My college buddies are in agreement (for once)

$600 for a [censored] phone is way too much [censored] money, especially when, with service, that $600 will run $3000 over two years. Honestly, if I'll spend that kind of money on something, it will be something useful. You know, like a practical method of transportation to get to and from school next year...


Randy and Susan

Last Saturday night, I attended a farewell party for Randy and Susan Templeton, my youth pastors during my years in high school. Randy accepted a job as a fire chief near Boulder, CO, fulfilling a dream that he's been pursuing for at least 15 years, and they will be moving there next month.

Randy and Susan were a vital influence on my life during the time where I faced hard issues, became serious about my Christian faith, and grew up rapidly. In the Youth Group, they gave us all a strong Scriptural foundation in the big issues of life, and demanded honesty and excellence out of us. Randy was the big, burly fireman with a deep, twangy baritone that instilled the fear of God, and yet had a talent for friendship that made clear that he loved you, no matter how tough his rebuke. Susan was the young-hearted mother of four who laughed easily at the worst of my jokes, but in the next breath she would ask a stunningly direct question that would leave you stammering for a suitable answer. I can trace many of the my best qualities - my love for foreign missions, valuing character over image, and my ability to endure adversity - to Randy and Susan's timely guidance.

Over the last few years, I've typically seen Randy and Susan about once a year, and not for long enough to talk about anything significant. Therefore, on my way out to their house in Bastrop, I wondered if they've changed, how they've changed, and whether they would approve of the changes in me over my (rapidly-ending) twenties. Would they still like me?

I need not have worried. I hadn't been in their house for five minutes before Randy had me in a big bear hug (As a linebacker in high school, Randy averaged 32 tackles a game. It's not hard to tell why...). We talked for almost an hour about the challenges of Randy's new job and how he planned to approach them, and about my reasons for going back to graduate school. True to form, Randy encouraged me to bite the bullet and write a thesis as part of my program, in an exchange that went something like this:

Randy: So are you going to write a thesis?
Me (resigned): I was initially thinking I could skirt by with a professional report, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I'll probably do one.
Randy (with command presence): Do it. Embrace the discipline. You'll be better off for it.
Me (thoughtfully): Okay...
Randy (feeling his oats): Do you remember the definition I gave you for maturity?
Me (confidently): Of course - "Maturity is the ability to endure present suffering for future good."
Randy (twangy baritone in full effect): Right!

I've probably had hundreds of exchanges like this with Randy and Susan over the years, and almost every one of them carried this underlying message - "We love you. Now grow up, make the hard decision, and go do the will of God confidently." To have one more - at this time of transition, where I've traveled a good distance with my feet still on the right road, but still with the greatest challenges ahead of me - that is a special Grace. God is good.

Around his 50th birthday, I gave Randy a copy of John Adams, the definitive biography of the second U.S. President by David McCullough. It is one of my favorite books, and part of the reason why is the uncanny parallels I saw between John and Abigail Adams and Randy and Susan. Both couples had four children, an older daughter and three sons. Both had marriages that are at once deep love affairs and corraborative partnerships. John Adams was a stocky, passionate man with equal talents for leadership and friendship; so is Randy. Abigail Adams was a beautiful woman of high character who abhorred pretense and fearlessly confronted anyone she saw it in; so is Susan. Most importantly, both the Adamses and the Templetons have left an undeniable mark wherever they went. John and Abigail are buried in Braintree, Massachusetts, but Randy and Susan are still very much alive, and (God-willing) have many good years of meddling ahead of them. God help us all...


pride v. humility

I did some thinking in recent weeks (daydreaming would describe it more accurately), and I came to two conclusions. The first conclusion is that most of what is wrong with the world can be attributed to pride, in one form or another. The second conclusion is a corrollary of the first: Humility is the fount of virtue, the foundation of most that is good, and the sole hope for the redemption of humanity.

For getting on, I'll simply define humility as "the state where one understands oneself honestly, and acts accordingly," and pride as "the state where one thinks more highly of oneself than one ought to, and (also) acts accordingly."

Let us compare how pride and humility function in a practical sense:

Pride feels it is entitled to all it desires, and often pursues them to excess until they lose all taste. Humility understand that anything it receives is a gift.

Pride thinks itself above the rules. Humility realizes that "the rules apply to me too." (This was a hard personal lesson for me.)

Pride thinks itself capable of anything. Humility recalls the wise words of Clint Eastwood, "A man's got to know his limitations".

Pride must live up to and project a shiny self-image to the world, regardless of the ugly truth beneath. With humility, what you see is what you get.

Pride overvalues self-reliance and independence, and cannot fathom itself in a position of need to anyone. Humility admits the basic need for other people in its existence, and accepts help when it needs it.

When failures happen, pride immediately looks for someone or something else to blame. Humility understands that, as Cassius said in Julius Caesar, "the fault... is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

The paradox of the whole matter is this: Though the prideful may possess more abilities than the humble, and may even achieve more material success, they often fail in their relationships, burn out quickly in leadership and find themselves isolated in the end. Humble people have better relationships, make better leaders, make the most of their talents, and ultimately live happier lives that transcend their circumstances. Humility doesn't preclude confidence, but instead cultivates a confidence based on one's real abilities and gifts that gives credit where credit is due.

Why is this? There are many practical reasons, but the root is this: "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." If the Creator of the Universe values humility in His creation, and sent His Son to demonstrate humility more radically than anyone before or since, it follows that He will also radically bless those who practice it.

I know this is a simple way of looking at life, but honestly, if we taught our kids to look at the world in light of pride and humility, wouldn't it be a much better place? People would recognize when others are acting out of pride or humility, (hopefully) recognize that actions born out of humility are pleasing to God and beneficial to them, and in turn cultivate humility in their own lives...

On second thought, this will probably never happen until Kingdom Come. It makes too much sense....

I'll end this one with a little-known Rich Mullins song called "None are Stronger".

And as I lay me down one evening,
I thought of Jesus on the hill
And how for men He was weeping,
When it was Him they were going to kill
And I know it would have saved them
Had they only just allowed
None are stronger than the humble
And few are weaker than the proud

And then my thoughts, they turned to David,
And how he watched his father's flocks
How the music that he was playing
Could calm the demons in a mighty man's heart
And when the prophet came round looking for a king,
He sought young David out,
'Cause none are stronger than the humble
And few are weaker than the proud

And I know that you know about Moses,
And how he left the Pharoah's courts
When he saw the injustice
Done to the people, the people of the Lord
And though his fears drove him to hiding,
The Lord his heart with courage soon endowed
'Cause none are stronger than the humble
And few are weaker than the proud

And none are stronger than the humble
And few are weaker than the proud


Photo Dump - Jacob in Texas, Me in NJ

As I mentioned in this space, I recently hosted my cousin Jacob in Texas for three weeks, had him work with me at LCRA, and further fanned the flames of his love affair with my state. This weekend, my mom and I returned the favour and traveled up to the Garden State to see him graduate from high school. What follows here is a collection of photos I have from a highly enjoyable month:

Jacob at the Really Big Dead Animal Museum of San Antonio in front of a Texas Longhorn with his new cowboy hat. I think he pulls off the cowboy hat look well...

Uncle Bill and I on the back side of the Pennsylvania State House (also known as Independence Hall). The tour guides are great - they get to the point when they explain what happened in each room, and the significance of said events. What struck me most was the austere colonial style of each room - no gilded doorways, no ornate paintings, just humble, no-nonsense New England furniture and railings befitting a nation governed by its people and for its people...

(Humming "America the Beautiful"...)

Philadelphia is the birthplace of our nation, the City of Brotherly Love, and a beacon of freedom to the world. Benjamin Franklin was her greatest citizen, but I think her greatest symbol may be someone else...

In about ten hours of screen time (assuming that Rocky V never happened), Rocky Balboa accomplished the following:

1) Came from out of nowhere to take Apollo Creed, the Heavyweight Champion of the World, 15 rounds in a split decision on July 4th, 1976. Drank raw eggs and ran up the steps of the Art Museum, singlehandedly starting the jogging craze in the process...
2) Beat Apollo Creed at the bell in the rematch to become Heavyweight Champion of the World. Ran down and caught a chicken.
3) Overcame the death of his trainer and the constant derision of his wife to beat Mr. T. Took part in most awkward hug ever with Apollo Creed in training montage.
4) Beat 8-foot steroid-pumping Russian fighter on Christmas Day 1985 in Soviet Union. Over course of 15 rounds, he avenged Apollo's death, won over the Russian crowd and single-handedly ended the Cold War.
5) At age of 75, successfully renewed boxing license and again lost split decision to heavyweight champion, maybe with the help of, uh, special training supplements.

Just thought I'd mention all that. Moving on...

Jacob Riesser graduates! Jacob Riesser graduates! Jacob Riesser...

After the graduation ceremony, we ate dinner at Rats, a luxurious restaurant that opens up to the Grounds for Sculpture. This park combines numerous sculptures and sumptuous landscaping with a series of life-size tableaus of famous paintings by Monet, Renoir and others. Just for fun, let's play a little game of "Where's Jacob" with...

...a sculpture of a Depression-era work line (Jacob's favorite)...

...Monet's Terrace at Sainte-Adresse (Read an explanation of the sculpture here)...

...and Renoir's The Luncheon of the Boating Party.

If it's not already obvious, I had a great time with my cousin the last month. Jacob is a bright kid with a good heart. He takes off for Kettering later this month, and I believe that he has a great future ahead of him.

Godspeed, Jake. The Eyes of Texas are Upon You, even all the way up there in Michigan...


Took an online test, and, uh, wow...

Your Love Life is Like Titanic

"Promise me you'll survive. That you won't give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless."

You think that you only really have one true love in your life. And that you better to anything and everything to be with that person.
You tend to be very nostalgic about past loves that didn't work out. There are many secret feelings that you keep to yourself.

Your love style: Deep and emotional

Your Hollywood Ending Will Be: Bittersweet