Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Usefulness of Midrash

רב יוספ אלישיב שליט''א (by wayupnorthtonowhere)

I put this together as an opening for my final Midrash research paper.  I still haven't decided if it's staying in, since it sure doesn't read like a research paper.  But it was fun...  so I'll probably leave it :)

***

John walks up to the podium and faces ten thousand people. He lightly taps on the microphone, making sure it’s still on, causing a loud echo to reverberate throughout the auditorium. A few people wince, others laugh but most sit in impatience waiting for this man to get on with it. They came to hear a good story, not a bumbling presenter. John proceeds to recite, word for word, the story of Sarah sending away Hagar and the angel who convinced Hagar to return.

The eyelids in the audience begin to droop. It’s been a long day and this evening recitation doesn’t help to keep people engaged. If only there were fewer “thees” and “thous” they could at least understand the story. Besides, everyone has heard this story before, why is John beating such a dead horse? Instead many people have already pulled out their blackberries and begun responding to, and sending, e-mail.

With a deep sigh John looks around the room and sees that he’s lost his audience. Many of them are openly talking with one another. As he listens he can even hear a few distant snores echoing off the auditorium walls. Slowly he walks off the stage, wondering what has come to the world today that everyone has forgotten that “the importance of Torah study [is] the foundation of Jewish life. God created the world on condition that the people of Israel would study Torah and fulfill its commandments.” Didn’t Rabbi Yehudah teach that “There are twelve hours in a day, three hours of which the Holy One, blessed be He, is occupied with the Torah” (Tractate Avoda Zara 3b)? What is wrong with these people?

David steps on stage and passes John saying, without a hint of irony, “That was a great retelling, thanks for warming them up.” He proceeds to the podium and clicks a button on his laptop. Soon the auditorium is filled with music. Many different voices sing the Lekh Lekha with a medieval hint that slowly wakes the crowd to hints of sex, fire, blood, bonfires and destruction. With another click he plays a rough mix of New Wave and Jazz themes with hints of Fiddler On the Roof as people begin to tap their feet without realizing it. Eyes begin to open and focus as David begins to grab their attention and Blackberries are pocketed.

With music continuing to play softly in the background David tells the same story John told just minutes before. He asks the audience, “How do you face the impossible?” David continues to describe the lessons of the Midrash from Genesis Rabbah 45,7 where Hagar see’s not one or two but five different angels, and how she thinks nothing of seeing what very few people ever see because she was a member of Abraham’s household, and so she was used to seeing them. David continues to share his own story about how he is often asked to find unique solutions that no one has come up with before. He is tasked to come up with the impossible solutions and make them a reality.

David then pulls out a book, Sarah by Orson Scott Card, and asks the audience, “What if Hagar was a self-absorbed woman who vied for Sarah’s position in Abraham’s household? Why is such a selfish woman given such an honor as bearing the child of nations while each one of you in this room receives nothing?” David then shows Rembrandt’s “Dismissal of Hagar” and talks about Hagar’s involvement in the ten trials of Abraham and how Rembrandt’s depiction shows this trial. David continues to bring out different sources of information about Hagar, painting a picture of a woman with the same flaws and selfishness that everyone else in the room shares.

John stands amazed at the way David both captured the audience and made the Torah apply to their lives. As David walks off the stage John just has to know where David got some of his ideas and how he was able to keep the group interested, at which point David promises to have lunch with John and talk through everything.

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Aging Gracefully

An Old Soul... (by Wiseacre studio) I've recently reconnected with a bunch of different friends from high school through Facebook and been checking out their pictures to see how much they've changed.  I've continued to stay in contact with friends from college, but I also continue to be surprised when I see their pictures.  All I can think of is, man they're getting old.  Sadly, in many cases, they seem to be the worse for wear.

Then. . . I look in the mirror.

We keep the perfect picture of someone as they were when we knew them years ago.  Actually, we glorify them so much that in our mind they look even better than they really did.  Then when we look in their faces years later we recognize that our memory was just as flawed as theirs was.

Yes. . . I'm not aging all that gracefully either.

So, what's the point of all this?  I'm old and I'm happy with that. 

The more I look at my hands I see the veins popping out.  I remember loving to push on my dads veins and see what would happen.  I'm even happier that Rachel seems to have inherited that interest as well.

So, may we all recognize we're just getting uglier and uglier (er, more refined), and be happy with that.

Peace,
+Tom

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Hole In My Pocket

Money (by TW Collins) I'm coming up on 10 years supporting the same company.  There are a couple of things which happen when you have you ten year anniversary.  First, and least important, I should get a plaque.  I also get a whole lot more vacation time each year (over a month) which is great.  The problem I'm having though is the third thing I get, $500.

Initially I'd understood Erin had laid claim to the money, so everything was good.  Last night I found out I get to actually spend the money however I want.  That leads to the obvious question, how do I spend the money (I have to boost the economy, right)?  Here are a couple ideas I have:

  1. Put it down for the deposit of an Aptera.  I like this idea, but don't really need a new car.  Erin said no, but what she doesn't know won't hurt her.
  2. Put it toward credit cards.  Not very exciting, but certainly more responsible.
  3. Buy a pair of PoweriZer Flying Jumpers.  Again, Erin said no to this one because I'd kill myself.  Again, what she doesn't know won't hurt her.  But she says I'll use it for a month and get tired of it. . .  She's probably right.
  4. Buy a Sony A300K Digital SLR camera.  I've been wanting this for a while, just waiting for it to come available.

So, what do you all think I should go for?  Something not even on the list?

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Crayons Baby, Crayons

Life is about using the whole box of crayons by mbrinamen I came across this All 120 Crayon Names, Color Names and Fun Facts and fell in love with it.  I especially appreciate the hex colors since they can be used in Web design.  And, if it's a crayon color, you know it must be a good one (except maybe Spring Green).

Personally, I love Outer Space. It's great that Outer Space isn't actually black.

In any case, check it out.  See how many names you recognize.  Personally, I can't say I've ever seen Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown, and I sure don't think it looks very brown.

Peace,
+Tom

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ponderables - Meat Processing Plants

Houston Rodeo - meat processing image by sikeri I was just thinking about bone-in pork chops (I love pork chops, since I was allergic to everything but pork I ate well).  Those saws which cut through bone and meat at meat processing plants (or even the grocery store) must be incredibly sharp and strong.

I'd be willing to bet they don't really encounter nay resistance cutting through a cow bone, and since cows are so big, they must have strong bones, right?

That got me pondering. . . If you worked in a meat processing plant would it be easy to dispose of a body?  Seriously, just do the deed then throw him (or her) under the saw a few times and it's be easy to scatter the evidence, right?

Now, me entire knowledge of meat processing plants comes from The Simpsons and Robin Cook's Toxin, so I'm clearly no expert.

But you can't help but wonder. . .  What if?

All I know is that I'll be respecting my grocery store butcher more now.

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Unpacking

iPhone unpacking by ntr23 I came across this iPhone Unpacking slide show.  man I wish I'd thought of this for my Dash.  It's worth checking out.

It's incredibly creative, and makes me wonder how we can all be more creative.

Peace,
+Tom

Scrabble

Jonny Wilkinson Squirrel - Rugby World Cup Final Practice..:O) by law kevin Reading Rob's recent post on his pet skunk Cyranose I began thinking about my own favorite undomesticated pet.  When I was in 5th grade our teacher lived on a farm.  This was extra appropriate because my school, Burgundy Farm Country Day School, was a working farm as well (this is cool, they have their own Wikipedia page).  Because of her love of animals we had a couple of our own throughout the year.

We got to raise a pig that had been born on her farm.  We had bunnies (when they had a litter I remember guying one for $5.  Nibbles was a great pet rabbit for years).  We had snakes, two great black snakes we got to feet mice each week.  We had mice which happily bred and got fed. . . to the snakes.  We had two rats as well. 

This class, more than any, taught me that animals aren't to be feared, take responsibility and care, and that almost any animal can be a pet.  I continue to have a hard time understanding people who think any pet is "weird".

The best animal we had though, was a squirrel she had rescued and been nursing back to health named Scrabble.  This was the most memorable and, to this day, the pet I remember as being the most special.

Scrabble and I shared a common bond. . . not many people liked us.  He would bite pretty much anyone.  I remember having him on my desk during class once, my arms circled around him so he wouldn't jump off, and hi bit me.  I wasn't the first, I think he'd bit other people.  Generally though he would bite and people would them avoid him completely.

He bit me, sure, but I never stopped playing with him.  I remember, vaguely, having him on my shoulder at times.  He was so much fun, and so unique.  This was, without a doubt, the best pet I'd never owned.

If I could convince my wife, I'd definitely get a squirrel for a pet.  Unfortunately she won't even allow snakes in the house, so I think I have an uphill battle.  In the meantime though I guess I'll just begin leaving peanuts out and attracting as many squirrels to my back yard as possible.

What's the best pet you've never owned?

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Influence

I've been re-reading the Ender's Shadow series by Orson Scott Card.  One of the things I had a hard time buying into the first time I read it was the influence that Peter Wiggin and Valentine Wiggin had simply by posting information on the Internet.  These were kids and teens who posted essays on the Internet pointing out actions that different nations were taking, were it could lead, and calls to action to make change.  I just couldn't get to believe that with all the billions of pages on the Internet anyone would find and listen to one post.  I clearly failed to recognize how Internet searching would improve.

I've written a couple different posts reviewing, commenting or venting about different companies.  In almost every instance, within a day or two, I'll get a response from someone at the company.  My Red Gate post got a response from both a developer and a customer service representative.

Just the other day I posted about a pretty bad experience I had at Cheeburger Cheeburger.  Again, I want to make sure that it's clear I've previously had great experience there, just this one time was disappointing.  In any case, I just received an incredibly good e-mail from the general manager of the store we were at offering a free meal, apologizing for the service, and thanking me for even leaving a tip.  An example of the e-mail was this comment:

I take customer service in my restaurant very seriously and am very sorry that you and your family had such a poor time Saturday night.  It is my desire to provide a good meal at a good price for a family to enjoy themselves for a short time.  We accomplished none of that for you and your family. You gave us so many opportunities to take care of you and we never did.

We're definitely going to be calling and going back.  I've always enjoyed their food and service.  I'm sure the meal will be excellent.  And I still plan to bring as many idiots (er... teens) with me who are willing to scarf down a pounder burger (actually 20 ounces).

These responses to my posts just amaze me.  First that they came so quickly, but also that it's clear each person read the entire post and is genuinely interested in giving feedback.  The Cheeburger Cheeburger manager went so far as to track down my IM name (not hard) and e-mail me at that address, talk about follow-through.  I was especially impressed that they even figured out which restaurant I went to, though I did leave vague hints.

It's clear that just as the Internet has grown, it's also become really, really small.  When you write on something that interests someone, they'll find it.  More than that, they'll read it and act on it.

Influence. 

Who would have thought any one of us can have it? 

How will you use it?

Peace,
+Tom

Rocknoceros

Rocknoceros by stmatthewsva This past Saturday my friends Mason and Miriam arranged for a mission trip fundraiser at our church.  They brought in the kids band Rocknoceros.  These guys were just great.

They write and perform their own songs which range from simply silly to educational. . . and silly.  They had a kazoo and a vibra-bell (I think that's what it was).  Really though the music was just fun.  What really surprised me though was how they really recognized the needs of their audience.

These guys are singing to kids anywhere from under 1 year old to over 7.  You can only imagine how much the younger kids wanted to sit still and listen to music for an hour.

hula hooping by stmatthewsva So, Rocknoceros also brought hula hoops and sidewalk chalk.  Some kids simply ran around and played but lots of people hula hooped, played with the hoops and drew on the sidewalk.  A lot of parents took the hoops and rolled them along, letting their kids run along after it.  They even had enough jokes to keep the adults entertained (and we all loved singing along to Yellow Submarine).

Rachel even convinced me to give it a try, but I have no hips and, in general, just stink at that.  I certainly gave the adults an enjoyable time watching me hoop without much hula.

rocknoceros by stmatthewsvaIt may have helped that the weather was gorgeous.  About 77 degrees and decent sun without baking us. 

Overall though it turned out to be an awesome day with tons and tons of people coming out.  After our parents night out bombed last week, I was nervous about this one (3 out of 17 kids signed up actually showed.  But those 3 had a blast).  I met a ton of people who had never even heard of our church, all of whom had either heard of Rocknoceros or simply come out because they were invited.  Everyone I saw (Except some older kids who dozed) went away having loved the event.

rocknoceros by stmatthewsva There are a couple of pictures up on our flickr site which are definitely worth checking out. 

We did a surprisingly small amount of advertising for this event.  We only showed the event during the announcement slides before church, in the bulletin and as a church-wide e-mail.  We didn't even make a verbal announcement of the event.  And still people were interested enough to bring themselves and lots of friends.

I am often amazed at how people will come out to things if they're invited and they're interested in the activity.  People don't want to come out to bible study to learn more about god, they can get that at their own church if they want.  But when you have a quality show that interests someone, they'll come on out.  This really needs to be the way we focus at reaching people.

Peace
+Tom

Monday, April 21, 2008

I Love Dashing

Dash sideshot by Dash Navigation, Inc. Last January my car was broken into and my incredibly nice navigation system, a Garmin 7500 was stolen, along with our portable DVD player.  State Farm was great, taking care of all repairs (after a call or two) and cutting me a check for a new navigation system.

While I liked the Garmin I found the traffic information wasn't really very good (all reported traffic along my route seems to be at least half an hour (or more) behind.  So that by the time it's reported the actual traffic is gone, but something worse could be in the way.

About a year ago I read about the Dash, which was set to release this past December.  In the end it was delayed until March 26th.  But man, when I saw it had shipped I was like a kid in a candy store.

Gas prices What makes the Dash different is that it connects to the Internet through a cell phone (or Wifi if you're near your house or when I'm at church). . . all the time.  So, when I search for a restaurant it actually searches Yahoo and shows me the restaurants and even the number of stars people rated it.  When I look for gas it shows me the closest stations and, in most cases, the price (though admittedly it's often a day or two old and my two favorite gas stations aren't on it but it's still a good comparison, and great when you're out of your local area).  I can also find an address in a Web browser and send it directly to my dash, or reorder my search items on the Web, or whatever, and the Dash is updated before I can blink.

Dash traffic More than all of that though, is that it uploads my actual speed driving on a road (and everyone else with a Dash) and then sends it to all other Dash's in the area.  So, on my way into work, the radio didn't say anything about traffic on the toll road, but as I watched my dash I saw the road go from solid green (another dash person(s) is flying down the road at normal speed) to solid red (Dash drivers are now stuck in horrible traffic).  It also saw other Dash drivers get in a bit of traffic on the beltway along my route, and by showing me other options I saved 20 minutes getting to school.  Tell me that isn't awesome?  Even if no Dash person is on the road it will show historically how a road does and show reported problems (the 30 minute delayed stuff from the radio).

What's it missing you ask?  Well, I'd like to be able to speak my address to it.  Some people complain about no Bluetooth (you can't use it as your phone) and not XM radio, and that you have to pay a monthly fee.

Personally, I'm fine paying the fee.  I was paying $6 a month for crappy traffic on my Garmin.  And I'd pay extra for map updates (so I really never updated it beyond the first free one).  Dash includes live traffic and automatic map updates and software updates).  I can't say I care about Bluetooth or XM.  I've learned that I prefer getting one component which excels at what it does.  So I have an XM radio and my Bluetooth headset.

The great thing about the Dash is that it's really focused on being the best navigation system you'll ever own.  They are listening to user feedback, and planning improvements.  When my first dash only connected once over cell then never again, within two days I had a new one and mailed back the broken one.  Tell me that isn't awesome customer service.

All right, I think I'm done gushing.  I wrote ridiculously long reviews on CNet and Amazon anyway.  But having saved 20 minutes and staying completely out of traffic for a drive again makes very clear why ILMD.

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Impact of Bad Service

Cheeburger Cheeburger logo Tonight we decided to have a quick dinner at Cheeburger Cheeburger.  We hadn't been in a while, but from other trips we really like the restaurant.  While we've come to accept the 15 minutes to prepare our food, the rest of the service is great.  You can get just about anything on your burger, get it in any size (1/4 pound up to 1 pound) and they have frings (half onion rings half fries)!  to top it all off they have flavored sodas, about 12 - 15 flavored teas and more milkshakes than you can count.  Plus, one of my teens form church works there, so it's definitely a winner. . . Until tonight.

We waited at least 15 minutes until we ended up finding a manager to take our drink order.  Then another 10 minutes for the waitress to show up and take our order, without an apology.  I had to point to and explain every menu item I wanted to order.  She even messed up our order, but after waiting for the food, we sure weren't waiting again :)  After the order goes in it was another 20 to 30 minutes before the food showed up. We did see our waitress in the meantime though, she came to ask if we were ready for the check, apparently not realizing we had a clear table and hadn't even gotten our food yet.  Sad to say, I was tempted to say yes, but Rachel would have been upset.

Are you getting the idea?  We'd been there 45 - 50 minutes before the food finally appeared. . . wrong.  My burger was ok, though smaller than I'd expected.  Both were overcooked, and Erin's missed a topping.

Not that the meal was bad, and I sure don't want to express that.  the food is always very good, even when it is wrong.  the frings were excellent and Rachel loved dipping her burger in the cheese sauce and eating the applesauce.

I was telling Erin that I (and her actually) are incredibly patient people when it comes to service.  These people work incredibly hard for relatively low pay and extremely high turnover, and most do all that they can to make a meal memorable.  But when we do get irritated, we get really irritated.

I think more than anything I was irritated that a manager didn't come by at all after initially having to flag him down to get drinks and see how the rest of the meal was going.  I was also irritated that the waitress didn't seem to think there was any problem.  We decided somewhat early on that we'd tip low (a very hard decision for two people who tip about 20%), especially if we ended up paying for our whole meal.  Without a manager coming by, and with the time we'd already invested we didn't want to flag one down, we ended up leaving less than 10% (I played with the idea of leaving nothing or 5%, but Erin convinced me to go to about 7%).

So, an hour and 15 minutes later we're out the door.  Truth be told, if this were our first visit we'd never go back.  Heck, I know friends who'd have left no tip, or left before the food came without paying anything.  Thank goodness we have some better experiences with them under our belt.  I'd still recommend the restaurant, though not our waitress Lisa.

The point here though is that in everything we do, we need to realize that others are involved.  When we make someone wait for us to finish our task or wait for us to show up on time, that person will still love us. . . and decide to spend less time with us.

Peace,
+Tom

Update: I received an incredibly detailed and apologetic e-mail from the general manager of the Cheeburger Cheeburger we attended.  I talk a bit more about that in my post on Influence so check that out.  Needless to say, they have made me happy and I'm looking forward to my next visit.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Fly Jumping

I came across this video the other day and I'm completely hooked.

Some information I came across these things is from flixxy stating:

Powerbocking is the act of jumping and running, much like parkour, with elastic-like spring-loaded stilts.

For some it is an extreme sport, for others it is a form of exercise or even a means of artistic expression. The use of the stilts to perform extreme jumping, running and acrobatics is known as 'Bocking' or 'PowerBocking' after the inventor Alexander Böck.

There are 3 main companies producing powerbocks for hobbyists: Fly Jumpers, PoweriZers and Pro Jumps.

I can't think of a reason not to do this. Well, except that on Amazon one reviewer says that if you hit a pebble you fall on your tookus, and you can't stand still on them without holding something. But as someone who had Rollerblades within months of them coming out (best parents ever) I am all over these!

Now. . . where am I going to get $300?

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pause

Pause Church Just before church this Sunday Rachel began having the urge.  You know, the potty urge.  As she and Erin headed out to go potty Rachel said:

We have to go now 'cause you can't pause church.

It only goes to show that, like all three year olds, my kid is smarter than yours.

TiVo has, without a doubt, changed her life.

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Second Dinners

Kentucky Fried Chicken reast and a roll by iirraa Wednesday night we have WATCH (Wednesdays at Church) which is our bible study.  One of the great things about WATCH (besides prayer and being with friends - of course) is second dinners.

See, every Wednesday we begin with a great dinner before we break off into groups for study.  Since I have dinner with the family before I head over, I've come to call these second dinners.  They're great because if it's something good I can always find room, if it's not so good, who cares, I already ate.

Last week I got to choose the next weeks meal, and I chose fried chicken.  Fried chicken is easily my favorite second dinner.  Somehow I just go completely insane.

This week I had some tortellini at home then went to church and had a breast of chicken and a leg and corn.  Then went back for potatoes and a thigh.  then went back for another breast of chicken. . . I was feeling pretty full. 

I mentioned to one of the people I was eating with that I'd grab a leg as I headed off to bible study.  He thought I was joking. . . until he saw me with the leg in my mouth and a cup of soda in my hand.  Thank goodness the bible study wasn't on gluttony.  I did let him know that it was all okay though, since I take my cholesterol medicine to balance out the insane amount of fried chicken I ingest (I'm sure my doctor would agree).

I have no idea what comes over me, but fried chicken second dinners are my favorite.  Every day this past week I've been looking forward to it.

All I can tell you is that it's great to spend time with some great people, and have a great meal, whether it's the first or second of the night.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

All Things

everything bagel by niznoz One of the hardest things to learn in life is that we don't have to be all things to even one person.

I was thinking about this the other day talking to a teen about dating, then thinking more about my own relationships.  Until after college I was always convinced that I had to be all things to the person I was dating.

If she wanted to go dancing, I should go too, since it dhows I'm interested in her interests.  If I want to go on a fishing trip, it's better to at least ask if the other person wants to come along.

In our constant drive to make our significant other happy we often forget what makes us happy.  We change to fit the other person, both for good and for bad.

This stretches beyond dating.  I know a lot of people whose lives began centering on their kids life and never make time to go out with friends or do anything without the kids around.

This also happens to married couples who spend all of their time at work or with their spouse, never making new friendships and often letting existing ones lapse.  The sad part here is that if the worst happens and a spouse leaves both people find themselves without anyone to share their grief and feelings.

One of the most important things we can communicate to teens, and ourselves, is the need to have a life outside of our primary life.  Spend time with friends away from your spouse.  Spend time with your spouse away from your work.  Heck, spend time with someone you're dating away from your friends.

At no point is it possible to be all things to any one person, and no one person can be all of the things you need.  When that realization comes it can often split up a relationship, unless you've recognized this reality beforehand and always fostered a spirit of time away from your primary life.

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Gone Trollin'

Fishing Trip by tlbignerd Yesterday I went out fishing with a couple friends.  We had a pretty relaxed day, we even got there an hour early, due to a minor miscommunication from Rob, our fearless leader and me, our driver, meaning we had time for a great lunch with fried fish, crab cakes, key lime pie and Steelhead bites (lightly breaded fish bites, great stuff!).

Now, this was a fishing trip out on a boat.  Anyone whose known me for a few years may remember my previous fishing boat experiences.  The first time I threw up near the beginning and was fine the rest of the day.  The second trip I puked the whole day.  I lay down the whole time and could barely stand, let alone ever reel in a fish.

This time I was prepared.  I ate nothing since dinner the night before, and drank very little, some water and a not-so-good Thai Iced Tea.  I had nausea acupressure wrist bands on an hour before leaving and had my pack of Dramamine.  The weather was great, very little wind, meaning very little rocking, so I was ready for a barf free day.

Then, did you notice lunch up above?

Okay, thankfully, I actually didn't throw up.  I got a bit nauseous around 4, took two Dramamine and sat a bit. A little while, and one short nap of dreaming about classes and programming later I felt great again.

Lighthouse by tlbignerd This really was a fun trip.  There were six guys, including myself, and while we didn't catch a ton of fish, each of us got to reel in at least two.  As my friend Mason mentions in his Striped Bass Fishing post, sometimes it was just more fun to take pictures than to catch fish, though I also preferred just sitting and watching the water (and a cool low flying helicopter near an airport).

Fish by tlbignerd I caught two fish, a 37 inch and 36 inch bass.  To my wife's appreciation, it was pre-season so it was catch and release only.  But man we caught some huge and pretty fish.

Next time I think I'd go stream fishing, I just prefer the feeling that I'm really fishing instead of just reeling.  But there's something to be said for others doing all the work and I get to just enjoy the glory :)

There's really something to be said for just taking a day off and checking out of life for a while with some friends, and a few people you barely know.  It's always worth leaving life behind for a bit.

The pictures I know of are:

Peace,
+Tom

Monday, April 14, 2008

Easter

Easter by stmatthews One of my favorite seasons is, without a doubt, turtleneck season. . .  but that's a story for another day.

In the church calendar, my favorite and most memorable time of year is Easter.  It's far, far better than Christmas in my book, but don't tell Santa that.

There's something about parading in with palms on Palm Sunday.  Growing up we paraded from a park about three blocks away.  It was sometimes cold (I remember the pond being frozen over one year) always exciting.

easter by stmatthewsAfter Palm Sunday we head into a week of, what can only be described as, silence.  The altar (that big table in the middle) is stripped bare and the church is empty.

At no time of the year is Jesus more on my mind than around Easter.  I think constantly about his life, his death, and that it means I get a free pass into heaven and a friend to hold my hand.

Then, Sunday and color!  From the flowers to the Easter eggs, the entire world comes alive.

easter by stmatthews This Easter was no different.  Heck, it was almost better because I took part in our sunrise service where we lit a huge fire in the middle of the woods and parade back into church.  Sounds dangerous, I know, but once the trees burn down to glowing embers, it's really quite beautiful.

All this is to say, we have pictures from our Easter service up on the Web site finally.  You should definitely check them out (there's even one of me).  I hope your Easter was a filled with color and life as mine is.

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Leaning Positive

Don't worry be happy new year by Dapper Chris, a parent at church, always, always, always pays me a compliment.  Even today during the sermon there was a statement about kind people or something, and she whispered my name, meaning it was something I did and she appreciated. Almost every week I see her she pays me a compliment. 

For at least 3 years this has been going on.  Get's pretty repetitive and mundane, right?

The funny thing is, it never gets mundane.  In fact, every time she says it I find myself pausing in whatever I'm doing for a second and smiling.

Every compliment makes me thankful that I've been in the positions I've had at church, and makes me feel like I am both useful and have made a real difference in multiple people's lives.

I wonder if I build people up the same way.  I try to compliment people a lot on both the big and little things things they do.  Sometimes I wonder if it's too much, and someone will think I'm being disingenuous.

Having someone like Chris though helps me realize just how important and meaningful constant positive reinforcement is.  People lean toward the negative, and having positive, specific reinforcement always, always, always brings me to lean positive.

Peace,
+Tom

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sweatshops

Sweatshop 2 night time by Sailing ( Ronn ) One of the most fascinating times I have as a youth leader is when it comes to listening and helping the students with their papers.  More and more teachers are giving vague topics which means that this is one of the great times when you get to really find out what the teens are interested in, since they are choosing topics that interest them.

Last year one of the teens was telling me about the horrible condition of sweatshops, especially in China.  Truly, the reason China has become such a huge economic super power is because it is a country which treats it's people (especially workers) so poorly.  Christy figured this out in her paper.  while it wasn't news to me, sweatshops are awful, though I had thought it was getting better.

BusinessWeek put together a comparison of How China's labor conditions stack up against those of other low-cost nations which is fascinating.  While fascinating, it further reminds me that I need to be watchful of what I'm buying, and where I'm buying it from.  Something that seemed almost impossible until today.

Church Marketing Sucks put together Just Ideas: Buying Sweatshop-Free which lists two sites that list ways to buy sweatshop free at New American Dream and SweatFree Communities.  There is also some interesting information in Globalization Along Our Border & In Our Backyard.

I'm not sure just how easy this is going to be to follow, but man I'm going to try.  Maybe it will cut back on my spending too (wife bonus).

Now that I'm off my high horse though, all the links above give a few stores to shop from, but all for far more than I'm really willing to pay for clothes.  Any dress clothes, about all I shop for, are insanely expensive (a button down shirt for at least $65).  The closest I came was All American Clothing, but they have no button down shirts or slacks.  Anyone else have ideas on where to buy somewhat less

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, April 11, 2008

I Still Miss Rose

Since I'm on some kind of TV craziness, Doctor Who is coming back April 18th.  Yet another show that has been gone for far too long. . . but then a week is even too long when it comes to Doctor Who.  So, in that theme I was very excited, but could also safely guess, which doctor Who character I am.


What Doctor Who character are you? (Tenth Doctor mainly)
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Rose Tyler

You are Rose Tyler! You are very kind, adventurous and brave. You are not afraid to face the unknown and with the Doctor you can make it through most anything. You are very close to the doctor and you two get along wonderfully.

Rose Tyler

 
94%

The Doctor

 
81%

Martha Jones

 
81%

Jackie Tyler

 
69%

Donna Noble

 
63%

Captain Jack

 
56%

Mickey Smith

 
50%

The Master

 
50%

I still ache that rose left the show.  Craziness, I think not.  I've somehow since become obsessed with Billie Piper, and only wish the Doctor had truly had a chance to tell her his feelings.

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Battlestar is back!

Last Friday one of the best shows came back on the air after more than a year hiatus. . . for one more season.  That's right, Battlestar Galactica is back, and it's great! Maybe this will make up for my earlier realization that the newer Episodes of Star Wars are better than the older ones.

I stumbled across this quiz while perusing information for my next blog post.


What New Battlestar Galactica character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as CPO Galen Tyrol

You never wanted to be a glamorous Viper pilot. You are happy knowing that without you to fix their birds, they cannot fly. You fell in love with the wrong girl, but is that so wrong? Maybe, but you don't really care.

CPO Galen Tyrol

 
88%

Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer)

 
63%

President Laura Roslin

 
56%

Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo)

 
50%

Commander William Adama

 
50%

Number 6

 
44%

Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck)

 
38%

Dr Gaius Baltar

 
31%

Col. Saul Tigh

 
31%

Tom Zarek

 
25%

The funny thing is that as I was filling out the quiz, I absolutely knew who I was going to match up with.  I don't get how Galen fell in love with the wrong girl, I think Callie is perfect.

If you're looking for a show with some deep story, deep characters, and stunning changes, this is it.  I found myself in tears during the holocaust episodes.

Welcome back old friends,
+Tom

Interesting Biblical Fact of the Day

torah 1 by rubberpaw I've been taking a Midrash class at VTS, a class which is essentially about how people take sections of the bible and find meaning or retell the stories adding in their own content "between the lines".  It's incredibly fascinating, my best class so far (out of three, I guess that doesn't say much) which is taught by a local Rabbi.  If you're looking for a class to help you get your head around the Old Testament, and even a basic lens to read the bible by, ,this is it.

I mentioned Midrash at our high school bible study last night and one of the questions were, why would someone do that?  why does someone need to interpret the bible and add to it, it's pretty clear already, right?

Here's my interesting bible fact (and really it's a couple).  We all know that the original Hebrew bible doesn't have punctuation and such (at least, we all do now, right).  There is also none of the section headings describing what is coming up.  Like that heading, "The Story of Abraham", not in the original text.  But the really interesting part?

There are also no spaces in the original Hebrew.

iaginewhatthatmustlooklikeforjustasecondkindofcunfusingrightitsureisforme (Imagine what that must look like for just a second.  Kind of confusing right?  It sure is for me.)

Torah 2 by rubberpaw And yet another interesting fact I learned last week?  Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is also a number.  Kind of like those crazy Romans with their I, II, III, IV, except more confusing to look at.

So, when you have no spaces, and suddenly each letter could also be a number, it's no wonder there's confusion.  Heck, it's no wonder we have so many different versions of the bible, and all of them are "correct".

I continue to find this fascinating, and I'm glad to pass it along.

Peace,
+Tom

* An interesting note.  The photos of the Torah above, by rubberpaw on flickr, are found at the Masonic Village, in Elizabethtown, PA, USA, was rescued from a burning synagogue during the oppression of the Jews in Nazi Germany. I understand it to have been a near victim of the German's brutal pogrom, the Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Where Do I Turn in My Sci-Fi Membership Card?

Darth Vader mask from freecomputerdesktopwallpaper.com While I was home sick the last two days I decided to have a Star Wars Marathon (if you can count 2 - 3 movies a day a marathon).  I went from Episode I straight through to Episode VI, and unfortunately I've come to only one conclusion. . .

The first three movies are much better than the last three.

I know, I know.  Where does he get the gall to make such a statement?  How could anyone think that?  Three words. . . Jar Jar Binks, clearly Episode I - III are worthless for just that name.

The thing in, the stories were just so much better and deeper.  Multiple plot lines were going on and you got a clear idea of the entire environment where problems were unfolding.

Sure, the senate was for too focuses on Naboo, but the discussion around the fall of Democracy is reminiscent of just how long it takes to make any decision, and how even mistakes can be endorsed by the majority.

Watching Episodes IV - VI (the one's from the 70's and 80's) there are two plots.  Destroy the Death Star v1 and the second beta.  Han and Leah fall in love.  Luke becomes a Jedi.

Here are the plot lines in Episodes I - III.  Protect a democracy.  Understand the Jedi way.  Find the Dark Lord.  The student grows and lets his emotions and misunderstanding draw him to the Dark Side.  Disagreeing factions of a planet join for one cause, and remain joined.  All Jedi die.  The confusion of who built two armies, and any, coming together to one master plan.  Who is pulling the trade federations strings.  Anakin and Padme fall in love and have kids.  Freeing slaves.

And that's just some of them.  There are really tons of different story lines going on, and they all come together really well.  It made for longer movies, but I prefer that.  I love character development, and the prequel episodes had far more character development than Episodes IV - VI.

I won't belabor this point any longer.  Sufficed to say that I grew up on the original Episodes, and they still hold a place in my heart.  But, truly, Episodes I - IV are superior.

Now it's time to re-watch all the Star Trek movies and see which are truly the best (Besides Episode IV - The Voyage Home which always wins. . . Like that I knew that from memory).

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Best Life Ever

Sick Bento 2 by Sakurako Kitsa There's nothing like being incredibly sick for a few days to help you realize just how incredible a life you really have. 

I got the flu this weekend, and I think it was about the most sick I've been in a really, really long time.  When I went to the doctor yesterday (yes, I went to the doctor for the flu, and she gave me this wonderful Robitussin . . . with codeine.  Did you know they made such a wonderful combination, I've been loopy for a day) she mentioned that this year the flu shot was only about 40% effective this year.  Apparently we were due since it was incredibly effective the previous two years.  We're so lucky.

In any case, I slept horrible Saturday night, and when I got up at 6 in the morning to Colin crying, all I could do was stumble to the guest room where Erin and Rachel were sleeping (apparently my tossing and turning all night can make it hard to sleep.  Go figure) and tell Erin.  After that I began graying around the fringes (passing out) and stumbled to the bathroom for a long bath to equalize my body a little.  I missed church, and instead spent the entire day in bed.  I don't mean that figuratively, I was awake for a total of maybe 2 hours.

Sounds like a pretty crappy day, right?  Yeah, it was.

It was also one of the best.  And the last two have been even better.

Erin's mom came over and watched Colin all day, so I didn't have to even think or react to his noises, good or bad.  Rachel ran in after church to see if I was ok, and "helped" mom and Grandma without being asked (and often without the parental desire actually).

The next day Rachel continued to help out, and came into bed with me at 7 to give me a big hug to make me feel better.  when Colin came in he crawled across the bed with the biggest grin.

All during the last two days I've been looking around my house and thinking about the life my kids and wife bring to it.  I'm excited to be a father, and wish I could explain the feeling that clicks when you have kids (well, it took a few months for me for the click to happen fully - after the blob phase).

Erin continually checked in on me and brought anything I asked for.  She also planned to take over some of the set-up for Colin's birthday party and mowing the lawn.

When I look at 90% of the world and realize they can't even have a nice, warm, clean bath when they're sick, it's clear how blessed I am in the simple things.  Then I recognize that I can just take two days off of work with no consequences, and have a family which will let me not exist for a while, and I begin to realize that I have everything I've ever dreamed of, and more.

I hope this doesn't come off as an "I'm better than you are" message.  I know many other people, often friends, who are just as blessed as I am.  More than anything I hope this helps us recognize just how great our lives truly are, if only  because we have a roof over our heads tonight.

Peace,
+Tom