I walked into my garage last night, the mercury at about 70 and the sky clear. At 2 AM, I was awakened by a violent thunderstorm. I walk out of my garage this morning, I see rain, and I feel a stiff, near-freezing wind in my face. On a completely unrelated note, I live in Texas.

Oh, yeah, and we lost to the Aggies last week (as my co-workers never fail to remind me at least once an hour.). Tommy and I sat in our seats and just stared at the field in disbelief for twenty minutes after the game.

As Geraldo would put it, "What the hell?"



Before I graduated from college in 1999, I lived simply and happily off of scholarship money, a little bit of spending cash from my parents, and whatever money I could scrape together from part-time employment. Then I graduated and got a job, and my income jumped approximately 500% in one year. Not having any idea what to do with the excess income, I found myself looking for outlets to spend my money on.

At this point in my life, I began to spend a lot more on Christmas gifts for my family and friends. Each year, I found myself spending more than the prior year, looking for some way to top the previous gift. I put a lot of thought into my gifts, and secretly revelled in the suprised look of joy on the faces of each recipient as they opened them.

I even had a gimmick - I introduced the Big Bag o' Christmas, a fancy name for a duffelbag that I packed all the Christmas gifts in. When the time came for someone to open my gift, I reached into the Big Bag and pulled out their gift. Though I stated that this was "to save on paper," in truth I just didn't want to have to wrap presents. That said, the Big Bag o' Christmas did have a "suitcase on Deal or No Deal" charm to it...

This year, I decided to keep things simple with gift-giving. I still plan to look for special and unique gifts for everyone, but I'll just spend less money doing it. Knowing my family, I don't think they'll mind one bit, especially since I actually wrap them now.

In addition to the gifts, I also plan to give to worthwhile charities on behalf of those on my list. Gregor, my grandfather in Houston, has routinely done this over the years, and to my detriment, I thought too little of it. This year, I hope to follow his lead. If you would like to as well, here are a few charities large and small that can make a significant difference in the lives of the needy with even a small contribution:

Mercy Corps - Mercy Corps is a large organization with a presence in almost every area of significant need in the world. They don't just hand out food, either - they take the "teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime" approach to their programs. Check out the Mercy Kits, which make for nice gifts.

Capitol Area Food Bank - CAFB feeds thousands of Central Texans, and due to a regular influx of donations from grocers and the ability to buy food at low prices, one dollar will provide 5 meals. Can you say "loaves and fishes?" I have volunteered with my work group at CAFB several times, and have come away impressed with their organization on each occasion. I can't say enough good things about them.

Blood:Water Mission - In addition to waging a successful debt-forgiveness campaign on behalf of third-world countries, U2's Bono has inspired many Christian music artists to focus their efforts on the poverty and AIDS crises in Africa. The 1000 Wells Project is another example of an initiative where a small contribution goes a long way - one dollar will provide clean water for one African for one year.. Water is one of our most basic needs, and digging wells is probably the most effective way to save the lives of Africa's impoverished. As a civil engineer, this one is especially close to my heart.

Mir Foundation - The mission of this organization is even closer to my heart. As many of you know, I go on trips to Russia annually to work with children in orphanages for disabled children. My good friend Mike Cantrell and his wife Olga are involved in all manner of charitable enterprises in St. Petersburg, but primarily focus their energies on orphans and widows. Mike is an excellent administrator, and has the highest personal integrity of anyone I know (which is especially difficult in a country noted for systemic corruption in all levels of government and industry). If you have a heart for Russia and want to make a contribution, Mir is the best organization I know of to apply it effectively.

That's all I've got for now. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas season, no matter what your faith is...


Since we're playing the Aggies....

Here are a few sundry, somewhat related items...

1) This is a TV commercial featuring Colt McCoy plugging the family pharmacy in his high school days. According to Brent Musberger, with those beautiful blue eyes, Colt must be really popular with the ladies down in Austin.

(Hey Brent - Eyes up here!)

2) Aggies are an honorable bunch, always looking to better their world. Take this Aggie, for instance, who, in an effort to clean some manure off of the field, accidently hit the Longhorn band...

3) They also care about important causes. In an effort to raise awareness of, ahem, male cancer issues, these Aggie cadet members enthusiastially demonstrate self-examination at the Texas Tech game...

4) Texas isn't the only school who has won a National Championship recently. You know the Aggies are mighty proud of their Meat-Judging program, which has won 14 national titles. That's dominance the Longhorns can only dream of...

5) Aggies are great innovators who come up with life-altering advances in science and physics. Take the visionary Aggie who invented the maroon carrot (because it just wasn't right that God made them orange), or the Aggie professor who made gold through alchemy and achieved cold fusion, thereby solving all the energy and money problems in the world...

6) The Aggie football players are tough. Check out Leeland McElroy, who is somehow still in one piece after a collision with Texas cornerback Bryant Westbrook.

7) Aggies have a great fight song that they can be proud of. I don't think it's at all sad when your fight song revolves around your burning desire to beat your biggest rival, and you've beaten that rival only 34 times in 112 tries, and are 0-for-the Third Millenium AD...

8) And finally, Aggies don't cry when their team loses. Sooners do, though...

Here's to 7 straight wins over the Aggies come Friday, and to the Blues Brothers being on as I write this. Happy Thanksgiving...


Counting Blessings

Tonight, as I strolled to my car after the basketball game, I reflected on my general state of dissatisfaction today. I have a sore rib that has kept me uncomfortable throughout the day. My allergies are as bad as they've ever been this year, so no matter what drugs I take, my head still invariably feels like a turkey stuffed with snot. The allergies and sore rib affected my sleep, so I missed my discipleship group at 6 AM, and I struggled to stay focused at work. I felt spent, like a bottle rocket carcass in a vacant parking lot.

I then looked to my right, and I saw a lighted series of stairs I had probably walked by hundreds of times, but had never climbed before. I had nothing better to do, so I took the stairs.

At the top, I discovered Centennial Park, a small colonnade about 500 feet in length shaded by knobby oak trees that affords a great view of the Capitol. In the center lay a large granite cylinder, which, according to the inscription on top, housed a time capsule from 1983 (The 100th anniversary of the University of Texas) that was to be opened in 2083. I hung out in the park for about 10 minutes, and again set off for my car, feeling much more peaceful than before.

It then occurred to me - if something as simple as a 10 minutes in a small park could change my state of mind, then maybe things aren't so bad. I have a lot to be thankful for, and if I spend more time actually being thankful, I would probably be happier.

Hey! How about I make a list of what I am thankful for:

1) Austin - the greatest city on earth in just about every way.

2) The Whole Foods Market downtown - a theme park for food.

3) Citrus season - Mandarin oranges and Rio Star grapefruits are the best tonic for allergy season.

4) Life and Limb - After two motorcycles, both are still intact.

5) Family - Somehow they've put up with my quirks, my faults and my bad jokes and still love me anyway.

6) Friends - I am blessed with lots of them in lots of places, despite my quirks, faults, and bad jokes. God is good.

7) Boyish Good Looks - Even at age 29, I routinely get carded. Also, thanks to the camera on this computer, I can see myself. Boy, I look good! Hey, everyone, check out how good I look...

8) Wolfy - OK, he's still evil, but he will also greet me at the door, lay next to me when I watch TV, and take an interest in everything I do. I honestly love this cat.

9) Russia - I've been to Russia 10 times, and the experiences have changed my life and made me a better man. I plan to come back soon...

10) Vince - Thanks to #10 and the Longhorns coming through on January 4th, every Longhorn fan can now die in peace.

And last but not least...

11) The Grace of God - The fount from thence all of these spring. Whether in serious metaphysical matters such as Salvation or in little things like undiscovered parks being timely discovered, I see God at work in my life. I don't know where He's leading me, but based on my experience so far, I have every reason to trust Him.

If you have anything to add, please feel free to comment. Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Godspeed.


Go Blue!

I'm about to meet with my friend Matt Fettig, a Michigan grad, to watch the Ohio State-Michigan game. I will be rooting for Michigan enthusiastically for the following reasons:

1) The Wolverine fans treated me well when I went to their stadium to watch them play Notre Dame (The guys behind me even bought me the cap I'm wearing in the picture) before I went to Columbus, where I discovered that...

2) ...Ohio State fans are a bunch of thugs who burn couches, assault opposing fans and form punk bands with names like "The Dead Schembechlers". To their credit, when Bo Schembechler, the legendary Michigan coach, died yesterday, the Dead Schembechlers showed a lot of class, as did the Ohio State fans in general. I'm still rooting for Michigan...

3) Michigan has the best uniforms in football. Well, except for the Texas stormtrooper uni...

Go Blue!

Saw Casino Royale...

...and I'd say it's worth seeing. It reminds me a lot of Goldeneye, the first Bond movie with Pierce Brosnan, and my personal favorite. As with Goldeneye, Casino Royale completely reworks the Bond franchise from the ground up, adopting a more gritty tone than the ones before. Daniel Craig makes a good Bond, and the rest of the cast (especially Judi Dench) is strong. The movie loses some momentum near the end to the romance subplot, and there is unintentional comedy galore (also associated with the romance subplot). That said, Casino Royale lays a good foundation for future movies, and I look forward to seeing the next one...

My favorite movies this year:

1) Prairie Home Companion (Best experience I've had at a movie in awhile)
2) Snakes on a Plane (Everything I expected - the quintessential enjoyably watchable bad movie)
3) Superman Returns (Reminded me of the ones that came out when I was a kid)
4) The Prestige (A great revenge drama about magicians)
5) The Departed (Well acted and directed)

My least favorite movie this year:

Borat - Though some parts were funny, I felt uncomfortable with most of the humor. Sacha Baron Cohen's style of ambush comedy relies on exploitation and provokation to achieve its effect, and if you rely on jokes about poor Romanian villagers being rapists and making love to dogs while they stand by with no idea about what you are saying, there's a good chance you aren't that funny. I know most critics love the movie - I simply disagree with them.

Movie I can't believe I'll probably see: Rocky Balboa

That's all for now...


I'm Speechless.

Thanks to William Shatner, the Unintentional Comedy Scale has been redefined again. After an enthusiastic recommendation from Jeff, I decided to check out Shatner's new gameshow, "Show Me the Money." In it, the contestants answer easy questions for big money, and find out how much they win from 13 women who look like extras from Chicago. Every two or three minutes, the women dance, and Shatner dances with them. Don't look directly at him - I'm about 97% sure that it will cause blindness if you do...

ABC is touting the show as "Shat-rageous!" and "Shat-tastic!". All I know is I almost shat my pants after watching a few minutes of it.



Time Article - Science vs. God

The Link (you will have to watch a car ad first)

This article excerpts from a debate between Richard Dawkins (biologist and famous atheist) and Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project and Christian) about whether scientific investigation and religious faith can co-exist. The men come prepared to face one another, and make their points well. If you have a little time, it's a good read. What I found interesting:

1) Collins does not feel that evolution and the notion of the universe being inelligently designed by God are mutually exclusive. I tend to agree with him.

2) When Collins discusses "big questions" outside of the scope of science, such as "Why are we here?", and "What happens after we die?", Dawkins responds that he feels that "the right approach is to say we are profoundly ignorant of these matters."

3) When asked if the answer could be God, Dawkins says, "There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding." This sounds more like an agnostic than a true atheist...

4) Dawkins contends that talk of miracles and God slams the door in the face of serious scientific investigation. Needless to say, Collins disagrees, citing his own scientific work to illustrate that his faith has not adversely impacted his ability to practice science.

Again, a good read if you have the time...


"You had it coming."

For those of you scoring at home, I'm watching the end of Rocky III as I write this. This is the one with Mr. T. I don't know whether to laugh or cheer.

That's an improvement over last night - my choices were "cry" or "throw up on the floor."

(Give me a moment. I am distracted by Mr. T's mohawk...

...OK, Rocky knocked him out. I can continue...)

Going into the Kansas State game last night, most of the teams competing against the Texas Longhorns for a berth in the National Championship game had lost. After blasting a good Oklahoma State team last week, the Longhorns looked like a good enough bet to make the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City that Tommy and I had already bought tickets to the game (Tommy even bought a one-way non-refundable plane ticket). Colt McCoy, the babyfaced assasin of a freshman quarterback, was breaking records left and right. Texas looked to be in a terrific position to defend the National Championship that they won in the Rose Bowl (maybe I've mentioned this once or twice). A win over Kansas State, and Tommy and I were going to KC...

(Rocky IV just started. This is the one where he fights the Russian. A robot just walked in with a birthday cake for Uncle Paulie. But I digress...)

...so the K-State game starts off fine - Colt leads the team to a touchdown to open the game. Then the following chain of events transpires:

1) Colt walks off injured, visibly wincing when the coaches touch his shoulder.
2) K-State scores on a pass play. They have a good freshman quarterback too, a guy named Josh Freeman.
3) Texas tackles the punter on a fake, then scores to go up 14-7. Our backup quarterback Jevan Snead is in the game. He's talented, but he was also in high school at this time last year.
4) K-State goes back down the field and ties the game at 14.
5) K-State scores again on a run to go up 21-14. The half ends with this score.
6) We learn at halftime that Colt ain't coming back. We are relying on Snead to bring us back.
7) Texas blocks a punt to begin the second half, then scores to tie the game at 21. They then stop K-State (which they couldn't do in the first half) and get the ball at midfield and drive it to the K-State 30. We're thinking that order is restored...

(Apollo Creed is going to fight the Russian. There is a sense of forboding in the movie. How appropriate to my narrative...)

8) ...and Jamaal Charles fumbles. 3 plays (including 2 trick plays) later, K-State goes ahead 28-21.
9) Texas gets the ball back, Selvin Young fumbles, and K-State scores on the next play. 35-21.
10) K-State blocks a punt and scores again to make it 42-21. Let me mention that 8,9, and 10 transpired in three minutes. Jeff (who I watched the game with) and I are in shock. We start calling friends to commiserate.
11) Texas scores quickly and closes to 42-28. I call Ellen (a one time K-State Wildcat) and let her know what is happening. I would describe her as "revelling in unrestrained glee at the news, and completely unsympathetic." I promise to text her updates.
12) 4th Quarter. Texas intercepts a pass, then scores a TD on the next play to make it 42-35. I feel confident we will come back and win...

(Much like Apollo did when James Brown sang "Living in America" in the prelude to his fight with the Russian...)

13) Texas and K-State trade failed drives, then Texas stops the Wildcats at the 34 with 3 minutes left. Jeff and I are thinking, "Hey, we will have one more shot to tie this up..."
14) ...and then K-State kicks a 51-yard field goal and goes up 45-35 with 3 minutes left. Things look bad. Real bad...
15) ...then Texas drives for a quick TD to bring the score to 45-42. 2 minutes left.
16) Texas fails to recover the onside kick, stops K-State for 2 downs...
17) ...then gives up the fatal first down. Ballgame...

I text Ellen the score, and she responds, "You had it coming".

She's probably right. I handled the loss pretty well (Didn't break anything or scream uncontrollably), but I again found myself asking, "Why do I care so much about this team? Why do I allow them to draw me in again and again? Is the heartache worth it?"

The short answer is, "Yes, it is worth it, because of January 4th and Vince Young." The long answer would be (oddly enough) a riff on a quote from a Colin Firth movie...

It's good for your soul to invest in something that you can't control.

(The Russian just killed Apollo, then coldly uttered the words "If he dies, he dies." I just thought I'd mention this...)

This may be reaching (Let me know if it is), but I'll go ahead and write this: I think there are a lot of similarities between loving a sports team and loving a person. You are asked to remain true to your team/person through thick and thin, to invest time and emotion on the team/person, and to pick them up when they fail and celebrate like mad when they succeed. If January 4th taught me anything, it's that the good days make the bad ones worth the commitment. I could say the same about all the truly good relationships I've been fortunate enough to experience...

I'm not saying that supporting a team should ever, ever take the place of any relationship, whether it be a friendly one or a romantic one. What I am saying is that supporting a team, if done in a healthy way, can teach you in part how to love someone. The aforementioned Colin Firth movie, Fever Pitch, explores this theme more fully (Avoid the horrible Jimmy Fallon remake about the Boston Red Sox.).

(I fully understand that could be wrong about this. Let me know if I am.)

So that's all I've got. I'll be fine as long as we beat the Aggies on the day after Thanksgiving...


On Speaking in Tongues

The Link

Mark Proeger told me about this New York Times article which reports about a neurological study that researchers performed on women who speak in tongues. I found the findings intriguing.

Growing up in a Charismatic church, I saw and lived much of the "weird" side of Christian experience. I witnessed people fall down and lay on the floor in a trance after being "slain in the Spirit." I sat in a worship service where the speaker shrieked "Yeeeeessss, Looooord! Yeeeeeeeesssss!" in front of thousands of people with total sincerity. I regularly see people dance in worship. And every once in awhile, I see people around me speak in tongues.

Because I am naturally skeptical, and because I have sat in my share of Holy Ghost Circuses, I could dismiss all of the preceding as the manufactured spirituality found in strip mall churches where barefoot children have to corral the rattlesnakes and return them to their cages so that they can go picket Planned Parenthood. I could dismiss it, were it not for the following:

1) I see so much in Charismatic churchgoers that expresses without guile or pretense what it means to experience a love relationship with the one true God.

2) I often experience the presence of God in worship, hear Him speak to me in times of prayer, and (gasp) I speak in tongues, just like the women in the article.

My preferred way of interfacing with my world is through my mind. I love debating politics, discussing the last book I read, expounding on my latest theory on how the world works or picking the brain of my co-workers to find out how they would solve the problem I am working on. That said, there is a whole other world that requires more than my mind to connect to. Spending time in prayer, worshiping on my guitar, or speaking in tongues comforts my heart, stills my mind, and refocuses me on what is truly important in the minds of my busy, busy life.

Speaking in tongues in particular connects me with God in a way nothing else can. My mind cannot comprehend the words coming out of my mouth - I believe it is truly the Holy Spirit speaking through me. Frank Akins, Elder Emeritis at Red River, calls it "prayer language." I can't fully explain what it is, or why God would use such a weird way to express Himself in me - I only know that each time I do it, I experience His peace, and come away re-convinced of the reality of God's love and infinite power. It's an inkling of the miraculous that delivers a welcome dose of humility to my stubbornly rational mind and refreshing to my anxious heart.

This doesn't mean that I approve of everything I hear from the Charismatic/Pentacostal movement. It's a bigger issue than I care to discuss here, but many well-known Charismatic Christians value spiritual experience over godly living (cough, Benny Hinn, cough), and this bugs the hell out of me.

(Another thing that bugs the hell out of me: The American press always goes to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell when they want to get a quote from the Evangelical Christian community on a national tragedy, and they'll say something like "God sent Katrina to destroy New Orleans because of all the gays." All the while, the rest of the Christian community is thinking, "Pat, you might want to sit this one out. You know, just stop talking now. Go leg-press 2000 pounds a few more times." But I digress...)

That all I got for now...


Face in the Crowd

I wonder what the guy over Durant's shoulder is scratching his head about...

(...and why he's not wearing orange. Probably some rich alum who sits on his hands for most of the game. I hate those guys...)


Politics, Hays County Style

Four years ago, when I was still registered to vote in Hays County, I went back to Buda to vote after work one night. As I approached the polling place, I was greeted by a stocky young man, about my age, holding a sign, who shook my hand and said:

"Hi, I'm Patrick Rose, I'm running for State Represenative, and if you vote for me, I promise I'll work real hard for you."

Before I had a chance to respond, a skinnier young man (pictured above) with a sign in hand approached, shook my hand, and retorted:

"Well now, let me tell you the other side of the story. I'm Rick Green, I'm also running for State Representative, and I'd like your vote."

I don't remember what I said, but I thought, "Hey, I could probably make these guys beg for my vote, or debate each other, or pretty much anything else. This is cool." I then walked into Hays Hills Baptist Church and voted for the Green Party candidate.

The next day, I saw that Rose, the Democrat, had won and thought nothing more of it. What I didn't know was that KLRU, the Austin PBS affiliate, was filming a documentary about this particular race for State Representative called Last Man Standing: Politics, Texas Style. When I came across it on KLRU one night and recognized the two men, I instantly got interested and learned the following:

1) Rose was 24 years old and just out of school; a good kid learning the how to campaign as he came along. Rick Green (the Republican) was a massive tool who employed Christian rhetoric to gloss over corruption issues.

2) The two men clearly did not like each other, continually sniping at each other at the polling place I met them at.

3) The race swung multiple times and came down to the final precincts before Rose emerged as the victor.

4) In a year where Republicans romped statewide, Patrick Rose was the only Democrat to unseat an incumbent Republican in the State of Texas.

So fast-forward four years... Patrick Rose lives up to his word and builds a reputation as a hardworking legislator, and Rick Green fades into Bolivian...

...until he emerges again at a polling place in Dripping Springs and assaults Patrick Rose in the parking lot.

Apparently, Green didn't manage to land a punch. My friend Tommy saw Rose at a polling place in Buda earlier tonight, and he looked none the worse for wear.

I miss Hays County politics...


All That Glitters...

As I perused a "How the hell did that happen?" credit card bill a couple of nights ago, it occurred to me that much of my life revolves around money.

My professional life certainly does. In the last six months, most of my time in the office involved creating and refining cost estimates for future capital improvement projects to give decision-makers at my company a legally defensible basis to make decisions (If that sentence made no sense to you, don't worry - I'm paid to do it, and I'm still not sure that I completely understand.). Determining detailed costs for my designs represents a shift in my responsibilities that makes my job more challenging, but at the same time, I am learning the financial side of the business, and consequently I am growing into a better engineer. Understanding money better holds some unqualified advantages.

My last credit card bill notwithstanding, I made an effort to better manage my personal finances better this year too. I talked to a financial planner. I watched Jim Cramer and read Rich Dad, Poor Dad. What I learned can be distilled to the following: Accumulate assets that make you money, and minimize liabilities that cost you money.

But then something stopped me cold. I travelled down the rabbit hole a little too far, and began to plan my future with the objective of making as much money as possible. Then I remembered something I had forgotten: As the Rabbi said, "You cannot serve both God and money."

So as I make critical decisions about my future, I suspect there are other things that I should value more than money. So what will those be? If not money, what is truly important?

The chair recognizes the right honorable gentleman from Nazareth:

...Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (The glory of God is important.)

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Holiness is important.)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Heavenly reward is important - more important than a big number in a 401k.)

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (The needy are important, but not because it will make you look like a nice guy.)

You have heard it said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Love is so important that it's meant for those who hate us too.)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (The kingdom of God and obedience to His commands is important)

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Kindness to others is important.)

By my count, that's seven things that are a helluva lot more important than money. I'm glad that I know more about money now, but I'm also glad that I see it for what it is - a gift from God meant to be used for the glory of God. Whether I have a lot or a little, that ain't going to change.

On that note I will take my leave. I have a credit card bill to pay...