Nice visit to beautiful Mt. Airy Forest in Cincinnati

After the previous two posts, attacking science magazine ads for their philosophical self-contradictions and attacking the entire multiverse, maybe I ought to step back a bit, huh?

Mt Airy Forest
A beautiful dry creek bed in Mt. Airy Forest. (Photo credit: Me!)

This past Sunday my family and I had a wonderful day hiking at Mt. Airy Forest in Cincinnati. It’s a beautiful place, especially this autumn, with a gorgeous display of colorful leaves. I love being surrounded by trees in the fall when the leaves are falling around like living snowflakes, and Mt. Airy was putting on a beautiful display. When you take a look at what the forest there has to offer, it’s clear that we only scratched the surface, but it was enough for a wonderful outing. Actually, my wife took some spectacular photos–none of which are shown in this blog post. 🙂 These two pictures were taken with my iPhone, so don’t expect much! (Her pictures are on her computer, but I plan to grab some for myself in the future.)

The history of Mt. Airy Forest is interesting, and Wikipedia gives it good coverage. It is one of the earliest urban reforestation projects in the nation, if not the first and certainly the first on such a large scale (the forest covers almost 1,500 acres). Knowing that it represents a land returned to beauty having previously been deforested and unprofitably cleared of trees made it seem even more beautiful — a relatively small picture of what mankind may be guided to do on a global scale in the Millennium.

Mt Airy Treehouse
“Everybody’s Treehouse” at Mt. Airy Forest. I thought my Beautiful Wife was taking a picture of Boy #4 on the deck in this photo, but I don’t see them, now. (Photo credit: Still Me!)

The real reason we went was to see the Treehouse — billed as the only wheelchair accessible treehouse in Ohio. It was pretty neat! Kids really liked it until Boy #2 bonked his head really hard on a support beam that was sticking out under the roof. I told him that was one of the perils of life that short people like me don’t have to worry about. 🙂 The graffiti in the building was sad to see, but surprisingly little compared to what I feared. (Perhaps due to the posted security camera outside.)

A very nice place to visit for those who like beautiful scenery! I look forward to seeing more of it in the spring and checking out the lake, gazebos, arboretum, picnic areas, and camping options, as well as simply trying more of the hiking trails. I wish we had known about it earlier!

[UPDATE, 10/29/2014 AM: Grabbed just a few of my Beautiful Wife’s photos and am adding them below. Took them off of Facebook. Very pretty! (The pictures are pretty, too 🙂 ) She also took some with her new macro-picture taking thingies (I don’t know what they are called) of some mushrooms and moss and flowers, but I’ll stick with just a few artsy scenery shots. I think the first is my favorite, though I like the colors in the third one.]

Mt Airy Forest - Beautiful Wife photo 1

Mt Airy Forest - Beautiful Wife photo 2

Mt Airy Forest - Beautiful Wife photo 3

James Garner: “the union prevailed”

Yesterday I read the news that James Garner died this past Saturday, and I was saddened. Hence the Tweet:

My dad... er... I mean: James Garner as Maverick
My dad… er… I mean: James Garner as Maverick (from Wikipedia)

I didn’t know him personally, to be sure. But I have many fond memories of watching him on “The Rockford Files.” Not because I was necessarily a huge fan by myself at the time–I was only four years old when the series premiered and nine years old when it ended. But my dad loved the show, and I came to enjoy it to some extent because it was entertaining (to the extent I got it at that age) but primarily because my father thought it was entertaining. (Actually, in similar manner I have my dad to blame for my intense, youthful exposures to British comedy and a number of other television “resources” I’ve come to love/hate which formed much of my sense of humor and comedy tastes, but that is another discussion.) It’s very likely my imagination due to that Dad/”Rockford Files” connection, but I came to think that my father sort of looked like Jim Rockford… er… James Garner, and seeing Mr. Garner, even in his later work, frequently made me think of my dad. While I don’t know that I could argue that Dad would have been considered a handsome fellow (though I’m thankful my mother thought so for a while) and he certainly wasn’t as tall as the six-foot-three actor, maybe I could say that Mr. Garner looked like a Hollywood version of my dad. Perhaps he could have played my dad in the TV movie version of my life. (Regrettably, my own part would be played by Jon Cryer if, after his 1980s “Ducky” days, he had become a much portlier version of his current self, perhaps in an alternate timeline. Or maybe a young Don Rickles with early-onset older Don Rickles looks. Again, a blog post for another time…)

No doubt my association of Mr. Garner with Dad is part, perhaps a big part, of the sadness I felt at the news of the actor’s demise. And no doubt it is part of the fondness I’ve felt for the actor through the years.

I did come to enjoy the easy manner his characters displayed. I didn’t see tons of his work, but in addition to “The Rockford Files” I’ve seen plenty of old “Maverick” episodes, and the “Support Your Local Sheriff!” and “Support Your Local Gunfighter” movies were family favorites (well, at least “me & Dad” favorites). He didn’t exactly play the stereotypically heroic type in those roles, but he was a character I could identify with sympathetically in a number of ways–fun to watch, approachable, OK with his gun but even better at talking himself out of rough spots. Unlike some of today’s action stars with their stoic, fearless faces, when one of Garner’s characters was in a tight spot, he looked like he was in a tight spot–one of the reasons I enjoy Harrison Ford’s acting here and there, as well. When you’d be sweating, it’s sort of neat to see the hero sweating, too. I’ll miss that. (I can’t speak to his other roles some have mentioned, such as in The Notebook, et al., as I haven’t seen those, I’m afraid. A little too “Hallmark Channel” for me, not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂 )

James Garner with his wife and family in 1961 (from Wikipedia)
James Garner with his wife and family in 1961 (from Wikipedia)

But what I think is really neat–and what gave this blog post its title–is a paragraph towards the end of Yahoo! News’ publication of the AP story on James Garner’s death. You can read it by clicking on the Twitter link above, but here is the sentence that grabbed me from that paragraph: “In 1957 (sic), Garner married TV actress Lois Clarke, and the union prevailed despite some stormy patches.”

“…the union prevailed…”

I’m sorry, but in today’s world–let alone when it comes to those in the Hollywood culture–those three words are amazing. Wikipedia says that they actually married in 1956, but, regardless, that marriage lasted, apparently through some difficulty, for almost 60 years. And it did not end until one of them died. Through all of its ups and downs, through whatever the “stormy patches” were, the union prevailed.

Those words in the article captured me, and, frankly, it was that statement that moved me enough to write a little about it here.

And “prevailed” is a wonderful word choice. It gives a sense of victory and overcoming. It gives a sense that something should be celebrated. And something certainly should be. Reading the AP article makes for a wonderful review of the life and accomplishments of James Garner, but as far as I am concerned, knowing no more about the man than what I saw on the screen and what these tribute articles have told me, those three words represent the single greatest accomplishment on the list: “the union prevailed.”

While I have enjoyed his performances on the screen and while watching his shows and films with my father are some of my favorite “time with Dad” memories, those three words added something to my thoughts of Mr. Garner that had not been there before: respect and admiration.

His performances in those movies and television shows will ensure that the name and face of James Garner is remembered, at least for a generation or so until the names and faces of newer stars and younger actors finally crowd it out of the cultural synapses. But when the day comes when all things are revealed and the vast multitude of invisible ways in which our choices have truly touched and affected the lives of others, for good or ill, throughout time are clearly made visible to us, I truly believe that the fact that their union prevailed will be seen to have had an impact far beyond what any movie or television series ever has. More than any of those films or shows, I suspect that, in many ways, that marriage will be seen as James Garner’s true legacy.

Good on you, James and Lois. And may all our unions prevail.

Sweden’s brats

I get some flack from time to time here on the Internet because I am not opposed to corporal punishment of children by their parents when done in a loving and appropriate manner.

(Aside: Yes, I know… Some of you who will come across this post believe that “loving, appropriate corporal punishment” is one big oxymoron, and my own reflections and observations on my own upbringing are a lie my heart whispers to me. Got it. Also, some of you who will come across this like to say “hitting children” instead of “spanking” because you think equivocation is a great way to win arguments without actually making your case. Got it. Thanks for playing.)

It’s a topic that I visit from time to time. Some related posts that come to mind (rather, that pop out of a textual search on my blog) would be…

It came to mind, this morning, when I read this Wall Street Journal piece: “Is Sweden Raising a Generation of Brats?” (article may be behind a pay wall or require registration, I am not sure).

In 1979 Sweden became the first country to make spanking children completely illegal on a national scale. Consequently, the current state of its “social experiment” is of interest to many–and, as I will try to make sure I mention, erroneous conclusions will surely be drawn by both sides of the issue (or by all three/four/five/etc. sides of the issue–in case I missed anyone). So what is going on with Sweden’s children?

Well, apparently if you ask Dr. David Eberhard, they are being turned into undisciplined tyrants who are increasingly running their families and the country. That seems to be the thrust of his book How Children Took Power, published last year.

Dr. Eberhard is a Swedish psychologist and father of six, and his book is apparently splitting the sentiment of Swedes down the middle. And, to be clear, he isn’t necessarily saying that spanking should be allowed again in Sweden; rather, he is arguing that the child-centric policy of the country is ruining children, families, and their society. As the WSJ reports:

“Dr. Eberhard says Sweden’s child-centric model has ‘gone too far’ and his book suggests the over-sensitivity to children and a reluctance to discipline has bred a nation of ouppfostrade, which loosely translates to ‘badly raised children.’ ‘All this kowtowing to the kids actually causes kids and society more harm than good,’ Dr. Eberhard said in an interview. He suggests the trend could contribute to higher anxiety levels or depression at a later stage in life for these children.”

He admits that his book is not based on particular scientific studies but, rather, on his own observations:

“Core to Dr. Eberhard’s argument is his observation of an increase in anxiety disorders and self-harming problems as Swedish children get older and find themselves ‘poorly equipped to deal with adult life,’ he says. Dr. Eberhard is head of the psychiatric ward at Danderyds Sjukhus, a hospital north of Stockholm.”

Again, to be clear, he says, “I’m not advocating going back to slapping (sic) kids,” lest anyone say I am trying to imply he does. Rather, he ties what he sees into a much larger modern, cultural package that has enthroned children at their own expense.

However, do I believe that the move Sweden made to ban loving, appropriate spanking under any circumstances is a symptom of the attitude that has caused the mess that Swedes are beginning to see? Yes, I do.

Could the good doctor be wrong? Certainly. One teacher outside of Stockholm is quoted by the WSJ as saying, “The kids of today, who are the children of parents who did not experience much discipline themselves, become very obstinate and self-centered,” but, you know, maybe she’s wrong, too. Some who point to what seems to be a deteriorating childhood culture in Sweden will want to fix on the ban on spanking as “the” cause, while others who believe permissiveness is a virtue and that restraints on childhood wants and passions in violations of their rights as, what Sweden calls, “competent individuals” (in contradiction to Proverbs’ statement that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”) will look for what silver linings they can point to, instead, and proclaim victory.

For me, it isn’t just one thing (extreme anti-spanking fanaticism), but one thing (extreme anti-spanking fanaticism) can serve as a telling symptom indicating the possible presence of much larger and more destructive issues (anti-children worldviews masquerading as pro-children worldviews).

The ramifications of some choices can take a lot of time to show themselves. Child-rearing philosophies? Sometimes multiple generations. And, whether they will be happy with the results in the end or not, multiple generations of Swedish citizens are apparently serving as the world’s lab rats concerning a minimal-discipline philosophy. Barely two generations in, the real results–the full results–are yet to be seen.

However, it should get our attention that in a nation which we have often identified as one of the ten tribes of Israel, possibly Naphthali, some are seeing a trend that is reminiscent of the prophecy of Isaiah 3:12, “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths.” Regardless, another prophecy of Israel comes to mind, where God says of those who abandon His laws and way of life, “Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb” (Deut 28:18, ESV). When a nation completely abandons God as a guiding light and trusts in its own wisdom apart from Him (Prov. 3:7), its children are going to suffer.

2013 in review

Wow — 2013 has flown by like nobody’s business! I cannot recall ever feeling like a year went by so fast as I feel this year.

For my own sake, I thought I would put together a few thoughts about the Roman year that is now passing. It has been a crazy 365 days, though it hasn’t necessarily been an unpredictable craziness…

The United States continues to broadcast its incompetence. As explained by a WSJ opinion piece today, the new president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, has “out-leadershipped” virtually every U.S. leader over the last year by actually making his country work and work better, addressing actual problems. Meanwhile, we keep applying new band aids on top of old band aids and our symptoms are beginning to multiply. “Dysfunctional” hardly seems like a sufficient word for what we have seen in our government over the course of 2013 (certainly a far cry from my fantasy Obama acceptance speech). Our debt continues to be nauseating, our military frustrated, our credibility in the world fatally compromised, and our morality continuing down the toilet.

On that last point, as Yahoo! News noted (hat tip to SW!) 2013 was, according to the so-called Human Rights Campaign, the “gayest year in gay history.” What we have witnessed in terms of cultural collapse and moral change in 2013 has been breathtaking in its speed. But, as I have tried to say before, the changes we see in the state of “marriage” are not the problem as much as they are the symptom. If marriage had remained a sacred and honored institution and if sexual activity had continued to be seen as something belonging within the domain of marriage, none of this would be happening. Admittedly, it is a symptom that the disease is in its final stages, but it is merely a symptom. We’ve only gotten to these final stages here in 2013 because all previous symptoms were willfully ignored.

(That said, the signs of our cultural rot in the U.S.A. are too many for me to even want to list here, as I would love to move on. Let me only add here in parentheses that it would be wonderful if 2014 involved no news items that contained the word “twerk.” That would be great.)

On the world scene, the changes and challenges have also been breathtaking. The Eurozone survived the predictions of many that it would crumble. The Middle East, Egypt and Syria in particular, continues to be scrambled up in a manner that will eventually enable a King of the South. Not to ignore other countries in the area: In 2013, Iraq experienced its deadliest year since 2008 and Iran got a big, wet, kiss on the lips by the U.S. and its buddies. The world continues to become configured in a manner consistent with the picture the Bible paints of the End Times.

And stepping into that world scene is a pope like none that world has seen for quite some time. Taking on the name “Francis I” which suggests that he is of a mind to reform, he has begun to do that — attempting to reform both the Roman Catholic Church’s image and its institutions. In addressing its image, many homosexuals and abortionists were encouraged by his comments that such topics dominate too much of the RCC’s dialogues and that it should focus on other things. What he did not say, of course, is that the positions and doctrines of the RCC were actually going to be changed in such matters — something that those who actually pay attention were sure to notice. Still, by focusing on projecting an image of humility and outgoing concern for the impoverished and the unheard, Pope Francis is creating the sort of picture that better matches the RCC’s talk and is reforming its image in a way that few could have imagined before 2013. The news speaks of record numbers of young, intelligent, educated women choosing the “calling” of the nunnery, and even many atheists are singing his praises, with one woman tweeting, “I’m an atheist, but the more I hear about Pope Francis, the more I like him.” Her opinion is not an isolated one, and I have read of many atheists considering giving the RCC another chance at winning their hearts–perhaps loosening the grip that Richard Dawkins, et al., have had on their minds.

Whether or not he is the last one and whether or not his honeymoon with the world continues unabated in 2014, the pope that the RCC received in 2013 is a game changer. It was a remarkable event of the past year with ramifications that will continue to be felt for much longer.

Concerning the Work of God, 2013 was an incredible year, with some of the most dramatic changes I have seen since I have had the privilege to be a part of it in this way! The Tomorrow’s World studio has been transformed, we’ve grown from a one-camera operation to three (including a jib), our graphics and planning for each program are being taken to a new level, the magazine underwent a powerful redesign, and our online presence has exploded through social networks at an almost frightening rate. The new TW Short videos are being viewed by tens and even hundreds of thousands of people at a time and are bringing thousands of additional people to our booklets and materials. Individuals all across the northern hemisphere are hearing the Tomorrow’s World program being broadcast in Russian for the first time. Dr. Roderick Meredith’s live Tomorrow’s World presentations online rocked, and, in my personal experience, the number of people who responded to the local TW presentations were greater than I had ever seen. And all of this (and so much more) just represents 2013! It doesn’t include any of the many things on the horizon just waiting for the trigger to be pulled. As far as I am concerned, this really is perhaps the most exciting time to be a part of the Work of God that I have ever experienced, in which it seems so blatantly obvious to those with eyes to see that His own hands are at work in the Church’s efforts.

Concerning those related to COGdom but outside the borders of God’s Work, if you will, in 2013 the rumormongers continued rumormongering, the self-appointed grew in number (as they always do), and the weird fantasies continued to multiply. Someone claimed to see in the Bible that Mr. Meredith would die this past year. And while it isn’t exactly the boldest prediction in the world that a man in his mid-80s would die, it, of course, flopped. Weird stories and predictions about the Church and its leaders crafted by various heretics and apostle-wannabes that were provably complete delusional fantasies did not pan out, as usual. Some folks here and there on the Internet finally acted on personal ambitions and self-delusions they have held for years. The earth kept spinning. The moon continued to orbit the earth. Boasters kept boasting. Accusers kept accusing. In those ways, 2013 was just another day in the office, as it has been for 2000 years. 🙂

Personally, it was a joy to serve my congregations in 2013. We grew, with a number of additions from those who have seen the telecast, received our literature, responded to the local presentations, and impressed with friends and loved ones who are in the Church. Frankly, I’ve never been involved in so many baptism counselings simultaneously, and it looks as though our Passover halls will happily be a bit more crowded! Growth aside, it is a privilege to get to serve so many wonderful people in this area, and I appreciate so much their patience with me. My family and I are so happy to make our home here.

Speaking of home, 2013 was quite a year on the home front! It was the first full year that my wonderful father- and mother-in-law have loved here, which has been such a blessing. It also was the year when I officially became shorter than 50% of my children, making me the third shortest person in a house filled with eight people. I lost 20 lbs. (Huzzah!) But have gained almost half of that back. (Booooo…) My wife and I had the humbling opportunity to travel to Europe, which was life-changing in a number of ways. Boy #1 continues to excel at fencing (the kind with masks and foils, not paint and wood), while Boy #2 has taken up Tae Kwon Do. Boy #3 is almost as tall as me, even though he is only 12-years-old, and Boy #4 has, here at the end of the year, gotten a pair of glasses that officially make him look smarter than me. 🙂 My Beautiful Wife began trying to sell some of her beautiful quilts (Etsy store: “Jeanine’s Quilted Things”). We painted our house. My work on Wally 4.0 proceeded apace, though not as “apace” as I would like (I still think it’s in beta). I converted to the Apple Ecosystem — in fact, I even got a MacBook Air to replace my old PC laptop (which I am surprised I haven’t blogged about, given how I’ve gone on about earlier matters), making me virtually 100% Apple-powered (though still rooting for Surface to do well).

More could be said, to be sure, but this Roman year of 2013 is ending with quite a bit having happened and with much promise of more to come in 2014.

In particular, this past year for me and my family was another opportunity to know that God has blessed us, that Jesus Christ rules in the Church and in our family, and that all our answers are found there in Him. All we have and know is worth having and knowing only because He grants that we have and know it, and all we do not have or know is not our concern as long as we are continually open and yielding to the One who, in His good time and for His good purposes, should one day grant that we have or know it. And until that day, having Him is sufficient. I think I saw that a little more clearly in 2013.

Perhaps the best thing about 2013 (even better than being 99% done with 2012 Maya-related silliness!) is knowing that Jesus’ return and His Kingdom is another solar revolution closer than it was this time last year. And whether I am alive when He comes back to earth or whether He determines in His wisdom that my end should come earlier than that, that is — beyond a doubt — a very good thing. (Does Martha Stewart have that phrase copyrighted? I hope not.)

So ends the Charlotte Anniversary Weekend for 2013!

A small shot of the kids performing after dinner at the Charlotte Anniversary Weekend. Great job, kiddos!
A small shot of the kids performing after dinner at the Charlotte Anniversary Weekend. Great job, kiddos!

Well, the Charlotte Anniversary Weekend is about to draw to a close. Nothing left but tonight’s ice cream social, though a lot of folks have already hit the road.

What a fantastic time it has been! Kudos to all those who pitched in and made it something special. I don’t know if we will always be able to come to these anniversary weekends, but I’m glad we did last year and this one.

The Friday Night Bible Study by Mr. Richard Ames as well as the one on Sabbath morning by Dr. Doug Winnail and Dr. Scott Winnail (Drs. Winnail?) were both excellent. The special music on Friday night was beautiful, and the choir performances during Sabbath services directed by Mr. Marcus McCullough and accompanied by Mrs. Teresa Fischer were just outstanding. Mr Jason Fritts’ sermonette was, well, OK, I guess. HA! Just kidding Mr. Fritts! It was knocked out of the park. And Mr. Roderick Meredith’s sermon was simply powerful. I should write a post solely about Mr. Meredith, but–in short–what an inspiration he is. His message was both uplifting and encouraging and slap-you-around motivating as all get out. (Do other people say “as all get out”? I say “as all get out.”) Just phenomenal. Then, Saturday night we skipped the dinner for some smaller “family time,” but we made it back in time for the talent show after dinner and the dance, for which, I must say, Mr. John Robinson did an excellent job of DJ-ing.

Sunday, the basketball and volleyball tournaments were outstanding. And, from my vantage point, the spectating was top notch. (I’m a professional spectator. 🙂 ) I spent most of my time watching the volleyball tournament, which climaxed in a championship match between Team “The Good, the Bad, and the Old Guys” and Team “LYC Adventure Camp.” With the young “Adventure” kids (and the almost-young-and-still-adventurous Mr. Robinson) dominating the best-of-five match up at first with two wins, it looked as though it might only go three games. But the Good/Bad/Old guys brought their A game and won the next two, driving the match to a decisive fifth round, in which the “Adventure” team got in a good lead early that was just too hard to overcome. I was impressed, and I am sure several of those guys were sore today! That night, there were board games and other fun stuff at the hotel, while we were over at a friends house for dinner.

Today, there were a lot of seminars going on–eight, I think–and it was a privilege to get to conduct the first of one of the “Mature Singles” seminars. (As I mentioned to them, what is the definition of a Mature Single? Well, clearly, someone who is not an Immature Single! 🙂 ) Mr. Mario Hernandez conducted the second seminar, which I hung around for (even if I am not, personally, a Mature Single, myself!), and I must say that it was truly excellent. Other seminars were conducted, I believe, by Mr. Richard Ames, Mr. Rod McNair, Mr. Gerald Weston, Mr. Jim Meredith, Mr. Sheldon Monson. While I only saw the ones for the Mature Singles, I heard a number of good things about the others, as well.

Then later today (in fact, we are just back from it) was a “Trampoline” activity at a place with big “trampoline areas”–large areas with trampolines stuck together with foam padding between them, enabling you to jump all over the place. We just bought tickets for the kids, which I realized later was a mistake because it wasn’t just a big trampoline room–it was Trampoline Dodgeball. Are you kidding me? Trampoline Dodgeball?!? It was like dodge ball with super powers. Had I known ahead of time, I probably would have dropped a few bucks for a ticket for myself. And, likely, I would be in traction at this point, so at least now I know I have a year to get in shape for it next year if they do this activity again. Still, my kiddos had a blast, and I did my best to enjoy it vicariously through them.

So, all that is left for us is an ice cream social for those of us still here. We’ll be heading out tomorrow morning rejuvenated and pleasantly exhausted.

The hotel here is really nice. There were 563 people here for the Sabbath morning Bible Study, though I don’t know how many there were for services. Regardless, it is quit a crowd! But the hotel here is more than big enough, yet not so huge that we feel like we’re sharing the space with a lot of other people. And mercifully, although the “Ho Ho Ho/No No No” days are approaching fast, there really were minimal decorations here — mainly a “Saturnalia Bush” in the hallway, which was easy enough to ignore, and I think that was it. (If there was anything else, at least it was minor enough that it didn’t even register with me.) And it is a beautiful place! The hall was plenty big enough, and the breakfast buffets are fantastic.

God’s people long to be together, and this was a great chance to do so. The Anniversary Weekends are such a wonderful occasion — especially when we are all so scattered. (Kansas City: We miss you guys, too! It’s tempting to do both, and we plan on coming back again in the future!) The kids have had a great time, and we have, too. Just the sort of thing that sends you home energized and looking forward to getting to work.

Again, kudos to those who put all of this together, certainly including Mr. Jim Meredith who coordinated the entire affair. It was a wonderful weekend, and our thanks to all who worked so hard to make it so wonderful!

How did you observe Thanksgiving?

Well, I know that I already posted this morning, debunking more Alexa silliness as a follow up on my previous post on Alexa silliness, but I would like to post on something more positive today.

I am glad that we spend Thanksgiving yesterday in my family in a manner related to the purpose of the day, though I can’t take credit for it. Of course we ate — and a feast it was, indeed! And in the past I have tried to do things like read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation and the statements of other presidents. As I always try to do, I thanked God for the faith and obedience of Abraham, which — as we know — is so much more important to the success of this country than delusions of our “superiority” as a people. Our success is rooted in God’s faithfulness, not ours.

But my mother-in-law had the foresight to ask each of our four boys to write up their thoughts on ten things they, personally, were thankful and to do so in the form of a written prayer. Then, yesterday, with the spirit of the day in mind, she had each of them read those thoughts for all of us. It was very moving, and I really enjoyed getting some insight into my children’s priorities and what means the most to them at this stage in their individual lives.

And, since I had my own thoughts on the subject recently, I was able to respond by reading my “I am thankful” blog post.

It was very pleasant and very appropriate. Then, in addition to such meaningful activities, we enjoyed a little “vegetable” time catching up on a few commonly enjoyed television programs. (We enjoy our shallow times as well as our deep ones. 🙂 )

So, what did you and yours do for Thanksgiving? Do you have any particular personal or family traditions? Did you do anything differently? Feel free and let me know below, and, for all those who know the blessing it represents, have a wonderful Sabbath tomorrow!

I am thankful

A happy Thanksgiving Day to all who happen to find their way here over this American holiday. It is nice to have a national holiday every once in a while that we can actually celebrate–all the more when it is one for which the motivating spirit is so godly (even if its more modern spirit is more carnal).

I hope we all take some time from now and the end of the week to thank God perhaps a little more than we all hopefully already do.

I am thankful. I am thankful for the shed blood of Jesus Christ that has allowed me to be forgiven of my sins and for the fact that same Jesus Christ is willing to continue to humble Himself and to live in such an unworthy person as I am. I am thankful that I have been able to come to know Him and His Father–now my Father, as well–to the extent I have in my life and that I can continue to get to know them better, knowing that there is still so much to learn about Them.

I am thankful for the amazing wife with which I have been blessed. Such a simple sentence seems so inadequate to express just how thankful I am, but perhaps a simple statement of the fact will be more adequate than a longer one would. I am thankful for our beautiful and remarkable children. My wife and children may deserve a far better husband and dad, but I am so thankful that I am the one who has the job. While it is within my power, I am giving it up for no one. I am thankful, too, for the health we have all enjoyed for so long, knowing that in this life such a state is not a given.

I am thankful, too, that my wife’s father and mother are able to live here with us, as they are my father and mother, also. It is a privilege and a joy to have them so near and so accessible.

I am thankful for my family members who live outside of these walls where I sit typing. That certainly includes my fantastic sister and brother-in-law and their kiddos, as well as my beautiful sisters-in-law and their husbands and children, and it includes the rest of my wife’s side of the family who I am so thankful to be able to count as my own family. But it also includes my family in the Body of Christ–the additional brothers and sisters that Christ, true to His word, has provided for me over the years. My incredible congregations now, the congregations I’ve been able to serve before coming here, the many I have met over the years at various Feast sites and conferences, those who I spiritually “grew up” with in Dallas and Waco… Some are here in the states, some are far away in other lands. But I am so thankful for them all. There are too many special people to name individually–some of whom would be so embarrassed that I wouldn’t dare list them anyway–but I am thankful to have them in my family and humbled to know that they consider me a part of theirs.

I am thankful for the Church, itself, and for a Body of Christ that allows me to actually see Christ’s presence and action in the world and in the lives of God’s people. I am thankful for the opportunity I have had on the telecast and on the Council of Elders to see “behind the scenes” in the Work and the Government of God and to find that it is just what I had always prayed it would be. I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to see God’s hand at work in the men and women at our headquarters and to be reminded that God truly does work through human beings and that every effort counts, no matter how small it may seem, so long as it is done with a selfless and loving heart. I am thankful for Mr. Meredith, Mr. Ames, Dr. Winnail, and Mr. Wakefield, and for all of those they lovingly lead in Charlotte. I am thankful for Mr. Weston, Mr. King, Mr. Hernandez, Mr. Tyler, and all those who strive to serve the Body of Christ no matter where its members may be located. I am thankful for Mr. Greer, who serves me as my regional pastor, and for Mr. Millich, who served as my regional pastor before and as my teacher and mentor. I am thankful for the lives of Mr. Ogwyn and Mr. David Burson, which, even so long after their deaths, continue to impact me and affect who I am and who I want to be. I am thankful for Messrs. West & West, Mr. Sena, Messrs. McNair & McNair, Mr. Ciesielka, Mr. Robinson and those others whose examples, along with so many at the “top,” mean so much to me–inspiring me, spurring me, and chastising me at the same time.

And I am thankful that my usual, goofy fear of forgetting in my haste something important or someone important–which I surely have done–has not prevented me this year from giving some sort of voice to my thanks here on this blog. I know that this brief list of things for which I am thankful is so pitifully short compared to all I have to be truly thankful for. But I also know that it still needs to be said from time to time. My life reminds me of the sentiment expressed in Jeremiah 33:9 — “Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it.” God has provided so much for me of which I deserve so little, if anything at all. And it does cause me to fear and tremble a little. Probably not as much as it should where I allowed to see the whole of it, but I see enough. And it is as God describes it: Terrifyingly wonderful. His mercy truly does endure forever.

(And by the way: I don’t mean to boast about any sort of special humility by saying how little I deserve the shower of blessings I have received. I know you don’t deserve your blessings either. 🙂 More than that, so many of you are examples to me of real humility. Thank you for that.)

In this land that has been so blessed, not due to its own greatness but due to the faithfulness of Abraham, may your Thanksgiving be a meaningful one.

So, my kids and I watched a 9-11 conspiracy flick…

I know that it might be unwise to bring this up, given the crank comments that the topic tends to generate, but I thought it might be a good example of the fact that I really am not ignorant of various claims.

My kids and I were poking around Netflix last night and came across a pro-conspiracy flick about the September 11 attacks titled 911: In Plane Sight — not a misspelling, by the way, but apparently a play on words. It was created by a particular radio host for a program I won’t honor with free advertising (though I mention the movie title because I want It to be clear it was a real “documentary”).

I selected it (it was free), and two of the boys and I watched it with the other two joining in later. And I have to say that watching it with the boys was interesting.

And it was rewarding. The boys began to pick through what was said and to take apart the host’s “analysis” just as easily as I could. The leaps of “logic” were many, and the unjustified conclusions were legion. To my delight, the boys saw through much of what was said without my help at all, and — perhaps, needless to say at this point — we finished the documentary absolutely unconvinced that anything the host said was true in any way. I think we all believed he was sincere, but not a single conclusion he drew was credible to any of us sitting there. And it was a great opportunity to explain to the boys how such ill-formed theories can arise and how a chaotic mess of data can often be assembled in a number of different ways, especially when cherry-picked and pieced together by someone with an ideological motive.

It was a lesson, too, in how all of us — me and the kids, too — can become horrible interpreters of facts when our desires and human will begin to cloud our judgment. At one point, Boy #3 exclaimed, “How can he say that?!? Is he watching the same video footage we are?” Indeed, what was obvious to us was not even a possibility to the narrator. But, again, we didn’t doubt the guy’s sincerity — just his good judgment.

Jeremiah 17:9 works on all of us, without exception. And while it is easy (frankly, was easy) to sit back and be snarky after a while when you see how oblivious someone can be, the lesson shouldn’t be lost on us that all of us are capable of the same obliviousness — all of us are very capable of failing to see the obvious in favor of our own preferred view or conclusion. Perhaps it doesn’t involve an unreasonable conspiracy theory, but it may involve our opinion about a difficulty with our spouse, or about an argument we had with a friend, or even larger issues. Fill in the blank yourself. And be imaginative.

I know our politicians are capable of lying (like we all are). I know they can make cold, heartless decisions in pursuit of purposes they deem significant that would seem horrific to others. No doubt. And I know that truly abominable decisions have been made throughout time by people in power to gain more power — whether in the form of money or influence or land or whatever. Certainly so.

But last night my kids and I we unified in the same point I have tried to make before: When it comes to certain conspiracy theories, the reason I don’t think them credible is not because of the high regard I have for human government or mankind in general — rather, it is because the “evidence” and arguments presented for the theories, in light of all the evidence and reasonable explanations available, is simply not credible.

(And BTW: Including “all the evidence and reasonable explanations available” is important. As has been demonstrated, programs like Jesse Ventura’s “Conspiracy Theory” show sometimes edit out information that would make one reasonably doubt their conclusions. Check out their misleading editing concerning “super thermite paint” as an example. Part of what sustains some conspiracy theories — not all, but part — is the self-filtering of information, only accepting “evidence” that fits the theory. Anyone who thinks such programs as those represent real investigative work as opposed to entertainment with an investigative-ish flavor show a severe lack of discernment.)

So, to those who disagree with my stands on most of those matters, feel free. (Please don’t clog the comments on this post with more theory junk, though. I will likely not approve such comments.) but please don’t say it’s because I am too trusting of the government, or because I haven’t seen the “evidence,” or because I won’t give such arguments a fair consideration. I really have looked at many claims. I — and, I am happy to report, my sons — simply find them not credible: merely less credible than more reasonable theories in the kindest of circumstances, and completely ludicrous in the worst.

For a post linking to a good commentary from the Living Church of God on the topic of conspiracy theories and a biblical, Christian perspective, click here: “Living Church of God: ‘Is it a conspiracy?'”

Another fantastic Missouri Pre-Teen Camp

Well, it’s taken a few days for me to get my “blog voice” back again, but it feels good to be at the keyboard. There is still so much to wrap up concerning the pre-teen camp we just completed last week in Missouri, but I thought I would take a few moments to write about it here on the blog.

I feel all the more motivated to say something since 2013 was likely the last year that I will direct the Missouri camp, since Mr. Meredith has asked me to hand some things off to others so that I can focus more on the telecast and on writing for the magazine. For the same reason, this will likely be my last year to coordinate a Feast site, at least for a while. [Which, by the way, gives me an online chance to respond to a rumor I heard upon returning to the civilized world on Monday… No, I am not being moved to headquarters. I have been told that HQ expects me to be in Ohio for quite a happy while, so if you are in one of my congregations in Ohio or Pennsylvania and you were excited that you might get rid of me, I’m afraid you are still stuck in my clutches! [Insert maniacal, villainous laugh here.] 🙂 No, seriously, I have heard nothing about being moved anywhere, and I suspect that my talk at camp about being asked to focusing more on the telecast and writing and stepping back from the pre-teen camp and Feast site coordination has morphed in the wild into “he’s moving to headquarters!” FYI: Nope. Another rumor bites the dust. 🙂 ] In the future, the Missouri camp will be in the capable hands of Mr. Gene Hilgenberg going forward — a wonderful man (if you know him, you already know this) who has commandeered the kitchen for the last several years there at the Missouri camp and who will, in all likelihood, do a better job than I did! I do hope to still attend the camp, as Boy #3 and Boy #4 are still going through the pre-teen camps, and as Boy #1 is a staffer there and Boy #2 an almost-staffer there. Whatever Mr. Hilgenberg would need me to do, I would be happy to try. Though he ought to know that I can’t swim.

And, for a last year directing, 2013 seemed a fantastic one. What a wonderful camp we had this year!

We were concerned about the weather, since circumstances forced us into July. Normally we are there in June, and when your campgrounds have no air conditioning being later in the summer can be a big deal. Yet, the weather was just fine, with our last day before check out having a high of 85°. We had a brush with “real hot” the day before that and had automatic procedures that kick into place if the heat index reaches a certain point, but they were not necessary. Temperature-wise, we were very grateful for this year’s conditions!

And as for the campers — wow, what a great group! Our camp was almost maxed out — the biggest group of 8-to-12-year-olds we’ve ever had! We added a cot to every dorm but one just to squeeze all the kiddos in and had to house three of our “sibling campers” (too young for staff, but too old for camper status) in the director’s cabin with us and the Fritts family, where they could hear all of our super-secret “director stuff” going on. (Summary of super-secret “director stuff” conversations: “Man, camp is going great!” “Yeah, it really is, isn’t it!”)

And the staff: what an all out fantastic group of people. I had one young man come up to me who has personally experienced virtually every level of participation in the Missouri camp — camper, high school staffer, and adult staffer — who said to me that, in his opinion, this was the best, most dedicated, most good-hearted, and most consistently hard-working group of high school staffers the camp had ever had. In my seven years, I would have to agree. Not only did they pull their load, but they consistently asked if others needed help, and they had a fantastic, positive attitude the entire time. Magnificent. And the adults were no slouches! 🙂 I am tempted to name some in particular, but I know I would miss many and would feel guilty about it, since all around we had a beautiful bunch of people who let God work through them to make the camp all it could be this year. And that includes Mr. & Mrs. Jason Fritts, who were welcome additions this year! It was a real blessing getting to know Mr. Fritts better (I continue to hear awesome things about his daily Christian Living classes for the staff), and he and Mr. Hilgenberg were great Assistant Directors. Their support along with the work done with others in organizing the camp over the years made my job as Director this year the easiest it has ever been.

I hope you will go out to the LCG Living Youth Facebook page and check out the Missouri pictures and videos. My Beautiful Wife and Mrs. Merrilee Markopoulos worked hard on them (and thanks to the additional volunteers who also submitted pics!). They captured a lot of great faces and looking at those pictures and watching the videos is a lot of fun.

At the same time, there are those moments here and there that cannot be captured in pictures, and those are still sticking with me in these days after the event is over. For instance, there was the time when someone, I think Mr. Hilgenberg, was addressing the assembled camp outside the dining hall and referring to the bit of rain we had that morning (rain which ended before activities, I should say!) and saying something about how you might think it looks gloomy. Right after he said it, a little girl’s voice very excitedly rang out really loudly, “Not me! I’m happy! I prayed for this to happen!” We all laughed, and it was a beautiful moment. I have to be honest — part of why I can’t remember what Mr. Hilgenberg said was because all I can remember about that instant was that excited little girl! It was so cute and such a wonderful reminder that we are rearing a group of young people who, even before reaching their teen years, are developing their own individual relationships with God. Very neat.

There were a few moments in our annual Musical Chairs event that were really memorable, too. I had one adult who was new to our camp say that it was neat because she’d never seen musical chairs happen with folks so young where there weren’t any tears. I hope that’s because we do it a bit differently in Missouri and spend some time setting things up in a particular way. (E.g., When the music stops and a person is left without a chair, they are to throw their hands up, belt out an Elvis-y “Thank you very much!”, and run around high-fiving the remainder of the circle. They often forget the Elvis, but no one forgets the high-fives!) Also during our musical chairs, there was a time when it was a boy and a girl racing for the lone empty chair, and when the boy got to it ahead of the girl, he paused and graciously motioned for her to sit in his place. What a gentleman! 🙂

You know — as I sit here, I realize I could type all day about the little things that happened here and there that made the camp a wonderful experience. But not only do I not have all morning and afternoon to sit here and reminisce, also it would still fall so very short of really capturing what a great week it was. Suffice it to say that the moments were many, and that it was very clear to me that God had tremendously blessed the Missouri Pre-Teen Camp this year. Over the last seven years I have had the opportunity to be a part of that camp, He hasn’t always allowed things to come together so easily, to be sure, but His hand has always been apparent, and this past year was no exception. What a truly wonderful year.

Each of the Living Church of God’s pre-teen camps — Texas, Missouri, and West Virginia — benefit from being similar to each other but not exactly the same as each other. Each one has its own personality and vibrancy, and each one adds its own special qualities to the overall purpose of serving the families of the Church. It has been such an incredible blessing to me and to my family to have been able to participate in two of them and to get to direct one of them. You do it for the kids, but, in the end, it changes you, too. One of my staffers this year mentioned to someone else (which was just passed on to me in e-mail as I was typing this) that even though our camp was structured around the kids, he felt that he benefited as an adult, too, and that he would be a better father for the experience. I totally know what he is talking about.

Being asked to direct the camp in Missouri — which, as those who know me could attest, is nothing I would have ever asked to do — has resulted, over the last seven years, in one of the greatest, life-changing experiences of my life. I will be forever grateful for the (frankly) scary call I got way back in February, I believe, of 2007 from Mr. Gerald Weston, telling me that the Church wanted me to run the pre-teen camp in Missouri. It has been a wonderful opportunity getting to know so many children, teens, adults, and families in the Church and getting to watch all of them work together to make something that is bigger and more wonderful than what any of us could have made through individual effort — something that leaves you with no doubt whatsoever that the Living Christ is in active control of His Church and that God is doing something marvelous down here among His people. My thanks go out to Them, to Mr. Weston for that call, and to all who have participated in the camp and have given it their all to make it something special.

And, the best is yet to come! Mr. Hilgenberg has a bead on some new sites for Missouri that may have air conditioning (gasp!) and even some swimming pools with water and without trees growing out of them — and which may even cost less than the place we’ve been using! Though part of me will miss the “spooky old pool”, I will not miss the sweat. 🙂 I look forward to being a part of the pre-teen camp while my own kiddos continue to go and to getting to see the amazing things God will do with it in the future. But for now, I just want to communicate my thanks — to God and Jesus Christ, to be sure, but also to all out there who participated in the Missouri camp in any way and for all of you out there who prayed for it (and I know there were many of you). Thank you, thank you, thank you. It was a wonderful year, and I am so grateful I got to be a part of it.

French children and ADHD

Hat tip to Mr. Albert Mohler and his podcast for pointing me to this article.

The magazine Psychology Today was the scene of a bit of a tiff concerning one professional’s opinion about ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The context, as I understand it, was the recent publication of the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — or the DSM — which is, essentially the “Bible” of mental disorder diagnosis. Mr. Mohler had much to say about it and, indeed, apparently it is a terribly flawed book. The principle that comes to mind is one I warn my kids about from time to time: If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. In the mental health professions, this philosophy does seem to reign to a certain extent.

But, in particular, it was Mr. Mohler’s pointing to an argument about ADHD that caught my attention and eventually led me to a statement that you rarely see in mainstream publications anymore, let alone a work like Psychology Today.

The title of the Psychology Today article was, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” by Dr. Marilyn Wedge (you can read it by clicking on the title).

It clearly began with punch:

“In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?

“Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States.”

The point, of course, is that biologically, there is not so much different between an American child and a French child that 9% of American children should have a “biological” disorder that only 0.5% of French children do.

The debate then ensues: Is it that French children are actually different? Is it just that French doctors are ill informed? American doctors would be quick to say their French counterparts are too slow to recognize what is a true “disorder” (and responses in Psychology Today have, indeed, said as much), while French doctors would say that American doctors are far too quick to do so.

But what struck me was the common sense in Dr. Wedge’s article — that how a child is reared absolutely does have an impact on such things. Perhaps not 100%, but certainly not 0% and, in truth, far, far greater. In particular, the final section grabbed me with it’s information and advice that is sadly all too rare these days:

“From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means ‘frame’ or ‘structure.’ Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies ‘cry it out’ if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months.

“French parents, Druckerman observes, love their children just as much as American parents. They give them piano lessons, take them to sports practice, and encourage them to make the most of their talents. But French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word ‘no’ rescues children from the ‘tyranny of their own desires.’ And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.

“As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don’t need medications to control their behavior because they learn self-control early in their lives. The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, as Druckerman describes them, parents are firmly in charge of their kids—instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.”

By the way, the “Druckerman” to whom she is referring is Pamela Druckerman who has appeared in these posts before. (“French Moms and Social Psychologist Silliness“, 2/7/2012.)

I was both shocked and delighted that a mainstream magazine like Psychology Today would allow someone to mention spanking in anything other than a negative light. But to focus on just that would miss the point. The idea of parents running a house, creating the “framing” and “structures” and not allowing the children to be the center and “pace setters” of that home was refreshing to see.

I’d write more, but I lack the time. (Actually, I lacked the time to write even this, but–hey–too late!) Just thought it was worth putting out there. And, for kicks, I will add a vive la france!