Thursday, April 26, 2012

This week's column

Ironically, sometimes faith and a love of science fiction can go hand and hand.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, two giants of literature and faith, express their faith well in the form of fiction.
Lewis is a noted apologist for the Christian faith and author of one of the most loved fantasy book series of all time, “The Chronicles of Narnia.” The series has fans outside of Christianity but Lewis’ faith is evident as Aslan the lion takes on the sin of Edward by dying in his place to spare him, coming to life again because the evil of the queen cannot defeat him.
J.R.R. Tolkien has another widely read series now famous in film, “The Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien and Lewis were friends and while Tolkien’s Christian themes are not as obvious as he critiqued Lewis’ to be, they are still there. His letters and other writings explain how his faith is embedded into the series.
The two authors began this journey of writing epic adventures in discussions of what they liked to read, fairy stories as they called them. They felt a void in the literature of their time and decided to take it upon themselves to write something they’d like to read.
Then faith kicked in. They were both enthralled with the stories in the Bible, which they both held to be true and the core of their lives. They wanted to create modern imaginative stories that had Christian themes embedded in them that may spark an interest in the Bible for someone.
What they created were two of the most imaginative and creative works of our time. Many who attend Comic Con dressed as hobbits might miss the author’s point. But readers like me, who see all the themes and allegories to faith, get excited.
The sci-fi genre explores the height of imagination. I believe if God created those crazy fish on the bottom of the ocean that light up in funky colors, he has an amazing and perfect imagination.
Admittedly, much of the realm of science fiction drifts away from faith. But the crazy thing is even some of the other sci-fi works are all seeking some sort of higher power or truth. Often they find these things in something alien or a mystical force, but they are always left searching.
In writings by Christians in this genre, the search ends with God and no further searching is necessary. They are stories of sacrifice, conviction and triumph.
If you’ve read many of my columns you may have already guessed I’m a Christian — a Bible-believing, church-going, theology-loving Christian.
Now, as a follower of Jesus, I am also a major fan of the science fiction and fantasy genre.
I’m a fan of “Star Wars,” LOTR, comic book movies and much of the sci-fi genre. In a strange way, the creative adventure of exploring a large and vast universe beyond myself always points me back to God.
Just like with Lewis and Tolkien, the creative journey gives me a fanciful allegory pointing toward the truth of God.
While writing a bit of Christian sci-fi on the side, I will never profess to be as good as the genius of Lewis and Tolkien, but I understand how their writings profess and strengthen their faith. Sometimes their works even bring me to tears.
So, I’m a nerd. And as a nerd I enjoy expressing my faith through writings about such things. If my book is ever published, it will reveal the main character coming to a faith in Christ while wheedling a sword and leading a band of secret warriors who fight evil beings in the dark nights in the streets of London. That all makes since in my head, hopefully it will in print as well.
Walk through the wardrobe or take a step into Middle Earth and see if you can find the message two giants of literature tried to express through their writings. If you haven’t noticed it before, you might be surprised.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

This week's column

Living under dog rule

When you are a dog owner, you start to notice a shift in the hierarchy of your home.
At first it’s hardly noticeable. But then you start to notice you are no longer the master of your home. Slowly but surely the dog starts to take over.
In case you have a hard time noticing when exactly that moment has arrived, here are a few clues.
First, you jump to your feet every time the dog sits next to the door. You might think you have trained the dog to do this to let you know it’s time for them to go out but they’ve really trained you.
How many times have you stopped what you were doing to take the dog out to find yourself standing outside for 20 minutes while your dog takes a nice stroll around the yard sniffing things? And, I might add, how many times has this happened in the rain? Sometimes it’s the one on our end of the leash being taken for the walk.
Another sign the dogs have taken over your house is when you schedule your social life based on when you’ll have time to run home and let out the dogs. I cannot tell you how many times I have rushed home from work, stood outside for the before-mentioned 20 minutes waiting for them to find the perfect spot to go to the bathroom, rushed inside to change and hurried off to an event that I, more than likely, showed up late for because of the dogs.
Meal time can be another clue to the canine take over. Dogs sit and stare at each morsel of food as their eyes follow your fork from your plate to your mouth. Eventually this leads to you tossing them something from your meal. This is especially true of French fries.
Your spending habits also change to the canine demands. I’ve often looked down at the checkout line at the grocery and noticed half of my purchase is for the dogs. Food, treats, bones, dog shampoo, peanut butter and a variety of other items usually sit mixed with my grocery needs.
They also can pull off the pitiful look. This is their trick to get you to do anything they want you to. This includes crawling around on the floor looking for the favorite toy, Mr. Shark, they lost in the first place.
You also notice while you have a full size couch in your living room, you are sitting on a small chair or on the floor while the dogs stretch out on the couch. And, if you happen to have gotten to the couch first, you are sat on or pushed to the edge as the dog takes up the most comfy spot.
But the biggest sign that a dog has taken over your home happens at bedtime. This is the most cunning part of the take over. You go to bed and the dogs are obediently at the foot of the bed until you fall asleep. At some point you wake up in the middle of the night on the very edge of the bed with little cover while a large Labrador lies restfully on his back, sideways across the middle of your bed stretched out as much as he can.
At that point, you have ceased to be the master of your home and have totally given over to canine rule.
Some might ask why dog owners allow our homes to be completely taken over. And at first we might admit we have no idea, but upon further thought there are reasons we put up with the craziness of our dogs.
Their sweet devotion is unmatched, they are the best things to hug at the end of a hard day, most of the time they listen to everything you say without talking back to you, they can be absolutely hilarious and they’re just so darn cute.
Yes, if you asked me who rules my home, I would probably have to honestly answer Duke the Corgi is in charge and Boo the Chocolate Labrador is his second in command. I’m not totally sure if I even come in third.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

This week's column

Remembering a melodic yet tragic life
The music world was saddened this week with the news of Whitney Houston’s death. A life of amazing musical talent tainted by addiction and regret ended early at age 48.
Since then, there have been musical tributes, fellow pop artists interviewed on TV and analyst picking through every aspect of her life.
She’s a picture of how it can all go so well and then spiral into tragic wrong. Houston is yet another lesson that money and fame do not bring happiness.
But, while not a Grammy winning performer or a celebrity, I’d like to share my own memories of Houston. That voice was prevalent on the boom box of my adolescence.
Picture it, 11-year-old Becca in her coolest pop princess outfit. I’m in my room with a marker or a hair brush for a microphone belting out “How Will I Know” by Houston. That’s right, it was just like MTV. Well, sort of.
The outfit probably had some sort of shoulder-padded jacket and I’m sure there were many clanging metal bracelets on my arms as in typical 1980s style.
With later album releases the singing routine added songs such as “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and “So Emotional.” Being older, I’m sure the outfit improved.
I will only briefly confess the interpretive dance/ice skating routine I created to “One Moment in Time.” And no, I didn’t ice skate, it was all in my imagination.
But we all did this. We all tried to sing like her, even though no one could. Her voice went places no one else’s voice could go.
In 1991, her voice inspired a nation. She sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and the nation had chills. No one has been able to live up to that performance.
Even though her acting never lived up to her voice, Houston’s songs on “The Preacher’s Wife” soundtrack were inspiring.
While her life sunk to the depths of addiction and despair, her voice rose so high no one could match it. We might never understand why someone with such talent had a life so troubled.
But what we do know is music creates memories. I’m sure we’ve all tried to belt out a song like Houston, in the privacy of our own homes or on a karaoke stage. Come on, admit it. Everyone’s tried to sing “I Will Always Love You” at least once.
Her life will be examined and re-examined in the weeks to come and we probably will learn even more about the tragic life and the bad decisions that plagued her. While many of the questions about that life will have no answer, there’s one thing we knew for sure about Houston.
That girl could sing and sing like no other.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

This week's column

A love of jolly ole England
Recently, I was accused of having Anglophilia. Now before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, that simply means an admiration of England and all things English.
I thought about it a while and maybe I am a bit enamored with England as well as Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Don’t get me wrong, I love America, am proud to be a citizen. And let’s face it, basketball and football beat soccer and cricket any day. But there’s something about the homeland of my ancestors.
I scanned the Internet for some insight on what marks someone as passionate about England and here’s what I discovered.
Fans of England tend to love the British accent. This might be confession time. At home, when no one is around but the dogs, I often find myself speaking in a British accent. It just sounds so proper and distinguished.
As for English royalty, I know some people think it’s cheesy and corny but I think it’s kind of cool. It might be part of what made me absolutely adore “The King’s Speech” last year.
Another mark is a love of English history. I was a history minor in college and took a class on Tudor-Stuart England and it was my favorite class ever.
The way of life and homes are another draw. I would love to live in a flat and shop the local markets on my way home from work. But more than that, I would love a cottage in the hillside near a road speckled with crossing sheep. Let’s not forget tea time and fish and chips. Call me crazy, but I also love rainy days.
A love of British television and movies is also a must. It’s as if a British accent makes it even better. This, too, is me. My favorite television programs come via the BBC on PBS. “Masterpiece Theater” is my favorite and I couldn’t wait for a new season of “Downton Abbey,” as a bonus “Sherlock” episode has been airing lately. My favorite British series, now in reruns, is “As Time Goes By.” Because I do not have cable I have only seen one episode of “Dr. Who” but I am almost certain it would be one I would follow.
Another sign is a love for British humor. I don’t know what it is but those Brits are pretty funny. Except for Ricky Gervais, he’s just rude.Castles. I think that’s self explanatory.
James Bond. Again, no explanation necessary.
Possibly the biggest draw for me is the literature. My favorite authors all come from across the pond: Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens and the like. I love, love, love, love the literature.
As I look over the list I guess I am pretty fond of the United Kingdom. I love Celtic music, enjoy a good shepherd’s pie or fish and chips and thoroughly enjoy Mumford and Sons.
Come to think of it, my dogs are even from the old country, a Labrador retriever and Welsh Corgi. That was an accident, I think.
And let’s not forget men with British, Scottish or Irish accents always seem more attractive. Jude Law, Colin Firth and Gerard Butler are just a few examples. The latter being my personal favorite.
One day I will visit the British Isles to see the rolling hillsides of Ireland, bask in the Scottish Highlands and visit the Rabbit Room in The Eagle and Child, where the Inklings met and Lewis and Tolkien discussed their latest writings.
But until then I will watch “Masterpiece Theater,” reread “The Hobbit” and practice my English vocabulary while watching the telly.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

This Week's Column

A few days after Christmas, I went shopping with the money I was given for Christmas and a coupon in hand.
I walked in the store and scanned the shelves for the purchase that awaited me.
There it was, in the kitchen appliance section. It was sitting there, waiting for me.
I got in line and shuffled the box around, trying hard not to drop it as I waited. At the register I carefully gave the cashier my item and coupon.
Bonus, it was on sale.
Back home, I pulled my prize from its box. I flipped through the owner’s manual for operating instructions. After a quick rinse, there it was, sitting on my countertop next to my coffee pot.
My brand new Belgian waffle maker.
I felt like a kid trying out Christmas toys as I scoured the Internet for ideas about things to make with it.
Pinterest gave me a quick and easy inaugural recipe All it took was a can of refrigerated cinnamon roles. Place four in at a time, flip the mechanism and soon you had four little cinnamon roll waffles. I’ve made those far too many times for my waistline.
Then it was time to make the waffles. I went to the grocery and “gasp.” The shelf with the Belgian waffle mix was empty. Evidently, I wasn’t the only person to get the amazing machine this Christmas.So I waited. And made some more cinnamon roll waffles.
Then I went to the grocery on the other side of town. Eureka, the mix was there.
I waited again for the perfect waffle making time, Saturday morning.
With coffee made, the waffle making began. First the batter was poured into the machine and then the mechanism flipped. The wait continued until the green light flashed. The waffle was ready.
Opening the top revealed a nice, thick, golden, circular waffle. The smell of pastry filled the kitchen.
After plating, pats of butter melted into the crevasses of the waffle and the yummy goodness of maple syrup was added. The syrup made the house smell even more delightful.
At the table with my cup of coffee and two dogs sitting on the floor at the ready in case I dropped a piece, I ate my waffle. The delicious taste of a fresh made Belgian waffle made a great start to a Saturday, bite after delicious bite.
In short, I love my new Belgian waffle maker. I just wish it had an additional magical element that made every delicious thing made from it zero calories. A girl can dream.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

This week's column

Dude, where's my hover board?
It’s 2012 and many of you might be asking, “Where’s my flying car?”
A good question indeed.
If you are a fan of the science fiction genre, there are many things you might have expected to have by now. For example, when Marty McFly goes into the future in “Back to the Future II,” he goes to the year 2015. That’s only three years from now and we were expected to have flying cars, hover boards, self-drying clothes and automatic lace-up shoes, among other things. As of now, that doesn’t look much like a reality in three short years.
We’re not powering our flying DeLoreans with garbage either. The closest we get to that kind of “green” technology is the electric car, which in reality has been around a while; it’s just been improved a bit.
“Blade Runner” takes place in 2019, also featuring flying cars. While that’s still seven years into the future, too, it might be a stretch. Will we also have human-looking replicants, clones or androids, and will they dream of electric sleep? If you got that reference, you have my nerdish respect.
What about “2001: A Space Odyssey?” We don’t have major space travel, hyper sleep or Hal. Computers have come a long way but not to the state of Hal. Well, maybe that’s a good thing.
Not really given a 2012 creation date in sci-fi films, we also do not have food particlizers, time travel, laser weapons or any sort of robot that looks like those in the movies. And without holographic messaging, how in the world could anyone let Obi-Wan know he is their only hope?
Sci-fi films also often gave a somewhat bleak picture of what our world would look like in 2012. As in “12 Monkeys,” a virus would have wiped out most of mankind by now. And in “The Matrix,” the machines took over in the early 21st century and humans became batteries.And don’t forget “The Terminator” and Skynet. The computers would have become self-aware, eventually taking over in 1997, 2004 or 2011, depending on which timeline you follow.
Maybe I should be nicer to my computer.
In more modern versions of sci-fi, the threat of a world destroyed by nuclear war has been replaced by a view that the world will be destroyed by some sort of man-created natural disaster.
But we do have a few things seen in sci-fi in the past. We have communicators that can fit in the palm of our hands and flip open to talk to anyone. They’re called cellphones. Anyone else out there remember the early days of mobile phones that were in a bag you had to get out of your car to use?
Think of the technology that’s held in the palm of our hands. The data that used to be stored in computers that took up entire rooms now can be carried around with you. It’s mind-blowing.
We also have hands-free voice commands. While the intelligence and independence of Hal is not a realization, we literally can talk to our computers, cars and other devices with voice-command technology. We can sit in our cars and tell our radio to come on or tell our phone to dial a number.
The technology that reminds me most of a sci-fi film is touch-screen technology. Not that long ago, sci-fi films showed a future where you can move and transfer data on a screen by touch. My iPod Touch makes me see the reality of how the creative minds of past sci-fi films could see the possibility of the future.
It’s kind of cool when you think back.
We might not have flying cars yet, but ten years ago I didn’t imagine a touch-screen tablet as a reality either. Who knows what 2012 or the near future can bring?
Maybe one day we will teleport, travel to the far reaches of space — if NASA gets funding again — or ride on hovering skateboards? According to “Star Trek: First Contact,” we’ll have warp drive by 2063. Well have to check back on that one in 51 years.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

This week's column

A wish for hope and joy this Christmas
Long ago there was a time when a population was ruled by strangers in their own country.
The ruling country was harsh and had an appetite for ruling the world. No talk of any other ruler would be tolerated.
People were heavily taxed, desperate for rest and stressed.
They were frustrated and the gap between rich and poor was vast.
They were waiting on a promise.
Waiting until there were shepherds on a hillside, a star in the sky, wise men on their way and a baby in a manger.
Hope had arrived.
This Christmas, many find themselves in what they see as desperate situations. The economy is bad. Some are living paycheck to paycheck.
People are hurting and lonely. A holiday focusing on family gatherings makes them feel empty instead of warm.
Christmas has become a mad dash for holiday bargains and a long list of unnecessary wants. While others suffer, some fight over a $5 waffle iron in the mad Christmas rush.
We ask, “What are you getting for Christmas?” rather than, “What are you giving for Christmas?”
It’s become a busy array of gatherings that are “fit in” rather than enjoyed. Sometimes the concept of family is lost in the schedule.
We forget about the star that shone over a dirty stable one night. It led to a child, a very important child, not born in a palace but a storage place for hay and animals.
The first to see him were not dignitaries and priests. They were shepherds who may have been out with their sheep for days, smelly and dirty. He came for the poor, the hurting and the lonely, a description that fits most of us at some time in our lives.
We’re an overstressed and over-stimulated society. As a result, we’ve turned Christmas into something dreaded instead of enjoyed. We’ve created the chaos we dread.
We forget about that baby in the manger and who he grew to be. His sacrifice so that others may have joy complete.
Joy is what seems to be missing from the modern celebration of Christmas. We need to stop, breath and smile at the joy of Christmas. The cookies can wait, the presents will get wrapped and the family will get to their gatherings when they can.
Often we feel like Charlie Brown who couldn’t quite figure out Christmas anymore. He even felt depressed. He asked, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Then Linus proceeds to tell him the story of that baby in the manger so long ago. Charlie Brown smiled and left the chaos of the play he was struggling to direct. Soon everyone else followed and left the chaos behind.
Like Linus, maybe remembering the story of Christmas may calm the craziness of the season, and like Charlie Brown, we can figure out the joy we’ve missed.
We can think about those shepherds on the hillside, the star in the sky, the wise men who paid tribute and the baby in the manger.
I wish all of you a blessed and joy-filled Christmas.