This past weekend, I had the distinct honour of ushering in the wedding of my dear friends Josue Gallegos and Jessica Ray. It was a beautiful ceremony with a reception that left us all well-fed, which was appropriate - Jess and Josue (referred to hereforth as "Josuessica", since "the two have become one flesh") are a beautiful couple with a beautiful relationship, and they love to cook together which often makes their friends well-fed. Needless to say, if only for culinary reasons (though not only for culinary reasons), I count myself blessed to be their friend.

Some highlights:

1) At the rehearsal dinner, Josue's dad gave a heartfelt speech (one of many over the course of the weekend) about how Jessica called out a side of Josue that he usually showed only to his family. I can vouch for this - Josue went from being a rather ornery fellow to a guy with a glint in his eyes and a smile on his face most of the time. Being in love will do that to a guy...

2) Josue and the ushers and groomsmen went out in the parking lot before the wedding to take pictures. The combination of black suits, bright sun and damned manliness made for a nice "Reservoir Dogs" vibe. I can't wait to see the photos.

3) The Anglican priest who officiated the wedding stated in his homily that Josuessica "wanted to glorify God in their wedding ceremony." From the selection of hymns ("Amazing Grace" and Beethoven's Ninth among them), to being ceremonially yoked together with a rope, to having the attendees take Holy Communion (which demanded much of the capable ushers), to a kiss that demonstrated modesty and virtue (no tonsil-hockey), I'd say they certainly did that.

4) Jess's brother Ryan made it into Houston the day before the wedding, having travelled 48 hours to arrive from Iraq. Needless to say, this added another element of joy to the celebration. Honestly, all the ceremony needed was a dramatic victory by the Texas Longhorns to make it complete...

5) ...Which brings me to this - I knew I would be in the wedding reception while the Longhorns were playing Texas Tech in Lubbock (always a dicey proposition), so I told Eric to text me updates. The first couple informed me that Texas had fallen down 7-0, then 14-0. Shortly after the toasts, I received a phone call from Eric, and he informed me that we were now down 21-0, followed by this exchange:

Eric: Is there an open bar at the wedding?
Me: Uh, yeah...
Eric: You might want to start drinking. Heavily.

The Longhorns came back to win 35-31, but not before stopping the Red Raiders on 4th down twice in the last 5 minutes. Had we not won the National Championship on January 4th in the Greatest Game Ever Played, this might bother me (But I digress...).

So to Josuessica - Congratulations. I owe you a good bottle of wine next time I see you. Godspeed.


On the Exasperated Conservative

I read the following two articles today that express my feelings toward American politics right now. That is: The ones in power (Republicans) have sold out their conservative ideals and mismanaged the country, and the ones not in power (Democrats), though unified in their hatred for the ones in power, have no idea what they would do if they were the ones in power, and therefore offer no real alternative. As for me, if I could vote them all out of office, I would.

Article 1: Salon.com interview of Camille Paglia. She rips Clinton, Bush, the press, and all the presidential hopefuls for 2008. Even though she's a liberal, I think I agreed with almost everything in this interview except her atheism.

Article 2: Peggy Noonan's Editorial. Peggy Noonan reports on the fatigued feeling of the Republican "base", and astutuely notes that politicians on both sides and the press underestimate the intelligence of the individuals who make up their bases.


The Question

When I was hanging out with Ellen in Tallahassee on Saturday, she posed the following question to me:

"So what do you want to do with your life, Nate?"

Having learned to give direct answers in my Expert Witness Training last July, I responded:

"I don't know."

Ellen wasn't the first person to ask me that question, and she won't be the last. I ask it myself almost everyday. I don't have an answer yet.

A little over four years ago, I had what I've called a crisis of faith, where I wrestled honestly with Christianity and asked tough questions along the lines of "Is this really true?" The answer was "Yes, and though the arguments for the Christian faith are strong, the reason I believe is that I experienced the love of God through Jesus Christ." Faith is less a matter of the head than a matter of the heart. I'm convinced this is true for everyone, no matter what they believe (or, in the case of Sam Harris, don't believe).

The four years since have been the best of my life so far. In the fall of 2002, three of my best friends - Eric, Jeff, and Kelly - moved back to Austin after lengthly absences. At that same time, my church moved to its current location at 45th and Red River (taking the name "Red River Church") and began a fruitful partnership with Hope Chapel in the Hope Student Life (HSL) college fellowship. Through serving in the leadership of HSL, I watched dozens of good kids grow into men and women who will do much to advance the kingdom of God, and I've seen a lot of growth in myself too. Professionally, I achieved the goal I set for myself coming out of school by becoming registered as a professional engineer in the state of Texas, and I have a job that I describe as "being a lot like Texas Country Reporter, except that when I travel around Texas, I design power lines." Oh, and Texas won a national championship in football, winning the most exciting college football game ever. God is good...

...and He calls us to move from glory to glory. I stepped off of staff at HSL prior to this fall (The time was right), and I'm praying about what the next step in my life is. Here are a few ideas I've had (and I would welcome more in the comments below...):

1) Stay at LCRA, and enter the Baylor Executive MBA Program (This is the fashionable thing for engineers in my position to do, and I dig the Baylor program a lot).

2) Travel around the United States for a month (perhaps on an old BMW motorcycle), going to diverse communities of faith around the country and writing about it.

3) Lead a small group at Red River for people in "the wasteland of their 20's", a community where we can share meals, pray for and share with one another, and welcome non-believers to dine with us (as Jesus did).

4) Move to a city in another part of the country to go to graduate school in City Planning (Ellen thought Ithaca, NY and Cornell would be a good place, but I'm guessing it's cold there.), or to take a job as a consultant engineer (another trend among those around me).

5) Move to Russia and take a role discipling young Christians and working to help start and maintain transitional homes for orphans coming out of orphanages (It's definitely cold in Russia).

6) Become a homeless drifter (my old standby).

That's just a sampling - there are literally thousands of things I can do with my life that would benefit the world and challenge me. My goal is to narrow my focus and find a few things I can commit to doing for the next 10 to 20 years of my life.

My first gut feeling is that I will leave Austin for a few years. I love Austin as much as any man can love his city, but I also know that "the next step" will likely take me elsewhere. When most of my dinner conversations are some variation on "Austin is the greatest place in the world because...", it might be time to go somewhere else for awhile.

My second gut feeling is that there is one thing I do know I want in this next phase of my life: a wife and family. I do not want a wife so badly that I would settle for someone I don't love or rush into something rashly, and I don't want to grasp for something (or someone) that is not the will of God for me. That said, the greatest grace that God has granted me is my ability to love others, and I feel like I'm made to have a family.

So there it is. I appreciate your prayers and wisdom in this. Godspeed.


A Touch of Absolute Genius

...from the most unlikely source I can think of: Weird Al Yankovic.

An homage to Dylan with something I didn't pick up on till the end.


Tallahassee Pictures. With Captions.

Before going through the Tallahassee pictures, let me mention that before I posted this, Eric called me and broadcasted the first song of the Rolling Stones concert in Zilker Park on my cell phone. The Stones will be making their concert DVD at this show. Lesson, as always: Austin is the greatest city on earth, the birthplace of everything that is, was, or ever will be cool, and I most definitely love it a little too much...

This is the Florida State Capitol, and a stunning example of 20th Century Art Deco Architecture...

...and yes folks, it's very, very phallic...

This is the Florida Supreme Court, which tried unsuccessfully to steal the 2000 Presidential Election from George W. Bush by imposing a standard of ballot counting that they felt would give Al Gore a better chance. They were blantantly partisan in their actions, and it was a good thing for our country that they were stopped.

(I don't really believe that, but this is what Democrats sound like when they complain about the 2000 Election. Gore lost Florida because 1) the Clinton Administration kidnapped Elian Gonzales at gunpoint and shipped him back to Cuba, alienating the Cuban population of South Florida, who then voted overwhelmingly for Bush. 2) Thousands of liberal voters were turned off enough by Gore to vote for Ralph Nader, and 3) Roe V. Wade legalized abortion, resulting inapproximately 70,000 Floridians of voting age and lower socioeconomic class not to be born, and costing Al Gore a probable additional margin of 2000-3000 votes, assuming a voter turnout in this group of around 15%. The contest in Florida was a statistical tie that came out in Bush's favor. Deal with it...)

(But I digress...)

These are names of people who have made the Florida Artist Hall of Fame. "Artist" is absolutely the first word that comes to mind when I think of Burt Reynolds...

Doak Campbell Stadium is the home of the Florida State Seminoles. Not only is the largest brick building in the world, and not only does it house a visitors center and film school along with the football field, it features a stained glass window of Bobby Bowden. You know you've made it in your field when the place you work features a stained glass window of you. This is my new professional goal, by the way...

Culturally Sensitive representation of Indigenous American. The NCAA would prefer that the Seminole on the horse be holding money, not a spear.

Thanks to Ellen for having me down, for a good talk Saturday and making me leave early for my own safety, Kristi for being a lot of fun to watch the Nebraska game with (always nice to be around a woman who cares about football), Travis and Katie for letting me tag along to the movie Friday night (You guys make a great couple), and everyone else I got to hang out with there. Spending time around people like you makes me think I may go to grad school yet...

Oh, and one more picture...

Needless to say, Wolfy's excited about the Tigers in the World Series...


Diggin' Birmingham

Before I arrived in Birmingham to attend the SEI Transmission Conference, I fully expected Birmingham to be a soulless industrial wasteland with oppressive humidity (essentially Houston without the good food, museums and nearby family). Birmingham quickly responded, taking seven hours to prove me wrong and 60 hours to compel me to publish the following list of "Reasons that Austin Native Nate Laughlin has fallen in love with Birmingham, Alabama" in living colour on the World Wide Web...

1) Loblolly pines. Everywhere you go in Birmingham, they buffer the highways, carpet the hills, and shade the places you walk. The combination of rolling hills and greenery reminds me of Austin, except that the hills are higher and the green is greener.

2) Comfort food. In my 60 hours here, I have consumed the following:

Hot Lips (Fried Chicken Nuggets with Habenero Sauce)
A Soul Food Lunch of Brisket, Shredded Pork, and Fried Green Tomatoes
Bison Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes
Chicken with Steamed Vegetables (healthy so far, oh wait...), 2 hot rolls, a tart and key lime pie
Blackened Swordfish over Grilled Potatoes, finished off with Creme Brulee.
5 Glasses of Wine
3 beers
A waffle.

It isn't helping my Engineer's belly, but I do want to take this opportunity to thank the Lord for the food...

3) The Breakfast Lady at the Comfort Inn. When I came down yesterday morning, I was greeted by the friendliest woman I've ever met. We had the following exchange:

Me: Hey, are you the woman they told me about last night who makes breakfast.
Her: Oh, yeah, bay-beh! We got eggs, we got cereal, we got juice. I'll make you a waffle and get you any-thing you want! I'll take care of you bay-beh...
Me: Cool.

I was in the breakfast room for 15 minutes, and she talked like this the entire time as she served the guests. It's not just her - everyone provides good service and is absurdly friendly. In Austin, you'll be fortunate to get a coffee and three words from a waiter in 15 minutes.

4) Motorsports Museum. One of the other LCRA engineers, Mitch Currah, brought his wife Annette, who has passed the time by befriending half the city and scouting out the hotspots for us. Apparently, there is a museum near the motorsports track that features a large and spectacular collection of motorcycles. I haven't seen it, but I'm giddy enough at the thought of it to include it in this list. I plan to go early Thursday afternoon prior to departing for Tallahassee.

5) The organically manicured landscape. Most of the landscaping I've seen complements the natural beauty of the area seamlessly. They pulled off what the Woodlands tried (and in my view, failed) to accomplish by HOA uber-fascist covenants and restrictions.

(Tangental note: According to Meemaw, one of my many distant relatives in East Texas founded and planned the Woodlands. I'm going there for the Josuessica wedding next weekend, and when I do, I'll set aside my cynicism of it and give the Woodlands another chance. That is, unless they try to kidnap and "reprogram" me...)

That's all I've got. Bedtime.


Post #100

Not to take joy from the suffering of others, but this Sooner kid probably had it coming...

The Link

What a baby. The last time I cried like that after a Texas-OU game, I was no older than 26...

iTunes Playlist: Upbeat Groove

I haven't posted a Playlist in quite awhile, and since I have little on my mind this week, I can think of no better time to post a Playlist that demands little of the mind...

This little collection, which I will call Upbeat Groove, consists of songs that put me in a good mood when I hear them. No musical snobbery or irony involved - my like for all these songs is unqualified, I assure you. As always, click on the songs for the link on iTunes.

Solsbury Hill - A song Peter Gabriel wrote about leaving Genesis, or so I've heard. I associate it with the trailer for Big Fish, which might be Tim Burton's best film.

Love Will Turn You Around - An early 80's Kenny Rogers relic that he wrote for the movie Six Pack. In the movie, Kenny plays a crotchety stock car racer that meets a group of kids that resemble the Boxcar Children. The kids teach him about life, love, etc, as they help him win races. It was my favorite movie around age 6, but I have no idea if it was any good. For what it's worth, near the end, one of the kids and a TV reporter exchange these words about Kenny's whereabouts:

Reporter: Where did (Kenny Rogers) go?
Kid: He had to drain the water lily.

Now you know that has to be a good movie...

Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin' on Me?) Part I
- From Joss Stone's first album. A much appreciated recommendation to me from Chris Hairel.

Seasons of Love - The theme from RENT, as performed by the movie cast. Let me add right here that Eric just came by, and Wolfy is licking his Shiner bottle enthusiastically. I couldn't get Photo Booth to come up in time to take a picture of it, but here's a picture of Wolfy anyway:

Like a Child
- From Jars of Clay. I dig the descending/ascending guitar strum that starts with the second "Dear God."

Hey, I got Wolfy to lick my beer bottle. See?

Music for a Found Harmonium - A James Galway piece from Napoleon Dynamite. I haven't listened to a whole lot of Galway, but I like what I've heard. I wonder what flutists think of Galway - do they love him (making him the Flute equivalent of Stevie Ray Vaughan), or do they think "I can do better - I don't know why he's famous." (Making him the Flute Equivalent of the Edge). Ellen, this would be a good thing to comment on if you're reading...).

Three Little Birds - An upbeat Bob Marley song. I read something recently about how the Legend greatest hits album neglects the more defiant Marley political anthems, and that therefore most Bob Marley fans possess an incomplete understanding of his music. However, this is the Upbeat Groove, and we will not be having any songs of defiance from Bill Marley, Kenny Rogers, or anyone else here...

Cannonball - Probably the only Damien Rice song I would put in a playlist like this...

Turn Me On - One of my favorite album purchases of the last year was one from the Little Willies. It is essentially a Norah Jones bluegrass album where she is surrounded with a first-class band. Be sure to check out I Gotta Get Drunk and Lou Reed, if nothing else.

Always Be My Baby - Mariah and Norah are charter members of my "I'll listen to them sing the words of the National Electric Safety Code" club. Other members: Emmy Lou Harris, Leigh Bingham-Nash, and Sarah MacLachlan.

Surprised by Joy - I could probably put a Carolyn Arends song on virtually every playlist I make. This one she wrote based on C.S. Lewis's account of his conversion to Christianity. We enjoy no moment more joyful in this life than the one where we discover the Love of Christ.

On the Sunny Side of the Street
- From a 1956 Louis Armstrong concert. There's something very soothing about Armstrong's burbly voice, both from his mouth and trumpet. It's like listening to a slice of apple pie with a big scoop of ice cream on it.

Dreams - From the Cranberries first album. Fun one to dance around the house to. And yes, I like chicks...

No Rain
- For the singular visual of the girl in the bee suit.

That's it for now.


Some wounds go too deep...

An undefeated season. A victory over Ohio State in the Horseshoe. A national championship. The greatest championship performance by an athlete in American history. A blowout of the big rival you haven't beaten in the 21st century.

Yeah, 2005 was a great year for Texas football, and Texas has a good team this year, but if write here that I feel confident about tomorrow's game, I'd be lying. The five-year run of dominance by Oklahoma and Bob Stoops in the Red River Shootout (Combined Score 189 to 54) is still too fresh in my mind. As free as Andy Dufresne felt at the end of Shawshank, when he was sanding his boat on the deep, endless Pacific Ocean, I'm sure he didn't forget what it felt like during "those years that were the worst" for him. When Frodo destroyed the One Ring to defeat Sauron, he still bore wounds from his battles on Weathertop and in Shelob's Lair. Boston Red Sox fans experienced the greatest comeback in history against the Yankees a couple of years ago, and they still won't forget Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner or Grady Little (even if they are all forgiven). That's how I feel - free, but with scars.

That's why I want my Longhorns to beat the hell out of the Sooners tomorrow. Texas football is jellyrolling right now and Oklahoma is on the downturn, so a victory cements Texas as the dominant team in this rivalry, which affects everything from recruiting to fan morale. Not to make too big a thing of this, but if Texas wins tomorrow, I'm about 84% sure that the resultant lack of frustration and anxiety in me will add about five years to my lifespan.

OU is an easy team to hate. Their president's stated goal is "to have a university that the football team can be proud of." Their mascot is named for the squatters who sneaked into what was then known as "Indian territory" to grab land before legislation made it officially available. In other words, you might as well call them the "Cheating Land Thieves." Their first starting QB, Rhett Bomar, was kicked off the team because he made $18000 working at a car dealership for five hours a week last summer.

The Longhorns are the good guys. Our coach is a nice guy whose stated goal is to "win national championships with good kids who graduate." Our quarterback, who goes by the handle of Colt McCoy, saved someone's life last summer (no word on whether he sold any cars, but I'm guessing "No."). When we won the championship in January, we didn't burn a single couch or turn over a single car.

May the good guys (and the best team) win. Hook 'Em.


What's Wrong with the World?

I awoke this morning to the realization that there is a helluva lot wrong with the world. This much can be surmised from today's Drudge Report. According to Bob Woodward, the War in Iraq has been grossly mismanaged by the Bush Administration. A Republican Senator from Florida IM'ed booty calls to the young pages in his charge, and everyone in the District seems terribly concerned about how this will affect their political futures. North Korea, an uberdisfunctional country ruled by a Dear Leader, the world's greatest golfer, announced that they plan to test a nuclear weapon in the near future. A milk delivery man decided he had enough, and went to a neighboring Amish schoolhouse and executed five children, and the only thing more shocking than the crime is the uncomfortable feeling that this is nothing new, only another headline whose place on Drudge Report will soon be taken by another big, fat, shocking headline.

The two beliefs universal to everyone on earth are as follows:

1) There is a way things ought to be, a state affairs where all is right with the world, and...

2) Whatever that is, it is not what we're living. Something is terribly wrong with the world.

Everyone has a different idea about what is wrong. Social Conservatives blame a culture too tolerant of sexual immorality, embodied in Bill Clinton. Liberals blame the Religious Right and leaders who make ideological decisions and see the world in terms of black and white (they prefer the blanket term "Bush"). Ralph Sanchez, one of my coworkers, thinks that there is an enormous serpentine conspiracy bent on controlling the world, a shadow organization such as the Skull and Bones or the Knights of Templar that assassinate presidents and orchestrate events like 9/11 to perpetuate their power. Sam Harris thinks the problem is that humans in this day in age believe in God, and that all would be right if they didn't. I could go on, but you get the idea.

When invited to supply an essay on the question "What's wrong with the world?", the great writer G. K. Chesterton submitted the answer in the form of a letter:

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton's sentiment is echoed by Shakespeare ("The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."), and in Scripture ("There is none righteous, no, not one."/"All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."). When we blame someone or something else for the problems of the world, it makes our lives easier - it absolves us of any responsibility for the world's fallen condition, and it implicitly excuses us from doing anything about it. When we take at least some responsibility for the problems in the world and in ourselves, and we take one step toward solving them. We take another when we realize that we are powerless to change anything for the better without God's help, and that we can't have that without Christ.

Most of what I just wrote I read. I know it in my head. Some of it I even know in my heart. I know I'm part of the problem, not just because the Bible tells me so, but because I know my own heart. I may not have shot up a school of Amish children, or hit on teenage boys, or mismanaged a war, and I sure as heck am not as good a golfer as Dear Leader, but I'm every bit as guilty as they are, and every bit in need of the grace of God. On a recent broadcast of Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor ended the News from Lake Wobegon segment with the following benediction:

We are all of us the children of God, put on this earth to do His work, which in my experience, mostly consists of kindness.

Lord, make me kind. Make me kind enough to love those who do evil in this world. Make me kind enough to love those I like, and those I hate. I pray that you'd make me so kind that I can even love myself.



Getting Older...

After another Saturday at the Longhorns game (the fifth one this month), I was talking to Tommy on the phone about the drunk guy who usually sits behind us (We like him, and he showed up after a three week absence), when Tommy asked if I was still up for golf on Sunday afternoon. I said "Yeah, I'll meet you at three," then said "Night," and hung up. I then stood up from my new IKEA chair in the loft. My knee buckled. I gingerly sauntered over to the stairs, and as I reached for the rail, my sore shoulder recoiled in protest. My feet were blistered. My stiff legs balked at me all the way down the stairs, and when I finally crashed on my bed, two thoughts crossed my mind:

1) So this is what it feels like to be old.

2) What the hell happened to me?

Let me briefly answered the second question, day-by-day.

Tuesday - I put in a solid hour on the Bowflex while watching Mad Money, primarily working the upper body. It was my first time to lift weight in months.

One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three...
Uh, Mr. Burgundy? Helen said that you needed to see me.
Oh, Miss Corningstone. I wasn't expecting company. Just doing my workout. Tuesday's arms and back...

- After a full day of work, I met Tommy over at Hancock for nine holes. Hancock Golf Course resides just off Red River between 38th and 41st Streets. It was the original Austin Golf Club once upon a time, and has a rich history, but now serves as a great place to squeeze in a few cheap holes after work. Tommy and I walk and carry our bags as we play, so we are usually pretty winded after we play. I parred two of the last three holes and was strolling up the hill to the parking lot when I saw it...

A basketball court, basking in the glow of electric lumination set against the relief of the fading light of day, precipitating this exchange...

Me: Hey Tom...
Tommy: You want to play?
Me: I've got a ball in the car...

And that was that. Tommy and I probably played ball everyday after school between 4th and 11th grades. Even with both of us pushing 30, our game looked like almost every other one we played. Tommy jumped out three-nothing going to the bucket, and I was winded. I started hitting jump shots to even it up, and when I hit my rhythm, I ended up with a 12-6 victory that I didn't remotely deserve.

Ohh, it's the deep burn. Oh, it's so deep.

Thursday, I went to Salt Lick with my basketball buddies to celebrate a birthday and did no exercise. That brings us to...

Friday - The HSL "Guys blow stuff up" retreat was cancelled due to Burn Ban, so instead we opened up the Red River gym and played Dodgeball. Over the course of three hours, we played 17 games of something called Prisoner-ball, where those who were hit by the ball went to "prison" at the other team's end of the court, and you freed them by throwing them a ball. I was delighted to find that I didn't have a problem hanging with the college kids - I can still dodge, and had a live and accurate arm to zing the ball with. I also got into a yelling match with an obnoxious guy on the other team, and took him to task for not shaking my hand at the end of a game (This is an immutable law for men playing sports - no matter what happens on the court, whether it be yelling or coming to blows, you make your peace at the end. If you don't do so, you're not a man.) I lobbed at least 50 balls the length of the court, and played until my team won the requisite ten games. I hit the hay at 1:30 with plans for a run in the morning...

Saturday - ...Until I found a silver-dollar size blister on each foot. I elected for another hour on the Bowflex instead.

Oh, I can barely lift my right arm 'cause I did so many. I don't know if you heard me counting. I did over a thousand...

I went to the game, talked to Tommy, and went to bed. This morning, I woke up and couldn't move my shoulder. I had every intention of cancelling on golf when I called Tommy after church, until I had this exchange with him on the phone:

Me: Tom, I can't move my shoulder. I don't think I can play today...
Tommy: Uh...
Me: No, screw it. I'm playing. See you at 3:30..

A persuasive one, that Tommy. Honestly, I didn't need much coaxing. I rubbed in some Icy-Hot, hit a few balls, and employed a half swing on my way to a decent 46 on nine holes, all while walking on my blisters. I sat with Tommy overlooking the course at the end, completely spent. I wouldn't have it any other way. Bad back? Blisters? Sore shoulder? Just something else for this Texan to boast about later. I'm getting older, but I'm far from being done...