Monday, July 23, 2007

Penny for your thoughts

The inner dialogue I had while running this afternoon prompted me to pose this question in hopes that several readers will ponder it and share some thoughts.

Which do you think best serves the curious mind, a telescope or a microscope?

I will let it sit a couple of days to see what response I get, then I will share my thoughts. Obviously, there is no right or wrong answer. I would just like to read some different perspectives.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Take Another Look!

This is a quick post as a follow-up to one I wrote recently about the Stockdale Paradox. The idea is that we must hold to an unshakable faith that whatever we are going through can not only be survived, but can serve to make us better in some way. At the same time we hold this posivitive long-term view, we must be willing to face the brutal facts of our current situation. Either of these perspectives without the other can be catastrophic. All of this is somewhat philosophical so when I read two examples in yesterday's Montgomery Advertiser of a failure to grasp this principle, I began to feel that I had to express my thoughts.

The first example is a tragic local story of an estranged husband shooting to death his 3 young children, driving to his mother-in-law's house where his wife was staying, going into the house and shooting himself to death. Much has been said and written locally about this terrible event. I want to focus on one statement made by Brenda Robinson, the surviving wife and mother. Among many other things, she said of her deceased husband "He was actually a pretty good man." Well, I beg to differ. I could debate for hours why this is not true, but my point here is that this lady, God bless her in her grief, chose to overlook some serious defects in her husbands character. I could speculate why and probably come close, but let's just leave it at this fact. He showed signs of serious abuse. He came from a background of abuse. He needed help. If he refused help, she needed protection. If she refused protection, the children needed protection.

The second example from the same paper is much less tragic, and seems on the surface very funny. The headline read "Five Hundred Pound Man Rescued from River". Apparently, this 500 pound man was floating down a shallow river on an inner tube which hit a rock, not surprisingly, and burst, not surprisingly. I will skip the details about the hours and dollars spent to rescue this man and the obvious questions about why he could not just walk out of the river. For the purpose of this post, consider the comment made by his mother; "He is really in pretty good shape." What? How can that be? Folks, we need to face the brutal facts. And we need to tell each other the truth.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Your Country Depends on YOU!

Here is how it works;

At the bottom of the post is the word "Comments". Click on that. A page will pop up. If you do not have a blog, just comment as "anonymous", but you need to leave your name in the section with your comment. That is it. Don't send money. You do not have to agree nor patronize. Just let me know you were here. It really means a lot. Thanks. Do not let the terrorists win!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Why are you home early?"

Within an hour of my return to Montgomery, I was asked this question for the first time. I expect to hear it many times by the end of the week. The answer is both complex and simple. The simple version is that one member of our hiking party had medical problems that made it impossible to continue. His toes had blisters the second day and were bleeding the third day and a more personal condition had developed and was bleeding as well. These things happen and many other possible injuries and equipment failures can bring a hike to a sudden end. For those who have never hiked an extensive section of the Appalachian Trail, it is difficult to comprehend the difficulty of the footing on rocky trails that are either going up or down at a steep angle most of the time. It is very, very different from walking 15 miles on your local park walking track. Also, you can't just stop by the CVS for bandages or drugs. You have to decide before you leave which of those you will carry with you and how much weight you are willing to add to your pack in order to be prepared.
The more complex answer involves the interpersonal skills and struggles required to plan, organize, and implement such a hike. The communication required demands absolute honesty with yourself and the others in the party about physical condition, equipment, goals, desires, and flexibility (of attitude). In our case, we had a plan that could work but would be very, very challenging. What most people do not understand is that the process is not over for us. We will rehash and analyze the hike for some time. And future hikes will depend to some extent on how honest and direct we are with each other during this process. As I have been thinking about our hike, the following quote by Theodore Roosevelt came to mind. I think it applies well to our effort. Can you see applications in your life?

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Appalachian Trail Adventures

Here are more pictures from the Appalachian Trail. I will post some details of the trip later, but wanted to share some of the pictures right away. Bring your sense of awe and your sense of humor. It will help enjoy the pics if you engage all your senses in imagining yourself hiking 85 miles of mountain trails with your house, bed, stove, food, clothes, and everything you need to survive a week on your back. Don't ask "why" at this time. Just imagine you are doing it and enjoy the pics.

Please remember these are taken with a disposable camera. I decided not to carry my 35 mm this time because it is bulky and the hike is hard on the camera.

People always say "the picture doesn't do it justice". That is certainly true of these landscape pics. Here you get some sense of the mountains rolling into the distance to what seems like infinity. It really gives a person a sense of the enormity of the universe. I saw a group of men drive up to the Walasi outfitter store, walk over to the scenic view and one said to the group "Did you know such a view existed an hour and a half from home?" Then they climbed into their VERY racy sports cars and roared off. That is not the same as hiking up a 6000 foot mountain, finding a rocky outcropping, and stopping to enjoy the breeze rising from the valley while you try to take in the view.

We walk past many, many interesting rock formations and trees growing where there seems to be no soil. If I had the camera capacity and anybody would be willing to share them, I could take a thousand pictures of the character of the various mountains.

Although we hiked later in the summer than usual and Georgia has had drought conditions much like Alabama, there were many flowers and various colors of Rhododendron in bloom.

Often I take many pictures and rarely am I in any of them. Here are a couple of pics to prove I was there!

Here is my good friend Joel, taking care of some business via cell phone even in this remote wilderness. Joel is a hard-working man and a great asset to his company and his family.

Here is another shot of Joel taking care of business. My ex-friend, Joel. Sorry, brother, it is just funny.

Here is Joel with his brother Jeff. What a duo!

If a photo can capture the difference in personality of two brothers, this may be it;

Yes, one is standing perfectly still and straight like you are SUPPOSED to even though he cares nothing for pictures and doesn't want a lot of attention. The other is monkeying around, pretending to throw a knife at his brother's back like you are NOT SUPPOSED to, because he loves attention and can't get enough. Below, is Jeff eating raw bear meat off his pocket knife.

Remember the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel all night? That is about how long Jeff wrestled with rigging the rainfly from his tent to serve as both pack cover and rain coat. He won about the time it quit raining.

We hiked a long way!

And finally this one;

It is not a top-quality photo of the men nor of the mountains. But it is a photo of a top-quality friendship. Over time Joel has become a true friend. His brother, Jeff, asked me on the hike how Joel and I became friends--what we had in common to begin with. My answer was that Joel had not only a willingness, but an eagerness to discuss spiritual matters at a deep philosophical level and at a very personal level. Joel has a directness that puts some people off and intimidates some. But that quality makes him a valuable accountability partner. And he allows me to be very direct and personal with him as well. What I share in confidence, I know stays with him. He can count on the same from me. He invites me to step on his toes much more than he steps on mine. And he tolerated my pace on this hike although he worked very hard to be in shape and was able to sustain a faster pace. Largely because of his leadership we held devotionals each day of the hike and were able to show the love of God to a few other folks even in these remote areas. That is the kind of friend I need. Thanks, Joel. I will hike with you anytime.

It's a small world after all....

So, I was hiking down the Appalachian Trail, minding my own business, enjoying the flora and fauna.....and guess who I ran into? Really, try to guess. No, not Elvis. It was Charlie Sheen and Woody Harrelson! I am not making this up! Why don't you believe me? Here is proof;

Well, I only had a disposable camera so here is more proof;

As it turns out, neither Woody nor Charlie are as mean and tough as they look in these photos.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


"Over the hills and through the woods to nobody's house we go!" This is a quick post to serve notice that I will leave Montgomery tomorrow to again hike the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail. It looks like after a year of drought, we will have rain most days while we are hiking. My compadres on this trip will be Joel Plake and his brother Jeff. I have hiked with Joel a little but will be getting to know Jeff on this trip. It will be fun to explore the psyche of brothers for a week. It is amazing how quickly the masks of societal behavior disappear when you are sweating profusely all day, don't have access to a shower for a week, dig your own toilet, and carry your house, food, kitchen appliances, wardrobe, and groceries on your back. Exhaustion also breeds honesty. Honesty sometimes hurts feelings. But at the end, the adventure has allowed you to come to know another person at a level that many who call themselves life-long friends never realize. I love that part of backpacking. The men I have hiked with over the years can say anything in the world to me now without fearing that I may be offended. I am not embarrassed to give a bear hug to Dennis Fonville even if he looks like a mafia hit man. Jim Naylor is just "Natum" to me and sarcasm is the order of the day. Joe McClary (with whom I have shared both hiking and kayaking adventures) has shared deep feelings about future plans and spiritual growth because we have a connection most never experience. And my brother, Keith, who started it all with a ridiculous, hair-brained idea of hiking the very section we are hiking for the second time this week, is like--a brother to me. Keith had the vision and made the plans for the first trip when we did not know what we were doing. I was scared to death. The night before we hit the trail, we sat in the floor of a rented cabin with a raging storm outside--including terrible lightning (I had not thought about lightning while camping until then)--and sorted through at least 3000 pounds of equipment and food trying to decide what we really needed to carry for 7 days. Now, I just throw some stuff in a backpack and start walking. When I return, I will share some lessons I have learned from backpacking. Whether there will be pictures is undecided even now.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

"To Do" Lists

Do you use "To Do" lists? Most busy, successful people do. Management gurus endorse it. Does utilizing a "to do" list help you to be organized and get more done? Does it help you prioritize the events of your day? An idea from the book "Good to Great" that is connected to "to do" list is a "stop doing" list. Have you ever heard of a "stop doing" list? In the context of this particular book, the idea is for companies to "stop doing" things that are not related to their core competencies so that they can focus energy and resources on those things they do best or could be the best in the world at. On a personal level, the idea of a "stop doing" list seems to relate to Hebrews 12:1--"let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." The idea that not only sin, but also good works can become a weight that prevents me from running the race I am supposed to be running reminds me that I need a daily "stop doing" list as much as a "to do" list. Agree or disagree?