Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Is Truth?

In John 18:38 Pilate asks Jesus the million dollar question: "What is truth?"  I asked this question on a discussion group that I sometimes participate in and was been surprised by the answers that came back.  The dictionary defines truth as "the true or actual state of a matter; conformity with fact or reality."  This leads me to believe that 'truth' is a description of how things actually are, as opposed to how they might appear.  But surprisingly enough, at least to me, there are those who hold to the opposite position.

For example, prior to the 17th century is was believed that the earth was the center of the universe and that everything else, including our sun and the other planets, orbited around the earth.  But thanks to the work of Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei it was demonstrated that the earth, along with the other planets, all orbited the sun.  According to my understanding of the dictionary definition of truth, the reality, and thus truth, even prior to the 17th century was that the earth orbited the sun, even though it was perceived to be otherwise.  But according to others what was true actually changed as our understanding changed.  To them, perception is truth.

This definition of truth, based on perception, is actually very useful for some people.  If one with that definition of truth looks around and fails to see God, then as far they are concerned the truth is that God does not exist.  It does not really matter what the reality actually is.  What they care about is what they are able to perceive. So if science fails to find God, then, in their mind, there is no God.

I find it interesting, and I suspect not coincidental that Jesus had actually answered Pilate's question the day prior to his asking the question.  In John 14:6 Jesus tells his disciples that he is the way, the truth and the life.  Pilate says "What is truth?" and Jesus answers "I am".

This seems like a strange statement at first, and I must admit to struggling with just what Jesus meant by it.  What does it mean for someone to claim to be the truth?  I believe that what Jesus is saying, at least in part, is that our reality is based on him.  He is the creator of the universe and sustains it by his power.  He is at the heart of everything.  Not every question you might ask has Jesus as the answer, but many of the 'big ones' do.

What is truth?  Jesus!
Why is there something rather than nothing?  Jesus!
What hope does this world have?  Jesus!
How can I have purpose for life?  Jesus!
How can I come to know God?  Jesus

That Pilate, and many others both today and throughout history, do not recognize him for who he is does not diminish that truth.  Jesus is the truth, and all who live apart from him are living a lie, and calling their perception of reality 'the truth'.  It is a choice that each one must make: to accept or reject the truth!  Will you live in the truth?  Or live a lie?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Portable Backcountry Shelters

This is part 1 of a multi-part series on backpacking equipment
  1. Portable Backcountry Shelters
  2. Staying Warm At Night In the Woods
  3. Fueling the Furnace
  4. Dressing Appropriately
  5. All the Other Stuff We Like To Pack
  6. And, Finally, What To Put It All In
  7. An Example Gear List
If you plan on spending much time out in the back country you will eventually want to spend the night.  This transformation from a day hiker to a multi-day hiker is about the biggest that you will generally face, at least having to do with wilderness travel.  There are some significant obstacles that must be overcome to spend the night outside of a house/hotel/RV.  These include: staying warm, staying dry, being comfortable and not sacrificing too much of yourself to mosquitoes and other blood sucking insects.  This post will focus on the back country shelter:  staying dry and out of the reach of creepy crawlers.  Staying warm at night will be the topic of a later blog.

There are a variety of shelters that backpackers use, but the most common is a tent.  Other options include tarps, bivys, hammocks and none.  Shelters come is a variety of sizes and shapes and for different seasons.  Before selecting a tent you will need to know what you generally intend to use it for.  Are you solo packing over long distances, traveling with a group, setting up a base camp or winter traveling with a significant chance of snow and/or heavy wind?  A more difficult question is your tolerance for discomfort and/or pain.  How willing are you to sacrifice some comfort for a weight reduction.

I am generally a solo backpacker, but even when out with others I prefer not to share a tent.  I am a light sleeper and a snoring tent-mate will keep me awake all night.  Most of my backpacking trips are just 2-3 days, but I generally make at least one extended trip a year.  I do not generally travel in the winter so am not concerned with the snow carrying capability of the shelter; but rain and bugs are a frequent issue where I spend most of my time.  So my shelter can be as small as will comfortably fit my 6’2” height, should be light weight but not to an extreme, should be fully enclosed to keep out the mosquitoes and flies, needs to handle rain well but with no concern for the snow.

I have had several tents over the years.  The first was a two man pup tent from a local big box store.  First time out it rained for three days and the inside of the tent was pretty soggy.  Not fun!  Next was a cheap three man free standing tent with a bit of a rain fly.  It was palatial and reasonably dry, but heavy.  Neither of these tents have been used for years now.  My first real backpacking tent was an REI half dome.  This was lighter and smaller than the previous tents, with enough room for a second person if needed, reasonably roomy and dry.  This eventually became the tent I took when I expected a lot of rain and anticipated spending camp time holed up.  The Sierra Designs CD Lightyear eventually became my go-to tent.  This was a small solo tent that was plenty long enough for me and almost tall enough to sit up in.  Both of these tents have the option of pitching just the rainfly along with a ground cloth if no bugs were expected, thus reducing the tents weight, but I have never used that option.

I have occasionally considered using a tarp rather than a tent.  A tarp definitely has a weight advantage over a tent.  But, while I generally don’t have much of an issue with bugs when out and about during the day, I cannot bear the thought of fighting them all night.  And my only encounter in camp with a tarp camper removed any desire for using just a tarp.  He told about an experience where he had a field mouse run across his face one night.  No thanks!

Bivys also had some appeal because they seem like a light weight alternative to a tent.  A bivy is just a waterproof cover that you place over your sleeping bag.  Some, but not all of them, also include a little micro tent of fly screen that goes over your head to protect from bugs.  But they really need to be used in conjunction with a tarp for rain protection, and by that point you are up to the weight of a light weight solo tent, without as much room.

The major disadvantage of all of these is that you end up sleeping on the ground.  And even with a 2 inch Big Agnes Air Core, the ground just got to be too hard and my hips were sore long before I ran out of dark.  And after about 3 nights I was dreading bed time.  I had seen ads for hammocks for several years and had thought about trying one, but my little experience with cheap camp hammocks had not left me too impressed with my ability to spend the night in one.  Plus I had never seen anyone actually using one.

That changed at the end of the hiking season 3 years ago.  My buddy and I shared a small lake with a guy using a Hennesy Hammock of some type, and he swore by it.  I looked at it closely and began researching hammocks in earnest once I got back home.  During the research I found the Hammock Forums and was able to read the opinions and experiences of many hammock campers.  I ultimately bought a Blackbird from Warbonnet Hammocks, a small cottage shop.  This hammock allows you to sleep somewhat diagonally for a flatter night’s sleep and has a fly screen cover.  With an 8’ by 10’ tarp to stretch over it, I stay dry, protected from the bugs, and most importantly, sleep comfortably.  Easily the best night’s sleep I have ever had in the woods is when swinging between two trees.

There is one important trade off to be aware of though.  When using a tent you need a bare level place the size of the tent to pitch it.  With a hammock the surface you hang over is not really important, so long as it is not brushy.  What does matter is that you need a couple of trees that are big enough, between 12 to 20 feet apart and with no ‘low to the ground’ branches between them.  I seldom camp out of the trees so this is generally not an issue for me, but it does require a shift in thinking as to what constitutes a good camp site.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Did He Stink?

I am currently reading through John and got to the story of the resurrection of Lazarus the other day.  This is an account I have read and heard frequently.  But I was struck by what I am sure is a deeply significant theological question.  And I don't recall ever hearing anyone discuss it before.  It's almost like everyone has been avoiding it.  But now, I think that I have made a very significant contribution toward a deeper understanding of the scripture.

In John 11:38-39 Jesus is standing at Lazarus' tomb and calls on them to roll back the stone.  Martha responds that Lazarus has been in his tomb for four days now and he should be stinky.  Jesus tells them to roll it away anyway.  So, my question is, "Did he stink?"  Please correct me if I am wrong, put I find it hard to believe that no one before me hasn't asked this question; but seemingly without any response.  So after careful consideration I feel like I am able to respond to this for all those with inquiring minds.

And the answer is: "Yes"!

No longer do you need to read past this passage in confusion and with unanswered questions.  When the stone rolls away they are all treated to the smell of a decaying body mixed with a heavy layer of aromatic spices.

Now of course, being the deeply spiritual and inquisitive person that I am, I was of course unable to leave this passage just yet.  I had to know, when Lazarus walked out of the tomb, was it still stinky?  I asked this question of several other folks (my wife and son) and just got incredulous looks in return, almost as if I had gone off the deep end.  But this was, to my mind, a question that demanded an answer.  So I began to explore this in the fertile depths of my imagination.

Lazarus is dead, and has been so for four days.  His brain function has quit.  His blood has either been drained from his body or it has congealed.  The bacteria in the gut that allows for proper digestion are all dead.  Worms are tunneling through his body.  And the muscle tissue is decaying, hence the stink.  I'm sure there are other things but I think you get the picture.

So for Lazarus to return to life, it is not enough to just zap him with the cardio-paddles.  The blood has to either be reintroduced or thinned out significantly.  New bacteria need to be reintroduced into his gut.  The worms need to be extracted. Side bar: can you imagine what a conversation squelcher it would be to have a worm pop out of someone's forehead as you were talking to them?  And all of the decay has to be reversed. And this is the key to the second stinky question.  If the decay, which causes the stink, is reversed, then he becomes 'as if he had not decayed', and thus the stink should also be 'as if it had not been there'.  In other words, when Lazarus walks to the tomb entrance he should smell just like he did the moment before he died.  Of course that could still be stinky, just in a different way.

And of course, whatever it was that killed him also ends up getting cured, otherwise he would walk out of the tomb and fall down dead again.  Kind of a downer.

Glad to have been able to clear that up for all of you.  And now, if you have any more questions that no one else has ever been willing to tackle, please feel free to keep them to yourselves.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Taste of Heaven

Riley Wilson opened his eyes to a most breath taking sight.  There before him, standing at the gates to a very large and beautiful walled city, was the most majestic person he had ever seen, reaching out and beaconing him to approach.

"Well done, good and faithful servant!" he said, "Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world."

And as Riley came forward he was embraced by his Lord, given new garments to wear, garments that were impossibly bright and clean, and then led through the gates and into the city.

The first thing Riley noticed upon entering the city was that everything was very bright and cheerful.  The city was well lit although there was no apparent source; it was just light everywhere without a single visible shadow.  And the city was full of sound, not the oftentimes loud and overpowering noise of an earthly city, but the sounds of music and praise; it was a joyful sound.  The atmosphere of the city was welcoming and drew him in.

All around him were people busily engaged in one activity or another.  The purpose of their activity was not readily obvious at first, nor, initially, were any of the people known to him.  But as he watched them he became aware that somehow he knew each one of them, although he was sure he had never met any of them before.  And it was not just the casual acquaintance one might share with a friend, but he actually seemed to share a bond with them that exceeded anything he had ever experienced before; he really knew them.  It was as if they were each somehow connected together.

And as he watched the activities they were engaged in he slowly came to realize that though they were many and varied, seemingly conducted in a random fashion, they were actually highly related and coordinated.  It was as if a single mind was directing each of these activities toward a common purpose.  No one got into anyone else's way, there was no competing for space, time or resources, no voice of dissent or anger; everything just flowed together in harmony.

As he watched he became aware that he was not alone; Jesus stood beside him, waiting patiently as Riley took in his surroundings.  Finally he turned to Jesus with a look of wonder, and asked who all these people were, how he knew them all and what it was they were doing.

"This city that you are now in is the capital from which I rule," he replied, "and those who live here are the redeemed who rule and serve along side me.  This city, in a sense, is also my bride, made up of the ones I have given my life for and who have in turn submitted themselves to me.  And you are each greatly loved.

"You know them all because you have become one with them, they should be as familiar to you as your own self; there is nothing about them hidden from you, or of you that is hidden from any of them.  You all are a part of one body, this city, my bride, and so all of you know each other and depend on each other to carry out your task."

"But how can we be one when we seem to be so many?  How can we be this city that we are in?"

"Look at this city.  Do you see all of the individual parts that make it up, the gates, walls, streets, buildings, and the people?  Each part appears somewhat unique and individual.  But it is only when they are joined together and functioning, each in their own way, that the city is truly alive and serving its purpose.  These people you see in this city, yourself included, actually are the city.  You each have a unique and specific role to fulfill, one that your life on earth has prepared you for.  The short time you spent there, although it seemed long to you, served to prepare you for this time, a time that will never end."

"But what are you ruling over?  And what help could we possible offer to you?"

"My Father's kingdom is immense and contains many other lesser cities and peoples.  You all, as my bride, are laboring alongside of me, for the effective working of the kingdom.  The task you perform as a part of this city will reach out into the rest of the kingdom, to care for it, to prosper it, to make it ever more wonderful, and to rule over it."

"And so Riley, dearly beloved, come into the service of the bride in the kingdom of my Father, ruling alongside of me.  May your service be blessed, fruitful and rewarding throughout all of eternity!"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Prostate Cancer - One Year Later

This past week I passed my one year anniversary as a cancer survivor.  It was last Valentines Day that I had a Radical Prostatectomy, having my prostate removed.  At that point everything looked very positive that the cancer had been completely contained within the prostate and should be gone.  But there is always the chance that the cancer had spread and might have migrated into my bones.  As a result my PSA, a blood test looking for a prostate antigen, become very important.  With the prostate gone it should be essentially 0.  But if the prostate cancer is growing in my bones that value will start to grow.  Well, the good news it that as of last week it is still at that 0 threshold; there is no sign that the cancer had spread.  This will continue to be an annual test just to be sure, but it was good to see.

Physically I seem to have fully recovered from the surgery, being able to do just about anything I could a year ago, other than become a new father; something I am not interested in anyway.  I am left with a 4 inch scar on my lower belly that is slowly fading, but no other signs.  And having the prostate gone  now saves me from one of the more unpleasant aspects of the annual physical; you older guys will know what I am talking about.

I am thankful that we have the technology now to discover this cancer at an early stage and to be able to deal with it, even though that process was less than pleasant.  Prostate cancer is generally a fairly slow growing cancer and easily treated when detected early, but very challenging to treat when not discovered in time.  I would encourage all of you men, especially once you are over 50, to keep an eye out for this.  Statistically, most men will get prostate cancer if they live long enough, so thinking it just happens to someone else is not really realistic.  Keep an eye on your PSA and learn about this disease.  Don't let it sneak up on you.

And my thanks again to Sue and her wonderful support through all this.  To the medical staff who took such good care of me.  And to all those who uplifted me in prayer during that time and still periodically check up on me.  And thanks to God who has used this event in my life to draw me closer to him.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Extreme Backpacking Makeover

I love being out in the woods and mountains.  I enjoy the scenery and the solitude, the opportunity to sit on a rock and watch a river flow by; all day if I want to.  I have been backpacking for most of the past 30 years in the Olympic Mountains and have traipsed over most of its trails at least once.  And over the past couple of years I have also hiked parts of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Up until the past couple of years I would have a tendency to take pretty much anything I thought I might need to enjoy the trip and to have a relative level of safety/security/comfort.  As a result my pack always weighed at least 45 pounds and as much as 65 if I was going to be out for a week.  With this load I would generally shoot for about 8 miles a day with 10-12 miles being pretty much the limit.  This would generally take about 4-6 hours of hiking plus an hour or so for lunch and breaks.  Thus my non-sleeping part of the day was roughly divided up into two parts; trudging along the trail from camp to camp, and relaxing/exploring/hanging around camp.  Now by no means was the trudging all bad.  I did enjoy the walking and the scenery, but after a few hours my shoulders and hips were starting to scream at me and dropping the pack for the day became the primary thought.

During a significant portion of this time I always dreamed about cutting down on the weight, but never seemed to be able to pull it off.  There was just too much stuff I needed to have.  And while none of it really weighed all that much individually, when you put together enough little things they began to become pretty heavy.

A couple of seasons ago though I experienced a total makeover in my backpacking.  It is hard for me to remember back to a triggering event but I suspect the adoption of using a hammock instead of a tent was probably the key.  That in itself did not buy me any weight savings, but in making such a transformational change in my sleep system, it seemed to open the doors to everything else as well.  I ended one season with a 5 night trip carrying 65 pounds and started the next on a 2 night trip at around 30 pounds (that the previous year would have been nearly 50).  That is about 15-20 pounds of stuff left at home.

That first time out with a 30 pound pack was not just notable for the weight loss though.  I set out late the first day and stopped after about 7-8 miles as it started to get dark.  I felt good at the end of the day but anxiously looked ahead to climbing a pass in the snow the next day; something I was nervous about.  So I was up early and quickly broke camp, optimistically hoping to get 15 miles that day and over the pass.  I quit walking 27 miles later at my truck.  And that included several miles in deep snow and over a high pass with no visible trail.  Needless to say I was sold on the advantages of lightweight backpacking.

Now instead of trudge a few miles and then recover each day, I am able to walk pretty much from sunup to near sunset, day after day after day.  Where before the highlight of the trip would be the time spent in camp, now it is watching the scenery flow by along with the miles.  This has had the added benefit of allowing me to easily drop more gear that was only used for hanging around camp; it's no longer needed.  Now my base pack weight, before food and water is just under 20 pounds and will likely drop another couple of pounds this year.

I am noticing another transformation that is going on at the same time.  In my heavy-weight days I focused a lot on gear; gear for eating, sleeping, staying warm and dry, staying comfortable, handling emergencies, etc.  My experience in the back country was pretty reliant on having good gear to handle anything that might come up, a lot of which never did.  But my pack now is mostly concerned with stuff to stay warm and dry at night and food, plus a few other small essentials.  So I find myself becoming less reliant on gear and more comfortable with just being out in the wild and being able to handle whatever it throws my way.

I will share in subsequent posts more of the specifics of this Extreme Backpacking Makeover, but I have to ask myself: "What took so long?"  It's been very liberating!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Who Does God Love?

Warning: rant to follow!

Apparently God hates:
  • Fags
  • America
  • Catholics
  • Most Protestants
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Muslims
  • Jews
  • Hindus
  • President Obama
  • The media
  • The world
At least this is what the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) would have us believe.  It appears to me that WBC believes that just about everyone not associated with them is hated by God.  I can seem some appeal to this kind of thought since it puts one in a superior position to nearly everyone else.  And, after all, who wouldn't want to be in God's inner circle.

But somehow I just have a hard time reconciling "For God so loved the world" with God hates everyone but me.  It may be that I'm missing something here, but I think it more likely that the WBC folks have something out of whack.  I just really, really, really have a hard time seeing Jesus picketing the funeral of two little boys because the US does not criminalize homosexuality.  But it may be that they worship a different Jesus than the one I do and that I find in the pages of the New Testament.

Now don't get me wrong here; I do believe that the culture I am surrounded by, that I read about in the papers and see on TV is not one that seeks to honor God, and much that goes on in the US is immoral.  More and more people in our world are abandoning faith in God for something else.  

But if God hates someone, it would seem to me that they are doomed and without hope.  And yet, is not the good news of the gospel that all who would "confess Jesus as Lord and believe in his resurrection would be saved"?  As long as a person has breath, there is hope for them.  And if that is true, then how could one say that God hates them?

It might be correct, and in my opinion is, to say that God hates sin and that much of what goes on today is destructive and harmful to a relationship with God.  And that one who is walking in faith would make every effort to purify themselves from that sin.  But please don't pretend to speak for God and pronounce his hatred against those who are not like you.

In my opinion, and at the risk of being judgmental myself, WBC is nothing but a small group of people, mostly one extended family, that are hate filled and use Christianity simply as an excuse to spew their hatred for the rest of the world.  I can see no evidence that they themselves have experienced or know the love of God.  And yet, God would save even them if they would repent and turn to him.

End of rant!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

NCIS, Stephen King & Choices!

My wife got me hooked on NCIS a few years ago and I believe I have now seen every episode, including the recent 200th one.  I must admit that this was far from being my favorite one, but it did have an interesting twist.  Gibbs appears to have been shot and killed and spends time in a diner where he encounters people from his past who confront him with choices that he had made and their ramifications.  What if he had seen the sniper who killed Kate?  What if he had not shot the killer of his wife and daughter?  What if his wife had lived and he had stayed in the Marines instead of joining the predecessor to NCIS?  It was interesting to see how his life, and others around him, would be affected by alternate choices or actions.

I just recently finished a Stephen King book titled '11/22/63'.  In this story a time warp is found that sends the traveler back to late 1958.  After spending some time in the past the traveler could return back to their own time, two minutes later than when they had gone in.  An interesting twist is that every time you go into the past, everything is reset to the state it would have had if the trip had never been made.  So you could go back, do something, return to the present and see the result, and then return to the past which undid whatever you had done the previous trip.  At some point the decision is made to try and go back to prevent the assassination of John Kennedy.  Without giving away the rest of the story, it was interesting to see the alternative ways that history could have come out if only some event in the past had been changed.

The similarities between these two bits of entertainment were striking to me, and caused me to think a bit.  How much do my actions today affect my future, as well as other people around me?  I generally have no way of knowing with any certainty what the results will be for any decision I make now, but it is definitely something to consider; to realize that my actions now will impact my tomorrow.

Way back in 1982 I was a 29 year old single guy, working full time and just finishing up on my Associates Degree.  I was actively involved in a church near where I lived but had grown unhappy there.  Rather than deal with those issues, I decided to move to another nearby town as an excuse to join a different church.  In this new church I found a lovely young woman who, against all reasonable expectations, came to love me as much as I did her.  Long story short we were married, had kids, moved into a bigger house and slowly grew old(er) together.  While I am quite happy with the end result of this choice I made in 1982, I do occasionally wonder what the alternative might have been had I stayed longer and tried to work though the issues.  What would my life have been like today?  What would life be like for the one who today is my wife?  Plus the two kids who would not even have been born.

Back in 1982 I gave no thought about the long term results of that move, and there was no way to have foretold what would happen.  But it does help me to realize just how important even some seemingly unimportant choices can be.  And rather than just blunder through life from day to day, how it is good to take some thought of the consequences of what I do today.  And to at least avoid choices that will likely adversely affect my future.

You might think of the life ahead of you as a branching tree, with every fork being a decision point in your life.  There are many possible routes you could take in your life, walking out that tree, each leading to a different future.  Be sure that your choices allow you the best opportunity to have a good one.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Text Messaging, Email & Prayer

The home Bible study I am a part of will be looking at Paul's prayer for the Ephesians next week.  While thinking about this passage I was struck with the different kinds of communications we humans employ among ourselves and how that might apply to prayer.  Prayer is, after all, communication with God and it seems like we do not always communicate with him in the same fashion.

Many people make use of Instant Messaging, or Text Messages, to talk with other people, and some make extensive use of this communications mechanism.  I send text messages out periodically, although generally only to those with whom I have an existing relationship.  For me, text messaging is mostly used to convey a quick bit of information or ask a simple question and is very informal.

When I first thought about text messaging in relation to prayer it seemed somewhat inappropriate.  But then I realized that a lot of my prayer life is pretty quick and informal.  Is not a quick blessing for a meal, a thanks for a beautiful sunset or a quick prayer for direction similar to text messaging?  It's generally informal, quickly dealing with a single topic, and to one I have an established relationship with.  Could it not be that firing off quick text messages to God is actually a quite appropriate for us?

I like to use email quite a bit.  Email tends toward being a bit more formal than a text message, at least including some addressee and sender names, and with spelling and grammar being important, at least for me.  It also tends toward being more detailed that a text message, and can frequently cover a variety of topics or issues.  Another thing about email is that a response is generally not expected immediately; it may take time to get an answer from the one you are sending the email to.

I think that much of my prayer life could be described this way.  I am not very big on form, but I do have a tendency to close my eyes and frequently bow my head when I am going to spend more than just a moment in prayer.  While I am not very long winded in prayer, I do find that my prayers generally cover a number of topics and I try to think through what I am saying.  And in general I do not really expect an immediate answer but am content to wait for God to respond in his time.  This email type of prayer is probably the most common for me with a smattering of text messages thrown in as the occasion arises.

There is a third type of communication that I like and that is face to face (telephones are evil).  This communication has the potential to be much more personal and has the added benefit of allowing the participants to observe all of the non-verbal cues that are missing in a text message or email.  That face to face communication does not always require words either.  Just walking hand in hand with one you love is a pretty powerful communication that can occur entirely without words.

This is the prayer I yearn to have with God.  That intimate personal time of coming into his presence and just being with him.  Luke recounts a story that illustrates this for me.  Jesus comes to visit in the home of Martha and Mary.  Martha gets all distracted trying to play hostess while Mary sits at his feet and listens.  I like this story because, like Martha, I am so easily distracted by all that is going on around me or in my thoughts.  Coming before God with a quiet and still spirit is hard, and takes a significant investment of time and, oftentimes, relocation to a place without the distractions.  But the return on this investment is greater than anything that might come from investing the time elsewhere.  Just coming into his presence and sitting before him, like Mary did, is the best thing I can do.

Send off frequent emails and text messages to God, that's a good thing.  But be sure that you also take the time to cultivate a relationship with him by spending time at his feet, that's an essential thing if you want to grow close to him.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Collins Inn @ Ocean Shores

Sue and I took off this week to spend a couple of days at the beach, celebrating her recent birthday.  We had heard a lot about The Collins Inn from the OBA pastors who had gone there the past couple of years for their retreat, so we decided to give it a try.  We opted to go during the week to escape any potential weekend crowds and are glad we did.

The Inn is at the south end of Ocean Shores, overlooking the entrance to Grays Harbor.  There are a lot of rentals and houses in the area, but there are none of the hotels and businesses that one finds in Ocean Shores proper.  It is a very quite and peaceful part of the area.  The Inn is fairly small with only four rooms on the second floor of the main building plus four 2 bedroom cottages.  I can't speak for the cottages but the main building itself is beautiful and very lovingly built and maintained by the couple who own and operate the Inn.

We stayed in the Turret room, a significant portion of which was in a turret with a wrap around balcony.  This was not your average cookie cutter hotel room by any means.  It was very homey with a soft queen sized canopy bed, an in-room Jacuzzi tub, a small fireplace, and a fancy coffee maker that Sue enjoyed.  Most of the furnishing were antiques and all arranged very well.  We were able to look into two of the other rooms, and while they all had the same basic accommodations, they were each very different.

The four rooms occupied the second floor while the main floor was mostly a fancy steak house, at least it is on Friday and Saturday nights.  We were not there on either night, but breakfast was included with the room.  While there is a fairly limited selection for breakfast it was very good, and way too much.  The owner and builder is also the chef and, based on the breakfasts we watched him make and then ate, he is a very good one.  This is a very high end and classy steak house and is pretty much reservation only.

We spent two nights at the Inn and were the only guests.  But that changes tonight and through the weekend as they are sold out.  I would highly recommend that if you choose to go, and are able to, that you make it a midweek encounter.

The Inn sits next to a spit that runs out into the harbor and we walked out to the end of it a couple of times, about a 5 mile round trip.  The second time out we were able to see about half a dozen of the Snowy Owls that have been recently making the news.  If you look closely in the picture to the right you can see one of them at the center.  It was pretty cool to be able to see them, as well as to explore a beach that is quite different than what you find out on the coast.

All in all this was a very enjoyable trip and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get away and celebrate a special occasion.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Playing with Fire: the Kindle Way!

As mentioned in an earlier blog, I now have a Kindle Fire and have had about 3 weeks to play with it.  The Fire is just about the same size as the Kindle 2 that I had been using although it seems a bit heavier.  And I can still use it to download and read books.  But that's about where the resemblance ends.

Rather than using the e-paper technology for the screen that the Kindle 2 did, the Fire uses a color LCD touch screen display.  Text is still very readable; I can read for hours at a time without any strain.  One thing to get used to is that the page buttons on the side of the Kindle 2 are gone and pages are flipped by stoking your finger across the page.  Still easy to do but different.  There are actually no physical buttons now except for the power button.  All of the other controls are done by touching virtual buttons or scrolling on the touch screen.  I think navigation is a bit easier, but not significantly.  Managing the books in your library has become easier though.  The touch screen and graphical interface are much easier to deal with once you get them figured out.

But the Fire does much more that serve as a book reader now.  I can read and write email from both of my personal email accounts on the Fire, although the keyboard is still a bit small for my fingers; I still have to type with my thumbs.  Facebook works very similar to the way it does on my phone, except the screen is bigger and the keyboard is bigger, making status posts easier.  The Fire also includes a web browser allowing me to browse to all of the sites I normally go to, although some are a little out of whack.  And so far anything that requires Flash does not work.

The Fire comes with a free 1 month subscription to Amazon Prime, which provides access to thousands of movies and TV shows which you can stream to the Fire.  The promise of thousands of videos sounds much better than it actually is though.  I have scrolled through the list of movies and TV shows and don't find a great number that I would be interested in watching, but there are some.  Some of them are free with Amazon Prime and others cost from 99¢ to $3.99.  The list of movies and shows are limited to those that Amazon has obtained some rights to, so there are not many that are really current.  But those that are available are easy to stream and watch on the Fire.  I have watched a couple of movies and TV shows and find performance to be very good.  You will likely want to use a pair of ear buds though since the internal speakers are not very loud.

All in all the Fire is a very versatile entertainment device and I have enjoyed it so far.  There are a couple of things to be aware of though.  Where the Kindle 2 could go for a couple of weeks with moderate usage between charges, the Fire will not last nearly so long.  I have not timed it but I would guess about 6-8 hours will run it down.  The other is that to do anything with it other than read a book you will need to have an active WiFi connection.  It definitely needs that access to perform any of its magic.  It would be nice if you could use your cell plan to make connection to the internet, but that is not available at this time.  Although if you have a mobile hot spot with your cell phone you might be able to overcome that inconvenience.

Long story short: I like it a lot.