Friday, January 31, 2003

editorial contest

I'm not sure why I feel compelled to share this, but today I initiated a contest among several editors and writers at WCN Newspapers.

As we write our editorials and columns this week, we are making an effort to use the names of as many comic strips as we can without forcing it. A sample might read: "For better or for worse, the county has chosen to initiate this program. The $3 million of seed money might seem like peanuts compared to the overall budget, and to be fair, it surely will jump start the recovery process for this sector."

And so on. The winner is the one who gets the most comic strip names into print next week, meaning they'll have to pass through the review process of our higher-ups, who know nothing about the contest.

Somehow I doubt we'll see references to strips like "Get Fuzzy" or "Apartment 3-G."

followup on isaac

Isaac's parents were ordered to attend parenting classes and to receive counseling/therapy for a number of other issues. To my knowledge, they eventually began to comply with the court order and attended these things.

Since he left, I discovered that one of the court's requirements for his parents to regain custody was that he and his sister be enrolled in day care. Isaac actually has visited us twice in the last month. The day care has been fantastic for him. He's starting to use simple sentences and is trying to speak more frequently, and a number of areas where he had regressed, he has regained much of the lost ground and in one or two cases, he has passed where he was when he left us.

As for how much he understood, I really have no idea. He was essentially nonverbal when he left us, and still is for that matter. When he returned from his visits, he often was surly and unruly, which suggests to me that he wasn't enjoying being tossed around so much.

When he came to visit the first time, he recognized me immediately, but kept his distance for a while, as if he was angry at me. That eventually passed, and he couldn't keep away from me. So, again, I'm guessing he did NOT appreciate being uprooted again, and in some sense is angry at me for "abandoning" him.

Fortunately for him, his very unstable mother has left the scene and his father has been asking us for help, so we're going to be involved with him in some capacity for a while to come. 

Hopefully one day Isaac will understand what he means to us. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

whom to blame for your faith?

It's an interesting question, and not one I'm sure I can qualify an answer to adequately. As I've written about elsewhere on the forum, I became a Christian in 1988 "on my own" while listening to the music of the then-controversial pop/metal band Stryper.

I received nothing of value spiritually from my parents. We attended a Presbyterian Church while I was growing up that was about as alive as the onions in my garden are right now. That taught me pretty much that God and religion were boring and to be avoided if possible.

There were Christians I had known before 1988 who had some impact on me, I'm sure. One was a customer on my paper route who although she was over 60 was one of the few friends I had as a teen. Others belonged to the high school youth group I attended while I was an afs student in Rotorua, New Zealand. That was where I first saw a living faith, primarily among the adult leaders of the youth group -- Christian Pilaar and John Thornton.

I've been influenced by the music of Keith Green. It was because of his no-nonsense example that I decided to enter the missions field after college, where I would say my faith was stretched and grew the most. Probably the most signifiacnt mentor type there was Phil Murphy, a Church of Christ missionary who made me stop to think about what following Christ means in terms of our commitment to other people and to the poor specifically. If it weren't for Phil's influence, I probably never would have become a foster father to Christian.

My college fellowship and the Assemblies of God church I belonged to for much of college and afterward, while I enjoyed them at times, had a negligible impact on my growth spiritually, I think. If anything I think their effect did more harm than good and I've had to unlearn a number of the attitudes, beliefs and habits I picked up there.

And then there's my wife. Like many people, I have some secrets that I do my best to keep for various reasons. The beauty is that Natasha knows these scerets but loves me anyway. I've learned more about love from her -- and from our children -- than I have from anyone else.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

pushy s.o.b. telemarketer

I had an experience with a telemarketer Thursday night I still don't believe.

This fellow called at 7 p.m. from some travel agency in Princeton. As soon as he identified himself I gave him my standard line: "Please take our name off your calling list."

He launched into his sales pitch anyway, saying, "Well sir, if you'll just hear me out, I'm sure you'll be very happy --"

"I'd be happier," I said, "if you take my name off your calling list."

A telemarketer shortly after her daily lunch of innocent children
"Of course, sir, but I wanted to let you know that you've been selected for a free --"

"I said I would like you to take my name off your calling list."

"Well, if you'll just hear me out --"

"Get me your manager," I said. The blockhead kept going on and I had to say "NOW!" to get through to him.

I've never had a more unbelievable experience. It's bad enough their business is annoying, and even worse that they call during dinner time. As I told the manager, this guy's willfully ignoring me three times was unprofessional, way too aggressive, and just plain rude. I'm guaranteed the right to have my name removed from a calling list under the Telephone Consumers Act, which is supposed to be a signal for them to end their call.

The manager removed my number, and I told her I wanted disciplinary action taken against the caller. She said she would take care of it, but I doubt anything happened beyond "Don't do that again. You never know when one of these people is going to be oversensitive and freak out."


Copyright © 2003 by David Learn. Used with permission.

'the sorcerer's stone'

Imagine discovering that someone loved you so much they gave up their own life to save you. Now imagine that in so doing, they also broke the power of the most evil entity ever known and left that being a shattered remnant of his former self. This is of course, the basis for this, the first Harry Potter novel, but it is also a very direct reference to the Christian faith and its foundational beliefs in Jesus Christ.

The parallels continue with stunning force that it's amazing public schools actually encourage children to read this and other books by J.K. Rowling, especially given the absence of other blatantly religious literature by men like John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe. As Harry becomes aware of his mother's sacrifice and what it meant, he also becomes aware of a much deeper reality that he has existed in all his life even though he has never known of it until now.

Following this "conversion" experience, Harry is whisked off to Hogwart's, where he learns more about the deeper reality he now is aware of, particularly the power of love to drive out evil and to redeem. This is religious allegory on a level not seen since the days of C.S. Lewis and his "Chronicles of Narnia."

Still, if you can put aside the overt religious themes of the book, you're in for a very pleasant experience. Although "Sorcerer's Stone" is by no means the strongest of the four Harry Potter books published so far -- it spends a long time on setup, and develops neither plot nor characters as well as Rowling's later novels -- it's no slouch either.

While at Hogwart's Harry encounters pretty much every variety of menace and friend known to early adolescence: there's the teacher who doesn't like you, the know-it-all girl, the bully, the best friend, the class clown, and of course the stern and loving teachers like Minerva McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore.

Although the menace Harry ultimately must face is worse than any bogeyman I can recall from my middle school days, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is a magical fantasyland romp through the world of a teenager, told through the eyes of a teenager. Read it with your teen or preteen, and you'll have plenty of chances to talk with them about their own problems and the people they have to contend with at school each day.

And if you want to talk with them about matters of eternal nature, this book presents the chance to do that as well.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

vote for me

I've been writing reviews over at, but so far my ranking is pretty low. Below 15,000, actually.

I'm hoping everyone here can find it in their hearts to read my reviews and say that they were helpful to you.

They'll certainly be among the most unusual reviews you'll have read for these products. Thanks.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

mustard seed

You know that teaching of Jesus' that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can tell a mountain to jump into the lake and it will? We usually refer to the faith that can move mountains as a big thing, even though Jesus indicated it's actually pretty small.

I have a good example.:

When Isaac left us to return to his parents, you don't have to be the most observant person to know I took it hard. In addition to the stuff I posted, like this poll, and the personal contact I had with a few people via e-mail and on the phone, I'd say I went through a rough period spiritually. I didn't stop having faith, but I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to giving God a piece of my mind more than once for an hour or more at a time. Still believing, I wondered if it was worth it to.

Essentially the situation was that I had poured my heart and soul into a foster child who for two years had been neglected by his parents and left in an emotional wasteland, only to see him be returned to a situation that hadn't changed at all. It was devastating, it was horrible, and it is still not something I really want to talk about.

Essentially, I had reached a point where I had been walking more in Christ's footsteps than I think I ever had in my life. I found myself in an area that was utterly void of light, and it was impossible to see any way out, in any direction. There was no road, no guiding hand, no hope. Just a voice that said, "Follow me," and no reason given why I should.

I did anyway. That's faith the size of a mustard seed. Now look what God has done with it:

On Wednesday night, after wanting to it for three or four weeks, I called Isaac's father. Isaac's mother a few weeks ago had realized she really can't take care of her children, didn't want to, and didn't want to live with her husband anymore, and walked out on them.

Craig -- that's Isaac's dad -- was not only pleased I had called, he was relieved. See, he's been feeling a little overwhelmed, and had been wanting to call us for the past three or four weeks, but was afraid to do so because he didn't know what sort of reaction he would get.

We talked. I told him that if he needed help with anything, to let us know and we would help out however we could.

That was Wednesday night. On Thursday night, he called back, and asked if we could watch Isaac for him Friday night over into Saturday afternoon. I had to check with Natasha, but I knew our answer would be yes. He needs the help, and Evangeline has been asking about Isaac every day since he left. (We were admittedly a little apprehensive. Isaac was a handful and a half his last two months here, we don't want to be taken advantage of, and we don't want to reopen old wounds for Evangeline.)

As it turns out, the visit with Isaac went rather well. He and his dad showed up around 7:30 Friday evening with a big hullabullo on Evangeline's part. For the next hour-and-a-half she and Isaac ran all over the downstairs, screaming and carrying on and generally having a good time.

I finally got the kids settled down and in bed last night around 9:30. It was an hour-and-a-half past Isaac's regular bedtime, but we figured we could make an exception for something like this. Isaac slept in until 7 a.m. -- and yes, given his history here, that is sleeping in late -- at which point I got him dressed and we went to walk the dog.

The morning went well as the two children played not always together but generally in the same room. You should have seen them in the kitchen just before lunch. Isaac was sitting one the chair, and he and Evangeline were talking to each other through the gaps in the back. They kept it up for about 20 minutes. We finally put Lumpy down for a nap at 1 p.m., he slept until well past 3:30 p.m. Isaac showed up around 4, when I took them both home, Christmas presents and a picture of the two kids included. (Craig doesn't have a car, and I'd like to spare him the taxi fare if I can. Plus this way I know Isaac's in a car seat.)

It went well. I'm looking forward to doing it again. Craig says he would like to do this more, since he thinks we can play an important role in Isaac's life and because he saw how much his son missed not only Evangeline but us as well. We also had one of those connection moments when we realized how much Isaac means to each of us, and had to turn away so we didn't cry in front of one another. (Craig also said he has no problem if Isaac calls us eemah and abba, the names he used for us while he was living here, or if we call him Lumpy. Nice points all around.)

As expected, Isaac has regressed in several areas that I'd have rather he didn't -- the most visible and annoying ones are his tendency to drool incessantly and his steady application of the art of Whining to Get Your Way.

The good news is that Isaac has progressed noticeably in several other areas. He's walking better than ever and not being distracted so easily, although he still employs the fall-down-for-attention tactic; he's developed a longer attention span; and best of all, his vocabulary has increased to a 2-year-old's level. (He's almost 3.) He can even say "dinosaur" when he sees a picture of one. I'm very happy with that.

He also recognized me. Although it took him a little while to warm up, he gave me several unsolicited hugs today, which I'm sure you can understand I've appreciated immensely.

It looks like this will be the start of something long term, relationshipwise.

I hope everyone else's weekend goes as well as mine has been.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

chamber of secrets

The fight with the basilisk was, to me, a tremendous disappointment. Overall, the movie was decent, but it still felt kind of rushed, and I found myself wondering why they cut some of the material they did.

I'm really hoping the new director has more imagination than Chris Columbus. A movie that tries to adhere too closely to the book is never going to be all that it could.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

'wizard of oz'

Before Voldemort, before the Dark Lord Sauron, there was Glinda the (so-called) Good Witch of the North. Watch this movie, and see her masterful manipulation of naive Dorothy as she catapults herself into ever-increasing power.

It all begins when a mysterious tornado brings Dorothy to Oz, landing her house on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. Glinda, for no apparent reason, gives Dorothy the deceased witch's slippers, earning Dorothy the enmity of the Wicked Witch of the West (masterfully played by Margaret Hamilton), and sends her beyond the Yellow Brick Road to the Wizard of Oz.

It's all a ploy, though, as we discover at the end of the movie, when Dorothy learns all she had to do to get home was click her heels. So why does Glinda do it? Watch as the wizard sends Dorothy to steal the broomstick of the wicked witch and destroys her in the process, only to go and expose the Wizard of Oz himself as a clever con man pretending to have great powers.

In other words, Dorothy unknowingly creates a tremendous power vacuum in Oz. And who do you think is going to move into that vacuum? Glinda, obviously. (The Good Witch of the South is mentioned but never appears. One can only imagine how Glinda dispatched her other rival before dropping a house on the Wicked Witch of the East.)

Brilliantly directed and stunning in its storycraft, "The Wizard of Oz" remains a frightening and disturbing movie in the way it tries to diminish terms like "good" by masquerading evil in so pleasant a form. While this should come as no surprise, given MGM's history of addicting child stars like Judy Garland to speed and other drugs, it should be enough to make any parent think twice before allowing their children to watch such a movie before they are old enough to weigh the themes for themselves.

Copyright © 2003 by David Learn. Used with permission.