Category: Uncategorized

Goodbye, Uncle Bob

Today, I’m thinking about my (Great-)Uncle Bob, who passed away yesterday morning. He gave me many great memories, mostly food-related. Thanksgivings at his house were awesome, and those amazing, huge 4 a.m. hunting-day breakfasts will always bear his name. He gave me my first vehicle (a pickup truck, of course) and my favorite cookbook. I’ll never forget his voice and his thick Louisiana accent. God rest your soul, Uncle Bob, and may He bring you into His Kingdom to see Aunt Noni again, among rejoicing angels.


A Pirate’s Life for Me

Sorry it’s been so quiet around here lately; life gets in the way. I was writing a comment on a facebook link that my friend Brian Jacobs shared, and I realized it had turned into a blog post. So I decided to simply post it here.

Brian’s link was this video interview with Neil Gaiman:

I totally agree from a producer standpoint. Japanese manga/anime publishers had this attitude for many years (though I hear it’s changing now): we will allow fansubs (fan-produced translations) of our work because it’s free publicity. More people are being exposed to our content, and many of them are going to want to buy the authentic version (whether for better image/sound quality, original language, or whatever).

On the other hand, Neil Gaiman can afford to give away free books for a month. Those of us with smaller names have to be more strategic and creative.

Now, from a consumer standpoint, I value the artist’s work and want said artist to produce more. The best way to ensure that is to pay the artist. It’s a little more complicated when agents and publishers and government all have to get their piece, but the core is that I, as a consumer, want to pay the artist. This principle is held by most people, and that is why free (or pirated) products drive sales.

The flipside of the principle is that, since I value the artist’s work, I want others to value it. I want to share it. No one has a problem with this sharing if it involves a physical object, like a book. I have paid for the book, and it is, thus, my property. I can share it if I wish. The problem arises when I want to transfer the work by any other means. For example, if I legitimately acquire and then make a photocopy of the script for a Broadway show, that’s a problem. The content is not my property; the form is my property. The content, ultimately, belongs to its creator. [Wow, there could be a pretty deep theological discussion in here.]

But what if the creator has not made a way for me to legitimately acquire and share the content? Well, personally, I’d say I’m not at liberty to share that content, at least not beyond a certain point (“fair use” comes into play here). But there are people who, finding the content unavailable, will find a means to make it available. You want this physical book as an eBook? Just scan the pages, save them as a PDF, and open the file on an eReader. Sure, it’s poor quality, but it beats nothing, right? I disagree, but some people think this way.

So what’s the bottom line here? As a content creator, it’s my obligation to make sure my work gets out to consumers in any form they want. As a publisher, I’m responsible to both the creators and the consumers to make sure this happens (and I’ve actually not been doing very well on this front). And as a consumer, it’s my responsibility to let creators know what form I want, to promote them if I can, and to ensure that I always place the proper value on their work.

The Digital Future

For several weeks, I’ve been reading through an online conversation between authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath.  It’s incredibly long (hence the several weeks reading it) and some bits are not worth reading, but for the most part, it’s very insightful.  The premise for the conversation is that Eisler, a successful author, just turned down a $500,000 contract with a legacy publisher (one of those big-name, traditional, advance-against-royalty-paying companies) in order to self-publish his books.  Konrath is a talented young author who has made a fortune by self-publishing.

They make some very sound points, though there are some holes—specifically, their knowledge of baseball history, according to Mike Shatzkin.  Shatzkin also points out how Amazon-centric the conversation is; the authors don’t mention the wide variety of self-publishing services available.  On the other hand, if Amazon’s CreateSpace is what Konrath used to become hugely successful, would you expect him to worry about any other services?

So I wanted to add my two cents.  Here’s my big idea: No one is sure what the future holds, but everyone can see some probabilities.  For example, Konrath states what seems to be a high probability when he says, “Paper won’t disappear, but that’s not the point. The point is, paper will become a niche while digital will become the norm.”  I think it’s true, and it’s probably the direction that the publishing side of my company will be headed in the next two years.

Here’s where I think Konrath is a bit short-sighted (not that it matters much to him, since he’s made a killing already).  He says that one point in favor of digital publishing is that

virtual shelf life is forever. In a bookstore, you have anywhere form a few weeks to a few months to sell your title, and then it gets returned. This is a big waste of money, and no incentive at all for the bookseller to move the book.

But ebooks are forever. Once they’re live, they will sell for decades. Someday, long after I’m gone, my grandchildren will be getting my royalties.

He’s spot-on about the no incentives for booksellers bit.  But eBooks will not be “forever” for long.  Again, I don’t know this for a fact, but it seems consistent with past trends.  I’m predicting that within the next year or two, Amazon will roll out a maintenance fee for every title in its virtual store.  Why?  Why not? They’ve done all they could to become the top dog in bookselling, they do everything they can to get their cut from publishers, they essentially tried to buy up the entire eBook market a year ago, so why wouldn’t they start taking a bigger cut than they already do from authors?

Konrath’s books may sell for decades, but his grandkids will have to fork over a significant cut to get those royalties.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only player in the game, and authors will probably be able to cut some sweet deals with other booksellers for a while.  But once everyone else sees how Amazon plays the game, I’m guessing they’ll want a piece of the action as well.

We’ll see in a few years if I’m right or not, but one thing is certain: things aren’t going to stay the same as they are now.

A friend of mine posted the following on facebook yesterday:

“Women are not the weak, frail little flowers that they are advertised. There has never been anything invented yet, including war, that a man would enter into, that a woman wouldn’t, too.”
History is Herstory too!
Happy International Women’s Day!!

Putting objections to grammar aside, I still felt a rage welling up in me.  Every time I read this, I feel a new anger because Satan has so filled this world with lies that even Christians believe the lies without even realizing it!

OK, you probably think I’m some Chauvinist bigot.  You certainly think I’m over-reacting.  “I mean, come on,” you say, “all it’s saying is that women are strong and important.  What’s wrong with that?”  Nothing is wrong with saying women are strong and important; they certainly are, and I’d be the first to admit it.  In fact, I commented on this post that “there has never been anything weak or frail about being feminine.”  But that’s not what this quote is saying.  Look closer.

This quote is claiming to celebrate women while simultaneously telling women to become men.

It’s possible that this quote strikes such a chord with me right now because I’m reading Wild at Heart and finding so much truth in it.  But I think I would feel the same way if I weren’t.  (I’d just have less ammunition for this post.)  What is wrong with a woman being a woman?  Why does a woman need to be a man?  After all, isn’t Woman the crown of creation?  I mean, God kept making creation better and better—land is nice, but plants on the land is nicer; a fish is great, but it can’t compare to a horse—and Woman was the pinnacle.  Man was “not good” without her.  So why would she want to become less than she is?

Don’t get me wrong: men are great, and I quite enjoy being one.  It is no small thing to genuinely be a man, especially in a world full of boys and guys.  But women are a different sort of greatness.  And why is that bad?  Why should a woman need to be a man?  I would argue that any man who really loves a woman loves her because she is not a man.

Take my relationships as an example.  I love my mentor.  Ryan is a man’s man—a solid and steady figure who seems more at home on a mountain than on the couch.  He is a hunter who has killed animals—with a gun or a bow—that I’ve never heard of.  He works hard at a job I don’t know that I could do, deeply loves his wife, and to his four children, he seems to be a better father than any man I’ve ever known.  [Having just written and not reorganized the preceding sentences, I am amazed at the levels of priority imposed by my subconscious mind.  I wonder if a woman would have used the same order.]  He’s the kind of man I want to be someday.  I enjoy spending time with him, hunting, playing cards, debating theology, or just talking.  But I’d go nuts if I were around him every day.  Life would seem like a constant competition, and I’d never be able to measure up.

My wife, on the other hand, makes me feel at home—she is my home.  I don’t have to compete around her.  She makes me feel like I am the kind of man I want to be, and she inspires me to strive to be even better.  She is the very essence of femininity—beauty, grace, and mystery.  I love being around her because I don’t understand her; she is so wonderfully different.  She captivates my eyes, my heart, my very soul.

And anyone who thought her weak or frail would get flayed alive.

Around her, I know I am strong because I have to be strong to guide her strength.  Like Beatrice, she says, “He who is less than a man, I am not for him.”  She makes me feel like I could take on a grizzly, barehanded, and win.  Why?  Because if a grizzly threatened her, I would.  I’m not saying she can’t fight if she needs to; I’m saying she doesn’t need to.

This world has bought into the lie that to be a woman is to be weak.  The truth is that women are strong.  Women have a strength that men can never understand.  “You’re going to bring up childbirth, aren’t you?” you ask.  Yes, I am, but only because it is the most visible example of this strength.  Again, I’ll use my wife as an example.  When we have children, she will carry each one inside her—a literal part of her—for the better part of a year.  Then, each child will be removed, torn away from her, leaving her with excruciating pain (even with modern medicine).  Men, imagine your left arm just decided it was time to come off, and other people were standing around, pulling on it, shouting encouragement to it—this is how I imagine childbirth feels.  Oh, it gets better.  After they’re out, she’ll be subjected to constant frustration, anxiety, and hurt because she loves them so much and they keep turning away [parallels to God are deliberate; He did it, not me].  For nearly twenty years, each child will be ripped farther and farther away from her, and then they’ll move out and have lives of their own and maybe have enough time to call her on occasion.  (Right, Mom?)

Now, you might say that fathers have to participate in most of that, and you’d be right.  But fathers have an advantage (if it can be called that) in that they will never have as deep an emotional connection with the children because they never had that intense physical connection; they will never hurt as deeply as mothers.  Consequently, men will never be able to bear as much hurt, as much pain, as women do.  The irony is that it is a man’s natural desire to prevent a woman from having to feel pain.  Like I said, she can fight, but she doesn’t need to.

The word womanly never means weak except when it is applied to a man, and then most every man can look at the situation and know something isn’t right.  Likewise, the concept of a manly woman inspires revulsion, or at least comedy (look at Starla in Napoleon Dynamite).

This post is growing obscenely long, and I know you stopped reading about seven paragraphs ago.  Yet I must go on because I have yet another point to make.  The above quote (the one that started this whole rant) brought up the topic of war.  Allow me to refresh your memory:

“There has never been anything invented yet, including war, that a man would enter into, that a woman wouldn’t, too.”

What’s wrong with this statement?  Surely, women have proven that they are just as capable at soldiering as men.  Indeed, they may be.  I don’t have any statistics, but it is undeniable that many women have and do serve in the armed forces (in the U.S.A., anyway).  For all I know, those women are great soldiers.  But my point is twofold: female warriors are not the norm and, more importantly, war is not something to be desired.

First, let’s take a look at history’s female warriors.  The Greeks had Athena (more famed for wisdom than war; and anyway, sprung full-grown from the mind of Zeus, and so, I suppose, the ideal any manly woman could aspire to).  The Norse had Valkyries.  There was the Anglo-Saxon Queen Boadicea.  And then there were the Amazons.  (You’ll note that most of these are at least half-mythical.)  Now, I’m sure I’m missing a few because I never was a great student of history, but I’d have to be missing an awful lot if this list were to compare with the number of male warriors.  I could say the same about the comparison of female to male rulers.  You might argue that women throughout history have been oppressed.  And I would say that’s a different topic.  We’re talking about occupations, not status.  But occupation can be an indication of power or status, true.  So let me point out that in many of the world’s cultures—take Rome, for example, with almost exclusively male rulers and warriors—women became merchants and priestesses, both of which are certainly positions of status and power.  I don’t think the “oppressed” argument holds water.

While an individual woman might choose to fight, it seems that the majority of women do not.  And why should they?  War is an awful, frightening business, as any soldier can tell you.  I don’t know of any man who has actually experienced war who is eager to experience it again.  It is not a thing to be desired, as that quote suggests.  Of course, men do “enter into” war.  They go because they must.  They go to protect their nations, their homes, their families.  They go because they need to.

[Here’s where the Eldrige influence really shows up.] Conflict, struggle, and competition are part of a man’s nature.  Look at the games that boys play.  Almost every boy, at some point in his childhood, wants to be dangerous.  He wants to wrestle with Dad.  He wants to climb the tallest tree he can find.  He would love to get a sword, a six-shooter, or a BB gun for Christmas.  Even in video games, he prefers the shooters, fighters, and adventures.  Those manly desires can be corrupted, beaten out of us, or buried (as in my case) by the world, particularly by the male role models in our lives.  But the point is, they exist.

I won’t give the specifics of my story, but I will say that I chose to bury my manly desires because my parents’ relationship took a turn for the worse when I was very young.  I still remember the night it happened.  But I knew deep down that if my dad was a man, that was not what I wanted to be.  So I hid, and I learned to enjoy playing House and to hate P.E.  I stopped taking my younger brother on adventures through the “jungle” in the corner of our yard, and I started having adventures only in my head, assisted by books and video games.  [Wow.  I’d honestly never made this connection before writing it here.  This is heavy.]

[After some time to process the last paragraph]  Though I had buried my desires, I have discovered them again.  But it took a long time growing in my faith before I found them.  And it is that process—the finding after growing in the Lord—that truly convinces me that a difference, a fundamental and good difference between being a woman and being a man.  To come back to my point, war is not a thing a man fights because he wants to.  A woman may choose to go to war.  A man goes to war because if it exists, he needs to fight it.

As a final parting shot:

So God created man in His own image . . . male and female He created them. ~Genesis 1:27

If God made a distinction, it’s probably important.

Drunk in the Spirit

I’ve been wrestling with musical worship styles lately.  I find it somewhat odd that I’ve been getting hung up on that issue, when–taking this morning’s Bible study for instance–I’m able to accept and embrace the predestination/free will conflict as a paradox and move on.  But I guess it just goes to show me how God has made each of us differently, with different questions and different needs for answers.

So, as background for this topic, here are the facts:

  • My church presents a very contemporary musical worship style.
  • My preference is for a more traditional style.
  • I love my church and support the leaders in their decisions; ergo, I don’t generally make waves about my preferences.

That being said, many little things about our worship style and particular songs have irked me in the past couple of months.  Unfortunately, I had gotten into the habit of storing up these little annoyances.  This storage left me with an ironic attitude in every worship service, which meant that I was unable to worship honestly.

God has changed that now.

Toward the end of last week, I began making a list in my head of all the little things that bugged me about our worship style and songs.  I wasn’t sure why I did it at the time.  Spelling and punctuation on Powerpoint slides, grammatical errors in songs, lyrical changes to hymns, overpowering sound of instrumentation, seemingly endless repetition of words/lines, improper focus–all of it went on the list.

Then I burned it.

I started a (metaphorical) fire in my mind, and I burned the list on Saturday.  The list burned quickly, and along with it burned my right to be angry about trivial details.  (I don’t mean to say that some of those issues aren’t important; they are just not as important as truthfully worshiping God.)

Then, also on Saturday, I was practicing to play bass with the worship band Sunday morning.  I was having trouble with a song and played through it with a CD a number of times.  As I played, my brain started getting fuzzy, and I found it harder and harder to keep time with the music.  My fingers started responding sluggishly, so I played the wrong notes or the right notes too slowly.  And I started shaking–literally trembling.  I got to the end of the song, shaking so badly that I could hardly hit the Stop button, and I stood up, only to find that my knees were weak and wouldn’t support me.  I stumbled over to the bed and fell to my knees next to it, throwing off my sweater as I was overcome with warmth.  I could do nothing but thank God–and I wasn’t even coherent enough to know what for.

I believe my Charismatic/Pentecostal friends would call that experience being “drunk in the Spirit.”  It is something that has never happened to me before, and I’m not really sure what to do with it.  One thing I do know: God told me in that moment, in no uncertain terms, that the most important part of worship is focusing my heart on Him, and external things should not distract me from that.

So will I still be critical of bad lyrics and poorly made Powerpoints?  Of course.  As Christians, we should always strive to give God the very best in everything, to honestly bring Him glory.  After all, Christ calls us to perfection; excellence is the very least we can do.

But I won’t get bent out of shape about the places where we fall short.

One Year, One World

I saw a question today: if you had one year to change the world, what would you do?

It’s an interesting question but almost an irrelevant one.  After all, each of us, by our very existence, changes the world in immeasurable, uncountable ways every day.  And when we die, we continue to change the world (by our once having existed).  So my primary answer has to be: I would keep doing what I’m doing.  That’s obviously how I’ve been changing the world this year, so why not keep it up?  But, of course, that answer is boring, unmotivating, and uninformative.  So let’s see if we can do better.

If I had a year to change the world, what would I do?  Well, let’s assume that the only limit is on my effort, i.e., the world will not end in a year, I will simply be unable to change it directly any further.  Therefore, everything I’ve done in the year will still exist and be able to affect the world.  I’m sure several of you see where I’m going already.

Hmm.  One year isn’t much time to eliminate hunger or bring about world peace, at least not for little ol’ me.  Perhaps someone with more capital and influence could get it done.  I’ve got a couple good ideas for how I might start changing both, but even getting those ideas started would take more than a year.  Plus, anything I could bring about in these areas would only be temporary.  The world would sooner or later revert to its current state.  So we’re looking for something lasting.  Surely, you see where I’m going now.

If I had a year to change the world, I would write a book.  I would start with an idea–one simple enough to grasp in a sentence or two but complex enough to be worth writing several books.   But I would write only one because others would carry on my work and continue to write.  After my book was written–and assuming it could be published instantaneously (which we know never happens, right, Brian?)–after it was written, I would spend whatever time I had left in spreading my idea and getting my book into as many hands as possible.

That book, that idea, would outlast my year and continue to change the world.

So that’s one way.  What about you, dear Reader?  How would you change this beautiful, broken world of ours with your year?

Pure Joy, Huh?

What a day.  What a frustrating day.  I suppose I should have expected it.  After all, it couldn’t possibly be an easy day after beginning it by starting the book of James.  Seriously, could you even imagine reading James 1:2 (“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds”) and then not facing trials?

I’m failing God today, and that’s the most frustrating part.  As frustrating as the trials themselves are, they can’t compare to how frustrating it is to know how I ought to respond and then respond wrongly.  Even this blog post is a wrong response.  I’m full of anger, bitterness, worry, and trepidation, and I’ve got a little bit of depression to top it off.  Oh, and let’s not forget a liberal sprinkling of cynicism.

I suppose I’ve grown a little since I was twelve; back then, I’d have put my fist through a wall.  Come to think of it, I tried that in college, too–cinder block is a little tougher than Sheetrock.  “Some people gotta learn the hard way,” right?

I’m shamed to say that I’m frustrated with work; I love my job.  I mean, I get to help people make their dreams come true.  As Malcom Reynolds once said, “This job, I would do for free.”  (Actually…)  So I’m frustrated with work?  Isn’t everyone?  Doesn’t everyone at some point just get fed up and want to walk out?  Yeah, everyone does.  You know you get tired of it every now and then.  Especially when you have to do something that doesn’t relate one iota to the work you need to get done.

So why am I so special that I should never get frustrated?  I’m not.  And I know it.  That’s why I’m upset with myself: people have to deal with far worse every day, and they don’t complain about it a bit.  A coworker of mine has been assigned the same lousy task I have, and she hates it just as much.  But she’s working on it without complaint.   Yet here I am, screaming like I did in third grade: “It’s not fair!”  Maybe I haven’t grown.

Of course, there’s nothing so convicting as the Holy Spirit.  All kinds of verses have been popping into my head as I’ve been writing this, and they all focus on God turning our mourning into dancing.  And, while I’m still disappointed in myself, I know that (somehow) God still cares for me and wants to help me face these trials.

“And the Apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

“What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death? Praise be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

“Why are you downcast, O my soul, why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him–my Savior and my God.”

“I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.”

I failed in the trials today, but tomorrow is a clean slate.  Well, it looks like I’m out of chalk for now.

My Whine About Wine

Forgive me; I had to say it.

We waited to long to bottle our wine this year.  Last year, my wife and I made a great batch of blackberry wine, based on a recipe in The Encyclopedia of Creole and Cajun Cuisine.  It turned out great, even though we were a week overdue in bottling. The recipe says to wait six weeks, but we waited seven last year.

This year, we waited eight weeks (mostly because of forgetfulness and then convenience).  Alas! it is not as enjoyable.  Last year’s batch was more of a fruit punch taste; this year, there’s no doubt it’s wine–and closer to red wine, at that.  It will probably still make a decent punch or mulled wine when mixed with other things, but it’s less good to drink by itself.

Next year, we’re planning to try some interesting variations on the recipe (adding blackberry honey, aging in different containers, etc.), and those batches will hopefully turn out better.

I suppose the one really good thing about this year is that I finally got to check out the Brewing Supplies store in Bremerton.  It’s a cool place, and they carry all sorts of fun books, equipment, and products.  I bought a very sturdy corker (a device for pushing corks into wine bottles) that should last many years.  Let me know if you need to borrow it for your own wine.

A Life of Praise

A grateful heart I give,

A thankful prayer I pray,

A wild dance I dance before You.

When I woke up this morning, I just had to praise and thank God.  Well, OK, not exactly when I woke up.  I haven’t yet cultivated enough discipline to be grateful for anything at 4:30 in the morning.

But as I drove to my 5 a.m. Bible study–it’s not that early; besides, it’s the only time that everyone can make it–as I drove, I couldn’t help but thank God for His provision and His providing a way for us to give more.  Now that I write it, that sounds like I’m boasting or trying to be really “spiritual” in a holier-than-thou kind of way.  I really don’t mean it that way.

It’s just that my wife and I have been personally affected by the needs of others lately.  We see the real financial need at our church and in so many families around us, and it’s been breaking our hearts that we can’t do anything more about those needs.

My wife and I each lost our jobs in our first year of marriage, and it was pretty rough.  But God provided; we never even missed a bill payment.  Of course we worried at times.  Sure, we doubted occasionally.  But I remember, in the midst of everything, with tears streaming down our faces, we still joyfully sang:

Thank You for the trials, for the fire, for the pain.

Thank You for the strength, knowing You have ordained

Every day.

How much more, then, should we praise Him when it appears He is going to shower us with blessings!

In the midst of our need, we knew that the church would be there for us.  We knew that so many families around us would be there to help.  We were confident that, no matter what happened, we would not lack a place to sleep or food to eat.  It is such a humbling feeling to think that we may soon be able to help others in the same way.

Well, looks like I’m out of chalk for now.

Crime and Lenience, Part 2

*Well, I warned you that I’ve been less than faithful at keeping up blogs in the past.  Here I go again; a clean slate, indeed.

I looked through my last post, Crime and Lenience, Part 1, and I’m not too happy with it; I don’t think I really said what I wanted to, and certainly I didn’t say what I did in the best way I could have.  But oh well.

I’ve been wasting time over the last few months thinking about how to follow it up, and along the way, a couple of related topics popped up.  The last firing squad execution ever to be held in the U.S. (I believe that claim is accurate; look it up, and correct me if I’m wrong) was performed in Utah.  My own state, Washington, performed their own execution (a lethal injection), a very rare occurrence here.

These stories caused me to rethink my own views a bit.  Do I support the death penalty?  Would I be willing to fire the shot?

I still don’t feel that punishment is the most effective means of deterring crime, but it is somewhat effective–effective at getting people to obey the letter of the law, anyway.  After all, I may not be watching the road, but I’m certainly obeying the speed limit.  But as Kiran pointed out, punishment is not only a means of deterrence but also a means of satisfying our desire for justice.

Yet justice can’t really be done.  After all, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” as Gandhi said.  And killing a murderer, especially one who has killed multiple times, does nothing to heal the victims’ families.  If justice is about balancing the scales, one bad person’s death doesn’t equal one good person’s death.  The scales are still unbalanced.

But I still feel that the murderer deserves it.  For all that I’m for grace in most things (I love People of the Second Chance, by the way), there are some times that society cannot afford to give it.  I don’t know where that line is, but I know it exists, and if our society determined that someone had crossed it (which currently only happens in the most extreme cases), I could fire the shot.  And, sadly, I can’t think of a better system than we have set up in this country to determine when someone has crossed it. . . at least, not before the Second Coming.

Which brings me to the point I really wanted to hit: God is both merciful and just.  And God’s mercy and justice are both perfect.  God doesn’t make bad calls.  He gives the right verdict every time, and He can’t be bribed.  When the Lord returns, there will be no more debate; our incorruptible King will dispense both mercy and justice according to His will, and we will know that His ruling is perfect.

In conclusion, then, I’m hoping that I won’t have to worry about this question much longer.