Sep 25, 2006


I decided to forego the Aladdin diatribe for this.

Forgiveness is an extremely difficult concept. You would think it would be easy. We do something wrong, and we want the other person to cleanse us of the offense. We want to know that we can make things right with that person. However, forgiveness ends up being something that it is hard to ACCEPT. I can understand if someone doesn’t want to accept an apology – that person really hurt us and we want to be able to stew for a while. But to not accept FORGIVENESS? That doesn’t make sense.

Maybe, our problem accepting forgiveness stems from our problem granting forgiveness. Think about it. How many times has someone come to you after hurting you and tried to apology, but you have to get in that one last mini lecture or hurtful look before trying to forgive them. Or maybe you have said that you will never never never forgive them ever. They hurt you just too badly. This may have been a parent who abused you or a friend who betrayed you – maybe a spouse who was unfaithful. To forgive them is just asking too much. It is letting them off the hook – or so it feels to us. We want them to hurt as much as we did.

Faith Hill’s song “Cry” addresses this. In it, she wants the person who jilted her to cry a little, show some pain. She wants to know that the other person suffered on a par with her. It is like they have to PROVE their remorse is real. Words are not good enough – there needs to be something concrete, some kind of physical proof. We want restitution.

This could be why it is so hard for us to understand and accept the concept of being forgiven. We are so used to making others jump through hoops that we expect to have to jump ourselves. And when it comes to God’s forgiveness, well He HAS TO have some kind of punishment for those sins we committed. When the Bible says that all of our sins are forgiven, we don’t take that at face value. Instead, we try to convince God that we are really really sorry. And we will take these fifty steps to make sure it never happens again. And, even after all of that, we still don’t believe Him. So we sit there crippled by the sins we have been toting around.

The really ironic and sad thing is that those sins are gone. God isn’t holding them against us. He has already forgiven us – regardless of our opinion on the matter. He blotted them out, threw them as far away as East from West, remembered them no more. And on top of that, He covered us with Christ’s righteousness. So when He looks at us, He sees a holy person. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be comical – watching a person that is dressed like a king staggering around under the weight of sin’s imagined and removed burden. God already took that big old sack of garbage off of us and tossed it away when we accepted Jesus in our hearts – we just refuse to believe it.

There is a phenomenon in people who lose limbs called “phantom pains.” This is where they feel pain in the body part that is gone. I remember reading the biography of Dave Dravecky – and he talked about how he was in agony for a long time with pains in his hand. Only he didn’t have a hand on that arm. But it was the body trying to re-orient itself. We kind of act like that with the burden of sin – we carry around a phantom burden on our backs, wear phantom leg irons, sit behind phantom prison bars. We are completely blind to the fact that Christ shattered all of those things.

Isaiah 61:1 is obviously a very dear verse to my heart – and to the heart of Defender Ministries. It shows us clearly that the Gospel is designed to remove the burden of sin, fling open the prisons, free the captives, heal the crippled. The message of the Gospel is FREEDOM. This isn’t freedom to live like a hellion. It is freedom from the bondage of sin that has imprisoned mankind since the Fall. We are FREE. I always get the picture of some huge warrior breaking into a prison – like the ones in “Count of Monte Cristo” or “Mask of Zorro.” He comes in with a sword, a ring of keys, and a torch. He has used the sword to defeat the guards. He takes the keys and fling open the cells. And then he takes the torch and lights all the candles to show the escape route. “FOLLOW ME, YOU PRISONERS OF EVIL! FOLLOW ME TO YOUR FREEDOM!” He runs out the front door – and there is no one behind him.

The prisoners all stayed in their cells. “This freedom can’t be for me – I’m beyond redemption,” one mopes. Another cries out, “Oh, if only I could be free from these chains like the others.” A third angrily shouts, “I’m sure that this is just a trick. That warrior is outside waiting to trounce me.” (Good vocab for prisoners.) Meanwhile, the warrior is just shaking his head.

Sep 12, 2006

9/11 Reflections, Part Three

After those last two reflections of 9/11, I guess the question is, "Where does that leave us now?" How has America changed since that day - or has it? This is just my opinion. And I know that expressing opinions about politics and religion will get you into trouble faster than just about anything else. However, this is nothing more than me expressing my views as an American. I don't claim this is researched or documented or surveyed. This is what I see in my daily life. If you don't agree, that's fine. If you agree, that's fine. If you think I'm an idiot, join the club.

Personally, I do believe that America has changed a great deal since 2001. First of all, it is a more scared place. Americans are more worried now about their safety than probably at any time in the last 100 years. True, some of this is fed by the media playing up EVERY LITTLE THING. And it is also compounded by the government's jittery chihuahua impersonation. Whatever the causes, I think that we as a country have lost that invincible swagger that defined us. Sure, you still see those patriotic "them's are fightin' words" bumper stickers. But most of the time those come off as overcompensation.

Added to this, America is a reactionary country now. It used to be that we were the trailblazers. We did something and everyone else followed, got run over, or got made fun of. Now, we are always on the defensive - responding to threats real and imagined. Take the whole airline situation. Every time a would-be terrorist tries something new, the government institutes sweeping policy changes that hurts everyone. Like the whole liquid on a plane thing. I can understand we need to be more careful about carry-on items. But that policy was put into place overnight. And the security personnel didn't even know how to handle it. So they are dumping a bunch of liquids into the same container - the very action that would have ignited the same binary liquid explosives they were trying to avoid. The government seems so worried about terrorists destroying planes that they have ignored the real problem in air travel -- the ridiculous new standards being levied on air traffic controllers. They have cut positions, increased shift time, and generally made air travel 10 times more dangerous. It was no mere coincidence that the plane crash in Kentucky happened right after this policy took place. As the research comes out, that wreck was caused by a tired traffic controller, old information, and about a dozen people dropping the ball. Basically, we have reacted so strongly to a threat from abroad that we ignored the threats from general safety mediocrity.

That last paragraph will highlight two other things about America. First, it is more cynical than ever. Second, it is more divided. I mention the first because I just ripped into the government because I am fairly certain that they are consistently making bad calls - and I am not so sure anyone else would do a better job. It isn't like I'm sitting here saying that Bush is bad or whatever. I am saying that ALL OF THEM are going to make big stupid mistakes - just in different areas. The cynicism sets in because we all think the government is up to something, hiding something, lying about something, doctoring something, torturing something, and spinning something. This has been fed by the whole "war on terror." I don't know many people who think that this war has been handled 100% right - and I don't see anyone out there who could ever fix it without screwing something else up.

The division in America is highlighted by the fact that anyone reading those last two paragraphs will form an opinion about me from them. If they agree with that opinion, they'll get all happy. If not, they'll get all angry. And the breakdown of angry and happy is probably 51/49. That's what almost every issue comes down to now. Which means that at any given time, half of the nation is ticked off about something. The unity after 9/11 is long gone. And in its place, the partisan politics of pre-2001 has only gotten worse. It is like the two sides are angry that they even had to work together for a year or so - and now they are going to be as difficult as possible.

I think America is worse of racially as well. Maybe white/black issues are not as bad - I guess your opinion on that depends on which media outlet you use and which films you watch. But there is now this lingering distrust of Middle Easterners and Muslims. You may see some people trying to act like that isn't true. But to see how true it is, just look at the fact that all CBS had to do to get huge press coverage for 2005's Big Brother was to put ONE Muslim in the house. You should have seen how people were around him. One girl even tried to vote him out first week BECAUSE he was Muslim. The government itself even tries to act like there isn't something going on in the way they randomly screen at the airport. "We don't want to look like racial profilers, so we'll pat down this 89 year old from Des Moines too."

Economically, thanks largely to the gas prices and home price escalation, things are harder for a lot of Americans. I know that the gas itself has hurt us horribly - we traded in our van about a month ago for a new minivan. With how much we are saving on gas, we are only putting out about $100 a month on the payment! But the trickle down from the gas stuff affects power bills, food costs, air travel costs, just about everything.

I honestly don't think that the terrorists knew all of this would happen - just like they never realized the towers themselves would collapse. The complete destruction of the towers was just icing on the cake - just like the long term damage to the country as a whole is just an added benefit. Do I attribute all of those above things to 9/11? No. Much of that would have happened anyway at some point - 9/11 just sped up the process. But there certainly was a chain of events that came into place. I do love this country, and I hope that things can straighten themselves out. I don't really see some magic election that will help everything be okay again - in fact 2008 scares the weewee out of me me (Cynicism alert). But I still have hope. I'm not sure what we are supposed to do at times like this. I guess it is a time to look back, honor those who perished, and then take stock and see what we can do to make things better. That last part is the hard one. Honestly, I don't know. I don't think anyone around here has the answer. Makes you really want to hold on to the fact that God controls kings and princes, that he appoints governments, and that he is not bullied by terrorist or ravaged by time. That is where our hope has to come from. Seems like a pretty unsatisfying conclusion - but honestly that is where we are right now. I hope the 10 year anniversary will be different.

Wasn't THAT a cheery post. Don't worry - I'll get back to random weirdness soon. In fact, my next post will be a socio-economic and cultural breakdown of Disney's Aladdin movies. I bet you are wondering if I'm joking...(cynic)

Sep 10, 2006

9/11 Reflections, Part TWO

On September 11, 2001, we awoke after a very restless night. We had to be at the hospital on the wrong side of sunrise. This was the day they were inducing our baby. He had decided that Heather was just as good of a home as any and he refused to budge. After 42 weeks, the doctor decided the best course of action was to give nature a hand. As we drove to the hospital, Heather said that the 11th was a good number for a birthday. We had no idea what was about to happen.

After the induction, we had to sit and wait. A couple hours passed by. Heather was starting to have erratic contractions. And then a nurse walked in and said, "You may want to turn on the tv. A plane just hit the World Trade Center." We didn't understand and thought she meant that some doofus in a Cessna had hit the building. We turned it on right after the second plane struck. I remember that everyone started to understand that something was wrong - that this was more than an accident. For a while it was just surreal. There was this smoke billowing out of the towers. I'm sitting there wondering how in the world they are going to put out the fire so high up. Then the misinformation started coming in. One station reported gunmen in the Capitol. Another said that a truck had exploded on the Washington Mall. There were confirmed reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon and a plane crashing in Pennsylvania. While broadcasting from the Pentagon, one of the reporters even freaked out on air because everyone started yelling that another plane was inbound.

It was like a disaster movie gone crazy. As the smoke continued to billow out we were struggling to figure out what was going on. Heather's progression was slow, but painful. And we couldn't take our eyes off the screen. Then the first tower collapsed. It was right when CBS switched from the morning show with Bryant Gumbel to Dan Rather. There was just confusion everywhere. The nurses were distracted. The doctor was doing his best to act normal. We were getting scared. The second tower fell and I nearly threw up. Seriously - I went in the bathroom and started to cry. What the heck was going on? What were we bringing our kid into? Once that happened, and the stations started to show all the people on the street who couldn't find their family members, we shut the tv off for over a day. We couldn't take it any more. There was a baby coming and Heather needed to focus on that.

It took about 15 hours more until he showed up, and there was a lot of pain in that time. Heather's labor was very hard. And to make all of it worse was the constant fear of the unknown. We were in Jacksonville. There are three navy bases right there. No one knew who was behind the attack. Were they going to target military next? I kept thinking that at any minute we would see troops coming down the halls. Or they would start rushing the injured into the hospital. I was afraid this was the "end times" coming to fruition. I started to worry that we would be killed for our faith and this little baby was going to be alone and crying. I was just sick about everything. People all over were praying the baby wouldn't be born until the 12th - just so he didn't have to share a birthday with this awful event.

After midnight, the doctor decided to do a C-Section. I lost it. I was scared I was going to lose Heather or our child or both. I couldn't handle it. I didn't hide it very well. The doctor told me that he was going to do whatever he could and that he would take care of Heather like he would his own wife. At 2:11am, on Wednesday, September 12, 2001, Josiah David Staples finally was pulled out - after much cajoling and yanking. He was big - nine pounds, four ounces. And he had a big mop of curly black hair. And everything changed.

I had known love before. But not like this. There was this protectiveness and fear in me I had never felt. He wasn't breathing right due to the whole birthing process, so they had to take him into the nursery for extra time. I didn't even get to touch him. I went out into the hall and just stared through the shades. Our family friends were trying to find which one he was. I pointed and said, "The one that looks like a toddler." He was so huge compared to the other babies. Finally he started screaming, which was a good sign. And they took the little guy to Heather. Then I finally got to hold him - he was so little. And I was terrified.

As the night became morning, we were just exhausted. The meds Heather had gotten during the whole experience were hard to get over. So I had lots of time to just stare at Josiah. And then I got to hold him a lot, change his diapers, try unsuccessfully to swaddle him right. I used to hold him and he would just stare at me, trying to figure out what this big goateed dude was all about. And as the excitement of the birth itself wore off, I had lots of time to think - which was not good. As the anthrax scares began to pop up, and everyone tried to figure out what had happened, I got more and more terrified. I found myself in a strange place. Instead of running towards God, for the first time in my life, I ran away from Him. I didn't pray or read the Bible. Every time I tried, my mind would run to the back of the book and I would see people busting down our door and taking my baby away.

I got to be a wreck. I held it together for everyone else, but inside I was in more fear than I ever had been. I loved this little boy, but I could not truly enjoy everything because I would get so worried about his future. I wasn't able to get past that for a couple months. Part of it was getting into a Bible study. Part of it was getting more time with Josiah. He was incredible. When he was born, tons of people told us that there was a reason for him being born under those circumstances. One friend told us that he just brought joy on the darkest of days. And that was what Josiah always has done. (A tradition his sister has kept going) 2001 was one of the hardest years of my life. I was out of work for five months, and the last seven I sold furniture. We were living with Heather's parents, which was very hard for me as a husband and now father. Financially, we were in the worst place we ever experienced together. In addition, it was one of the darkest years in US history.

However, now, when I look back on 2001, all I really see is that it was the year Josiah was born. He erased all the rest of it. I don't look at our time in Jacksonville as this dark blot on my life. I see it as "the place Josiah was born." It is so weird, because I can't think of 9/11 without thinking of Josiah. They are intertwined. But that keeps the memories of that day from being so dark. I know that most people don't have that luxury. They only have the day itself without the hope. I'm thankful that I was able to receive so wonderful after all the pain. And how wonderful he has turned out to be - and I can't wait to see what kind of man he becomes.

Josiah, I love you so much. I hope that your fifth birthday is incredible. You have give us so much over the years - joy, love, fun, happiness - and most of all hope.

9/11 Reflections, Part One

Five years have passed. It seems so bizarre to me that it has been that long. I know that everyone has a story about what was going on in their lives when they heard the news. We were at the hospital, awaiting the arrival of our first child. (I'll get into that more tomorrow.) This was one of those days - the ones everyone will remember forever. How couldn't you? It has to rank right up there as the most infamous days ever. What other days are even in that league? I know that Pearl Harbor is one; the JFK assassination is another; the Challenger explosion would qualify.

What do all of those days have in common? They were days when innocence and trust and safety were stripped away. With Pearl Harbor, America was no longer able to play from the sidelines in WWII. They were dragged in, not of their own doing. There were vile enemies inflicting real damage, but it was far away and easy to dismiss. When those bombers hit our ships in Hawaii, those enemies had brought their evil to our land. It was a foregone conclusion to most in the government that we would have to get involved, and that probably was true of many citizens as well. But we were AMERICA. We set the rules - we entered the war when we wanted. And then all the sudden our hand was forced, our boys were wounded, and our safety was gone.

The JFK assassination was just as shocking. There have only been four Presidential assassinations in US history. We had not seen that happen since 1899. Out of nowhere, this young President was taken away. JFK had resonated with so many people. If you liked his politics or not, you had to admit he was certainly a charismatic leader. And more importantly, he was OUR president. No matter how much an American hates a President, I doubt you would find too many who would laugh if he were killed in office. Once again, the innocence, trust, and safety was torn away. No one knew who was behind the killing. They were just stunned.

When the Challenger blew up, I was in my sixth grade social studies class. The class clown had gone to the clinic for some reason. He came back in the door and told us the Challenger had blown up. "That's not funny Damien." (Yes, his real name was Damien.) He kept insisting he wasn't kidding. We all just kind of sat stunned, with the teacher wondering if that was the one with the teacher on it. Shuttle launches had become so common by then. People hardly took notice. That was why NASA had started doing stuff like the teacher in space (in my opinion). Again, the last space related accident was in the sixties. And this was the new improved space program. It just didn't make sense for that to happen. Our sixth grade trip was to Cape Kennedy that year - in April I think. They still had the place off kilter. I remember on the tour they told us that normally we would be able to see one area, but it was restricted due to the investigation of the wreckage.

When a nation goes through events like that it takes away so much. America learned after Pearl Harbor that it was not safe from the events around them. It learned after JFK that our public officials are not safe all the time either. It learned after the Challenger that space travel is indeed dangerous (which is why there wasn't the same shock after the Columbia disaster). I think that 9/11 was so devastating because it tore away even more of the innocence and trust and safety. But this time it was from a faceless enemy. There was no war. No person of note was the target. This wasn't some adventurous frontier with a knowing risk factor.

This was a cowardly attack on innocent people. This was targeting symbols of America's success - the Twin Towers that we used as icons of NYC and the country. But it also took away our trust in our air travel. They used our own planes against us. In one horrendous act, we lost our safety in the air and in our big cities - and really in our lives. Who is to say when they will strike again? We kept hearing the terror alerts get raised. There were attacks in Japan and Spain and London and Bali. I live in Orlando, and I know there is always a fear about something happening at Disney. I am sure that this is how the nation felt after Pearl Harbor as well. I just know that for my own life, it was so shocking and distressing - and in many ways it still is. I still get choked up when I see the adjusted NYC skyline. I'm still not ready to watch films and documentaries - the wound is too raw. It didn't just affect New York - it shook the entire country in so many areas that it will never be the same. It can't be. Whether or not the new America that emerged is better or worse will take far more than five years to determine.

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about my personal experience with 9/11 - and the hope we found in a little boy. I know that I'm not an expert at all. But that is what made 9/11 so powerful - you don't have to be a big shot to have thoughts about it.

Sep 8, 2006

Can't Figure

There are some things that I cannot figure out. I try and I try, but I just can't do it. Here are just a few.

1. Why does Subway ration napkins like they are a 1980s Soviet bread line? Yet they have their cups just sitting there in front of the register for you to take on the honor system. Are the napkins that valuable? I can honestly say, they are the ONLY fast food place to ration napkins. I go to Taco Bell and order one taco and get 10 hot sauce packets and enough napkins to paper my living room. Maybe Subway wants to control how many people see that nutritional information they have printed on them. I have no idea. Today, my daughter's PullUp (copyright Huggies Corporation of America - - this blog is in no way endorsed by Huggies or the Huggies brands) leaked. On the floor at Subway. I asked the Coldplay wannabe behind the counter for napkins to clean said weewee up. He gave me attitude. I can understand you only wanting to give me two napkins for my sub, but not wanting to hand them out to clean up urine? Geez.

2. Why do mainstream restaurants insist on creating bizarre menu items and then act stunned when they lose business? I can understand if Emeril or Bobby Flay come up with some bizarre, off the wall recipe. That is like an artist going through their abstract phase. ("I call it Visualize Whirled Peas." "But Emeril, there are no peas in it. It's just garlic and essence." "Yes, you must visualize the peas.") But there is no excuse for TGI Fridays to start tossing around freaky menu items. They are TGI Fridays! You should visit their website. Sicilian Quesadillas? Fried Green Beans? What? Like frying a green bean is going to get anyone to order it. The people who would ordinarily order green beans as an item are not the type who want them fried. The people who need everything fried (me) still wouldn't go near them. Especially with a "cool" wasabi dip. How do you make wasabi cool? I thought its entire selling point was it would burn your tongue out.

3. Why does anyone act shocked when a track and field star tests positive for steroids? I'm at the point where I'm stunned when a record stands. Same with cycling.

4. Why did everyone think it was such a big deal when Katie Couric took over the CBS Evening News? Could there be a less relevant television move? Yes, it disrupted the morning show horizon. But, honestly, how many people watch the evening national news any more? I haven't watched it in years. That's what the internet is for, right? By the time 6:30 rolls around, I have already seen the Breaking News email alert, read the story, read the story revisions, read several commentaries on the story, and moved on.

5. Why is it that we think celebrities are such a "big deal?" Why should we care what Tom and Katie's alleged child looks like? Why should we care if Lindsay Lohan is engaged? Why should we care who Kate Hudson is dating? Why should we care if Brad ever marries Angelina? Yet there is an entire industry based on the fact we do care. I don't care that much about people who work with me, but I will check a website several times to see if the Federlines had their second kid. Well, not me, other people.

6. Why is it in cartoons now, parents are slowly being eliminated? Having two little kids, I see a TON of cartoons. And I have gotten disturbed by the number that do not have parental figures. It used to be that there were nannies or parents, but they would leave the scene and fun things would happen. But now, they don't exist. Max and Ruby are two bunnies - ages 9 and 4 maybe - who just go on their merry way without any supervision. There are adults on the show - and they have a grandmother who shows up from time to time. But they cook, go to bed, play, go shopping all by themselves. Little Einsteins is even worse. The kids there have a rocket and go all over the world and the galaxy alone. We never even see an adult in that show. You could say the same thing about Charlie and Lola, Backyardigans, Lazy Town, Clifford, and Dragon Tales. Yes, there are shows with parents (Higglytown Heroes, JoJo's Circus, Little Bear, Franklin). But more and more are just completely cutting out adults. Strawberry Shortcake is the worst. There are these kids everywhere who live completely by themselves, run heavy machinery, use the oven, go traveling. What is that teaching our kids? No really, I'm not sure. I feel hypersensitive - but there is a nagging feeling there.

Those are some of the things I can't figure out. I'm sure I'll give more later. Check back next week. I will have some thoughts on the 9/11 anniversary.

Sep 7, 2006


So I haven't posted in nearly a month. I'm not really sure why. The last post I had was about Mel Gibson - and from the heated uproar caused by my thoughts (oh wait, no uproar, no comments).....

I guess I'm at the point where I need to decide which direction this blog needs to go. There are several directions I have identified. I could go the hyper-cynical route and point out all the problems I see around me. I could offer meaningless commentaries on things that have no long-term bearing. I could even try to toss up deep theological dissertations. There also is the commenting on every sports item on A similar route would be doing the same thing as the sports, but with movies. I have done all of those things at some point - although I try to stay away from too much useless stuff. I have consciously tried to minimize the religious commentaries - partly because of my job, partly because I want to make sure my opinions would only point people to Jesus (and honestly, I don't know if they would). I guess I'm just a crossroads. I'll get over it soon. Until then....

I can't stand the fact that Disney continues to put out sequels to their animated films. My kids are really into the animated film genre now. And as a result, I have had the extreme misfortune of seeing such films as Cinderella II and The Little Mermaid II and Beauty and the Beast III. Here's the problem. These films capitalized on the whole "Happily Ever After" concept. Cinderella hooks up with the Prince (who she hasn't known for more than a day) and everything ends great. Ariel hooks up with Prince Eric and becomes a human. But then we come back for a sequel, and the whole possibility of everything working out great gets shattered. We had to watch Little Mermaid 2 the other day. Good night, that film is terrible. Ariel goes from being this confident girl that gets everything she wanted to being a scared lady that won't even let her daughter near the water. So, instead of Happily Ever After, we actually have severe mental issues.

I guess that is the problem with a sequel period. We love the characters and the way things work out, and then we come back and everything has changed. Instead of being happy with the person and job and setting they tried so hard to attain, they have a bunch of squat nothing. I know that is a necessity, because it would be really boring watching Cinderella II and having everyone sit around happy and satisfied. But I think this trend is more than just a marketing ploy. It is also a testimony of how cynical we have become. There is no way that Disney would have put out these sequels. It is not because he was above wanting money. It was because he protected the concept of the happy ending so much. That was what Disney was founded on. There was a film (and even a theme park or five) where this happiness was reachable. And that all gets ripped away in these meaningless sequels. The shame is that nowadays, you can't even really enjoy a film and let it go. You know that in a year or two someone is going to put out a sequel that tears down everything that first film established.

See, this is the commenting about meaningless junk option. I hope it thrilled you no end. Maybe I'll be bitter about something more important next time.