Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back to the Beach...Again

We have written before about the beautiful Gulf Coast beaches.  The sand is white, the slope of the beach is ideal, and the gulf water is warm.  This combination cannot be topped anywhere in the world, even Hawaii!  The waves are pretty small, even smaller this week, but the sand and the beach are beautiful.

Earlier in July we were in Gulf Shores.  This past week has been in Panama City Beach.  The beaches are similar, but the lack of high-rise condos here in PCB makes the beach MUCH less crowded.

This beach trip was a throw-back to the old days.  Andrew, our youngest son, a grad student at Arizona State, was with us for the first 4 days, and our youngest daughter, her husband, and our grandson, Jem, were with us the last three.  We had some great times with them, and that contributed to a great time at the beach.

Family, sun, sand, and rest are hard to beat individually, but in combination, wow!

Wish you were here... just in your own cottage, that's all.

Friday, August 29, 2014

When Kids Come Home to Visit

Our youngest son, Andrew, who is a Ph.D. student in AZ, came for a few days of visit.  We had already reserved a place at the beach, so there we went.

We had a great visit with Andrew, and that was special.  We spent hours and hours in conversation.  Those of you with boys, know that long conversations are as common as mermaids.  We sometimes take conversations for granted, but not this time!

When I used to visit my parents in the home where I grew up (no jokes here please), I felt that I "reverted" to my childhood a bit.  I was a lot lazier and more dependent in that setting than any other - or so it seemed to me.

"You can't go home again", may be slightly true, but it is so only because we are constantly changing, at least a bit.  Family is interesting.  The Family of G^d is interesting, and at least as important.

From the beginning G^d put us in family, first "biological", then "spiritual".  Family seems to matter to G^d.

In my view we ought to give a little more attention to our membership in the Family of G^d.  After all, one of these days, we are all going back to our "spiritual home" for more than a visit!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer's End

Well, we have done it again!

A perfectly good summer, the 2014 summer, is coming to a close.  Sure, Fall 2014 doesn't begin until about 22 Sept, but school is back in session for the youngsters and UA begins classes in two short weeks (from the time of this writing).

As I have posted numerous times, tempus fugit, but the truth is true, time doth flee and there is nothing we can do to stop it.  So, as we spend time, we have to make sure it is well spent.

Faithful readers may recall that the summer got off to a bang with the mission work in Italy.  this was followed by a working trip for me (Phil) to Colorado.  We then made two trips to the beach.  Not a bad summer, in truth a very good one.  But all that is history now.

We are on the cusp of a new school year, a new football season, a new fall with its beautiful leaves and wonderful weather.  The wild muscadines will be feeding us, and the cool weather energizing us.

C.S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters points out that the church calendar is a repetitive cycle of feasts and fasts, each slightly different from the one before, yet each repeating year after year.  You have variety in a setting of consistency.

So it seems like a good idea to use the Church calendar together with the other events of the year to remind us of the importance of working for, and towards, the Kingdom of G^d.  These are times to reflect on what we have done, what G6d has taught us, and what significance that will have in 100 years.

So take a moment and look back.  What was done?  How will this Fall 2014 be different?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Something is Headed Your Way>>> Old Age!

Have I blogged about aging?  I can't recall.  Seriously.  My memory is getting worse.

(Sorry for the pict, but it is the only illustration of getting old I could use.)

Maybe our memories don't get worse, it's just that there is now so much stored that it is harder to find the information, even though it is in there, or at least I recall knowing that name sometime in the past.

Names are the best illustration.  I may run into someone I haven't seen in years, and instantly recall their name.  Or, I may have called your name a few minutes ago, but now it is gone.  Well... not really gone, but buried deep enough that it will take me a few days to retrieve it.

But getting old causes us to lose more than memory.  In physiological aging, we lose bone density and muscle mass.  Our metabolism slows and we need less food- or else we get fatter.

There's not much we can do to avoid getting older, except of course, if we die young, we never have to face aging.  Those of us still around get a little reminder that this earthly life is temporary.

We are all in decline.  If we take care of our bodies, we go down hill a bit more slowly, but we all decline.  I am a FORMER competitive distance runner.  Sadly now I race at a pace slower than I trained at as a 34 y.o.  It is a bit discouraging, but a good reminder.  This life too will pass.

So, hear it from an aged guy.  Life is short.  It is a life of decline after about age 22.  It can be sad, unless we keep in mind...

We weren't made for this world.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Wonderful World of Funded Research

Most academic institutions love external funding of research.  I have written before about how about 47% of the income goes to "overhead costs" and ends up representing money in the "slush fund" of deans and departments.  Thus external funding tends to be highly rewarded, regardless of its real contribution to science and to education.

The darker side of grant funding the review process.  Ideally one envisions a group of cool impersonal scientists making decisions based only on the advancement of science.  Why would we envision that?  We are humans, they are humans, so the review process is political, biased, and based more on the advancement of personal interests than the advancement of science.

I participate on both sides of this contest.  I write and submit grant proposals, and I read and review them on occasion.  It's more fun to be on the reviewing end- I usually get at least travel expenses and there's far less rejection.

Dealing with rejection is just part of my job.  We recently submitted a grant proposal that would benefit children who use wheelchairs.  For $30,000 we were going to adapt wheelchairs to make them lighter and more mobile.  We were going to train kids to climb and go down steps, to jump curbs and to be much more mobile.  Additionally for this small sum, we were going to teach the kids and their parents wheelchair maintenance. 

"Don't they do that already?" you asked incredulously (your skeptical by nature).

"Nope, surprisingly enough"!

I figured it was a sure deal.  How can anyone deny so little money for so much good... for the benefit of little kids in wheelchairs?

Once again, I was wrong.  No money for our proposal.  Not even a dollar for the poor kids in chairs.

So, we look elsewhere.  And that, boys and girls, is the wonderful world of funded research!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Should you Pay for a Bride?

In many parts of the world, including our last home, young men must PAY for their brides.  In those cultures, the sons of the family are responsible for taking care of their parents in the parents' old age.  The bride assumes responsibility for the groom's parents also, so the bride's parents are left without a caretaker.  To compensate for their loss, the groom "pays" a bride price.  In Botswana it was common to pay 10 cows (the traditional unit of exchange) for a bride.  In most of Botswana, and the rest of the world, that custom endures.

It sounds a bit strange to us Westerners, and I am certain that many American women would be highly offended that their could ever be a price set on their worth.  But it is an honored, and honorable, practice in large sections of the world populace, even today.

The most interesting aspect of this is the Christian application.  It never dawned on me until this morning.

The "bride price" idea is illustrated in Jacob's 14 years of labor for Rachael.  It is even better illustrated in Christ's bride price for his bride, The Church.

Think about it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Moderation, Extreme Moderation

The motto of my home state of GA is, "Wisdom Justice Moderation".  Not bad advice.

Of late I have read a lot of info suggesting that the Bishop motto may be misguided.  The Bishop motto, is,
"If it's worth doing, it's worth over-doing."

There is now a new ailment called "orthorexia nervosa", which a disorder of those who become obsessive about eating "properly".  I know folks who are a bit overboard about their eating, about their workout regimen, about their work ethic, about their clothes, make-up, or lawns.

That is, even quite good things can be over-done, and when this happens the outcome is seldom good.  Running too much is BAD for your health as is resting too much.  Eating too much is bad, eating too little leads to malnutrition.

So, we may conclude, "moderation in all things".  Not so fast.

Emerson said, “Moderation in all things, especially moderation.”

We would do well to be immoderate in our commitment to the G^d of the Universe, who immoderately gave His Son for our sins.

Friday, August 15, 2014

When a Rich and Famous Person Ends Their Life

Yesterday evening we learned of the alleged suicide of the great comedian Robin Williams.


Robin Williams was considered by many to be one of the greatest comedic actors of all time.  His career spanned most of my adult life, first as Mork (Mork and Mindy, 1978), then through many great roles.

But Williams' greatest gift to us may indeed be in his death.

Robin Williams had everything that most Americans, and most people in the world, find appealing.  Williams was rich, famous, handsome.  He had the resources to travel anywhere and do anything he wanted.  He could buy any car, any clothes, any house he wanted.  He had achieved the American Dream, big time.

So, why did someone so wealthy and famous end his own life?  Why do Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a long list of others (Google it) either deliberately, or effectively, choose to end their "wonderful" lives?

Maybe Williams and others are telling us something.  Maybe they are the BEST illustration that materialism never fulfills.  Maybe they are shouting at us in their pain.  Maybe they are writing in BOLD letters, this material life, this stuff, is NOT what we were made for.  Stuff will always disappoint us.

The life is in the spirit.  Our spirit, our relationship with the G^d of the universe can fulfill us despite a total absence of material possessions.

So what do you make of it?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Estate Planning

We recently checked and indeed, our will was last visited in 1986.  Andrew wasn't even born until late in '86, and Anna not until '89.  We clearly need some updating.

There's nothing like thinking about your impending death to make a person serious.  No, I do not have a KNOWN short time to live, but NONE of us have a guarantee for tomorrow.  Not trying to be morbid, but we will all surely die.

Our financial advisor wants us to consider a life insurance policy.  I am no financial wizard, but that seems a bad idea.  I know I will die, likely within the next 20 years.  If I have a life insurance policy and die, the policy is required to pay.  Insurance companies know this and have to charge enough to cover their liability plus pay their sales force and keep the lights on, plus pay their top executives exorbitant salaries.  Sooo, they are betting that you will pay in more than they pay out.

The insurance policy I really want is that I will not go to hell, and I already have that one covered.  

Now that's insurance, or assurance, worth having!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Trips to BHM

Most locals know that BHM is the Birmingham Airport, about 60 miles and one-hour from our home.  We have made this drive many times.  Typically it is a joyous occasion.  We are joyously leaving on a trip, or we are joyously picking up someone who has been away.  Sometimes we are coming back from BHM, joyously returning from a trip.

It’s Interstate Hwy all the way, and though the shortest route passes through downtown BHM, it is seldom a traffic problem.  We have made this trip several times in the last few months.

In days gone by, about 20 years worth of them, Tuscaloosa had an airport located in Northport, probably about 10 minutes from our house.  It had one gate, free parking, and if you got there about 15 or 20 minutes before the scheduled takeoff, you were fine.  The only flight was to ATL, but from ATL you can travel the world, and it was often cheaper than flying from BHM, regardless of direction of travel.  There was also NO TSA in those days, pre 9-11.

Andrew in the Security queue.

Yes boys and girls, there was a time before you took off your shoes, before you were patted-down, before you took your laptop out, along with 27 little bottles under 3 fluid ounces each.  Ah, I hate to speak of the good old days, but there once were far fewer steps to get airborne.

The world is a fallen place, and all of us pay for its fallen-ness. 

The remarkable thing to me is that it is even not more fallen!  G^d’s common grace is the only thing keeping us from total self-destruction.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pay Raise!

We just today received word on our pay raises for next year.  I count myself fortunate to get a raise, considering that many folks haven’t had raises in a while, or maybe not expecting one this year.
I feel that I am well paid, in fact, I tell folks from time to time that, “I am the only over-paid prof at UA”.  I am surprised at how few people seem to appreciate the implications of that gag.  Oh well.

I do consider myself Blessed financially. I wear no tie, often wearing jeans in cold weather or shorts in hot weather.  I can bike to work.  We have a shower just down the hall from my office. I get much more time off than most folks.  I am not telling you this to make you envious, I am merely recognizing what G^d hath wrought.

One of the Scriptural directives is that addresses pay is, “Soldiers be content with your wages”. (Lk3:14)  I count myself a soldier in many ways.  I am content.  It's not much of a sacrifice, but I am content with my wages, and recognize all we have is a gift from G^d.  Thanks be to G^d for all.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Money, Money, Money

Our culture, and much of the world, is fascinated by ways to obtain more money.  poor people, rich people, and that huge US middle class shares the Montgomery Burns (rich guy on The Simpsons) concept,

"I'd give up all my wealth... for just a little bit more".

Greed is universal and a powerful force.  As I have written before, greed is a constant struggle.  I wrote two years back about being so greedy even in little things like gathering pecans fallen from the trees on campus. 

I am not the only greedy one.  As we travel the world we see greed played out by the rich and poor alike.  Everyone wants to be rich, me included.  It is hard to overcome.  Yet, Scripture is quite clear, 
 "Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist."  Prov. 23:4

It can be done, even by you and me.  Even Esau, the one who is best known for "despising his birthright" was able to succeed.
Gen 33:9 is a report on Esau's speech, "But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”

May G^d grant us all the grace "to desist".   Amen.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Some Things this Blog has Taught me

Dear Reader, you teach me a lot. You are part of a small group.  Most days I have 10-12 people visit the blog, on occasion it spikes to 50+.  It would be discouraging to write, except that you 10-12 people are special people!  Plus my main readership is Brenda and me, and we want a record of these days, for some unknown reason.

When I post on FaceBook that there is a new blog post, the readership spikes upwards.  I am tempted on occasion to do this, but try to fight it, as I suffer from ego-centricity already.  So, I know that advertising pays- and I also know that I don't need to feed my ego.  Thanks readers.

I would expect readership to max out on weekends, but such is usually NOT the case, which is why I mostly post during the week.  I am guessing that a lot of readers get a bit bored on the job and thus have time/inclination during the week.  More people are likely to have their computer on during the week too.  Live and learn.

I am sometimes surprised at the lack of comments.  I find it very hard to resist commenting on many of the blogs I read and FB posts I see.  Most of you resist this urge, or perhaps the urge is absent.  If ind that surprising, but not so much anymore.

Perhaps the biggest thing I have learned is that it is very hard to write interesting stuff.  I write a lot, but most of it is pretty uninteresting.  I am sure that is true, but not entirely sure why. 

Dirty Harry was right, " A man's just got to know his limitations".  Writing interesting stuff is not my forte, writing a LOT of stuff is.

Thanks for reading, dear reader.  I appreciate you.