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Book Review: Light From Distant Stars, by Shawn Smucker

Nearly 3 years ago, I watched a brand new NBC series called "This is Us", and its unique format got my attention. What set this show apart was its practice of devoting a large portion of each episode to flashbacks. This innovative method of storytelling allowed the viewer to see cause and effect: what happened to Randall at age 8 has shaped him as an adult and informed his attitudes, motives, and actions as a 37-year-old.

Unfortunately, the network's marketing arm decided to downplay this distinction, and instead focus on how many times the show could make viewers cry. Not to belabor the point, I'll just say that I really wish they hadn't. The best thing that "This is Us" brings to the table is its decision to alternate between depicting its characters today and back then, but the network decided to focus on something less substantive.

When reading Shawn Smucker's newest, "Light From Distant Stars", I couldn't help but draw a connecti…
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My hopes for 2019

At the end of each year, Miami columnist Dave Barry, one of the funniest cultural observers of my lifetime, recaps the previous year in a humorous way. Barry's strength is pointing out our political posturing, our misplaced priorities, and the way we take it all too seriously. His recap of 2018 is a must-read and is located at
With no promises of being as sharp as Dave Barry, and not trying to be funny, I present to you my in-no-particular-order list of what I pray that 2019 will bring. Some of this is personal to me, and some is for all of us. 
1.I hope to be fully employed for all of 2019.  I'll just say this: 2018 was hard for me. And I'll leave it at that. 
2.I hope to go through 2019 without once seeing a link with the headline "Watch as (fill in the blank) DESTROYS (fill in the blank). This is almost always a link to a video where one person who takes a side in a contentious or di…

Reality Bites

Every year, December brings a few things we've come to expect: the local oldies station playing Christmas tunes a little too early; advertisements exhorting us to spend, spend, spend; complainers complaining about "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas"; and some smarter-than-thou guy on Facebook informing everyone that the Nativity scenes are all wrong. 

The latter person takes a certain satisfaction in being the one who sets everyone straight about how Jesus probably wasn't born in a stable, and even if there was a stable, the Wise Men (they weren't kings and there weren't 3 of them) weren't there anyway because they most likely saw Him up to 2 years after He was born. 

And the Little Drummer Boy? Don't get him started. 

If Facebook Guy is correct, it's likely that one day, in this life or the next, we're going to find out that the birth of Jesus was nothing like we pictured it. We were raised thinking it was one thing, and then our bal…

The deeper the root, the tougher the weed

My Saturday has been a busy one. This morning, I ran across a story about a film critics association's list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. Once I saw that "Schindler's List" was down the list at #74, I failed to take the rest of the list seriously. How could I?  I imagined having a one-sided conversation with whoever contributed to that list, whoever decided to rank the Schindler movie so low. Back when it was released, nearly every movie journalist said it was one of the finest films they had ever seen. It's regularly in the top 5 of lists like this one. There's a reason for that.

But I digress; let's get back to my day: after I read a few things, including that piece about the 100 movies, I went outside and did some yardwork, including pulling some weeds and some poorly-located rosebushes. Once I had done all the physical labor I needed to do, I showered, ate supper, and capped the evening by watching "Won't You Be My Neighbor", …

5 Things Making Liberals and Conservatives Look Ridiculous

As I have said previously, I'm pretty much done with partisan politics. I'm skeptical of those  who claim they're neither Republican nor Democrat, but in reality, they still see the world through one lens or the other. I won't try to tell the same lie: when I say I'm equally disgusted with both parties, I'm also making it clear that I lean strongly to the Right on most issues. 

Believing in principles does not necessarily equate to aligning with a party and defending the actions of that party's leaders or most prominent officeholders. In fact, it's just the opposite. I have a lot more respect for someone who's not afraid to call out members of their own party when necessary than I do for those who cheer for their team regardless of principle and regardless of basic decency.

If that's you, then perhaps you think that by not calling the extremists out, you're protecting your party, but you're actually hurting your cause, and the ideas you be…

5 reasons I'm holding back my political opinions from social media

Many years ago, I made a wonderful discovery: I love discussing ideas online. This took place in various forums, but my favorite location for this kind of interaction was when I was part of the Burnside Writers Collective. Started by Donald Miller and and mentioned in "Blue Like Jazz", Burnside was a place for aspiring Christian writers, mostly to the left of me and mostly younger than me, to write about issues that were important to them. I debated with most of them, but in a polite and respectful way, and they eventually invited me in. Burnside is long gone now, but I have made a few friends. I've even met a couple of them in person.

As BWC faded away, I Facebook-friended most of the writers there. The Facebook discussions I had with those friends became less about posting what you had for breakfast, and more entrenched in the us-vs-them divisiveness which now plagues us as a nation. This happened not just with the friends I know from Burnside, but even from my own ch…

The Blame Game

This week, two high-profile suicides made the news. In both cases, the deceased person's many fans have commented publicly about the tragedy of a life which ended too soon. There's no argument here: it is nothing short of tragic.

Sadly, too many of us have chosen to express our sadness about the self-inflicted death of a famous person by looking for someone outside of that person to blame. Depression, mental illness, opioids, Donald Trump, past abuse, financial difficulties, and marital trouble  are among the many reasons offered up for why someone has chosen to take their own life.

As someone who's never been inside anyone's head but my own, I wouldn't dare to argue for or against the many possible reasons that have been suggested. But I will say this: to some extent, there is room for each person to be responsible for his actions.

As strange as it might seem, I see a connection between the willingness to blame outside reasons for a person's actions and the o…