Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thought Process

I think I will start working on this blog again. I am, however, going to be a bit less concerned with quality or quantity. My blog at thefieldgeneral.com is getting those attentions. Instead, I'm going to use this blog for ideas and musings. There are some thoughts I want to explore that just aren't appropriate for my other blog. Perhaps even a story or two.

I also won't be focused on regular posting. It will come when I have time and something interesting to work through. It will be interesting to see what blog gets more interaction. This one, or the other.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Forgetting my habits

I have read that it takes 60 days to form a habit. In other words, if you consistently do something for that length of time your internal systems sort of log it as a regular activity and encourage you to do it.


Unfortunately sometimes I forget to do my habits. That may sound odd but it is true. It seems that habits fade at a much more rapid rate than they are created. Losing a habit takes a week or two. Then you are back to disciplined rebuilding.


This all applies to positive habits. Good things you wish to develop are hard to create and difficult to maintain. Negative habits, or unhabits as I like to call them, are easy to create and nearly impossible to dislodge once they are imbedded. It seems to me that perhaps a bad habit is nothing except the lack of a good habit.


Thus, the problem is not that you smoke, but that you have not developed or have lost the habit of not smoking. Stop smoking for 60 days and you will have created a not smoking habit. Smoke for a week or two at some point after that and you will have to start over.


Over-eating is easy. It is an easy unhabit to start. It is a difficult unhabit to break. To break it usually requires disciplines like calorie counting, food quality, and portion awareness be diligently observed for the prerequisite 60 days. After that you have developed the habit of eating reasonably.


The other fun about habits and unhabits are the side effects. Unhabits carry numerous nasty life impacts. Overeating leads to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a difficulty climbing the stairs. Smoking leads to numerous lung complications, high blood pressure, and a difficulty climbing the stairs. Drinking too much leads to liver disease, relational problems, work performance issues, and at times, difficulty climbing the stairs. Watching too much TV seems to drain you emotionally, encourages many other unhabits, and… well it doesn’t seem to affect your ability to climb stairs.


Good habits have positive effects. Exercise makes you a lean, mean, stair climbing machine. Prayer clears your mind, gives you insights, and prepares you to meet the day. Then there are good things like bathing and brushing your teeth that not only help your health but tend to have direct impacts on your luck in love.


It is unfortunate that creating good habits is such work and creating unhabits is so easy. Why is this? To understand it, I think, requires the realization that our hearts we are basically broken. Inside all of us is a black hole that unceasingly howls to be filled. Like the musical character Pippin or like Solomon in Lamentations, we charge for meaningless pursuit after meaningless pursuit and find ourselves sicker, lonelier, and emptier than when we began. There are only 2 ways I know to forestall this chaotic internal collapse.


The first is an external focus, the more uplifting the better. Love, career, profession, family, and personal credo are great examples. We grab a hold of them and let them lift us away from the darkness within. They make us more than we are. They take us farther than we alone could go.


The problem with external focuses is they never really last. Love alone fades. Careers fail. Professions are proven to be less noble than we first thought. Family drifts away or disappoints us. Ultimately even the strongest man will bend his personal beliefs if they stand alone. All must fall before the internal vortex that swirls at our center. The yawning pit of our spiritual emptiness gapes and devours our life and at the end of our life, our soul.


Sin is not a single failing. It is a bottomless ocean of emptiness. What can be done then? How can we fill the void? There is only one answer and that answer is God. One of my favorite songs is Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Rise.” It’s a beautiful song but one phrase captivates me. “And the grave is overwhelmed.” The grave is sin. That empty, bottomless void at the center of my heart is what is overwhelmed. Imagine a mighty pit, more massive than Niagara Falls that is sucking down everything good and graceful around and in me. Then there is this rush of water like Niagara itself except intensifying each second. After a few moments the water is pouring so heavily into the pit that even bottomless it cannot absorb it all. The limits of its diameter, though in some ways measureless cannot absorb it all. So it begins to overflow. It flows out in all directions.


Now try combing that inward pressure with Love and it cannot fade because even when we tire the internal force keeps us moving forward. Careers collapse only to be buoyed up by old faithful geysers into unexpected windfall circumstances. Professions which sag under the reality of the world find their centers held up by the knowledge that you are working for Him regardless. Family forgives and forgets wherever God’s hand is felt. Slowly we are knit tighter even though we may be miles apart. Finally our personal credo is shored up by the concrete bedrock which is not our personal belief. No matter how we question or search a written code clarifies truth. We may fail, but there is no question that the code is real.


I find that whenever I begin to lose sight of God, the wind howls. My focus is lost. Unhabits become irresistible flotsam pulling me towards the now draining pit. Habits, great dams built to redirect me into stronger directions shatter. I am pulled inexorably towards collapse.


Ultimately there is one goal, keep my focus on God. Then the downpour begins again in earnest. Refreshing water hammers down and pushes outward with unmatched force. When that pressing energy is at my back, what cannot be achieved?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Here there be dragons… Bite Down Hard!

I just got back from Dragon Con. What is Dragon Con? Dragon Con is energy. It is thirty or forty thousand fans of the future, of fantasy, of what could be. In that maelstrom of positive expectation you will find enormous, exciting, exuberant energy.
On Saturday morning the wilds of imagination walk downtown Atlanta in a parade of fantasy, fiction, and movie magic. The energy is fantastic as people line the road 2 and 3 deep to catch sight of their favorite characters. Pixies and fairies in skimpy outfits follow knights and goblins. A company of Ghostbusters complete with Ghostbuster cars follow a small army of howling zombies, monsters, and madmen. Groups of Star Trek Klingons escort various denizens of Shatner’s universe down the road. Warriors from Halo, Aliens, and the 300 charge down the street. A DeLorean souped-up to go back to the future drives by. At last, the 501st Legion, Vader’s Fist, tromps into view leading a massive wave of Storm Troopers, Sith, Jedi, and Bounty hunters.
After the road show, the denizens retreat into bowels of the hotels. The three main hotels and food court are connected. This creates an enclosed labyrinth of wonder. These caves of steel and concrete lend an Asmovian atmosphere producing one of the most wonderful people watching experience ever. A real He-Man walks by with a beautiful sprite clinging to one arm. In the central alcove is a lovely full sized stone statue of an angel. It is so perfectly rendered and still that you expect pigeons to fly down from the ceiling. Then her cell phone rings, and the illusion is shattered. T-shirts abound with funny quips. On the wall above the blood donations center is a nosferatu disparaging sign that says, “Come see us, the REAL blood suckers.” I wonder what the IRS thinks about that.
The con is filled with special guests, scientists, actors, musicians, authors, and dozens of other fields. They fill out the convention’s numerous panels, sign autographs, and generally make the convention memorable. Here is perhaps where the energy is greatest. In some panels guests discuss popular shows. In others every imaginable topic is discussed: politics, religion, dragon reproduction, and books.
I stumbled on an opportunity to go to the con two years ago. Last year something came up and going was impossible. This year things looked the same and in an unexpected surprise the opportunity emerged. I guess God knew I needed the recharge.
Dragon Con is an environment that encourages creativity and I came away feeling ready to write again. I have taken a three month hiatus, encouraged by a demanding job and relentless travel. What a joy to be excited to scribble down some ideas again.
I also, think I learned something else. I spend far too much time succeeding at life and not enough time enjoying it. Have you noticed that we hard driving personalities sometimes get so focused on where we are going that we forget to enjoy where we are. It doesn’t necessarily mean a difference in action so much as attitude. I am going to make a real effort to focus on the joy of the moment and less on the sorrow of the day.
Life is a fruit. It has all the flavors that you’d want. It’s sweet and savory. It’s bitter and sour. It’s salty and spicy. The succulent skin surrounds a core replete with juicy goodness. Don’t hold onto that fruit wondering where the bruises are. Grab a hold of life; and bite down hard! Let the luxurious skin slide down your throat. Let the meat fill your mouth with flavor. Let the juice run down your cheeks and drip on your shirt. Let people see the joy as you chew mouth full and smiling. Let them think, “He’s living his life to the fullest.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I'm maimed and intend to stay that way.

Oswald Chambers has an interesting interpretation of Jesus’ “If your hand causes you to sin cut it off.” He points out that it refers not only to your physical hand but more generally to “good” things in life. The hand is definitely a good thing. And yet if we cannot live a pure life with it intact, we must remove it from our lives.

This applies to nearly anything. Things and people who cause us to stumble in our walk must be removed to a distance where they cannot trip us up. This can lead to some peculiar situations and ones that make a person or a group of people seem legalistic, when, in fact, they have removed the offensive action, behavior, or limb only because of their own weakness.

In the south, people make fun of Baptists who traditionally are against drinking, and dancing, especially dancing. Why Dancing? Because dancing leads to sex. I know what you’re thinking. This seems extreme and is thus funny. But it’s actually based strongly in truth. Dancing is inherently a couple’s activity and leads to increased intimacy. Naturally this increased intimacy leads to a stronger likelihood of sexual interaction. The early Baptists limited dancing, not because it was inherently wrong or evil, but because it was a frailty they saw in themselves. It was better to eliminate the good thing then risk the bad result.

I have similar things in my life. Not dancing. I don’t dance because I move like and ogre with a groin pull. No I am speaking of things that were wonderful in their time but which I have had to severely limit: Playing Music, Playing Computer Games, and Eating Pizza. Each of these things has negative effects on me and so I have had to either cut them entirely out of my life or limit them severely. They aren’t bad. I don’t judge others who do them. Sometimes I envy those others. But they do not belong in my life.

My first love was playing music. I chose to play the tuba myself. I taught myself. I was successful and enjoyed it immensely. I can honestly say that I have from time to time felt that playing was better than sex. I have started and walked away from music twice in my life: once in high school and again in college. Each time, I found that it was an obsession that took more than it gave. After college I tried to play casually, but I just can’t do it. The cost is too high. The desire to chase an empty dream is too strong. Proverbs says that only a fool chases dreams. My Tuba lies unused and untouched in our spare room. I’m hoping that when we are all made new, perhaps God will see fit to let me play music for a few thousand years, but for now I have given up that dream.

I have been playing computer games since I was 12. They are, again, something I obsess about. I can easily sit and play a game for 10 or 12 hours straight. When my wife first met me, I had a house full of clocks with alarms to help me remember time was passing. I would lose myself in the games. How many days of my life have been lost playing computer games? I do not know. How many days have I drug my tired body through because I was exhausted from an all night gaming session? I cannot count them. It’s called sloth and it must go. I also discount real people for the game and that’s just not acceptable. This one is a little easier for me, because I don’t love computer games the way I do music. I’ve been able to back off and keep them in my life, but I now play them only occasionally and usually then as a family activity.

Finally, there is Pizza. It has been a staple food in my life. Indeed, at my funeral I think that Pizza and Chili should be served. Surely, at least 50 percent of my body is pizza and pizza sauce flows in my veins. The problem is I lose control. I just love the flavor, the taste, and the texture. It has to go. Now, I eat it when people serve it, but I no longer order Pizza for myself. I’m trying to end gluttony in my life, and Pizza is a stumbling block.

These are things I’ve cut off in my life. Good things but things that make me sin. It also reminds me that those who live a purer life are not judging me. Often times they are not stronger than me. They may in fact be weaker, but need strong boundaries to keep themselves from falling.

I’m maimed. I’ve cut off things I loved. I’ve amputated pieces of my life. But by pruning myself like this, I’ve allowed the other parts of my soul to grow.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The road to the dentist is paved with good intentions.

I was grinding my teeth. I’m not sure what caused my abrasive mastication. Perhaps I was envisioning an encounter with an irritating co-worker; or, perhaps I was reliving a long wait at the doctor’s office. Whatever was going on, I was asleep; and I squeaked.

That was my wife’s claim. “Squeaky, Squeaky, all night long,” she said pointing to my choppers. “You grind your teeth.”

I knew I ground but was a little shocked at the squeaking. Surely that could not be good for my teeth. I decided to visit the dentist. He might be able to suggest some sort of mouth guard to preserve my teeth for a few more years.

The dentist’s office smelled like a dentist’s office. You know that awful scent of fluoride mixed with bubble gum mixed with the hot dry smell that can only be burnt enamel. The waiting room was further scented with fear as we patients considered our likely fate.

A little girl in the next seat tried desperately to convince her mother that she was fine and didn’t need a check-up. I felt the same way but my mom was no where around for me to argue with. I had decided to come to Doc Tooth’s Torture Fun House on my own. I sat and contemplated my feet wondering if I could convince them that I was ok and leaving was a better option.

My last trip to Doc Tooth had been several years before when my wisdom teeth needed pulling. They were hurting me; so I found Doc and asked for help. He was happy to oblige.

His grin was devilish as he said, “Most dentists would send this out to a dental surgeon, but me, I like pulling wisdom teeth. You know, I played football in college, so I’ve got the upper body strength to yank them right out.”

He leaned me back, put his knee on my chest and said, “Open wide!”

The device went in and the pressure on my chest increased. Doc wrapped both hands around the handle to get a stronger grip. Crack! Crack! Crack! The sound exploded from my mouth as my head jerked to and fro. Another one of those Faustian grins lit up Doc’s face as he pulled the bloody molar from my mouth.

“One More to go!” He exclaimed and dove back in.

Now I was back and re-living that wonderful memory. A door opened and a perky young sadist poked her head out and said, “Mr. Coussens.” She grinned and waved me in.

The condemned followed her to her chair, a torture device for the ages. She poked me, prodded me, and put sharp sticks in my mouth pretending them to be x-ray film. “Bit down on this,” she smiled, and I felt the cardboard slice into my gums. Finally, she had exhausted the immediate torture tools and announced, “Doc Tooth will see you in a moment.”

Have you ever noticed that the dentist office is a bit like a car repair shop? No matter what you go in for, they still want to lube your chassis and replace your pads. If you’re really unlucky they will have found a cavity, or six.

The hygienist came back and said, “Doc will be a few more moments, but I need to talk to you. You need a good cleaning and your gums are looking bad, we need to irrigate them.”

I rubbed my x-ray tormented jaw and said, “My gums are already pretty irritated, you really don’t need to do more.” Then I grinned to show that I wasn’t afraid of her.

She frowned back at me, “Irrigate, Mr. Coussens. It’s not covered by your insurance, but it’s very important.” She raised her eyebrows expectantly.

I had not yet learned my car lesson, “Will my wheels actually fall off or my engine blow up? If not it can wait.” Lacking that experience, I nodded dumbly at her.

Doc Tooth came in shortly after. He poked, prodded, and scratched. Then he said, “Well there are a few spots to watch, but no procedures today.” Pausing a moment he tried to cheer me up. “At least you’re not in pain.”

The pain was yet to come. After the cleaning and the irrigating I was ready to weep. When I saw the bill my eyes actually welled with tears. Later that night, I realized I had forgotten to ask the doctor about the teeth grinding. I think I’ll wait quite a while to get that solved.

Something in this experience did strike a note with me. Tooth cleaning is one thing; but heart cleaning is another. Each day we have an opportunity to meet with Doc Heart, whose real name is Jesus, and have him look us over. Mother isn’t there to prompt us; we have to go on our own. It can be painful. It can be more costly than we anticipated when we sat down in the chair. In the end though, we come out white and shining. Our smile is brighter. Our heart is lighter. Our lives are made whole.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Death of the Fist Bump

I remember when Michael Jackson’s “Bad” hit the music stores. For Generation X, bad was good and cool was cliche. We loved our parents but they truly did not understand our culture or who we were. We barely understood it ourselves.

Bad went to Rad which later became Random. Each time the previous term became gauche and dropped out of common usage among the young. I never saw when Bad went bad or Rad deteriorated into nothing, but I believe I have spotted the death of the fist bump.

One night, as I was busily typing away on some manuscript or another, I heard my wife exclaim, “No way!”

I looked up at her and she waved me over saying “Watch this.”

She rewound the TV as I walked over and sat down. The evening news was on. The anchorman had made a spontaneous and slightly funny comment. Laughing, the weatherman leaned over and the unthinkable happened. They fist bumped. This wasn’t two athletes on the field celebrating a great play or two college men over laughing over beers. This was a pinstriped grey-haired regional anchorman and a double breasted white haired weatherman. The foundation of the fist bump was cracking.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; that wasn’t the first odd fist bump on television. Obama and his wife bumped on national TV after winning the Democratic presidential nomination back in 2008. Such national exposure could only serve to drive the practice into the hands of those who never had business fist bumping in the first place. In fact, in response to the Obama bump, Time magazine actually did an article on “A brief history of the fist bump.”

Ultimately, I knew I was watching the final days of this gesture when my friend, Lenny, walked into our men’s bible study the other night and bumped fists with every man there. I think I was the youngest fellow in attendance and I left my college days behind a decade and half ago. We all grinned as we amused ourselves with the youthful greeting.

What is in a touch? A pat, a hand shake, or a fist bump can go a long way to drawing others into your life. It is especially powerful in America where we Americans live in a world of relatively little physical contact. If you are not a hugger, one who comes up and gives unsolicited hugs, you could very well find yourself going for a week at a time with zero physical contact from anyone other than your wife and kids.

Part of this, I think, is because we are so self-absorbed. We can fake our way through a how-are-you-fine greeting without ever actually having to slow down and connect to the person. A handshake is a request for information. It requires focus and intent; offering one without focus is a clear and unmistakable insult. When a hand is extended in earnest and eyes meet there is an exchange that says, “Hello, you are important enough to me to stop my normal course, abort my hurried day, and stop to greet you.”

I remember my first day in Sunday school in 8th grade. I decided to go to church. I walked into the room and was introduced around. After the teacher took first honors, every young man in that room shook my hand and greeted me. The impression was powerful: This circle of young men really cared about me and they didn’t even know me. I was hooked.

As a Christians, we should try an experiment. Any time we meet someone, the first time for a day, every day, reach out to them physically. Smile and reach out a hand. Solicit a handshake or, if you can make it work, a fist bump. It’s awkward, because other than initial meetings most of us don’t do this. Our friends and co-workers will wonder what we’re doing as we’ve never done it before. Now here’s the opportunity, ask how they are doing and mean it. We won’t likely get a response, because they won’t expect it. The thing they will understand, however, is that we care.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Universal Complexity

I have a great respect for novelists. It is not only the length of the work but also its breadth and complexity that amaze me. We readers see only a tiny fraction of the writer’s world; we see the scenes viewed through a window frame. Beyond that frame’s limited scope the world is far larger. To have more depth than a cardboard cutout, writers create people and places that cast shadows across the rest of the story without coming into our line of sight. Often, the unseen part of the work is as big as or bigger than what we can see.

Fantasy and Science Fiction provide even greater challenges. Not only do the story elements have to be defined but, as the reader has no shared frame of reference, the author must create an entire world. Each detail preconceived by the author is a thread building a firm foundation for the novel. The deeper the world is understood, the more real the story seems.

Miraculously complex and beautiful worlds have been designed by authors such as Raymond E. Fiest, Isaac Asimov, and Anne McCaffrey but the master of the unseen was J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien’s tales are massively deep. Entire species and cultures are detailed. Maps and Music interweave the stories. Tolkien, a linguist, even chose to invent new languages to populate his world. It is hard not to attribute some of the stories power and longevity to its iceberg-like underlying foundation.

There is another author who exceeds Tolkien, the Author of life. I sometimes view God as a writer. It helps explain why he is omniscient. He is viewing history from the perspective of someone who has written and now is editing his great work. If he wants to remind himself what is going to happen on a certain date and time, he simply flips a few billion pages in the right direction. Like many writers, he chose to write himself into the book. In fact, he made himself the hero, riding in on a white horse to save the day in the last scene.

When I was watching Louie Giglio’s “Indescribable” the other day, it occurred to me that God’s back story trumps anything imaginable. The depth of the tale is bottomless. Our story has 9 billion main characters in the current chapter and God has noted each characteristic of each of these characters. He has written down for each and every person their height, their weight, their personality, their skin tone, their inseam length, and the total number of pores on their left pinky toe. The minor characters are equally well detailed including Fifi the French poodle, the large oak in the front yard, and the toilet seat cover in the third stall at the local high school. More amazing still, God has also defined the unseen world, Schoerdinger’s proverbial Cat. We may not know what lies in the box, but God does. God has defined and named the billions of billions of stars in the universe. In each one of these, he has defined the planets, the mountains on those planets, the dirt that makes up those mountains, and the very quarks that make up the atoms that make up that dirt. Nowhere will we turn up a rock or look into the sky and find a blank and ambiguous reality. God’s pen strokes crossed there long ago and it is only up to us to find the meaning behind the lines.