Friday, April 25, 2008

This says it all

From anj, via bobbie - taken from a sermon by a pastor named Peter Hiett, this is an addition to the "Things I Now Know To Be True" list:

So I’m convinced your deepest problem is not the cigarettes you smoke or the alcohol you drink in secret. It’s not the slander you speak and the gossip you cherish. It’s not the pornography you pleasure yourself with when no one’s looking. It’s not the baby you aborted; it’s not that you betrayed your brother, cheated on your bride, lied about the whole thing, and retaliated with murder [King Herod]. It’s not even that you slaughtered the Lamb and killed the Messiah. Your deepest problem is that somewhere deep down inside, you believe Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead just to kick your ass, when, in fact, He rose from the dead so you would believe all is forgiven. It is finished! Justice is accomplished. And the Father is pleading, "Come home, come home, come home!"

(NB: I found this image of God's welcome on Google Images a while ago. I'm sorry I can't properly give credit for it - but it's how I trust Heaven will be...)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Like ten miles of rough road

It has been a bit of a rough patch, lately - not so much any huge crisis like a car crash, but a bunch of niggling problems that have just been wearing - as a friend used to say, "like riding bareback for ten miles o' rough road." I'm grateful to say, I'm still sunny-side-up, suckin' air and sober, though a bit out of touch with my sisters and brothers in the digital domain...

First, for those of you who are dying to know, I managed to have a great time at the AMA Supercross races in Detroit. It was an expensive day - I'd already bought the tickets, but between lunch at a local eatery and then snacks and dinner at Ford Field we'd been pretty well raped... But the races brought some dramatic changes in the standings, and yes, I found it exciting. The crowds were pretty well behaved, and at one point on the way home, I even caught myself using the words "lap times" in a sentence. It's something Chris loves, and I find interesting and enjoyable, so it was a "win-win" day.

The trip was kind of marred at the end by hitting a monstrous pothole on the north side of Toledo on I-75. The tire held together for about 5 miles until (fortunately) we got through downtown and on the southeast side where there were some shoulders. But when it failed, it blew out big time, and we just barely got the car off on the shoulder to change it in the rain. The rim was dented beyond repair, the tire was totaled, and both right hub caps went on to Glory. The next morning we found that the right rear wheel also had a good-sized dent in the rim. So I found two used wheels ($50 total); hopefully we'll be able to save the rear tire and only replace the front ($82). So in short, I guess I should have shut up about the food at Ford Field, and concentrated bitching about the roads in the Toledo hinterlands...

Sunday and Monday, I had nosebleeds so bad I had to go to the doctor's Monday morning to get them cauterized. I haven't had nosebleeds like that since I had sinus surgery in 2001, and it was pretty scary. Immediately after that, I came down with some kind of respiratory gunk that just lodged itself in my sinuses and chest, and still hasn't let go. You know it's bad when they get out the albuterol nebulizer to help your breathing get better. Fortunately, Chris is a sound sleeper, and my barking-like-a-basset-hound didn't impair his sleep too much.

And we have had two continuous weeks of the most unGodly fubars at work - days when you get to the end, and think, "Could I just hose my brain out, and start fresh?" I don't know, but I'm getting less resilient to these weekly bobsled rides from Hell. It's not nearly as challenging, or rewarding, as it once was. But it's a sucky time to be job-hunting, especially in northwest Ohio. Thank you, Mr. President - and your oil/banking/military-industrial-complex bastard friends, of course...

The invitations to church remain unaddressed. We were still assessing the damages last week, and this last weekend, I was still feeling too puny to go much of anywhere. Perhaps this weekend, perhaps...

But spring is officially here...there is green and "buddage," as my sister calls it. The first trumpet of spring in Ohio is forsythia, whose yellow explosions give us hope that winter is gone.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Broadening horizons

Three enjoyable places I never would have imagined myself attending, a year ago:

First: Last Friday and Saturday, as part of the Weak Signals Radio Control Expo - one of the largest trade shows for RC craft in the US, held in Toledo each year - I was with Chris to attend the Electric Tournament of Champions (ETOC). ETOC is devoted to ultralight (6 ounce, total weight) electric-powered stunt RC planes and showcased some of the best stunt RC pilots showing off their stuff. The elimination rounds were Friday, and the finals were Saturday night at Waite High School.

Each "pilot" had to perform a series of required maneuvers, followed by a freestyle performance where they could "strut their stuff,"followed by a runoff for the top 3 competitors. Frankly, I didn't think I could ever get into this kind of thing - but seeing some of the previous year's competition on YouTube got me interested. Here's the video of the winner of ETOC 2008:

SECOND: We went downtown Saturday for the actual Weak Signals RC Expo, which took over the entire Seagate Center (Toledo's convention center) for the weekend. Imagine every conceivable vendor for remote-control airplanes, with a few RC boat and car vendors for good measure, crammed into a medium sized convention center - a virtual dreamland for the kid inside every man. From tiny ultralight RC planes that would fit in your palm to 30%-scale trainers with 20-foot wingspans powered by chainsaw motors, and every geegaw to fit every one of 'em, it was a wonderland.

The day started out as every good day downtown should - at Tony Packo's by the ballpark. Nothing fancy - just Packo's special hotdogs, and chili-cheese fries. Then four hours of wandering around Seagate Center, reminding me of an old smart-aleck comment about sunburning the roof of my mouth (since it was hanging open so much!). My feet and knees gave out long before my desire to see stuff did.

We went out to Central Catholic High School where a local RC flying club was having an "open flying" session - anyone could fly electric-powered airplanes under a certain weight. We were fresh out of cash, and they only TOOK cash, so we had to pass on that - but in the process, I learned a really disturbing thing about Chris.

He's one of those "White Castle fanatics."


Yes, indeed - we were going down Cherry St. just off downtown, and he saw the familiar building, and (to put it mildly) freaked out. "OH, my GOD, there's a White Castle here!!!" My reaction was basically, yeah, so what? The only time I have ever eaten White Castle was during a drunken weekend at Ohio State University back in the late 1970's - and I swore I'd never do it again. But, I saw the look on Chris' face, and I just started humming "What I Did For Love" from A Chorus Line and pulled in. And didn't even gag. And he was happy - and that made me happy, I guess.

Chris started working an afternoon a weekend at the local Hobbytown outlet, and he's back in his favorite element - talking and selling RC planes. It's definitely meant we have to re-arrange our schedule some - but it brings him joy, and doesn't inconvenience me much, so that's a good thing.

THIRD: the big deal, however, is this weekend:
The AMA Monster Energy SuperCross motorcycle races will bring their latest races to Detroit's Ford Field this Saturday, and we will be there.

Yes, you heard me. Motocross racing. Me. Detroit. All day Saturday.

I hardly believe it myself.

But I have watched half-a-dozen races with Chris, and strange to say, I've really gotten into it a bit. Chris used to run motocross bikes (a KTM, if you know about these things), some on tracks and some cross-country (enduro). So he got me watching, and now I am even starting to pick up the lingo.

I've drawn the line at fishing, though. I've told him - you want to go fishing, I will not ever stand in your way. But I'll be the one waving from the front porch - fishing holds NO charm for me WHATsoever. I told him I'll support him in whatever he wants to do - but I ain't GOING to all of it, and especially not fishing.

Even I have my limits.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"Country club" Christianity

I am continually astounded by the brilliance of the people surrounding me in the blogosphere. Not as in Steven-Hawking brilliant, but by people who have seen the truth and are not afraid to speak it. Like my Canadian brother-of-the-heart who goes by the unlikely pseudonym [rhymes with kerouac].

Whenever I am at risk of standing in lines, I've been reading his book, Today At The Mission, which is selections from his first year's blogging over here, and came across this clearly-prophetic post. The whole thing is brilliant, but this passage speaks to my heart in a way that hurts:

There are churches in our city that have no problem raising a million dollars for a new building (complete with paved parking lots, air conditioning and broadloom) but can't seem to spare a fig for the dying and the damned on our downtown streets. The exact phrase my friend used to describe these churches was "Christian country clubs."

And none of this would be an issue if it weren't for God saying this: "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his blood, suffered without the gate." In all of Christian history, thought and practice their can be no holier place than the cross. Yet the cross was not found in the Temple, nor in Jerusalem, the very City of God. It was found outside the city, in the wild and desolate place of Golgotha, the place of anguish, of humiliation and shame.

He puts in words what has bothered me about so much of suburban Christianity for so long. I've used that "Christian country club" phrase too - so much so that I stopped bothering, because that's all I saw.

I've been invited to a round half-dozen churches lately - and I've been resisting going to any of them. Part of them is pure sloth - Chris works until midnight or later on Saturdays, and Sunday just doesn't sound like fun to leap up and go. But it's also the idea that a considerable chunk of what the institutional church does would definitely fit the term "incompatible with Christian teachings." And I just don't want to be bothered, to be honest. (Now, to be fair, there is still a significant majority of the church whose actions mirror Christ's words. I just haven't run into them much...)

It's like having been burned in love - there is a significant desire not to commit again, for fear of getting burned again. The last time the church burned me, it hurt for a long, long time. I'm just not going to make that kind of commitment until I'm sure - really, really sure - that it's the real McCoy. And if that's cowardice, then so be it. To paraphrase what Gandalf said so succinctly in The Two Towers, one who has been escorted to the door will not willingly go back in a second time...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Thinking about financial meltdowns...

I see the Wall Street meltdown from a couple different perspectives...

I was a newbie public accounting auditor, doing mortgage audits of places like First Federal Savings & Loan, Home Federal Savings & Loan, First Federal of Delta and a whole bunch of other S&Ls in northwest Ohio that overstretched themselves and collapsed in the early 80's.

As a newbie, I got assigned to the fun stuff - checking mortgage documentation. We were looking at internal controls that said "Is there a certified signed property valuation for the loan?" when the question should have been "Is there a property valuation that was worth more than a fart in a windstorm?" The loans were 100% documented from a compliance standpoint - but the worth of the documentation itself was nil, plus or minus 10%. This sounds very familiar to where we are now. Just substitute the words "market valuation" and you're set.

Another sister and brother-in-law are owners of a condo purchased with a low-ball-rate ARM. It's not an extravagant thing - you could buy 3 of these with some of the monster properties surrounding us out here in the genteel country south and west of Toledo. It's nice, but there are no granite countertops, no sixty-thousand dollar kitchens or Hummers in the garage. It's just a nice home for a person who can't climb stairs and another who (after 30 years of cutting grass) is tired of dealing with a yard.

They were approved at the upper bleeding maximum edge of their ability to pay - with an adjustable rate mortgage that was (unknown to them, or me, at the time) almost certain to go up way beyond their ability to pay when the adjustment period came due. The people who wrote that loan put the shells in the chambers, cocked the gun, and pointed it at my family's head, knowing that the gun would almost certainly go off in 3 years. If my sister and bro-in-law are culpable, those who originated the loan and those who refinanced it are equally culpable. Just because they wanted this house was no reason to sell it to them, or finance it for them. Just because you can say "yes" doesn't mean that you should...

Of course, no one could have foreseen my sister's disability or Jeff's down-grade from year-round worker to seasonal status. But even at their most financially productive, with the other debt they were carrying, it was madness to approve the loan they got. And I'm a little resentful that the organization wants the bailout, rather than the little people who were sold an exploding pig in a poke.

I know what the S&L buyout cost the nation 20 years ago - and there is no way in hell it's not going to cost exponentially more this time than last. And this from an economy that's already suckin' dry from our overseas adventures.

To my mind, the only reason the oil companies haven't been stampeded together and broken-up like in the last antitrust wars is because we are so addicted to fuel. The nation - myself included - is so addicted to the "right" to independent and at-will travel that no one will risk threatening the supply of our drug - even though people (just like addicts) are now having to make decision between their fuel (read: drug-of-choice) and food, health-care, even housing.

I just wish I had an answer. But I also know the old answers won't do anymore, either...

Forgive me, br'er Cobb, for cross-posting this from your comments onto my own blog - but your post brought up several ideas that have also been percolating in my mind.