Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tent Cities and the Homeless

I just saw a story, in the June 1 issue of Newsweek which just hit the stands, about the increase in the number of "tent cities" where homeless people live as an alternative to living in shelters. The article stated that something like an additional 1 million homeless people are anticipated in the near future.

Here's a link to another story on that topic.

If you look into America's distant past, you'll see that there was a time in our nation's history when people often lived in tents or lean-tos which weren't much better than tents. They weren't called bums then. They were called "pioneers". They helped to build this country so that people might one day aspire to live in much nicer homes. And it wasn't just during the 1800s that such people existed. During the great Depression, Chicago's parks were filled with people who slept outdoors because they'd lost their homes. (I learned that last fact while glancing through a recently published book containing excerpts from a jazz-era magazine which was modeled after the New Yorker, called the Chicagoan.)

It's a shame that we now live in a world in which the option of living in a tent or something comparable is frequently available only to people who are willing to break the law because they really have no other viable options. Why should it be illegal to do what was once done by people such as Lewis and Clark, Kit Carson and others?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Some Thoughts About Hate Crimes

Here's a link to a thought-provoking article about the matter of hate crimes, which ought to be a matter of deep concern to those who deeply believe that our criminal justice system ought to actually be fair and just:

I find it particularly interesting that Jeff Jacoby's article on this subject appears in Jewish World Review. Based on his surname, I suspect that he's Jewish. If anyone might be expected to endorse an approach to criminal justice which is ostensibly designed to penalize people for committing crimes against people on account of factors such as ethnicity, it would be the Jews --- due, obviously, to their extensive personal familiarity with that subject, as the victims (or descendants of victims) of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, Mr. Jacoby is clearly a thinking person, and he isn't buying the idea that crimes committed for such reasons should be punished more severely than comparably vicious crimes committed for more "mundane" reasons.

I agree. Hate crimes legislation may seem benign — after all, one would have to be morally dense indeed in order to fail to appreciate the socially destructive effect of crimes motivated by racism or other similar factors — but the effect of such laws is to penalize people disproportionately, not because of what they do, but because of what they believe. That represents an egregious violation of the principles on which a free society is built, especially when it represents a "Pandora's box" which can potentially lead to censorship of ideas (such as opposition to homosexuality) deemed unacceptable by people on certain ends of the political spectrum. Laws against hate crimes are a form of coercive social engineering, and such laws have the potential to seriously undermine the constitutional right to free speech.

One can believe that racism is wrong without advocating the infringement of people's right, as American citizens, to be wrong and to express wrongheaded beliefs. We must be very careful not to blur the line between laws which forbid acts which actually cause harm and laws which forbid the expression of ideas we believe to be harmful.

My intention in saying this is not to excuse hate crimes. However, the proper response to true hate groups such as the KKK and the Nazis is to create a social climate in which such groups cannot prosper, by collectively letting them know in no uncertain terms that their ideas and activities are socially unacceptable. If and when crimes are committed for reasons related to racism or other types of bigotry, they should be prosecuted in a manner which is proportionate to the severity of the crimes themselves, regardless of why they might have been committed.

Only God, who is omniscient, is in a position to accurately and fairly assess motives. Our courts, which are run by fallible judges and fallible jurors, should not be in the business of judging motives. It is more than enough of a challenge for most people to assess the truth with regard to whether or not specific individuals actually committed specific illegal acts.

UPDATE: Here's a link to another good article about the subject of hate crimes --- written by Chuck Norris.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

AluminArte Digital Prints

I recently learned about a cool option for digital photo prints. It's known as AluminArte, and the prints are made by

Seemingly, AluminArte isn't the best option for smaller prints, because their convenient online pricing calculator seems to offer 12" as the minimum dimension for one side, and 20" is the minimum dimension for the other side when one selects any dimension smaller than 20" for one of the two sides. So in other words, you could have a 12"x20" print, a 14"x20" print, a 16"x20" print, etc., with either portrait or landscape orientation, but you couldn't have a 12"x12" print or 12"x18" print. For a square print, the minimum size would seem to be 20"x20" judging by what I've seen there.

However, one of the photos shown online seems to suggest that they can in fact make prints considerably smaller than 12"x20". The photo shows an arrangement of 24 small prints (4 columns, 6 rows), next to a staircase. So maybe the online calculator just doesn't reflect all of the options they offer.

In any event, for larger prints, they offer extreme flexibility, since the sizes can be adjusted in 1" increments, up to a huge 48"x96" (4 feet x 8 feet).

What I like about these prints, apart from their "HDTV" image quality and the fact that they're offered with 3 different finishes (one of which is more expensive than the other two), is that it would appear that they're extremely durable, and they need no mounting, matting or framing. From the standpoint of a person selling (or wanting to sell) larger prints, that would make things much easier (as opposed to trying to arrange a complicated setup in which I'd first need to contact the lab or giclee printing company to make the prints, and then I'd need to arrange to have the prints sent to the framing company in order to have the prints framed before sending them to my customers). Provided that has the ability to drop ship prints directly to one's customers (preferably with flat shipping charges which are the same regardless of the zip code, so that I can price my products in advance without knowing who will order them or where those people will be located, and without any fancy e-commerce programming), that could make things a lot easier when selling larger prints online to customers who don't want to have to hassle with framing the prints themselves or with the help of local frame shops.

It would appear that AluminArte prints are being marketed exclusively to professionals. But any photographer attempting to sell his or her photos online would appear to qualify as a professional in their book. So it's definitely one of several options I intend to fully explore.

I'm also wondering how easy it would be to subsequently add clear acrylic gesso or primer to an AluminArte print, in order to use the print as the foundation for a mixed media work of art which would also incorporate painting mediums (e.g., pastel, acrylic, etc.). If so, I'm guessing that the sturdy aluminum would make for a great support for such works of art. The main issue would be whether or not the gesso or primer would adhere properly to the print. I'm guessing that the White Aluminum Satin or Brushed Aluminum Satin finishes would be better in that respect, inasmuch as the White Aluminum High Gloss might conceivably be too slick to hold the gesso or primer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rough Edges Can Be Necessary

Every once in a while, someone of my acquaintance has been known to observe that I have a few "rough edges," by which the person usually means that I have a tendency to speak in accordance with what I believe to be true, even if it means saying things which some folks might regard as harsh.

Strange. I always thought that being truthful was a good thing. But some folks just can't handle the unvarnished truth.

Here's the thing: I want to be used by God to make this world a better place. In other words, I want to be a tool in God's toolbox. People who are afraid of speaking the truth may be easy to get along with, but they seldom accomplish much of anything worthwhile.

These days, some folks mean it as an insult when they tell people that they're "tools," but that's obviously not what I'm talking about here. To be a tool in God's toolbox is a wonderful thing. It's an investment in eternity.

What kind of a toolbox would God be likely to have? Well, we know that Jesus was a carpenter. Carpenters use a variety of tools --- tools such as saws, rasps, sanders and so forth. Many of those tools have rough edges, without which they would not function properly. The purpose of those rough edges is to shape the wood and (ironically) to smooth the wood. So rough edges are not necessarily bad. This is as true in the metaphorical sense as it is true in the literal sense.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that tact and diplomacy are unimportant. I'm not saying that people are justified, in the name of speaking the truth, in riding roughshod over the feelings of others. Nor am I saying that every conflict should be treated as if it's a major crisis. One must choose one's battles carefully. There are times when it is necessary to make minor compromises in order to stay focused on the issues and battles which really matter the most.

Nevertheless, there are times when having rough edges can be both admirable and necessary, in order to build what God wants to build.

So to those who've accused me of having such edges, I have this to say:


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

HDR, LucisArt and Dynamic Range for Photos and Art

One complaint which I sometimes hear from painters who base their paintings on photos is that photos typically have a limited dynamic range in comparison with the human eye. In other words, if you expose for the majority of the image, you typically lose out in terms of details, both in the shadow areas and the highlight areas.

Some painters have compensated by creating several different prints, some of which were overexposed and some of which were underexposed, and then made conscious choices based on the information found in multiple photos. Others have just compensated by making informed decisions based on personal experience, or on memories (sometimes enhanced with quick sketches and/or notes) of the way things really looked in the field, or on the way that things look in front of their eyes when actually creating paintings from life in the studio.

One reason for the success of certain film photographers such as Ansel Adams is that they've traditionally been experts at the use of dodging and burning in the darkroom in order to compensate for such defects. But most people didn't have their own darkrooms back in the days when such techniques offered the only way to effectively address the issue of dynamic range, and the few labs which offered such custom services charged very high prices.

Now, thanks to digital techniques, it's a whole new ballgame. The use of Photoshop's Levels, Curves, Layer Masks and other tools began to improve things quite some time ago. Then they introduced the Shadow/Highlight control, and that improved things even more. Finally, they introduced features (also offered in different variations by various third-party companies) pertaining to a new HDR (High Dynamic Range) technique which merged multiple bracketed exposures in order to create composite images which combined the best of all of the exposures. (When using studio lighting setups, one can do this with the use of layer masks --- the old fashioned way --- or with the HDR feature, which is more automated but with less hands-on control.)

Here's a link to one web page containing an article which will give you a better idea of the effects of HDR. I've seen better examples of the amazing results one can achieve with the HDR technique (mostly because I think he overdid the effect slightly, to the point that some of the image's drama was lost), but this page will at least help readers of this post from a conceptual point of view. If it had been me, I would have merged the HDR version with a little bit of the original "0 exposure" image, using an additional layer with significantly reduced opacity.

If you have an older version of Photoshop which doesn't yet have the HDR feature, there's a way to simulate that feature (without the need for multiple exposures, making it a great choice for subjects which are likely to move in-between exposures) using the High Pass Filter. Also, it has the effect of sharpening the image. Here's a link to an article which shows how to do this, as well as side-by-side before & after photos.

(NOTE: Some HDR software has features designed to eliminate the problems caused by trying to merge images in which certain elements move substantially. Sometimes those features work well, sometimes they don't, depending on the images.)

Another very cool option is to use LucisArt 3. When used intelligently, it can create amazing results (including some very cool special artistic effects). Like the High Pass Filter option, it can be used with single photos, with no need for bracketing. And like the other techniques, it can be overdone, so it's sometimes a good idea to blend it with portions of the original image. Here's a link to some good examples (in the form of online slide shows) of what it can do.

Lucis Pro 6.0 uses the same technology as LucisArt, but its primary application seems to be for technical (e.g., scientific) purposes, not for art. LucisArt costs less, and actually seems to be better for what I'd want to use it for.

If you view the online slide shows, you can see that some of the best artists are able to use LucisArt to produce images which look more like photorealistic paintings. In other cases, the images just look like extremely good photos. The choice is up to you.

LucisArt would seem to be a particularly good partner for another excellent program, EngraveSoft from, due to the maximization of details available from LucisArt. In other words, process the photo with LucisArt first, and then create excellent line art (which could be used as a basis for a variety of fine art images such as Solarplate photopolymer intaglio prints) using EngraveSoft. Consider, for example, the EngraveSoft image created from a photo of a man named Dan. Pretty nice, right? But notice that the original photo has some blown out highlights (i.e., Dan's forehead, on the left side of his face), which would almost certainly have been improved with LucisArt. Of course, when it comes to line art, a certain amount of contrast is what gives the image its drama, so one doesn't want to overdo it. But I think that the digital engraving of Dan would have been enhanced if the photo had first been processed with LucisArt.

NOTE: While intaglio printing with a process such as the SolarPlate process offers one way to create fine art prints from such digitally generated line art, another interesting option is to use what's known as polyester plate lithography. The most commonly used method is to use Pronto Plates, or a similar product offered by Both products are designed to be run directly through toner-based laser printers, and actually used as printing plates for fine art lithography! (No need for separate exposures through digital negatives onto photosensitive materials.) The main drawback seems to be that one is somewhat limited in size. (For some strange reason, the "plates" sold for polyester plate lithography seem to exceed the maximum printable size for most toner-based copiers and laser printers, which is usually 11x17-inches or 12x18-inches at most. But maybe there are commercial toner-based imagesetters which can go larger. I'll have to ask about that.)

Anyway, I've read that Sharpie ink, applied to such polyester plates, holds the lithographic printing ink just like toner holds it (which, in turn, works roughly the same way that lithographic crayon, lithographic pencil and lithographic tusche work). I'm thinking that solvent-based markers from other manufacturers ought to also work, and that it might even be possible to make really large plates, for polyester plate lithography, by using a wide format solvent-based printer such as the Epson GS6000. That would be very cool! ( offers a polyester film specifically designed to be printed on with dye-based and pigment-based printers such as the Epson 9900. If it also works with the GS6000, and if the inks from the GS6000 hold litho ink the same as toner, that could be a really good way to make enormous polyester "plates" for polyester plate lithography. Something worth checking out, at any rate.)

Of course, one might ask why bother, when the digital printer itself produces such great prints directly. Well, the answer, dear friends, is that there's still a ridiculous bias against digital prints in certain fine art circles (such as art contests, certain art fairs and galleries, etc.), so using digital techniques as a means of preparing to make prints with older processes such as intaglio printing, relief printing, planographic printing (lithography) or screen printing (serigraphy) offers a potential end run around such anti-digital biases. Just tell such people (truthfully) that it's an etching, an engraving, a lithographic print, a serigraphic print, etc. No need to volunteer the fact that your utilization of digital techniques enabled you to produce the print in a fraction of the time it would have taken by using older techniques involving laborious hand work. Of course, if you still want to use such techniques (possibly in conjunction with digital techniques), you're free to do that, too.


Incidentally, on a separate but somewhat related note: For those who think that infinitely scalable digital vector art can never equal the appearance of photos, here's a link to a page which will blow your mind.

How did Mr. Miyamoto achieve such realism in Adobe Illustrator? Well, I'm guessing that he used the new Live Trace feature (at least in part), which does a much better job of autotracing photos than Adobe Streamline and other similar solutions did in the past. It would also help, undoubtedly, to have the best possible photo on which to base such vector art, which is where the aforementioned HDR/High Pass Filter/LucisArt/Lucis Pro techniques come in. But it's also clear that Mr. Miyamoto's expertise in the use of the Gradient Mesh filter played a big role as well. (Even the best Live Trace images can occasionally err when it comes to translating photos to vector perfectly. Sometimes they look a bit posterized. Based on what I've seen, I think that the Live Trace feature in CS4 is better than in earlier versions, though.) These images remind me of some of the best realistic airbrush art being created by Japanese illustrators (and a few Americans and others) back in the 80's. To say that there's a huge chasm between such images and the simplistic clip art images more familiar to most of us is an understatement.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Popularity and Politics

I recently saw a news item about how an author named Larry Tagg would be in town to sign copies of his book "The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln". Based on a brief review of that book, I was intrigued, so I visited the related page to get more information.

Having read a number of other Lincoln biographies, I was already aware of many of the facts cited by Tagg in his book, although I suspect that he covers the subject in greater depth than many Lincoln biographers.

The editorial review of the book states, "Lincoln's humanity has been unintentionally trivialized by some historians and writers who have hidden away the real man in a patina of bronze. Once readers learn the truth of how others viewed him, they will better understand the man he was, and how history is better viewed through a long-distance lens than contemporaneously."

The wide disparity between Lincoln's short-term unpopularity and his legendary long-term legacy is a matter which ought to concern us, since many people have mistakenly based their evaluations of particular president's job performances on their short-term poll-based "approval ratings," as in the case of George W. Bush.

Great leaders are often people who are "ahead of their time," which by definition means that they have more insight than they are credited with having by their contemporaries. Conversely, a good way to guarantee high approval ratings in the polls is to spinelessly cater to the whims of the populace at any given moment, rather than acting according to principle.

Whether or not George W. Bush was a great leader on the scale of Lincoln is doubtful. Certainly, Bush made some serious errors in judgment, due in part to his unwillingness to change course (or at least modify course) when new facts emerged which would have indicated to more prudent minds that such corrective actions were necessary.

However, it should be pointed out that some of the things for which Bush is often blamed were really acts committed by others over whom he had minimal direct control (as in the case of the abuses which occurred at Abu Ghraib). As far as I am aware, Bush was responsible only in the sense that those abuses (which admittedly were pretty awful) happened "under his watch".

If the mere fact that something occurs during a president's term in office means that he's to blame for that incident, then logically, it makes equal sense to blame President Clinton for the atrocity which occurred, during his term in office, at Columbine, and also for the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City. That, of course, would be ridiculous. Presidents are indeed powerful people, but they are not omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent. Expecting godlike performance from our political leaders is ridiculously unfair to them, and to the American public as well, since the public is bound to be continually disappointed if people are encouraged to see their leaders in such terms.

Furthermore, I think that Bush was a much more principled man than Barack Obama when dealing with issues such as stem cell research. He understood the social ramifications of a practice which could lead us to see certain human lives as potential "body part farms" for the purpose of attaining admittedly noble objectives which, in most cases, could be better addressed in other ways without compromising the principle that all human lives have intrinsic value. From the standpoint of issues pertaining to the sanctity of human life, Barack Obama's presidency has already been a disaster, no matter what the polls say about the man. No matter how much Obama tries to link his own legacy to the legacy of Lincoln, the chasm between Lincoln's job performance and Obama's job performance cannot be intelligently ignored.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Forgiveness and Community

At the Lifeway book store at Moody Bible Institute, I recently bought a book entitled Death by Church, by Mike Erre. Mike is a teaching pastor at Rock Harbor church.

There's a lot of quoteworthy material in the book, pertaining to various problems in the modern church. Here's a perceptive quote, from page 114, which I found particularly interesting:

Pastoral ministry has now been reduced to marketing and psychotherapy --- disciplines that both concentrate exclusively on the individual. The message of the gospel is treated the same way. The American gospel concerns itself solely with the inner, private world of people as they exist in relation to God. There is usually no talk of community, tradition or public accountability. (After all, who are you to stand between me and God?) Faith exists as a private exercise, a personal option, an individual choice.
The problem with the approach to ministry described in the preceding paragraph, is that such an approach does a poor job of resolving the myriad human problems which are relational in nature.

Ironically, the end result is that such an approach doesn't even work very well in terms of addressing problems concerned with individuals. The state of mind of an individual who has been harmed by the sins of others cannot be divorced from the larger context of the community in which that individual lives, if one wishes to accurately perceive the problems of that individual and the solutions to those problems.

I am thinking, in particular, of the way that many people define our obligations and relationships with one another in relation to the extremely important issue of forgiveness.

There are many Christians today who, based on the correct observation that God's love for mankind is unconditional, and based on erroneous interpretations of certain passages of scripture pertaining to forgiveness, have concluded that God's forgiveness of sinners is likewise unconditional, and that our forgiveness of others who have sinned against us should therefore also be unconditional.

This teaching (found in books such as Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes) contradicts the scriptures, which clearly teach that God's forgiveness of sinners is predicated on the willingness of such sinners to ask for forgiveness and to repent.

If forgiveness were unconditional, then defiant and unrepentant sinners would nevertheless go to heaven. There would be no hell. That's the gospel of wishful thinking (otherwise known as "universalism"), not the gospel of Jesus Christ which is found in the Bible.

From Forgiven to Forgiving, by Jay Adams, is a book which provides a welcome antidote to the fallacies advocated in such books. Here's a link to an interesting related blog post also written by that author.

In particular, some people seem to have missed the point with regard to the primary reason for forgiveness. They have taught that the primary function of forgiveness (or at least one of the primary functions) is to serve as "therapy" for the sake of the forgiver. (That's why I was reminded of this subject when reading the preceding quotation by Mike Erre.) In other words, people who teach this doctrine believe that the forgiver forgives for his or her own sake (e.g., to enable the forgiver to "find closure" and "get on with life"), not for the sake of the person being forgiven or for the sake of the relationship between the offender and the offended party.

On the face of it, that's nonsense. Tell me: Who is the primary beneficiary when God forgives a sinner? God? Or the sinner?

The answer is obvious: The sinner is the primary beneficiary. God needs no therapy. God is Lord of the universe.

I'm not denying that God's heart is broken (to put things in somewhat anthropomorphic and therefore inaccurate terms) when we sin against God. But there is a reason God's heart is broken by our sin, and the reason isn't that his feelings have been hurt. The reason is that God earnestly, even passionately desires intimate relationships with all of the people God has created. Sin makes such relationships impossible, because God is a holy God. Sin thwarts God's desire for fellowship with people. Therefore, God offers forgiveness, for the purpose of a restoration of the fellowship relationship between God and the forgiven sinner.

Notice that I said that God offers forgiveness to all sinners (which is within his power to do, without compromising his holiness, because of the atonement of Christ's sacrificial death on the cross). I didn't say that God grants forgiveness to all sinners.

It would be nonsensical to say that God had forgiven a person, but that God had sent that person to hell nevertheless. What would be the point of forgiveness if it did not alter one's eternal destiny in the slightest?

God is indeed an incredibly loving and merciful God, and he is willing to forgive us, if we will only call on the name of Jesus Christ and ask for forgiveness. But that "if" is all-important.

If we could be forgiven without repentance, where would be the incentive to repent? There would be none. The same principle is equally applicable to human relationships. Unconditional forgiveness has the effect, intentional or not, of encouraging people to continue in their self-centered patterns of behavior. Such forgiveness was correctly described as "cheap grace" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and as "sloppy Agape" by others).

I have actually heard some Christians say that forgiveness is completely separate from the issue of reconciliation. They will tell you that one can forgive others, without the expectation that such forgiveness will result in reconciliation.

When one meditates on the fact that God's forgiveness of sinners is offered to us for the precise purpose of reconciling sinful man to a holy God, it boggles the mind to think that anyone would think that human forgiveness would be any different in that respect.

True reconciliation requires honesty, because the perpetuation of lies prevents the kind of emotional and spiritual intimacy which is the object of reconciliation. If one has to deceive one's self in order to believe that a level of trust has been restored in a particular relationship, then the so-called reconciliation is pointless.

Repentance does not offer any 100% guarantees (because even repentant people are fallible, and may yet sin again), but it does offer a foundation of understanding which makes eventual and total reconciliation possible. Without such a foundation, there is no logical reason for forgiveness.

It is an enormous disservice to Christians who have been harmed by other Christians or by others to essentially tell them to sweep all of the very real issues which hinder the process of reconcilliation under the rug and pretend that issues which have not been resolved have been resolved. Such false and irresponsible counsel constitutes an abdication of the moral responsibility which rests upon church leaders to hold Christians accountable for their actions. In the final analysis, it even constitutes an abdication of their responsibilities to offending parties, because failure to hold such people accountable hinders them from engaging in the acts which are necessary in order for them to experience the benefits of genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. The process of genuine spiritual and emotional growth is hindered when people are not held accountable for their actions.

In Mike Erre's book, he talks extensively about a "disparity between belief and behavior" which characterizes the lives of many professing Christians. That's easy to understand, when one considers the exceedingly harmful results of church practices based on a false understanding of forgiveness. Such a doctrine negates the possibility of the "public accountability" Erre talks about in his book.

True forgiveness which is offered to all, but which is actually granted only to those who meet the necessary condition of repentance, respects the needs of others in the community who might conceivably be hurt in the future by similarly hurtful acts. Unconditional forgiveness fails to respect those needs, inasmuch as it fails to uphold the common-sense principle that there is a connection between actions and consequences. Therefore, any definition of Christian discipleship which does not include the necessity of holding people accountable for their actions is a definition which is based on a failure to understand the idea that the kingdom of God has ramifications for communities, not just for self-centered individuals.

None of the aforementioned ideas negate the very real biblical responsibility of Christians to forgive others who sin against them and who then ask for forgiveness. The "seventy times seven" scripture still applies, because that scripture pertains to the infinite number of times we are required to forgive genuinely repentant people, not to the conditions under which people should be forgiven.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

My Life is Like A Soapbox Derby Car

Lately, my life has reminded me of a soapbox derby racing car: Going downhill fast, and picking up more speed with each passing moment. To put things in less metaphorical terms, the hope that my life here on earth will substantially improve before I die seems to diminish with each passing day. Very few people seem to care very much. That includes most of my fellow Christians, notwithstanding all of their lofty talk about unity in the Spirit, loving one another and bearing one another's burdens.

Thank God for the promise of heaven.

Geocities and My Files

I recently heard that Yahoo would be closing Geocities, its free web hosting program. A visit to my Geocities account confirmed the rumor. They're no longer taking applicants for new web sites, but that isn't what worries me. A lot of my files have been stored there, and I've linked to those files with extensive links in this blog and elsewhere. I'm sincerely hoping that they continue to host the existing files at their current locations; otherwise, the links I've created on this blog and elsewhere (such as will eventually become dead links. Potentially, that could cause previously nice web sites I've created to be considerably less attractive and useful.

Fixing the situation would probably involve a ton of work, because it would involve finding a new free web provider (preferably one which is as easy to use as Geocities was), uploading all of the files I'd need (after creating folders comparable to the Geocities folders) and then going through all of my blog posts and other web links in order to change the links so that they would go to the new URL addresses for those specific files.

The problem is compounded, in my case, by the fact that my own computer is down, and I'm mostly restricted to the computers I am able to reserve for free at the library. They have those computers set up so that one can't do any right clicking, which makes it impossible for me to perform certain functions such as downloading unprotected image files from my own websites in order to insure that I have all of the files I need. I do know that most of the files at Geocities, if not all of them, have been saved somewhere on CD-R discs, but figuring out where each and every file has been stored so that I could upload each file to a new web server would be a royal pain in the posterior.

As for, I shudder to think what would happen if they ever closed their blog hosting service. I'd lose all of these blog posts, unless I'd had time beforehand to laboriously go through and copy each and every article to some other format. Some folks who don't care for what I've written (or who couldn't care less about what I've written) would probably like that idea, or be indifferent to that idea. But even if no one else has benefited from this blog, it means something to me.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Talk About Truth in Advertising!

The other day, I was taking the bus on Division Street, and I happened to see a sign for a store (at 3251 W. Division) known as Pagan's Liguors.

Somehow, in light of the ungodliness which often accompanies the liquor industry and the consumption of that industry's products, I found myself thinking that the name was very appropriate.

Bad Advice (A Poem)

The following poem isn't intrinsically Christian, but it was inspired recently by some experiences I've had in various churches over the years:


© Mark Pettigrew

"Don't rock the boat";
a piece of advice
typically offered
to make one think twice ---
Think about saying
what might cause offense,
even if what one says
makes perfect sense!

"Don't rock the boat;
let sleeping dogs lie."
Don't dare to ask,
when it isn't clear why.
Better to yield
to defeat and despair.
Better to act
like you really don't care.

"Don't rock the boat"
is what cowards say.
Problems would fester,
if they had their way.
Some boats need rocking,
whatever folks claim.
Truth's not negotiable.
Life's not a game.


Jesus was a boat rocker. He said things which made people uncomfortable, as had John the Baptist before him. Both of them were eventually killed on account of what they said. But they spoke the truth.

The same thing could be said about many noteworthy Christians over the years, such as Martin Luther and Martin Luther King.

Unfortunately, such courage and truthfulness is in short supply today among Christians who claim to be followers of Jesus.

Squinting At The Screen

This morning at around 2:30 or so, I was in the men's room down the hall on the 12th floor at the Lawson House YMCA where I live, when I began feeling sick. I was on the verge of vomiting. It had been my experience that it was not a good idea to wear one's eye glasses while vomiting into the toilet. So I took off the glasses and set them nearby on the window sill in the bathroom stall, intending to retrieve them when everything was taken care of.

Unfortunately, it was a particularly messy experience. (Believe me, you don't want the juicy details.) Of course, I completely cleaned up after myself, but in the process, I was distracted, and I subsequently left my glasses on the window sill instead of taking them to my room with me. I went back to sleep, not realizing that I had left my glasses in the men's room.

Six or seven hours later, I awoke. Then I looked for my glasses. I didn't find them. I thought about it for a few minutes, and I realized what had happened.

I went back to the men's room, hoping that no one had taken my glasses while I was sleeping, but someone had done so.

Later, I bumped into another man living on that floor, and I asked him if he had seen my glasses by any chance. He said that he'd seen them in that stall, and he'd thought about taking them, but he'd realized that someone might come looking for them, so he left them there. That confirmed that I was correct in thinking that I'd left my glasses there.

I went to the security desk next to the front door on the first floor, but they hadn't received glasses from anyone. Nor had anyone in the office on the second floor. So I guess that my only option is to put a sign on the front door leading to the 12th floor hallways, and hope that whoever took my glasses is an honest person who will return them to me when he knows the identity and room number of the owner of the glasses.

I can't really see why the man who took my glasses wouldn't return them to me once he knows who the glasses belong to. It seems highly unlikely that his prescription is identical to mine; and even if that were the case, it also seems unlikely that he'd want to be spotted wearing my glasses around Lawson House. So it seems likely that I'll get them back. But nothing is guaranteed, especially in a building containing a high percentage of residents who don't always think the way that normal people think.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting here squinting at the computer screen. My prescription used to be fairly mild, and I could get by fairly easily without my glasses, but my need for glasses when reading has grown during the past decade.

When making PC reservations here at the library, one gets a little printout of the details (e.g., the computer number, the time, etc.) for each reservation. I actually had to ask a security guard to read my reservation receipt for me so that I'd know which computers I'd reserved for today. What a drag!

I'm able to see the lettering on this computer monitor well enough to type this blog post (thanks, in part, to my touch typing abilities, which aren't based entirely on sight), but things are a bit fuzzy in spite of the backlit screen. And printed materials with lightly printed type, small type, etc. can be even harder to read, especially in lighting which isn't quite bright enough.

I really can't afford a new pair of glasses right now. In fact, the old pair was free, thanks to a program operated by a local college of optometry. I've had that pair for almost two years now, so perhaps I can get a new pair soon through that program, if I don't get the lost glasses back from the man who took them. Otherwise, I will probably just buy some off the shelf reading glasses at Osco or Walgreens, and hope that they suffice for my most pressing needs, until I can afford to get some real prescription glasses again. Even reading glasses represent an expense I can't really afford right now, but they're a whole lot less expensive than prescription glasses, and also a lot less time-consuming (in terms of having to schedule an appointment weeks in advance, wait another week or more for the glasses, and so forth).

My father, who was an optometrist, used to handle all of my optometric needs when I was a kid, and he continued to do so a little longer even after I'd become a young adult. But he's been dead since 1999, and we'd been distant from one another (both geographically and emotionally) for quite some time before that. So it's been a long time since I was able to get my optometric needs met by my father. There are a lot of things I don't particularly miss about him, but that is one of the things I do miss. He was a very good optometrist, until he foolishly allowed excessive liquor consumption to put an end to his professional practice.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Loyalty, Disloyalty and Dissent

The May 11-18 issue of Newsweek has an essay and a book excerpt by Richard N. Haas, who worked in both Bush administrations. In the essay entitled "The Dilemma of Dissent," Haas acknowledges that dissent is sometimes seen as a sign of disloyalty by leaders, but he makes a case for the idea that that isn't necessarily the case.

Dissent has been hailed as noble and necessary by our leaders. None other than President Dwight Eisenhower said that Americans should "never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion." Fomer senator William J. Fulbright declared, "In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith."
He continues, on page 34:

Speaking truth to power is actually a form of loyalty. It is the best and at times only way to make sure that government (or any organization) lives up to its potential.
I agree; and I think that the aforementioned quotation would certainly be applicable to the local church (which would fall under the categorical heading of "any organization").

Pastors have a tendency to assume that criticisms of their policies or their actions are tantamount to attacks against them or their churches. But that's an unfair assumption to make, inasmuch such criticisms are sometimes motivated by a desire to see those churches and their pastors live up to their potential.

It's a shame that so many of our churches are led by egotistical pastors who act as if disagreement with them is synonymous with disagreement with God. There are exceptions, thankfully, but it seems to me on a purely subjective level (based on personal experiences) that such humble Christian leaders are getting harder and harder to find.

I remember one pastor saying the following from the pulpit, roughly 20 years ago (when I attended that pastor's church in southwest Missouri): "The church is not a democracy." That was his response to people who had the audacity to think that they ought to have a voice in church policies, in spite of the fact that they weren't part of that church's privileged "inner circle".

When he said that, I was tempted to reply, "No, but neither is it a dictatorship." I suspect (based on his leadership style) that if I had replied in that manner, he would have begged to differ.

Humility is an essential aspect of discipleship. How do such pastors expect to teach humility to others, if they do not lead by example?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Emotional Healing Doesn't Come Overnight

On March 30, according to an article in the NY Daily News as well as other news sources, a 23-year-old man from Milton, MA named Kerby Revelus stabbed his 17-year-old sister Samantha Revelus to death. Then he turned on his 5-year-old sister Bianca (whose birthday cake from her party the day before still sat on the kitchen table) and beheaded Bianca. The third sister, 9-year-old Sarafina, called the police, who shot Kerby and killed him before he could murder Sarafina.

(For you gun control advocates, it's noteworthy that all of this carnage occurred in spite of the fact that Kerby didn't have a gun at the time. When taking everyone's guns away fails to solve the problem of lethal violance, will we start taking people's kitchen knives away from them next? Hopefully, we'll eventually get a clue and start assigning the blame where it really belongs: The darkness of sinful human hearts, which is a problem as old as Cain and Abel.)

Today's RedEye reported another comparable incident, as did this MSNBC article. A 34-year-old father in Lakeland, FL (Troy Ryan Bellar) murdered two of his three sons, as well as his wife, and he tried unsuccessfully to murder his third son (13-year-old Nathan Bellar) before turning his rifle on himself and committing suicide.

In both of these cases, there was one surviving family member who barely escaped death the hands of a family member who murdered numerous other family members. Those survivors will have to live for a very long time with incredibly painful, traumatic memories.

Can Christ heal such painful memories? As a Christian, I have to say that he can, at least to the extent that Sarafina Revelus and Nathan Bellar will eventually be able to live reasonably productive lives, if they choose to do so. But that doesn't mean that such healing is likely to come overnight, or that it will come easily. Nor is it to say that those survivors will ever be completely free from dark memories in this life, barring complete and total amnesia. (And even then, they are likely to be reminded of the past in a variety of ways, such as searching for their own names on the web.)

Sadly, there are pastors and other Christian leaders in this country who, to put it mildly, need a reality check when it comes to incidents such as these, as well as other less extreme incidents which nevertheless are capable of creating issues which cannot be easily or quickly resolved merely by offering flippant, uncompassionate advice to the effect that such people should "get over it" and "move on with their lives". To insist that such people put on a deceptively happy face and pretend that all is well in their lives is to promote the kind of dishonesty which ought to be deemed repugnant by all Christians.

There's no question that Jesus offers emotional healing to such victims, but complete and total healing (sometimes described as "closure") may not come until we are safely in heaven, where such tragic events will be no more. Meanwhile, we Christians need to take our scriptural responsibilities to one another seriously. We need to bear one another's burdens. That includes allowing victims such as Sarafina Revelus and Nathan Bellar to talk about their pain, without judging them, even if listening to them makes us extremely uncomfortable.

That, after all, is what Jesus would do.