwise – this book will be revelatory. Its focus, indeed, is not even on “Thou Shalts.” Rather, it is concerned much less with the things that a person refrain from doing or the things they must do than it is concerned with how a person should be thinking about the world, or, more accurately, about God.

There is today a modern resurgence of the philosophy of Stoicism, teaching that one’s world is influenced by nothing so much as by how one perceives it, and this book provides a Christian angle on that approach –– there is nothing that shapes one’s world so much as God, and one’s experience of that world is driven by how you understand Him. Life becomes simpler and more rewarding the more that understanding and appreciation is kept in place.

Hahn builds his case incrementally, beginning with establishing an understanding of the world around us – including the challenges therein – before culminating in a guide to finding rest in that chaos.

An accessible and engaging read, “The Master’s Mind” is a beneficial revelation or reminder to anyone seeking peace in an overwhelming world.

(Disclosure: I was provided a review copy of “The Master’s Mind” by Handlebar Marketing.)

Ten Years of iPhone


The first iPhone was released 10 years ago Thursday.

I didn’t buy one that day. I waited two days.

I did, out of curiosity, go to the AT&T store on release day – this was before there was an Apple store locally – but the line was so long I wouldn’t have been able to get into the store before I had to be at an improv show that night. In my head, I was just going because I wanted to see one; I’m not sure if I would have bought one that night or not.

This was, after all, back before carrier subsidies and installment plans and the like, if you wanted an iPhone, you paid the full, rather-substantial price of the iPhone.

Honestly, I really didn’t know why I wanted one. As a long-time Mac fan, back before Apple had the brand power it does today, there was a general trust that it would be worthwhile. But there was also a sense that there were intangibles here that I couldn’t fully appreciate. So I bought one.

And I was right. The moment it clicked, I was shopping for groceries. The store’s radio started playing Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night.” There was a line in the song I couldn’t understand, and I went through this frequent cycle of wanting to know what the lyric was but being in a place where I was not able to look it up, to being in a place where I was able to look it up but not remembering that I wanted to, to hearing it again and being frustrated that I never remembered to find out what it was. And on that day, not long after I got my iPhone, I was buying groceries, and I heard the song, and I wondered what the lyric was. And I pulled out my phone, and I looked it up. And in that moment, I began to realize what this device was that I had purchased. Knowledge, unchained.

I was slower to get an iPad, suspecting that it would prove to be exactly what I thought it would be. The Apple Watch was more like the iPhone experience – I didn’t know what it was going to be for me, but I suspected it would be for me something I didn’t know, which has proven to be the case, particularly in the health area, which I didn’t think I would care about at all, but has turned out to play a big role in losing weight.

Ten years later, I’ve been through a series of iPhones. That first one still works. And it remains the bar for new technology – Good technology does exactly what you wanted it to do. Great technology does the things you never knew you needed.

Book Review: “Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart” by Glenys Nellist


I was recently offered an advance copy of “Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart” by Glenys Nellis to review for this blog. This review is a guest post by Rebecca Hitt, since she has experience having a girl’s heart.

I have a confession to make. I am guilty of a pretty big sin.

And have been since I was a little girl. For a long time, I allowed myself to stew in this sin. Are you ready to know what it is? Alright, here goes… I, Rebecca Elizabeth Hitt (formerly Freeman), I am guilty of envy. Of whom, you might ask? People in the Bible.

I admit it. I used to read Bible stories where God spoke directly and out loud to people and I felt envy. How come God used to speak to people, but not anymore? I wanted to hear the voice of God! I wanted to be so dear and loved to God that he spoke to me! Why was I not special enough? Was I not good enough? Why not me, God, why not me?

Over the years, I have learned just how often I *do* head the voice of God. But sometimes it’s helpful to get a gentle hint. “Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart” wonderfully illustrates the way God speaks to us now and works on our behalf. It beautifully ties stories from the Bible to life today and shows how the two are related. After each story comes a “love letter” from God that draw a correlation between the story and our lives. Each story is labeled without identifying the Biblical figure it’s about. Just “The _____ girl.” The Hopeful Girl. The Busy Girl. Who among us hasn’t been hopeful? Who hasn’t been busy? Whenever we place our hope in God, we are Hannah. Whenever we are busy, we are Martha. Not only does God speak to us, He speaks to us through the people in these stories.

I really enjoyed this book. I hope that anyone who reads it — girl or boy, child or adult — walks away with a renewed sense of God’s presence in their life.