Some Recent Books I'm Reading

I'm alone in Waco right now. My wife and kids are still in Houston; I'll rejoin them on Wednesday. I got a pretty big stack of books for Christmas this year, and that stack has been keeping me warm at night.

Most notably right now I'm getting into King's Gambit by Paul Hoffman (mentioned in my "Chess" post below), and The Reason for God by Tim Keller. As best I can tell, Keller's book focuses primarily on theodicy, explaining why a good God allows evil and sends people to hell, et cetera.

I'm also digging -- big time -- my copy of The Apostolic Fathers translated by Michael W. Holmes. The Apostolic Fathers is a collection of the earliest, non-canonical, extant Christian writings, circa 75 to 150 AD.

I need more hours in my day to read all of this stuff.


I'm a self-proclaimed chess fiend. Curiously, though, I've been in my new Bloo digs for almost a month now, and I haven't broached the chess subject. I hadn't even set up a category titled "chess," until now.

About two months ago some uncles and I played our semi-annual family chess tournament. For a month leading up the tournament I did nothing but study chess. I read about chess. I played chess online. I played chess on my PC. I thought about chess before going to bed. I lived in a chess cocoon. I even dropped all of my normal reading in favor of studying chess.

I rolled through the first two games of the tournament, dismantling two of my uncles with ease. My confidence was high, but I knew the big challenge would be my uncle Mark in the final round. When we squared off I was confident, but quickly my position deteriorated, and I ended up playing one of the worst games I played in years. To Mark's credit, he seized every available opportunity and tore me to shreds. I had nothing left to do but to lick my wounds.

Losing stinks. As Paul Hoffman says in King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game: "He [the loser] cannot rest until he discovers where he went awry. To this end, he goes over the game repeatedly, on the board, or in his head, mulling over lost opportunities."

Furthermore, as many chess masters have said throughout the centuries, chess is a microcosm of reality, a metaphor for life. To quote Hoffman again: "When I lose, I repeatedly remind myself that chess is only a game. Yet even that reminder doesn't stop me from replaying in my head not only the moves of the game where I went astray, but also the other things in my life that have gone wrong."

I haven't done much with chess since that loss a couple of months ago. I had invested so much mental energy in preparing for that tournament that I needed a break. Subsequently, I dropped my chess pieces and picked up my books; I read about all of my favorite topics, all except chess. Sure, I've nursed a few games on Thinklings Chess, but nothing more. No Chessmaster. No books. No Internet club play. Nothing.

Then Christmas came around, and, thanks to my Amazon Wish List, I received most of the books I requested, including the aforementioned Hoffman title and the quintessential chess instructional tome: How to Reassess Your Chess by Jeremy Silman. Silman's book is, I believe, the most sought-after chess tutorial in history (or at least close to it), and in the introduction Silman contends that the average player (like myself) will have to deconstruct everything he thinks he knows about the game. He says your game may actually devolve before it improves, because so many chess players learn the game by building a fragmented, faulty foundation -- a hodgepodge of knowledge that might work against patzers but doesn't do much for getting a player to the next level of play. Silman even goes so far as to claim that the average player who submits to his tutelage will have no problem achieving a master ranking a few years down the road. So I'm officially a Silman student, and once again I find myself fiending for the game; it's like a drug, a transient addiction.

After a big loss it's not uncommon for a player to go into hiding, or, at the very least, to be completely disinterested in the game for a period of time. The real players, though, always come back to the 64 squares.

I'm back.

Merry Christmas

I couldn't leave a gangster post front-and-center through the holidays, so I thought I'd post this to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas.

My family and I will be heading to Houston. My dad told me on email yesterday that this is the time of year we look forward to all year long, and he's right about that.

Merry Christmas.

Best Gangster Movie Ever

I'm watching a bit of The Godfather as I put some photos together in frames. Man, that movie is awesome.


Now that there's a deadline on the horizon for U2's forthcoming studio release, No Line on the Horizon, I've often caught myself thinking back to a warm October night in 2005 when me, my brother, my sister, and three of our friends saw U2 live at the Toyota Center in Houston.

The night was extra special because were able to be on the front row, about five feet or so from The Edge throughout the entire concert. As my brother said when it was all over, "It was like U2 played a private concert for us." Yes, it felt just like that.

With the exception of a my personal salvation, my wedding and vows renewal with my wife, and the births of our three children, that evening was, without a doubt, the most profound and enjoyable life experience I've ever had.

I'm thinking about trying to write some more about that night with the idea that I might post it on Thinklings, but for now I'm just happy basking in the warm memories.

Above all, that night was a spiritual experience, especially the last half hour or so of the concert. I'll never forget the grace poured out that evening.

The more you know the less you feel
Some pray for others steal
Blessings not just for the ones who kneel ... luckily
-- U2, from "City of Blinding Lights"

My Current Meager Thoughts ...

... on the Eucharist:

-- If it's not the literal Body and Blood, it better be treated like it is, at least upon reception, if not consecration.

-- I'm leaning toward the Lutheran understanding of the elements; namely, that the Body and Blood of our Lord is "in, with, and under" the elements of communion.

-- It's a profound mystery, and, I think, even a Roman Catholic would admit that a scientific scan of the contents of your post-communion stomach would not show human flesh and human blood, but still, those elements are present, because He said so.

-- JESUS said, "This is My body." But He also said, "This is the New Covenant in My blood." I don't think the New Covenant was inside of the cup he passed around. That's just something to think about.

-- Many Protestant churches could learn a thing or two from the Lutherans (who are fellow Protestants) and Catholics.

Christmas Haiku

A Savior is born
Yahweh, He is salvation
Light of the world, shines

And The Winner Is ...

Here's our kids' annual holiday photo:


After about 300 frames, I think we got a winner. :-)

It's Time For My Church To Step Up

A good friend of ours, Debbie, was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer yesterday. Debbie and her husband, Kyle, have small children and a start-up business, which, unfortunately, means they don't have health insurance.

One our our mutual friends sent an email yesterday asking for prayers for their financial situation. They have surgeries and treatment coming up that will cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. Ironically, just two weeks ago I bumped into Kyle at Walmart -- he was working there. He had been on the job for three days, working as a cashier, because they needed some extra cash in their monthly budget.

My opinion is that their financial struggles are now an issue that Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas have to deal with. Kyle and Debbie shouldn't have to worry about finding several thousand dollars for medical procedures -- those worries should be the last thing on their minds.

By all measurable standards Antioch is rich. Sure, we're in a poor neighborhood, but that's by choice. Sure, we're not extravagant, and even downright pragmatic, but that's by conviction. The money for Kyle and Debbie should not be an issue right now, especially when you fellowship within a wealthy church that happens to exist in the wealthiest nation in human history.

I'm sure we're going to do the right thing.

Blah Blah Blah

Hopefully this weekend I'll find some time to mess around with my shiny new Bloo blog and make a few changes. For example, I need to update my reading list. I finished The Kite Runner about six days ago, and, of course, I've got about a million other books I'm currently into.

"Those little girls are a pest ..."

How the screaming changes when the meaning hits your ears
-- King's X

The unfortunate, and sometimes downright ingenious, thing about U2 is that their song titles often look ridiculous on the surface, until you understand what the song is actually about.

A case in point would be "Mofo" from the Pop album. I remember, circa 1996, hearing from my brother about the title of the song and thinking it was a little weird. Then 11/28/97 came around, and Brandi and I saw U2 at the Astrodome during the Popmart tour. I'll never forget that funky bass/guitar intro thing going on as Bono took the stage dressed as a heavy weight fighter while belting out the opening lyrics to "Mofo":

lookin' for to save my save my soul
lookin' in the places where no flowers grow
lookin' for to fill that GOD shaped hole

mother mother sucking rock and roll

My opinion of "Mofo" changed that evening. I also recall later reading an interview where Bono said something like if he had ever put his whole life into a song, it was "Mofo." The song is obviously about his mother, who died when he was a boy, and his attempts to fill the void left in his life after her death. Yes, the screaming changed when the meaning hit my ears.

Another example from the same album would be "The Playboy Mansion," which is, essentially, a song about materialism, and not a salutation to the licentious residence of ill repute.

Anyway, the point of this post was to point to a song Bono wrote for his then-prego wife, Ali: "Big Girls Are Best." Now that Brandi is with child, I chuckle every time I listen to this line:

She's elliptical, also political
Also spiritual, not superficial
Yeah, she's tropical
Yes, she's illogical
Those little girls are a pest
Big girls are the best

Brandi's pregnancy is showing a little bit, but the "big girl" phase is just around the corner. That's always a fun time, especially when you can feel the baby swirling around inside there by putting your hand on her stomach.

Yeah, she's tropical. Yes, she's illogical ...

A Bit More Than 12 Ounces

Meeting vendors is always a bittersweet thing for me. On the one hand, they always want to take me to lunch, and they usually spare no expense, so that typically translates into a pretty darn good free meal. On the other hand getting the free meal means sitting for 30 to 45 minutes with some guy I don't really know, trying to make small talk or talk endlessly about business. In the interest of being cordial, I usually take vendors up on their offer to "grab lunch." Today was such a day.

The owner of a box company bought me lunch at a local steak house this afternoon. When I first met the dude I made a few initial judgments about him and quickly decided that he wasn't a believer or if he was one he's probably just a Sunday morning type Christian. (Yes, I can be that much of a jerk when I'm evaluating people upon first glance. God help me. Seriously.)

Long story short, the guy asked me about God and church first, and we proceeded to get into an unbelievable conversation about faith, family, and walking with God through the business world we both live in. The guy was completely humble and laid his heart out there for me to see, and I tried to return the favor by sharing a large part of my testimony and telling him what God's been doing in my life recently.

It was great. I walked away with two things: 1) A full belly thanks to the 12-ounce sirloin I consumed, and 2) a certain sadness in my heart because the conversation couldn't go longer.


We just had some friends over for coffee. They're an older couple who do a home church thing. I guess they got burned out a few years ago on denominationalism.

Anyway, we always have awesome theological discussions with these folks, mainly because a) they don't mind talking theology, and b) they don't think they're right about everything, so it's easy to disagree with them without hurting their feelings.

Tonight one of the topics of conversation revolved around what makes a person a Christian. Is it merely belief in a historical JESUS? Is it belief and repentance? Is it mental assent to a set of doctrines?

Anyway, I'd write more, but it's past my bed time.

I Did It

There's a popular Christian blogger out there who everyone reads, at least it seems that way. I've had this guy on my blog reader for months now, maybe even a couple of years. Before I started using a reader, I would frequent his blog directly, and once in a blue moon I'd actually see a post that sort of grabbed my attention.

Finally, today, I did it. I took the guy off of my reader. I'm sure I'll drop by his blog from time to time, but I won't be reading his blog with any real frequency. Despite some interesting content from time to time, I don't usually have the patience to wade through his blogging style. He's link happy. He uses italics like a fiend. And he has an annoying habit of misusing dashes. Those infractions, along with many other minor issues, all work to make reading his blog feel like, well, work. When reading turns into work, it's no longer a joy for me.

Don't get me wrong, this guy's a great believer and he encourages hundreds (if not thousands), but he's a great believer who's out of my hair. I'm free!

I love the blogosphere.

That Special Book

I've got more Bibles than I can count, and, much to Jack T. Chick's chagrin, I've got multiple translations.

My primary Bible is a genuine leather NKJV New Geneva Study Bible. The Thinklings might recall an email exchange, circa 1999, when we discussed the purchase of Bibles and all that goes along with such an endeavor. The end result was me purchasing the Bible I use today.

I like the feel of the genuine leather in my hands (as opposed to the ubiquitous bonded leather). I like the familiarity of knowing where all of my favorite passages are, and accessing them with the flick of a wrist.

Even during the height of my rebellion, I always read scripture. The inspired word always resonated with me, convicted me, wooed me. I often think how fortunate we are that most of us can read, and that Bibles (at least in America) are cheap and universal.

I imagine I'll start looking to replace my primary Bible when it's about ten years old, and that'll be in about two years. My plan is to use a Bible for about ten years, pack it away somewhere, and then, one day, give it to one of my kids or grandchildren.

(A few words of advice, if you're looking to have a Bible that'll last for years, you'll want to buy a genuine leather Bible, not a bonded leather Bible. Something like calfskin leather might even be better. Also, the leather stays oiled by frequent use. The oils in your hand keep the leather of your Bible nice and hydrated. If you store a genuine leather Bible away, you might want to break it out every six months or so and oil it up with some sort of leather lotion.)

Sola scriptura.

Out With The Old, In With The Bloo

My good friend and fellow Thinkling, Bill Roberts, developed Bloo a few years ago, and I figured it was time for me to lose Blogger in favor of Bloo. I already use Bloo frequently at Thinklings, and at a couple of other blogs I partake in. Now my solo efforts will be completely powered by Bloo!

Welcome to the new Mind's Eye!

The old Mind's Eye is here.