Category Archives: Christianity

Taiwan Times – May Issue

A copy of Mark’s Newsletter.

The Taiwan Times – May Issue

Hello my friends! I hope and pray all is well with all of you. I know everyone is very busy, but I do appreciate you taking the time to read about God’s work being done here in Taiwan. To open this month’s newsletter I have a Bible verse for us to think about.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

As we are often busy in life with deadlines to meet or meetings to be had, we remember that God does not want us to be anxious about anything. He wants us to pray to Him and be thankful in everything. We can trust in Him and know that He gives us true peace that can only be found in Christ Jesus.

Nearing the End of the School Year

As I write this I cannot help but realize that it is already May (almost June) and this means that we are coming to a close of another school year. In fact, I only have five short weeks left before the Concordia takes summer break and I return home for a short visit. Looking back on the school year I see times of joy, trial, and growth. I would like to use this newsletter to share in depth a little more about my ministry to the students I teach, which is what I view as my most important ministry here in Taiwan.

My teaching assignment here in Taiwan is to teach Junior 1 and Senior 1 students. Junior 1 is the equivalent of 7th grade in the U.S. and Senior 1 is the equivalent of 10th grade. I see six classes of 7th graders one time a week for Bible class, and I see five classes of 10th graders twice a week (one time for writing class and one time for Bible class).

My students are an absolute joy teach, and both grade levels have very different teaching dynamics. In the 7th grade classes we started the year with a basic introduction to Jesus and God’s plan of love. After that we have been reading many Bible stories from the Old Testament, including David, Daniel, Moses, Abraham, and Joseph.

These lessons usually consist of some new vocabulary words, reading the Bible story written for students learning a second language, and then a game or activity to go along with the lesson. These students are usually quite enthusiastic and full of energy. A challenge of teaching this level has been the wide ranging levels of English. Some of my students can communicate really well and have a conversation, and others can barely read basic sentences from the Bible story. This can be frustrating and has brought challenges in engaging all of the students in the class. But all in all, teaching the 7th graders has brought some good relationships that will continue to grow into next year. It has also given me the opportunity of sharing Jesus with some of these students for the first time in their lives.

The joys and challenges of teaching 10th graders are much different from the 7th graders. I have a closer relationship with my 10th grade students because I see them twice a week. One of these classes is for writing class and one of these is for Bible class. Because of their higher English ability and more mature minds we are able to talk about deeper issues regarding faith, life, and God. This has its advantages and disadvantages. For one, these issues are very interesting to look at and learn about, and I am able to get deeper, more complex responses. At the same time many students in my classes do not believe in God and it can be frustrating having them in a mandatory Bible class in which they disagree with what is being taught or are apathetic toward the message of Christ.

While Bible class brings many highs and lows to my mission work being done here in Taiwan, today I would like to focus on the highs. It is such a great joy to know students who did not know Jesus before coming to Concordia, but now have faith in Christ. With the rest of this newsletter I would like to share something written by Bob, my tenth grade student.

He had to write an essay, about an important decision in his life. In his essay talked about his important decision to stay studying in Concordia. When he was a seventh grader, he did not like school at Concordia. He wrote, “I couldn’t understand what the English teachers said, I didn’t know how to write English homework, I didn’t want to hear the American teachers always (say) that God is love.” He was not sure he wanted to continue studying at the school.

While Bob felt this way in 7th grade, things changed for him in 8th grade. God had a plan. He described how he began to understand what the English teacher was saying, and it made him feel good. He also began to understand the Bible teacher, and began to feel that there was a God who loved him. Bob then began going to church and the weekly chapel at school. He wrote, “I felt that God is a living God, He knew what I need (ed).”
Now Bob is in one of my 10th grade classes. He knows about God and the love that He has for us in Jesus. Bob trusts that God has a plan for him. Praise God for Bob’s faith, and the opportunity to share God’s love here at Concordia Middle School.

It’s Prayer Time!

Here are the prayer requests. As always we lift these up according to the will of God, praying for Him to be glorified through everything.

1. Praise God for Bob and the faith that Bob has. Pray that God would bless him as he studies at Concordia and that God would help him to grow in faith.
2. Praise God for health. I know in an earlier newsletter I asked for prayers concerning health, and I have been really healthy this past semester, unlike the previous one. Thank God for the power of prayer.
3. Pray that God would grant me wisdom and discernment in all things, as I serve Him out here in Taiwan.
4. Pray for my continued learning of Chinese. I absolutely love learning the language. Thank God that I have been able to study and acquire parts of the language, but pray that I would be able to study more and improve even more.
5. Pray for all of my students that I teach. Pray that my actions and words would point towards the love of Jesus and that they would come to trust him. Pray especially for the following students. All of them are at different places concerning what he or she may or may not believe about Jesus but please pray for them that God would help give them faith. Henry, Sunnie, Michelle, Bryant, David, Alice, Nneia, and Lana.
6. Pray that God would continue to bring people to the mission field. Pray especially for Taiwan. We currently have two positions to teach at the Elementary level here at CMS.

Thank you all for your continued love, support, and prayers.

Mark

Taiwan Times – April Issue

Below is the text from Mark’s April Newsletter:

Greetings to all of you in the love our Christ our risen Lord. He is risen…He is risen indeed. I pray that all of you are having a blessed celebration of the resurrection of our Lord.

here’s a quick Chinese lesson to start this newsletter. In church this Sunday Pastor Lio greeted us with the Chinese equivalent of the famous Easter proclamation. (The following are the phonetic sounds for this phrase in Chinese)

Yeah Sue Sh Foo Hwoe luh…
Tah Sh Jen Duh Foo Hwoe luh

The literal translation of this is “Jesus is risen… He is really risen”

What a joy it is that Easter is celebrated all over the world, in many different languages, but all with the same message. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. He is risen indeed. We have new life and hope in His victory over death, sin, and the devil.

Cleansed by Water and Word

Easter is such a wonderful time. Everything from time with family, Easter eggs and Easter baskets filled with candy, to wonderful Easter hymns and of course the life-changing message of Easter. All of these make it a joyful holiday. Easter here in Taiwan is not at all like Easter in America. We do not sing all of my favorite traditional Easter hymns, nor do we see a lot of Easter treats (although Salvation Lutheran does give us all a hard-boiled Easter egg), and of course I am far away from family.

There is however one difference about being in Taiwan for Easter, that is better than my traditional view of what Easter should be. This is Easter baptisms. Last year two people were baptized at our church, and this year there were four people. While I do remember baptisms in my church, I can’t recall any happening on Easter. This addition to the Easter celebration makes it even more joyous than the hymns, candy, or anything else.

Each person who was baptized this year has a wonderful story of how God is working in his or her life. One is a teacher here at Concordia Middle School. Another is a friend of mine from church who I work with at the Saturday kid’s camp. The other two are students here at Concordia Middle School. I was especially excited about the two students who were baptized because they are former students of mine from last year. Jasmine and Grace are both currently 11th grade students here at Concordia Middle School, and I taught both of them English and Bible class last year in 10th grade.

It was extremely uplifting to see students come to trust Jesus for their salvation. It is easy to get discouraged while teaching Bible class, especially when students are cynical or disinterested. Sometimes it is hard to see God working in the lives of students. Grace and Jasmine are two examples of God’s Spirit working at work. To see these two girls publicly declare their faith and receive God’s blessings from baptism brought such joy to my heart. This is why I came to Taiwan to help people know more about the love of Jesus, especially my students. I am thankful to God that He keeps His promises and has brought these all of these people to faith.

It’s Prayer Time!

Here are the prayer requests. As always we lift these up according to the will of God, praying for Him to be glorified through everything.

1. Pray that God would be with all of those who were baptized this past Sunday at Salvation Lutheran Church. Pray that God would bless them, be with them, and keep them strong in their faith.
2. Pray for all of my students that I teach. Pray that my actions and words would point towards the love of Jesus and that they would come to trust him. Pray especially for the following students. All of them are at different places concerning what he or she may or may not believe about Jesus but please pray for them that God would help give them faith. Jacky, Sunnie, Michelle, Bryant, David, Angel, Nneia, and Lana.
3. Pray that God would continue to bring people to the mission field. That God would open doors for those who have a calling for mission work.

Thank you all for your continued love, support, and prayers.

Happy Easter,

Mark

I Liked This Joke Too . . .

A couple had two little boys, ages eight and ten, who were excessively mischievous.

The two were always getting into trouble and their parents could be confident that if any mischief occurred in their town, their two young sons were involved in some capacity. The parents were at their wit’s end as to what to do about their sons’ behavior.

The parents had heard that a clergyman in town had been successful in disciplining children in the past, so they contacted him, and he agreed to give it his best shot. He asked to see the boys individually, so the eight-year-old was sent to meet with him first. The clergyman sat the boy down and asked him sternly, “Where is God?”

The boy made no response, so the clergyman repeated the question in an even sterner tone, “Where is God?”

Again the boy made no attempt to answer, so the clergyman raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy’s face, “WHERE IS GOD?”

At that, the boy bolted from the room, ran directly home, and slammed himself in his closet. His older brother followed him into the closet and said, “What happened?”

The younger brother replied, “We are in BIG trouble this time. God is missing and they think we did it!”

Reflection on the Last Few Days (Part IV)

So we are to the denouement.

Let me say a little prayer.

“God, please let there be people out there that are reading this that know the definition of the term denouement because they have bothered to learn the English language and not because they were sitting around stoned watching “Clerks” last night. Amen.”

“Reflections on the Last Few Days” has what literati might consider a nonlinear time line.

Let me say another prayer.

“God, please let there be people out there that are reading this that know that Quentin Tarantino didn’t invent the nonlinear timeline in the movie “Pulp Fiction”, which isn’t even the first movie he made with a nonlinear timeline. Amen.”

So even though I concluded Part III with my Lenten Study Group on Tuesday night, I am going to move back in time to Tuesday’s lunch. To begin though, we are going to move a week further back then that.

I believe that it was a Wednesday at work. I went to Jesse’s office. Steve was sitting in there. I believe there was some kind of discussion about a particularly nasty customer. Jesse bribed Steve into calling this unhappy customer in exchange for buying him lunch on the morrow. Steve accepted the deal.

What Steve failed to realize is that the deal was struck under false pretenses. Jesse was not going to buy him lunch on the morrow. Nay! Jesse was going to be in the town known as “Mason” on a sales call. Therefore this lunch was rescheduled for an undetermined date in the future.

This worked out for me perfectly. You see Steve is the “Personal Climatologist” that I have yammered about in some of the past few entries. I had also bartered a deal with Steve. He agreed to watch the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” and give me his perspective on the movie. Although Steve’s day job is supporting the pre-eminent practice management software in the business, he has a degree from Iowa State University in meteorology. That makes Steve my go to guy in matters of Climatology.

He would be my go to guy in matters of weather, but frankly discussions about the weather couldn’t bore me more. In fact, if you ever catch me discussing the weather with you I probably find you to be an epically boring person and in reality I’m just counting down the seconds in my head until I can escape your presence.

Let me introduce you to Steve real quick. He is somewhere in the picture below. I hope you can find him.


Steve - Personal Climatologist

Steve has a background in studying this type of thing, so I am interested in his opinion. Way more than the person who tells me “I don’t need to see this movie to know it is all lies if Al Gore is in it. You know he thinks he invented the internet.” I’m not a fan of Al Gore, but it should be pointed out that of the many lies that he may have told in his life, he never claimed to have invented the internet. He only indicated that he supported legislation that helped create the modern internet. His congressional record bears that out. He did support and introduce legislation that helped create the modern internet. If you are going to hate a guy, hate him for things he actually did. Like evicting poor people out of the slums he owned after refusing to do the minimal repairs that were required to make their rental property livable. There is plenty of reason to hate this guy, why just make stuff up when the facts are already so good.

I’m also more interested in Steve’s opinion than the opinion of the guy at the office cooler that makes the “global warming joke” every time the weather gets cold. The underlying meaning of the joke being global warming doesn’t exist. The truth of the matter is that global warming is a fact. That debate is over. The only people still in denial are the people from the movie “Jesus Camp” and a couple of guys on talk radio. The only debate left for thinking humans is what effect humans have on global warming.

Honestly though that isn’t the reason I hate that joke. I hate that joke because it isn’t funny. It wasn’t funny the first time I heard it. It still isn’t funny the 1,000th time that I’ve heard it. I put it almost on par with my most hated joke of all-time.

You go to a party. There are a couple of people there that let their alcohol handle them more than they handle their alcohol. The words “Fruity beer!” might escape their inebriated lips on occasion. In this state their equilibrium is not working to its full capacity. They teeter a bit. Their fruity beer escapes the confines of their red solo cup.

From across the room some dolt with a severely underdeveloped sense of humor yells, “Hey! That’s alcohol abuse!”

The dolt looks at his kiss up chorus. They roll in laughter. High fives are dispensed. Jocularity ensues.

This incident repeats itself 10-15 more times during this party. The result is always the same.

I can understand why this joke is borderline amusing when you are 16 and have just swiped one of the old man’s cans of Milwaukee’s Best out of the bait fridge in the garage for the first time. The 16 year old me might have begrudgingly given such a quipster a smirk for their comedic attempt. What I don’t understand is why this mouth breathing simpleton is still amused by the same bit 20 years later. I know I sometimes will do the same bit while trying to work a new crowd into joviality, but how can the same joke be funny to these people over and over and over and over and over again.

I’m sure the answer is cultural. I have never been part of this culture. I’ve never been inclined to utter a “whoo!” when a musician on stage merely mentioned a type of alcohol. I’ve never lost my humanity to the point where I came little more than Pavlov’s dog by the mere mention of something that has been advertised to me since the crib, to the point where it was no longer a choice but a cultural norm. The type of cultural norm that makes people laugh at the same joke the millionth time they have heard it. These people are no longer humans, just automatons waiting for somebody to ring their bell. Thankfully I will always remain outside this culture.

I did enjoy a recent episode of the Colbert Report where Stephen used that “thank you global warming for this blizzard joke” on Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart pointed out that global warming is about climate change and not about the weather on a certain day. The rest of the interaction went like thus:

“I don’t believe in that.”

“You don’t believe in climate change?”

“No, I don’t believe in climate. There is no such thing as a climate. There is only today’s weather.”

Well played Mr. Colbert. I can only dream about being able to mock that lame global warming joke as well as you did. I salute you sir!

However, bad jokes and funny jokes aren’t why we are gathered here. Steve finally watched the movie and was ready for his evaluation. So I give it to you. From the mouth of my Personal Climatologist.

The first thing he pointed out was that the movie is really hard to watch because half the movie is an advertisement for the greatness of Al Gore. I can’t speak for everybody, but I certainly didn’t watch this movie to watch 45 minutes on the swellness of Al Gore. This movie takes great pains to make you think that Al Gore is just an ordinary guy. A victim of the political climate. They go to the farm where he “grew up”. They talk about his son getting hit by a car. They talk about how his family stopped growing tobacco because a friend of theirs died of lung cancer. Great. All compelling stuff, if 50% of it was true and I cared. I don’t want to see a movie about Al Gore. I want to see Al Gore’s movie on global warming.

The good part is that the global warming part of the movie is interesting. It goes by quickly, but is all too often interrupted by shots of Al Gore walking through airport security just like an ordinary guy.

The fact that the filmmakers decided to concentrate so much of the movie on Al Gore the human will actually hurt the message of the movie about global warming. My friend who won’t even consider watching a movie with Al Gore in it certainly isn’t going to be impressed by the scientific information because he has been so soured on the rest of the movie. Perhaps that guy couldn’t be reached. What other people will the “Al Gore – Great Guy” section of the movie prevent from seeing it?

One of the people I met at the Oscar Party is an Earth Science teacher at Ames High. I asked him what he thought of the Al Gore movie. He said he had two main problems with the movie. First of all, there are no answers for how we can stop global warming in this movie. There are some allusions to the Kyoto Treaty that the United States has yet to ratify and making more fuel efficient cars. That is really it. The other problem is of course the entire “Isn’t Al Gore swell?” vignettes in the film.

The science department at Ames High had a meeting to discuss whether or not to show this movie to their students. They decided not to. They have chosen not to because although there is plenty of science to teach in the movie, there is too much political pro Al Gore stuff in the movie. That part is too political. Because of that part of the movie, less people will see the movie. Less people will get the global warming information that is theoretically the reason why this movie was made.

Let me get to Steve’s scientific commentary. According to Steve the science in the movie is sound. The facts and figures are accurate. The predictions might not be so accurate. Here are Steve’s complaints.

#1. The movie spends tons and tons and tons of time talking about increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The movie doesn’t even mention the number one greenhouse gas in causing global warming: water vapor. #2. The movie makes the case that there aren’t any scientists that disagree with Al Gore’s assessment that humans are the primary cause of global warming. Off the top of his head Steve can name two climatologists from M.I.T. that disagree the tenet that humans are the cause of global warming.
#3. The movie doesn’t mention one of the main causes for global warming. It is a cause that humans have zero control over. The temperature of the sun is also going up. The sun’s temperature naturally fluctuates. It won’t keep going up. It will eventually balance out and come back down.
#4. Most things in nature are balanced. It isn’t really the Earth that is in danger. If the polar ice caps melt and shut down the ocean currents, it might cause an ice age. The Earth will balance itself out temperature wise. Humans on the other hand might be screwed. The sooner we die out, the sooner we can start becoming fossil fuel for whatever follows us.
#5. The movie doesn’t really come up with many solutions. If you accept that carbon dioxide produced by humans and human inventions has caused global warming, then the biggest problem facing the human race is overpopulation. Does anybody out there have a quick solution for overpopulation?

That is the analysis that Steve provided me. Take it for what its worth.

The End

It is safe to say that nothing really worth reporting has happened to me since that Tuesday. At least nothing that I will report. I might write a little bit about the movie “Amazing Grace”, but I think it is time to call it a night. I’m heading up to Minnesota tomorrow morning to see Jordis Unga in concert. So perhaps there will be some writings about that in the future. Perhaps there will be a picture montage. Perhaps.

Random Notes, Nothing on a Scandal

I was saddened on Wednesday by the passing of the founder of Hilton Magic. I have one quick story about Barry Stevens I wish to share.

Back when Barry Stevens used to play for the Cyclones my mom worked the training table. After wins they would prepare a victory dinner. The dining staff prepared lobster after what was a milestone win for Johnny Orr. As the players got their lobsters, Barry Stevens asked for ketchup. Johnny Orr heard him ask for ketchup to put on his lobster and raised quite the ruckus

Today is a milestone even for all old Campusites. Today is the last day for James with DM. He is working a 3-10 shift if you want to go into West and slap him on the back and congratulate him. That leaves only 6 Campusites left in the employ of DM. The cleansing has almost been completed.

Today when I got to work I got a surprise in my mailbox. Mark’s newletter from Taiwan was waiting for me. This is always good reading and I would just like to share a portion of it with you today. Mark recently spent some time working in Indonesia. I would like to share a little bit of that part of the newsletter:

With all of this damage, many organizations came to Aceh to offer assistance.

Two of these organizations are World Harvest and LCMS World Relief. It was with these two Christian organizations that I worked in Aceh.

The tsunami was a devastating event that brought more questions than answers, but it has allowed more Christian organizations to work in this strongly Islamic community.

Aceh is nearly entirely Muslim, and this can be seen in the presence of many mosques, sound of daily Arabic prayer calls, and the site of women wearing head scarves.

Christianity is not common, and while it is legal to be a Christian in Aceh, it is illegal to evangelize.

The mission work being done in Aceh then is not direct evangelizing, but rather sharing God’s love through action and building relationships with people.

While I was there I helped lead an Internet seminar to introduce teachers to email, the Internet and how to use these tools to make them more effective English teachers.

The teachers were a joy to work with, and the workshop will hopefully empower them to improve their English instruction on their own.

Another part of my service involved traveling to schools. I went to four different Junior High Schools. At these schools I helped student practice their English conversation. Many of them have never had the chance to speak with a native English speaker, so this opportunity was exciting and educational for the students. They had real and practical application of these skills they have been learning about in their textbooks.

In the end, this trip was very educational and a blessing from God. On the trip I was not speaking boldly about Jesus, but I was sharing God’s love and helping LCMS World Relief and World Harvest in their continued attempts to build relationships with the people of Aceh.

The coordinator for LCMS in Aceh, Dennis Dennow, often describes the work in Aceh as moving rocks. I think this really fits the current situation there. I like to think about it like the Parable of the Sower. Jesus talks about the Gospel being like a seed that is thrown on four different types of soil: the path, the rocks, the thorns, and the good soil. It is only on the good soil that the seed grows and produces a harvest. People are the soil, and just like the parable, there are many rocks, thorns, and birds that prevent the seed of God’s word from growing in their lives.

In the Islamic community of Aceh, the Gospel cannot be openly preached and spread. There are many preconceived notions and fears about Christians that prevent this. But love can be shown. Fears and stereotypes can be taken away. Relationships can be built, and individual conversations can take place. Rocks and thorns can be removed, and it is my prayer that one-day God’s word can be openly preached. Then those relationships that have been formed and all of the love that has been shared will be the foundation for continued preaching of Jesus as Savior. God’s Spirit is definitely at work in Aceh, Indonesia.

Mark also sent along a copy of this picture of a boat sitting on top of this house. The tsunami hit the day after Christmas in 2005 and the boat is still there. I would wonder how that could still be, then I remind myself that we haven’t done much better helping the victims of Katrina in our country.

2007 Calendar

So most of the 2007 Calendars have been printed, laminated and bound. There are just a few left that need to be distributed. If you still want a calendar and didn’t get your order in, better let me know. Because 2007 begins in 13 hours and every day that a calendar comes late, it depreciates in value.

Below is a little bit of a look at what you would get by “purchasing” a calendar.


2007 Back Page

I would just like to impart a small bit of information about why each month was selected.

January Image – Ledges Daily Denouement

I selected this image because it was the most wintery of the images that I have selected. It definitely leaves you with a cold feeling.

February Image – Unnamed Butterfly Image

I made this image exclusively for distribution with this calendar and I don’t like it, so it will remain an Unnamed Butterfly Image.

March Image – Flower in a Ditch

March begins the Northern Hemispheres return to life. Therefore, this is the first of many traditional nature images.

April Image – Oversaturated Dragonfly

April is a month traditionally oversaturated with rain. I went a little crazy with the exposure compensation on this image. Make it a bit oversaturated by traditional photographic estimations.

May Image – Kentucky Appetizer

Traditionally I put my favorite image in May irregardless of whether or not I think anybody else will enjoy it in the slightest bit.

June Image – Yellow Swallow Tail

The end of the traditional nature images.

July Image – Outburst of the Soul

A random selection here.

August Image – Wildflower

August is a great month for wildflowers.

September – Portrait of the Artist as a Middle Aged Man

A random selection here.

October – Wheat Grass

The only fall looking image of the bunch so it went in a fall month.

November – Four Flowers

Olivia’s birth month. My auction image from Songs for Olivia.

December – Building 429

A Christian image for the month of Christmas.

Not much info there, but enough for the intellectually curious.

Blue Steel Plans Halted

I failed in my quest to get “Building 429” properly framed for display last night. I also learned that my attempts to get “Blue Steel” placed prominently in Salon 908 will not result in anything tangible. However, “Earth’s Laughter Series – #04” might get a spot on their walls. Jesse will attempt to negotiate this deal with Kelly in the near future.

The “10 Second Movie” feature will not be added to this Notebook quite yet. This week was fairly hectic at work and Jesse and I could never quite get aligned for our tribute to “On the Waterfront”. Perhaps that will occur in the near future. It might even happen next Tuesday if everything breaks just right. Of course, there is a small chance that a tribute to something else could surface this weekend if everything breaks just right during Friday Night Supper Club.

Outburst of the Soul” has been the Picture of the Week this week. The name comes from a quote by English composer Frederick Delius who said: “Music is an outburst of the soul”. When I took this picture I had no larger ambitions than having a birthday present for the subject of the picture Derrick. I don’t want to get too far into the meaning of the image because I think that explaining the purpose of a piece of artwork begins to take away the meaning of that artwork. I believe that artwork should stand on its own. I also agree with Oscar Wilde when he said: “The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you.”

I don’t think there are many mysteries about the meaning of “Outburst of the Soul”. My worry is that it is too blunt. I’ll just give you a little bit of the back story of this image. I contacted Derrick about meeting him during my lunch break to take a couple of pictures of him and his guitar. He agreed.

The first time we had a little bit of trouble hooking up. So a second time was arranged. On the second trip I ran into Nader in downtown Ames, where Derrick worked. When I got to Derrick’s place of employment he wasn’t back from his lunch break. So I waited in the back alley with Nader for Derrick to show up.

I was also supposed to meet Jesse for lunch. After about 5 minutes in the alley, Jesse showed up. We all talked for about 15 minutes before the man of the hour showed up. He went inside and came back out with his guitar.

I took about 40 pictures with about 4 different poses. I settled on this one finally because Derrick effectively blocks out the Bud Light truck that had parked in the other end of the alley during the middle of this shoot. When I downloaded the images to my computer I was worried that the image’s harsh contrast between the shadow and the bright light of the alley would ruin the image, but Monica argues that it adds to the picture. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was something about music leading Derrick from darkness into the light. I won’t lie, that wasn’t the intent. If that was the intent I would have had Derrick meet me at a tunnel. It does serve as a reminder to me that to some degree, art is only worth what the viewer brings to it. Every piece of art has a different value to every viewer.

Regardless of that little treatise, the image was put through Photoshop and I took all of the color out of the image except for the color of Derrick’s guitar. After a little tweaking here and a little tweaking there, Derrick’s birthday present was ready for him and ready for the world.

I should also point out that in my current capacity with the company that employs me; I do not have an office. What I do have are lots and lots and lots of walls. I have taken to covering these walls with 8.5 x 11 copies of some of my assorted works. There aren’t many people that walk by my walls. The people who do walk by pretty much never stop to look at anything I have posted on my walls. That is perfectly fine. I post the pictures for me. I need some color on my walls or the dreariness of the gray wallpaper would surely drive me to madness. Yet, when I first put up “Outburst of the Soul”, several people did stop to admire that picture. A few even came back to see it a second time.

I state earlier that I failed to get a copy of “Building 429” framed last night. I should make more of a concerted effort tonight. I painted the frame black and then added craquelure over the top of the black paint. The first coat of craquelure failed to give me the desired result. In fact, I got hardly any cracking at all. So I gave the frame a very liberal amount of craquelure via a second coating. The result was not what I was striving to create, but I can’t say that I’m not pleased with the result. I think the frame looks awesome. I am ready to boldly proclaim it as one of my best frames to date. I just need to get everything put together. It will be something for me to do while I’m waiting for “The Office” to bless my television screen this evening.

The reason for my failure to finish this project last night was I attending dinner with Monica and Cory Ungs last night. Cory has been in poor health over the last few months and it has caused more than a few moments of consternation for me. There was a time when it was thought that he might have to have heart surgery. Finally, they have diagnosed Cory with Type II Diabetes. Not the best diagnosis, but at least he can now begin to manage his health and he seems to be doing a very good job at it. He is exercising and managing his eating schedule very well.

After dinner we went to see “Hollywoodland”. Cory wouldn’t go to the movie. He would not respond to my constant barbs such as: “Come on nerd, it’s a Superman movie.” Or the classic, “Nerd, nerd, nerd, nerd.” The short version of the story is that “Hollywoodland” is a good but not a great movie. Adrien Brody and Diane Lane gave their usual great performances. The shocker of the movie is that Ben Affleck did not stink the joint up as he has consistently done since “Good Will Hunting”. He was actually very good as George Reeves. A man whose aspirations for greatness were constantly out of his reach and was pigeonholed after playing a role he despised. One of the saddest sequences in the movie was when his part in “From Here to Eternity” was cut from the movie because the first audiences couldn’t see him as anything other than Superman. What was going to be one of his greatest professional triumphs was taken from him by the thing he hated the most. Although the acting was great, the movie itself started to wander near the end of the 2nd act. It also didn’t end very strongly. I didn’t completely dislike the ending, but it wasn’t real strong.

Other than working and eating and watching the Padres blow a lead in the 8th inning to the Cardinals (thank you very much Scott Linebrink) I have been reading Thomas Merton lately. I came across something he wrote in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. He wrote something about businesses that struck me as poignant. Particularly as I can related his point to a company that previously employed me because the people in that company really drank the Kool-Aid that they were making. They were in denial about everything dealing with their company to such a degree that I never understood it. They certainly had no place for dissension or even intelligent thought in their business plan. Then I read these words by Thomas Merton and I suddenly understood these people. I still feel sadness for them, but at least I understand why they are incapable of understanding why all of their ideas are bad and were surprised when they failed. Where they worked had become a religion to them. They are incapable of question the dogma when it comes down from the CEO? They view it as “Gospel Truth”.

Businesses are, in reality, quasi-religious sects. When you go to work in one you embrace a new faith. And if they are really big businesses, you progress from faith to a kind of mystique. Belief in the product, preaching the product, in the end the product becomes the focus of a transcendental experience. Through ‘the product’ one communes with the vast forces of life, nature, and history that are expressed in business. Why not face it? Advertising treats all products with the reverence and the seriousness due to sacraments.

It helps me understand why so much corporatespeak feels like attempted brainwashing. It helps me understand why when I went to corporate meetings it felt like I was going to a revival meeting for a religion that I didn’t believe in. I was going to a revival meeting for a religion I didn’t believe in.

Kelly’s Christmas Present

This weekend was the annual “Howard Family Christmas Card Photo Shoot”. I think it went well this year. Hopefully they find a picture or two that they like enough to use for their Christmas card.

As a result of that photo shoot I found out one more little tidbit about the Pufferbilly Day Photo Contest. Apparently Kelly went down to the exhibit with her two co-workers. Or perhaps they are technically employees. They did not like “Blue Steel”. Not even a little bit. In fact, not at all. Perhaps they just don’t play enough softball. At least now I know what Kelly gets for a Christmas present this year.

I have really been spending more time lately painting frames than taking pictures. I think I have come close to master the technique that will result in the “finished products” of all Photography 139 artwork. I have a completed framed picture of: “Earth’s Laughter Series – #04”, “Grizzly McAlpine”, “Blue Steel”, and hopefully by the end of the night I will have ““Building 429”” completed.

I also should note that I have decided to expedite the naming process for my flower pictures. In the future they will all fall under the series title “Earth’s Laughter” and be given a number. The name is derived from a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “The Earth laughs in flowers.” I enjoy using parts of quotations as photo titles. This series is currently only numbered up to four. I should note that there are times when a number and a subtitle will be used. An example would be: “Earth’s Laughter Series – #03: My Giverny”. You get the idea.

I have a new complaint about the Pufferbilly Days Photo Contest. When I got my pictures back the one’s that did not receive awards had my name and the name of the picture taped to the front of them. When I removed that label, the tape ripped and destroyed my mats. 1 step forward turned into 1 step back. My resolve to win the color division of this contest has been weakened.

Last week’s picture of the week was Building 429. The inspiration for this picture comes from the band Building 429. Building 429 took their name from is one of my favorite Bible verses: Ephesians 4:29. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”. Building 429 has a special place in my heart as they recorded one of the most important songs of my life: “No One Else Knows”. Jen and Derrick’s band covered that song for me at Songs for Olivia earlier this year. Below is a copy of the lyrics from that song:

No One Else Knows

My world is closing in
On the inside But I’m not showing it
When all I am is crying outI
hold it in and fake a smile
Still I’m broken
I’m broken
Only one can understand
And only one can hold the hand
Of the broken
Of the broken

When no one else knows how I feel
Your love for me is proven real
When no one else cares where I’ve been
You run to me with outstretched hands
And You hold me in your arms Again

I need no explanation of why meI just need confirmation
Only You could understand the emptiness inside my head
I am fallingI am falling
I’m falling down upon my knees
To find the one who gives me peaceI am flying
Lord I am flying
When no one else knows how I feel
Your love for me is proven real
When no one else cares where I’ve been
You run to me with outstretched hands
And You hold me in Your arms
Again

I have come to you in search of faith
Cause I can’t see beyond this place
Oh You are God and I am man
So I’ll leave it in Your hands

“Building 429” is a picture of a pocket cross laid on top of Olivia’s NIV Bible open to Ephesians 4:29. It is a macro photography. The intent is to make the image bigger than life, show how beat up the cross has become, and make the cross shine. I think it makes for an emotionally powerful image.