Saturday, December 31, 2005

A new leaf?

2006 by dbyrd As I write this the last hours of 2005 are ticking away. The new year is fast approaching, and it is often the source of making resolutions. But resolutions never work. They often leave us disappointed in ourselves or others. But what are we to do?

There are some questions that I came across that helped me explore this time.

Where was the love in my life this year? I often found love in the actions of my wife. She has been patient with me, when I have been less that easy to live with.

Has the year 2005 left me with any unresolved angers or resentments?

Oh yeah, and this is where the hard part comes in. This is where the need for me to forgive comes in. The need for me to forgive. One quote I read about forgiveness talks about how it frees the one who gives it.

It means that we can move out of our previous position and move on with our lives. Best of all, it enables us to be reconciled with our neighbors and with God so that once again we feel part of the greater community of the spiritual life.

And of course there is Shakespeare's quote for The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:'
Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

How can I go into 2006 with a peaceful and clean heart?

The only way to go into the new year in peace is to forgive those who have offended me. But here is where the argument gets complicated. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Forgiveness cancels the debt but reconciliation means coming back into fellowship. With some people that is not possible.

Surely none of us would tell an abused spouse that to forgive means to move back in with her abuser! No, we would not tell the child who has been sexually abused that he or she has to stay in that situation. And there are times when we have to set a limit on what kind of relationship we will have with someone.

But the freedom gained from forgiveness is my own, not theirs. The persons who offended me probably don't know it or if they do I doubt they spend their lives feeling bad about it. We pray in the Lord's Prayer to be forgiven as we forgive those who trespass against us. That's what it is, a trespass. A violation of a boundary. But that doesn't mean that we have to take the boundary down. But we do need to let go of the anger.plane boarding by

A man was boarding an airplane to travel to a distant country on business. As he started to get on board, the gate attendant stopped him because his bag was too large to go in the overhead bin.

"Sir," she said. "You cannot take that with you. You will have to give that to the baggage handlers."

"But you don't understand!" the man said. "This is a very important bag. It contains all the memories I have accumulated over the last 20 years. It has everything in it, all the bad things that happened, the too few good things, and the feelings that went with them. They have been there for years. I can't trust just anyone with them."

"I understand that you hold these things dear, sir," she said. "But the fact remains that the bag is too large and too heavy to take on the airplane. You will have to give it to the handlers."

With the plane beginning to rev its engines, and the other passengers in line becoming agitated that the man was blocking the gate, the traveler reluctantly gave the bag to the attendant.

"Thank you, sir," she said and took the heavy piece of luggage from him. She punched his boarding pass, and directed him down the jetway toward his seat. As he sat down, he looked out the window to see the luggage handlers taking his bag away from the plane!

"Wait!" he shouted. "Wait that bag has to go with me! I have to have it with me!" But the plane doors were shut, and the engines whirring at full speed. There was no turning back now.

"What am I going to do!?" the traveler thought. "Everything I cherished for years was in that bag." But the wheels lifted off the ground, and he resigned himself to getting his bag back when he arrived at his destination. He then drifted off the sleep.

The skidding of the plane's wheels awoke him with a jolt. We must be there, he thought. And started to get ready to get off the plane. As he moved through the aisle, he spied his bag in the front closet of the aircraft. The flight attendant had stowed it there before takeoff, and now it was returned to him.

Joy filled his heart as he opened the bag, but his joy soon turned to disappointment. All that was in there were a few small letters, each one stamped with a red wax seal that had a small heart-shaped impression in it. He looked at the first one, and tore it open to find a card inside.

"I love you," it said. And it was signed Jesus. He tore open another. "I love you, dearly, and think of you often." Again it bore the same signature. Each of the letters contained the same message. But the books and ledgers he had in there originally were gone. Finally he came to a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string.

He tore open the wrapping, and there on a small book were embossed the words "your debts." He hesitated to open the book, but swallowed hard and opened it. It was blank. He thumbed through the pages, each one the same, blank. Finally, he got to the last page and there written on the inside cover after the last page were the words "I told you I love you. Do you believe me now?"

The man was dumbfounded. He had his bag back, but the contents were very different. But he did notice that his shoulders did not hurt as much from carrying the weight. And he had a sense of resolution about things. He was not sure that he wanted the old contents back. As he left the airplane, he swung the bag over his shoulder but kept a tight grip with in his right hand. It was much lighter -- and somehow more precious -- to him now.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 30, 2005

For the times of our lives

sunrise through abstract sculpture, Washington DC So here it is the last Friday of 2005.

Thank God!

This year has been one to remember, especially with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, and the South Asian Tsunami and Earthquakes.Katrina Image hosted by

As the year comes to a close, we are still at war in Iraq, the recovery in the Gulf Coast is still crawling along, the Pacific Northwest is getting inundated by rain and Texas is on fire. Well not all of it, but enough if you happen to live in the path of the grass fires that struck there this week.

What a year, huh?

This year we lost the Pope and got a new one. London was bombed by the terrorists just a day after learning it would host the 2012 Olympics. Image hosted by Photobucket.comIt was what some called their 9-11, but once again the British people showed their resolve in the face of the bad guys who want to do us harm.

Do I need to mention the hurricanes? Did you know the 27th named storm was brewing in the Atlantic in December!? AP Hurricane Image hosted by And Hurricane season ended last month.

This year we also got to see the ineptitude of our government at handling national disasters. Mr. Bush flew over the streets of New Orleans and viewed the devastation from the comfort of the multi-million dollar jet we all pay for.

When he finally did go down to the Gulf Coast, it looked like the horse was out of the barn. Clinton would have been down at the Superdome the day after, wading through the muck in his high-water boots and talking about how he felt their pain. More might not have been done, but at least it would have looked better on television.

Our soldiers continued to die in Iraq, as we tried to find a way to get out of that hell hole without looking like stooges. AP Image hosted by Photobucket.comAs of this writing, the death toll in U.S. lives for 2005 was 841. This year, the total passed 2000 dead, but the generals at least are talking about getting out.

The politicians will try to make it look like we did the job we set out to do, and blah, blah, blah, but that doesn't make much difference to the families of those killed. They went when they were called. Our government should strive to be worthy of that kind of loyalty.

Gasoline made it above three dollars a gallon this year, partially, at least we were told, because of the hurricane damage caused by Katrina and Rita in the oil refining areas. Gas Price Image hosted by I hope that's the truth and not some cock-and-bull story cooked up by the oil companies to make the prices rise to about $2.50 a gallon. I know, that sounds cynical, but hey, this is business; you don't think it has anything to do with humanity, or kindness or the right thing to do, do you?

So here's to 2005, a year we will long remember, and would just as soon forget. Let's hope 2006 is a better one for all of us.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dude, you need help

Sunset at Tidal Basin (c) DByrdSo I was reading my earlier post about not getting enough sleep. Man that's one sick dude that wrote that.

He sounds like he needs some real help.

Maybe there is a clinic he can check himself into somewhere that will give him the help he needs.

Maybe he needs to unlearn some responses to things and learn some new behavior-modification techniques. Maybe he needs counseling.

Or maybe he just needs a good night's sleep. Nightey Nite!

Now I lay me down to sleep ...

Clouds by PixelPerfect Photos don't you believe it! Sleep is something that seems to have run away from me like a rabbit from a fox.

I have been averaging about 4.5 hours sleep every Tuesday and Wednesday night for the past year or so.

Needless to say, this makes me an irritable SOB the next day, snapping at my co-workers, downing gallons of coffee to stay awake, becoming whiny, and childish, and basically hard to live with.

So, I went surfing - the Internet, not the waves. And I came across an article from the Mayo Clinic that talked about common causes of sleep disorders. First let's define the problem. Insomnia is defined as:

Inability to get enough sleep at night
Difficulty falling asleep at night
Waking up during the night
Waking up too early
Waking up feeling tired, even after a full night's sleep
Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
Daytime irritability

Okay so I have all of those. So I guess that means I have insomnia right? Okay Dr. What's next. Some of the causes are:

Stress - hey man, I live in Washington,DC. Stress is part of the landscape, like grass. Have you ever driven around here? I do notice that it usually takes at least two or three days away from this hell hole to feel my body let go. Most of the time I walk around in a perpetual "fight or flight" mode.

Anxiety: Would that count the in-laws visiting with their horrid little dog pissing all over my house, not knowing what's going to happen next at my job, wondering if I am still supposed to be at that job. Wanting to get out of here, wanting to chew my arm off in order to get free? Maybe not that last one, but close.

Stimulants: Hmmmm. That would count the several cups of Starbucks (or homebrewed) coffee that I drink each day because I don't get enough sleep, wouldn't it?

Change in your environment or work schedule. Now let's see. I work two days a week from early morning till after dark. I work two more days from mid morning to late evening. Then I get up early to go to church - to play music, sometimes music I have never seen before and I only get about 40 minutes to practice before it's showtime. Hmmmmm. Maybe that could come under "anxiety" or "stress."

Environment? Would that count the massive changes that have taken place in my work in the past year? And could they be exacerbated by the constant complaining - some of it by me - that the management doesn't have a snowball's idea in hell what it is doing? My brother calls it "the dark chorus" when people complain. And he says not to join them, but sometimes I agree with them!

But those decisions are things beyond my control. They are things over which I have very little say -- those big policy ideas. All I have a say in is how I respond to them. That sounds very helpful and therapeutic, but the fact of the matter is most of life is not lived on the left-brain, cognitive behavioral level. Most of life seems to come more, two three . . . hey whaddaru staring at!

Depression is often associated with sleep trouble. Some of the signs sound familiar.

Sleep disturbances. Sleeping too much or having problems sleeping can be a sign you're depressed. Waking in the middle of the night or early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep are typical.

Impaired thinking or concentration. You may have trouble concentrating or making decisions and have problems with memory.

Significant weight loss or gain. An increased or reduced appetite and unexplained weight gain or loss may indicate depression.

Fatigue. You feel weariness and lack of energy nearly every day. You may feel as tired in the morning as you did when you went to bed the night before.

Low self-esteem. You feel worthless and have excessive guilt.

Thoughts of death. You have a persistent negative view of yourself, your situation and the future. You may have thoughts of death, dying or suicide.

Of course this could also be a sign of burnout:

Ask yourself these questions to see if you're experiencing signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Do you find yourself being more cynical, critical and sarcastic at work? Yeah, so what!
  • Have you lost the ability to experience joy? Joy, what's that?
  • Do you drag yourself into work and have trouble getting started once you arrive? I have to wait 20 minutes for my butt to catch up once I drag into work.
  • Have you become more irritable and less patient with co-workers, customers or clients? You mean those ass****s I have to be around every day!? >: - (
  • Do you feel that you face insurmountable barriers at work? What size is your glass-ceiling covered pidgeon hole?
  • Are you tired of your co-workers asking if you're OK? They don't ask so, no.
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?You have to have an illusion to lose it. Yeah man where you been?
  • Are you self-medicating - using food, drugs or alcohol - to feel better or to not feel anything when you're at work? Hey man, where's the brownies!
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed? see above.
  • Are you troubled by headaches, neck pain or lower back pain? Do the two permanently hard knots in my shoulders count?

So maybe I have answered my own question. Pray for me.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Turkey in the Crock Pot - a family tradition!

Snowy Path (C) DByrd Manassas, VACornelia and I had a wonderful dinner tonight - traditional turkey and stuffing, and she made some special baby carrots with an orange glaze.

And we had wine and pumpkin spice cake for dessert with of course lots of cool whip (the fat free kind, not the real stuff).

And we had some special Godiva coffee that we got in exchange for some chocolates that one of her clients had given her. And we lighted candles and stayed in our p-js all day and relaxed.

I cooked the turkey in the crock pot. That's right in the crock pot.

Remember when they were all the rage, and people were talking about all the things you could do with them, kind of like our microwave culture today? When I was a child, the Crock Pot brand was the thing to have. There were cookbooks and recipes and articles about what you could do with a crock pot.

Now they have become blase'. But they still have uses - like cooking a 6 pound turkey breast that was frozen as hard as a Revolutionary War cannon ball on December 24th at 6:30 when I bought it.

But you wouldn't have known that had you been at our house for dinner this Christmas. The meat virtually leapt off what few bones there were. And the onion and sage that I added to the breast when I put it in the Crock Pot this morning filled the house with a smell that intensified the experience. All you could smell in our home (outside of the Christmas candles) was turkey, onion, and sage.

Cornelia had put one of those little plastic pop-up things in the breast, and periodically we would check to see if it had popped up. One o'clock, no pop-up. Two o'clock, no pop-up. Three o'clock no pop-up. See a turkey breast in the crock on low takes a while, sometimes as much as five hours or more. But the smell was driving us crazy.

Finally at 3:45, I looked and there it was. The little pop-up had popped and the turkey was done! And man was it worth the wait. The tenderness and juiciness of the meat made all that waiting seem like a distant memory. And there is still plenty left. (Two adults can only hold so much turkey before the tryptophan starts to kick in and you fall asleep in your plate).

I learned a little about crock-pot cookery from my mom. She taught me how to make meat loaf in a coffee can (a metal one, not one of those plastic things!) by standing it on end on top of a little aluminum foil and turning the crock pot on low. And meat balls and soup were always best in the crock pot. She also taught me how to make turkey or chicken in the old slow cooker.

"Just shove an onion up his ass and stick him in there," she said. "Put it on low and go to bed. When you wake up, it's done!"

Well she was right. And though the anticipation will drive you nearly out of your mind, sometimes the best things take a long time to work, and the result is beyond what you could have imagined

So I hope you had a merry Christmas. God knows the past year has been one of testing for a lot of people, what with the natural disasters, the war, and the political garbage that's been going on.

So here's hoping that 2006 will be better for you than 2005. A preacher said at our church that what he plans to do New Year's day is to lay out the calendar for 2006 and the one for 2005 and say to the past year "I'm here, and you're not! I made it and you didn't." Sounds like a pretty good plan.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

More Sunsets

Tidal Basin December 22, 2005 Here's another DC sunset shot that I took at the Tidal Basin (near the Jefferson Memorial) on Thursday, December 22nd, 2005. The sky looked like it was on fire, and I just stuck my camera out the window while I was sitting at a stoplight.

This is a shot of the Memorial Bridge taken Friday December 23, 2005. I was trying to get more of the bridge, but the camera kept reading for the sun, which was, after all the subject of the photo.
Memorial Bridge, Washington DC

Friday, December 23, 2005


We have had some breathtaking sunsets here in DC the past few days.

This is a shot I took Friday December 23rd of the "Valor" statue near the memorial bridge in DC.

The colors really were that brilliant.

O Tannenbaum!

This is a shot of the National Christmas Tree in front of the White House. Actually the White House is behind me, since you can just make out the Washington Monument in the background.

I took it with an Olympus digital camera and its' original size was as big as a house. But this is what I saw. Unfortunately when I blew it up the resolution was not as sharp as I had hoped. But it is a shot of the tree.

All our days . . .

First responders work to save Mia Banks after she was hit by a Metro busSo it turns out that the young woman hit by the Metro bus (right down the street from my office) died yesterday.

According to the Washington Post article in this morning's metro section, she was 25-year-old Mia Banks of Landover, Maryland. I don't know if she is the Mia Banks that worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but it is at 2nd and C Streets SW right across the street from the accident, and there is a Mia Banks there.

The driver of the bus was 24-year-old Matthew Johnson of the District. Actually he lives in Southeast Washington, just up Capitol Hill from the accident. He has been driving a metro bus since June.

Meanwhile, the driver of a D.C. Metro Police cruiser that was rushing to the scene of the accident has injuries that are called non-life threatening.

He was taken to Washington Hospital Center, but the paper did not give his identity.The driver of this cruiser was injured but is expected to recover

Almighty God, look with pity upon the sorrows
of your servants for whom we pray.
Remember them, Lord, in mercy;
nourish them with patience;

comfort them with a sense of your goodness;
lift up your countenance upon them;
and give them peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Snow Path 4

Snow Path 4
Originally uploaded by byrdmn2.
So here's another snow shot for your Winter enjoyment. The interesting thing about this shot is that it is the one used for the masthead and footer of this blog.

See I was messing around last earlier this year, and decided I would see what my Roxio Media Creator could do with some photos.

So I put his particular shot into the Media Creator, washed it with green color wash, enlarged it, and applied some brush strokes to it. The result is what you see in the masthead and the footer.

The pattern is from the branches of the evergreen in the left of this photo.

A Fristmas Poem

Frozen Congress by DByrd
So the Senate and the House they could not agree,
On whether to drill in the ANWR you see.
Debate it was raging, the hot air it flew,
And no one in Congress seemed to know what to do.

The vote was a close one,
and Cheney came through,
And even the Patriot act got approved.
But the Congress is frozen over who will get what,
and who gets to say it's the other side's fault.

But despite all the rancor
the threats and the warnings,
The sun paid them no mind,
and came up this morning.

So let us remember despite the debate,
Not even the Congress determines our fate.
They want to look good,
and to get re-elected,
But even they take the paths
the Almighty selected.

Freedom of the Press?

first responders at 3rd & D st.So we had a little excitement in the neighborhood downtown today.

I was moving my car and I hear all these sirens wailing. I'm thinking maybe the President is coming down the street to lobby Congress or something. That's usually what happens when the cops are clearing the streets.

But this was because a woman was hit by a Metro bus at the intersection of 3rd St. SW and D St. here in DC. The Capitol cops are all over this place, and there is a cop car smashed in at D and 3rd. The ambulances are all rolling and there are fire trucks and first responders all over.

So what did I do? Went in and grabbed my camera. I'm snapping away and one of the cops is like "Hey man, don't do that." Now the first responders are loading this poor woman into an ambulance, and granted I probably wouldn't want someone snapping pictures either. But that's part of being a reporter. As far as I knew, the s*** had hit the fan in the subway station and this was another 9-11. So I told this guy, "Look man, I'm a reporter."

"If you're a reporter, where are your creds?" he said.

"Right here, man, under my coat," and I showed him my badge and my press creds.

"Okay, man," he says. "It's not whether you can, but whether you should, you know?"Cop car crashed at 3rd & C st Dec 22nd

Now the guy has a point, but still it was a public street and I had no idea what was going on. Then this sergeant starts in. "Yeah man, it's a question of whether it's the right thing to do."

All of a sudden I'm getting a journalism ethics class from these two guys? Huh? I mean I know Bush wants to allow the NSA to read our mail and watch us from space, but this is a public street, and it has all kinds of first responders all over it. So what did they expect?

But, granted, I didn't have my creds out, and I probably wouldn't want someone snapping shots of me laying in the street. But it is news. There have been pedestrians killed here in DC by drivers, and the city has taken to using bright orange flags to help drivers see those walking in the streets. There was even a long-time urban designer Charles Atherton hit so hard he went flying through the air. And what did the DC police do? Gave him a ticket!

Loving life in the chocolate city!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Looking Glass Falls

Looking Glass Falls
Originally uploaded by byrdmn2.
So far since I have put the Flickr badge in this blog, this photo of Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina has had the most views. It really is a beautiful place, and the noise of the falls is amazing.

And I never knew that waterfalls generated so much wind. But when you stand next to this waterfall, the wind it creates will blow your hair back.

I wonder what it looks like now? Is it frozen? Maybe I will have to make a road trip.

Winter Solstice

SnowPath 3
Originally uploaded by byrdmn2.
So I thought it appropriate to post a snow photo on this the first day of Winter.

One of the things you will see here in Washington if you visit this time of year is a Yule log burining in a big pit near the National Christmas Tree on the Elipse near the White House.

It puts off a lovely light and provides warmth in the midst of weather like we have had lately - temps in the teens at night and 30s during the day.

Light has always been associated with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.

Now I am the furthest thing you could imagine to a Druid, celebrating the sun god Balder or a Persian buring a candle for Mithra.

But it is heart warming to see lights in people's windows (or on their homes) this time of year.

Especially for those who work early and come home late - who never see the sun - it can be a great welcome to see a light in the window.

And it helps me to remember that from this point on, the days will start getting longer. God in his mercy has stopped the ball from rolling, and it will beging to turn the Northern Hemisphere back toward the sun.

This photo might remind people of Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. But, I also like to thing of another of his poems, Sitting by a Bush in Broad Sunlight .

Merry Christmas and may 2006 be full of light for you all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It's a start

couronneco's 44 oz candle jar So I had my first weigh-in Tuesday at Weight Watchers. I was pretty sure I had lost weight, but I was not sure how much. According to my scale at home I had lost about four pounds, but that was in the morning, naked, with no food or extra liquids (water, coffee, diet soda) in my body.

But when I weighed in at the meeting, I had lost 2.8 pounds. That's 44 ounces. That's about the size of a Big Gulp drink from 7-11 or about as much as this attractive candle vase (available at will hold.

So it was not as much as I had thought, but it was a loss. And it was a beginning. So the pilgrimmage continues. I will post more later. Right now I'm off the drink one of the eight glasses of water I am supposed to drink in one day. Jeez, you get a lot of exercise just running back and forth to the head!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Flick this!

So I decided to display some of my photos using flickr and I put one of their badges in my sidebar. It's down there near the Profile container below the site visit counter.

Check it out and feel free to leave comments about the photos if you'd like.

Right now I have some more photos from our waterfall excursion in October, as well as some sunlight photos and some snow shots like this one.

I will change some of them in the future, depending on what I shoot, but right now I can only load three groups at a time (without having to pay for them). So enjoy the shots and have a merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Beauty for Ashes, Joy for Mourning

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by Your daily visitation, that Your Son Jesus Christ, at His coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for Himself; Who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This is the collect for the fourth Sunday of Advent from the Book of Common Prayer. I was curious about the word "Purify" in this prayer.

First off, there are basically two Greek words translated "purify" in the New Testament. The first and most commonly used is the word katharizo, which means to make clean or cleanse (from physical dirt like washing a dish) and in a moral sense to free from defilement or to purify from wickedness. This word is most often translated "cleanse" as in cleanse the lepers.

The second word is hagnizo, which means to make pure, purify or cleanse. This word is used seven times in the New Testament and every time it is translated "purify." But I was still curious what was involved in purification, so I looked up the gold purification process. ( Special thanks to Daniel Ballard and Robert Lumabao of Precious Metals West both for the image and the description. Check out the whole process at their website

This is the so-called Aqua Regia process, which is commonly used for the scraps and flakes that jewelers have left over or sweep off their counters and floors when they work on gold jewelry.

First, they melt the gold into a liquid and pour it into water to get pieces that look like cornflakes. They don't cook it too long. The technician pours it from a ladder so it will cool a little before it hits the water. And he uses as cold water as possible.

Next they make sure the gold is totally dry and add acid to the gold flakes. The solution is 300 ml nitric acid and 700 ml of hydrochloric acid. This solution works over heat and the acid makes all the metals in the gold come loose, so that it separates into gold and other stuff. The reaction eventually stops, and then more acid is added to make sure all the gold separates. The technician makes sure that all of the metal is dissolved. When it is all dissolved, then the heat is lowered and filings are added to the scraps.

The dissolved gold and silver chloride is filtered to separate the gold from the silver. Then the gold is precipitated. Then another acid is added to reduce the aqua regia. The reaction produces some brown smoke and when the smoke is clear the reaction is done.

Hydrogen sulfate is then added to the solution and produces a violent bubbling reaction. But you can begin to see striated layers of gold, acid and foam. The foam contains black pieces of junk that "rains out" when the gold starts to drop out of the foam. The distillate is black when they are finished. They then turn up the heat and clean it. This produces a 24-karat gold "sponge" which is then put back on the heat for about six hours.

This process can produce gold of 99.99 percent purity, which can then be melted and poured or shaped into whatever form the jeweler desires.

Think about what you are asking God to do. Purify your conscience by His daily visitation. You are basically asking God to take the heat and the acid to your life and clear out all that is impure. Do you think that might involve some pain? It will definitely involve not getting your way. But then it produces a "mansion prepared for Himself." The question we have to ask ourselves is "do you really mean it?" When we pray this prayer, are we serious?

There are several Scripture passages that relate to this process, but I chose this one from 1 Peter 1:3-6: According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God's power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith - more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire - may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Though the purification process might be painful, and we might wonder how long the acid is going to cook us, this verse holds the promise that it will produce a faith that God cherishes. Isn't that something!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Have a holly Jolly . . .

Christmas, "it's the best time of the year" - unless of course like me you are trying to lose weight.

You might be thinking "what idiot would start a diet at Christmas instead of waiting until after the New Year. Isn't that setting yourself up to fail?"

Let me explain. I have just re-joined Weight Watchers after about a year away. And in that year, of course, I have re-gained some of the 85 pounds I lost the first time I went there. And that was predictable because I was not adhering to the discipline necessary to maintain weight loss.

As a result, I saw the numbers on my friend the scale begin to climb. Then I got my blood test back recently and my LDL - bad cholesterol - was above 100, and the Dr. said that was a little high. So I thought it better to start new habits now, in the hardest time of the year to avoid eating unhealthy foods, and that would make continuing the discipline easier.

And it's really helpful to go to meetings. To be around other people who are struggling to do the same thing you are. And it is a struggle. The temptation is everywhere - especially this time of year.

Somehow Christmas has become associated with eating till you explode. Brownies, cookies, honeybaked ham, stuffing, turkey, cranberries, hot chocolate, fudge - the eternal enemy of those who struggle with their weight - and lots of other treats. I once saw a guy who paid $150 for a box of Godiva chocolates.

But the biggest thing is to avoid the lies we are told. This time of year - especially in the week before Christmas - men in particular will be seeing a lot of ads featuring people who look like this -Victoria's Secret Catalog Cover a Victoria's Secret model strutting her stuff on the runway and asking the question "What is Sexy?" I realize everyone's got to make a living, but come on! What is she really saying? Unless you look like me, you are unacceptable.

Have you noticed that all the happy families pictured in the Pizza Hut ads are skinny? And anyone who is overweight (or male, but that's another post) is portrayed as a doofus, a mouth-breather. Unless of course he's foisting off an outrageously expensive diamond something or other on his (of course) skinny, attractive wife?

Why do we buy that lie? The subtext that whispers "be like this, and you will be loved. Buy my (beer, car, stereo, iPod, music, food, underwear, cologne,) and people like this will love you." There is even an article I read (at that said that advertisers work long and hard to deliver the kind of message that stimulates endorfin release in the brain and connects that "feel-good" drug we produce with products.

C.S. Lewis is getting more attention now because of the Chronicles of Narnia movie. And that's appropriate, I think. But he wrote another book called The Screwtape Letters in which an older devil instructs a novice in the art of temptation. And one thing he mentions is appropriate here. Screwtape tells Wormwood (his nephew) that temptation is "promising everything and delivering nothing."

And that applies to the advertising industry - including the food ads you see - particularly this time of year. Have you ever wondered why that Pizza looks so good? Because there are people who have worked thousands of hours and spent millions of dollars trying to find out what will make you buy it. And with that knowledge they craft these ads to create in us the desire to buy pizza. Check out more at The whole study is called Health Seduction and it is very sobering.

But we can choose - and this is another encouraging thing about Weight Watchers, they teach you how to make good choices. So I will post periodically about my journey. Happy holidays!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Behold, the Lamb

The Coversion of St. Paul by CarvaggioStir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us;
and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen

I thought this collect from the Book of Common Prayer was both hopeful and sobering. This Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent, and it asks God to stir up His power and come among us with great might. Now many Christians would say that is a good thing, and I firmly believe it is, but think of it. What would you do if God stirred up His power and came among your fellowship? Would you welcome him, or would your experience be much like that of Saul, later the Apostle Paul, (pictured here by the Renaissance artist Carvaggio), when he encountered Christ in His power on the road to Damascus.

And the ironic thing is that Saul thought he was serving God by persecuting the Church. Saul was persuaded that what he was doing was right, that this new sect was a heresy that needed to be stamped out. He says in his zeal, he had a hand in the deaths of Christians.

But God stirred up his power and came mightily into Saul's life, and it was never the same. Would our lives have the same response? Would God knock us off the course we think we are supposed to be following and show us His true direction? Or are we in a relationship with Him that he can whisper and we know what to do?

In my own life, I often find myself stumbling across the will of God. I am actually surprised by the ways the Lord shows up in my life. I don't think it should be that way, but that is the way that it is. Often I do not have more of God in my life because I am afraid of what He will ask of me. I am afraid of losing control. But I believe that God knows that, and is working in me to bring me to a place of trust, where I am no longer afraid.

Andrew Murray wrote that while God demands our absolute surrender, He is also the one who is working in us to bring that about. And think of it: the one to whom we are surrendering is love Himself, the Beautiful One who created everything beautiful you can see, hear, smell, taste or touch. All that is beautiful finds its source in Him. And he had demonstrated His love for us in sacrificing His Son for us.

At the same time, He is the Holy One, the one who created all that is by the word of His power - that same power this collect asks Him to stir up. Have you ever stood by a volcano or watched the supernova of a star? It is an unbearable, traumatic, exciting event that makes you feel very small. And God's power is light years beyond that.

Supper at Emmaus by CaravaggioBut we have hope in that the High and Holy One took on flesh and "moved into the neighborhood" as Eugene Peterson writes in The Message. And Jesus is called a faithful high priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. So we can ask Him to "let His bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us" and trust that He will.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Don't just leave him there ....

all stumpy! I mean have the decency to kill the guy. What am I talking about? I finally rented the last installment of the Star Wars hexad and I couldn't help but laugh.

When I was covering the Presidents Cup in September, a couple of photographers and were talking about his flick. One of the guys was like "I don't want to ruin it for you, but this is what happens ...." and he tells me about the fight on Mustafar between Obi-wan and Anikin.

See Obi slices the kid into little pieces and then he gets set on fire by the lava river. And Obi wan just leaves him there! He's giving Anikin this speech about being the chosen one and how he loved him like a brother, and all that, and meanwhile the poor bugger is lying there with no arms, no legs, and on fire. It was like Monty Python's Holy Grail where Arthur lops off all the black knight's extremities.

And I couldn't help but laugh at what this photog said. "If your going to slice him up like that, go ahead and kill the guy, don't just leave him there all stumpy!" So why didn't Obi Wan just whack Anikin and avoid this stuff? Don't know. I do know that I enjoyed the second DVD about how they made the flick more than I enjoyed the movie itself.

The amount of work that went into making just one minute of Episode III was amazing. It was humbling to see how many people got jobs because George Lucas wrote a story.

Who are you trying to please?

Things in this town never cease to amaze me. Now there is a flap over what the Bush Family has in this year's White House Christmas card. Or is it a "holiday" card?

An article in the Washington Post that Christian conservatives are angry that the White House card does not mention Christ, but wishes its recipients a happy "holiday season."

The article quotes Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site, who said he threw his card out as soon as he got it. Wait a minute. You got a card from the President and you just tossed it? Now granted, these things are not as precious as they used to be. The Bushistas will send out more than one million of them this year. Compare that to the 2,000 cards sent out by John and Jackie Kennedy. Or the handwritten notes from FDR and Eleanor! Now getting one of those would be pretty special!

But the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights says this is symptomatic of an effort to expunge Christ from Christmas in favor of being politically correct. The Alliance Defense Fund has a packet of information about becoming politically active in order to preserve Christmas - even to the point of making sure we can still say "Merry Christmas."

The Family Research Council, here in Washington, has an article about "the attack on Christmas." So I have a question: "Why do the heathen rage and the peoples imagine a vain thing?" (Ps 2:1). Can we really say that we are surprised that people who do not acknowledge God in their lives would try to eliminate references to Jesus from the public square? Are we really that naive? But read the rest of that Psalm:

The One enthroned in heaven laughs:
The Lord scoffs at them.

When he rebukes them in His anger
and terrifies them in His wrath, saying
"I have installed my King on Zion,
my holy hill."

You see God is still God and Jesus is still King of Kings whether people acknowledge Him or not. He is the Ruler of all and all that we think we have belongs to Him.

The White House says that it is trying to wish a happy holiday season to people of all faiths Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. (I think it is kind of ironic that Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza all fall in the same 36-hour period this year).

But instead of trying to use politics to force our theology on the heathen, how about if we started acting like our Master? What if we started loving God with our whole heart, and people could see the Holy Spirit's reality in our lives. They would know something is different about us, about those of us who call ourselves Christians. They would look at us and see Him.

Does that mean that everyone would love us? NO! The Bible says as much, that the world would hate those who know Jesus. But they could not deny Him. They would be without excuse, but they could not say that they had never seen Him.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A time to reflect

Gather Ye Rosebuds by WaterhouseGather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Robert Herrick wrote those lines in his poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time." While he was talking about young women getting married as soon as possible, his message is appropriate for the rest of us too. We need to make the most of the time we are given.

This time of year is often a time of reflection, when people look back on the past year and think of what they might have done differently. We also make plans for the future - lose weight, be kinder to my family, not be late for work - and usually those resolutions last about a week after we make them.

But we can make changes with God's help.

This past year, Cornelia and I took a wonderful cruise to the Caribbean (you can read about in February / March archives) but some of the areas we visited were smacked around by the multitude of hurricanes we had this year.

I have been to New Orleans three times in my life, but Katrina made sure that the city I knew will never be the same.

But I have also made some new friends this year, and God has put some people in my life that I cherish. Cornelia and I have joined a home group at our church, and now we are good friends -- 2:30 in the morning friends -- with these people. And those relationships are getting deeper and more intimate. And it happened at a time when we were thinking of bailing, leaving for another church because we were tired of the routine.

A friend of mine whose son was in Afghanistan with the Army returned home safely in time for Thanksgiving. That was an answer to prayer - mine and his family's - and that was very encouraging.

But this year has been laced with tragedies as well. People have been swept away by tsunamis, earthquakes, and hurricanes. And they will not return. Others have suffered the devastation of war and famine and disease.Wildflowers by Waterhouse

So gather your rosebuds - the small ones that God brings by you every day -the smile of your child, the laughter of a friend, the warmth of a kiss - and savor them for all they are worth. Do not waste any of your spirit on foolish things that do not matter. Make your life count; for time is still flying for all of us.

All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever.
(1 Pe 1:24, Isa 40:6-8)

These lovely paintings are by John William Waterhouse. Check out his fantastic homepage at: