Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chances To Win!

There are still three opportunities to win a copy of BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER. Two chances end in nine hours. Get your entries in soon!

Check out the following blogs to enter.

The Ramblings of a Toddler's Mom

A Write To Review

Novel Creativity

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Virtual Book Tour Comes To An End

I've reached the end of my Virtual Book Tour for BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER.  I wanted to take a brief moment to thank all of the bloggers who participated in the book tour.  All of your kind words were greatly appreciated.  I also want to say a special "thanks" to Sage from Sage's Blog Tours for the work that she did to get the tour arranged.


GIVEAWAYS STILL AVAILABLE

Don't forget that there are still some chances out there to win a copy of the book.  Check out the following blogs to enter.

The Ramblings of a Toddler's Mom

A Write To Review

Novel Creativity

One final note, check back here on my blog on January 1, 2013.  The final artwork for the cover of the next book in the Brian Wilder series, Deadlines, will be revealed.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Freedom Didn't Necessarily Mean Equality

Recently, my wife and I went to see the new Steven Speilberg movie, Lincoln. If, by the way, you haven't seen it, Lincoln is a fantastic movie which I would highly recommend. The movie is based in part on a book called Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. After seeing the movie, I felt compelled to read the book. I haven't finished the book yet, but it has been a excellent read thus far. However, it did open my eyes to some new aspects of this country's past. Now, I know a thing or two about the past, and the Civil War in particular. I know about the struggle between the north and the south over slavery in this country. But, Team of Rivals helped to enlighten me on one or two points.

At that time, there were those who were fighting to free slaves, and those who wanted to not only keep slaves, but expand slavery to other parts of the country. The ongoing controversy had been going on for years before the Civil War ever began. Members of Congress waged war through words over and over again, one side denouncing slavery, and the other demanding that the institution of slavery be left alone. Abolitionists cried again and again for the release of all slaves so that they may live free.

Sunset at 42,000 feet

I wanted to share this photo that I took yesterday evening while flying home from South Dakota.  We were at 42,000 feet and the sunset was magnificent.  There's no need to worry.  My iPhone was in airplane mode, so I didn't interfere with the plane's operation.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Virtual Book Tour Kicks Off!

Today is the kick-off of my Virtual Book Tour for BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER. The tour runs from now until December 27th. Join me for three weeks of reviews, interviews, and giveaways, courtesy of Sage's Blog Tours



If you haven't picked up a copy of my book yet, you will have five chances during the tour to win a copy.  Just follow the tour and watch for the blogs with giveaways.

Here is the schedule for the BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER Virtual Book Tour.

December 6th - Devoted Mommy of 3 
December 8th - my name is: Sage  
December 10th - Aspired Writer 
December 11th - Broad-Minded Books 
December 13th - Books and Swoons 
December 14th - Crunchy Farm Baby
December 15th - Anita Book
December 17th - The Book Knoll
December 18th - Alive on the Shelves
December 19th - The Ramblings of a Toddler’s Mom 
December 20th - A Write to Review
December 22nd - Novel Creativity  
December 24th - Beagle Book Space
December 25th - Bookwork Babblings
December 27th - Silver’s Reviews

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Slow Road to Suicide

I have a confession to make. I think I may be on the slow road to suicide. Now, before you call the mental health professionals in white coats to come and take me to a padded room somewhere, hear me out. 

Each morning, along with my shower, shave, breakfast, and other morning routine things, I take my daily laundry list of medications to help relief the various medical ailments that come with aging. I won't go into a list of them all, or what they are treating, but suffice it to say that there are several. These medications are prescribed to prolong my life by keeping certain medical conditions at bay; medical conditions that, over a long period of time, could result in my untimely death if they are left unchecked. It is a fairly common situation for many people as they grow older. Dictionary.com defines suicide as "the intentional taking of one's life". Based on that definition, you could surmise that if I were to stop taking my medications, I would be, in a nutshell, committing suicide. It would be a slow road to suicide, but it would be suicide none the less. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Virtual Book Tour Coming Soon!!

I am really excited to announce that I am working with Sage's Blog Tours to book my first Virtual Book Tour.  The dates for the tour are set for December 6th through the 27th.  I'll be dropping in on book bloggers for reviews, interviews, guest posts, and even a few giveaways.  Details will be coming soon.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Two Percent

If you have followed my blog from the beginning, you may remember that I have blogged previously about the American Civil War.  Recently, I have started to read a book called This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust.  Being a mild history buff, specifically in the Civil War, I knew that the death toll during the war was high, but I never quite realized the true depth until starting this book.  One of the first things that Faust lays out is the true size of the death toll.  According to Faust, "The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, an estimated 620,000, is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined."*  To put that into further perspective, that was 2% of the American population at the time.  Imagine if we were to lose 2% of the population of our country today.  That would be roughly 6 million people.  That is a number that is unfathomable to me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Book Review and Giveaway!!

Check out a new review of my latest book, BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER.  Sage is a book blogger who was gracious enough to read and review my book.  She is also giving away two paperback copies this week.  Check out the review and register to win a book at: My Name Is: Sage.

Which Millionaire Should Be Elected?

I don't typically like to blog about politics. It is a topic that has such great potential to become a volatile topic. For me, it is always a topic that I would much prefer to avoid all together. However, I heard an interesting statement the other day that really made me think.
I was listening to NPR last week and the person speaking (whose name I have completely failed to remember) was discussing the upcoming presidential election. When discussing the choice between the two candidates, she said that voters will need to "decide which millionaire they want to vote for". I found that statement to be very thought provoking.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Help Design The Cover For My New Book

I decided to take a short break from writing my new book Deadlines to play around with a few cover ideas.  I've been tinkering around with a few different color schemes and layouts.  I would love to have your feedback on what you think of the designs.  Tell me what you like, and what you don't like, as well as what you might suggest that I do differently.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fifteen Years ... We're Just Getting Started


Today is October 11th, a very important day for me.  On this day in 1997, I married Diane Bailey in Morgantown, West Virginia.  I don't believe either of us had any clue of the roller coaster on which we were about to embarked.  Together, we have lived in three different cities, gone through numerous jobs, survived breast cancer, have seen nieces and nephews born, family members pass away, survived a shattered knee cap, gained weight, lost weight, gained weight again, lost hair, and brought two dogs into our home.

The past fifteen years have not been easy.  It has taken a lot of patience (which Diane still doesn't think I have), perseverance, faith, hard work, and love.  But, in the end, the smiles, frowns, sweat, tears, pain, and joy have been worth every minute.  I can't imagine going through the past fifteen years with anyone other than her.

The other day, we were sitting at the dinner table, allowing our meal to digest.  We started talking about the past fifteen years and how the time has flown by.  If I was completely honest, I sometimes have difficulty remembering the first five years.  My memory isn't quite as good as it once was.  That doesn't mean that those five years weren't important.  But, I remember enough to know that Diane makes me whole.  Without her, I would be just a shell of the man that I am.  She completes me.  Before Diane, I was nothing more than a jigsaw puzzle with half of the pieces missing.  Diane brought the rest of the pieces with her, and God took those pieces and completed the puzzle.

Fifteen years is not enough time to love someone.  I'm going to need a lifetime to truly love Diane the way that she deserves to be loved.  I love my wife deeply.

Diane, I love you.

I'd like to end this with a few lines from the song that I wrote and sang at our wedding.  Those words are still true today.

With this ring I thee wed
And I make this vow to you
I will be by your side
No matter what we go through
I will fight for our love
To you I will be true
To your heart I've been led
With this ring I thee wed

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Political Advertising ... Enough is enough!!!


We've reached the season that I despise with all of my heart.  I can't think of a time of the year that I hate more than now.  It is time for elections.  I HATE THIS TIME OF THE YEAR!!!  Can I make it any more clear how I feel?

This is the time of the year when every other commercial on television is a political ad.  Although I have a high level of disdain for politicians in general, I think it is the ads that I hate the most.  Having been in broadcasting for several years, I think I might know a thing or two about advertising.  The point of advertising is to talk about how great your product is.  You tell people about all of the great things that your product can do.  You tell viewers or listeners how your product is great at cleaning the floor, or how well it holds up to being filled to the brim, or how it can eliminate odors, or how good it tastes.

Political ads, on the other hand, are different.  They talk trash about the political opponent and then tell you not to vote for him or her.  Over the years, political ads have become more and more negative.  Both Obama and Romney air commercials that bash their opponent's record for 55 seconds, then, in the remaining 5 seconds of the commercial, tell you to vote for them.  

We've all seen them.  They start by saying "Candidate A voted to do a bad thing.  And candidate A said a bad word thirty five years ago when he was in college.  Then candidate A bought a foreign car instead of buying American.  And finally, candidate A wears ugly ties.  Vote for candidate B."  This kind of ad tells me nothing about candidate B's cars, or his ties.  It tells me nothing about how candidate B differs from candidate A.

One of the things that I particularly hate about these commercials is the fact that both campaigns seem to throw so called "facts" around that would be almost impossible for me to validate.  They expect me to just take their word for it and believe everything they say.  I can't think of anything that is dumber than to believe what a politician says.  That's like believing that a rattlesnake isn't going to bite you when you stick your hand into its nest.  

It's not just presidential candidates that do this.  Almost every politician runs negative ads about their opponent.  I wonder if they realize what this kind of behavior looks like to those of us that are not politicians.  Let's think about this for a second.  Parents always tell their kids to treat others with respect and don't say mean things about other people.  Yet, here are our two candidates for the most powerful position in the country, out there saying nasty and negative things about each other.  Nice example to set for the impressionable minds of the children of this country.

What I would love to see is a politician who can stand on his own strengths without having to tear down his opponent.  Here is my message to Obama, Romney, and all the other politicians out there.  Stop telling me how bad your opponent is, and start telling me how good you are.  I want to know what you have to offer this country, not what you think is wrong with the other guy.  Is there not a candidate out there who thinks that he is strong enough to stand on his own character and record without having to run negative ads that attack his or her opponent?  Politicians, tell me what you can do.  Can you clean the bathroom?  Great.  Tell me.  Can you pick up spills?  Great.  Let me know in a TV ad.  Tell me what good things you can do, and stop telling me what bad things your opponent has done.  Give me a reason to vote for you, not a reason to not vote for your opponent.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Sperm Whale: A Douglas Adams Commentary On Society


One of my all-time favorite books is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  I mean the original book, not the mediocre Hollywood attempt at making a classic book into a movie.  If you have seen the movie, please don’t let it dissuade you from reading the book.  The movie pales in comparison to the book.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is actually a remarkable book that at first glance may sound like a silly science fiction book.  But, Douglas Adams had a way of making the most unusual things into commentaries on society.  I think that is what makes THGTTG such a classic book.  If you allow yourself to think through what you read, you find a deeper meaning to some of the most peculiar parts of the book.

One such part that has always fascinated me was the sperm whale scene.  Now, I won’t go into too much detail about the events that lead open to the sperm whale scene, mainly because it would just confuse those who haven’t read the book.  Suffice it to say that our heroes in the book do something that causes a sperm whale to suddenly materialize in orbit around an alien planet.  I’ll let Douglas Adams take it from here.

Another thing that no one made too mush fuss about was the fact that against all probability, a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence some miles above the surface of an alien planet.  And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it had to come to terms with suddenly not being a whale anymore.  This is what it thought as it fell.
  “Ah!  What’s happening?  Er, excuse me, who am I?  Hello?  Why am I here?  What’s my purpose in life?  What do I mean by who am I?  Calm down, get a grip now.  Oh, this is an interesting sensation in my ... my ... well I suppose I’d better start finding names for things if I want to make any headway in what for the sake of what I shall call an argument I shall call the world, so let’s call it my stomach.  So ... a yawning tingling sensation in my stomach.  Good.  Ooooh, it’s getting quite strong.  And hey, what about this whistling roaring sound going past what I’m suddenly going to call my head?  Head, that sounds good, yeah, head, good solid ring to it ... and the whistling roaring sound, that can be wind ... is that a good name?  It’ll do ... perhaps I can find a better name for it later when I’ve found out what it’s for, because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it.  Hey, what’s this thing, this ... let’s call it a tail ... yeah, tail, hey I can really thrash it about pretty good can’t I?  Wow.  Wow.  Hey.  Doesn’t seem to achieve much but I’ll probably find out what it’s for later on.  Now - have I built up any coherent picture of things yet?  No.  Oh.  Hey, this is really exciting, so much to find out about, so much to look forward to, I’m quite dizzy with anticipation ... or is it the wind?  Hey, there really is a lot of that now isn’t there?  And wow, what’s this thing suddenly coming towards me very fast?  Very very fast ... so big and flat and wide it needs a big wide sounding name ... like round ... round ... ground!  That’s it, ground!  I wonder if it will be friends with me?”
And the rest, after a sudden wet thud, was silence.

I must admit that this is one of many favorite parts of the book.  It seems like an odd piece, but I think that it was meant to be something far deeper.  First, let’s think about its placement in the book.  This scene comes right between two important scenes in the book.  Yet, Douglas Adams halted all action to focus on an innocent bystander, the sperm whale, that was impacted by the action of the main characters of the book.  In most books, movies, and television shows, very little attention is focused on the bystanders of an event.  Let’s take the Bourne Identity as an example.  There are several scenes in that movie where a police car crashes during a automobile chase.  Yet, there is never any concern or regard for the individuals that were in the wrecked car.  Since they are simple bystanders, they are not important enough to have their well-being revealed during the movie.

Police procedural shows on television are similar.  An innocent bystander is shot or injured during some big scene, but there is never any concern for their well-being.  They may just be crossing the street, and they would get shot, regardless of what their own plans for the rest of the day might have been.

But, perhaps there is something even deeper about our society that Doulas Adams was trying to say.  Let’s look at real life for a minute.  A few months ago, there was a big shooting at a movie theater during the midnight screening of the latest Batman movie.  However, who did the media spend all of their time talking about?  The man who perpetrated that heinous deed.  The innocent bystanders may have gotten a brief mention, but the media’s focus was always on the perpetrator.  It happens every time that something like this happens.  In the school shooting at Columbine, the same thing happened.  The media’s focus was on the two boys , and not their victims.  Our society has a morbid tendency to hear every detail about someone who has committed a crime while ignoring those who suffered because of it.

By breaking away from the action of the main characters in his book to insert this brief look into the brief life of an innocent bystander, I think that Adams was trying to say that the innocent bystanders are just as important as those who make the headlines.  Those innocent people who did nothing more than be in the wrong place at the wrong time are just as important, perhaps even more important.  I wonder what the world would be like if, instead of focusing on the idiots who commit the horrible crimes, we, instead, focus on the innocent people.  Let’s stop making the guilty famous for their crimes, and instead make those who innocently suffered at their hands the celebrities.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Flattery or Just a Lack of Original Ideas?

Most of you know that I am an Apple fan.  I certainly won't deny the fact.  However, it was only a few years ago that I would have derided Apple products as being inferior to Microsoft.  Yes, I was a PC.  I mention this so that my next few paragraphs don't sound like a tirade against Microsoft from an avid Apple fan.

I had to run up to the local mall today over lunch to pick up a few items.  The Christiana Mall has been the home of an Apple store for several years.  Recently, a sign went up in the mall saying that a Microsoft store would be coming soon.  The Microsoft store is a new direction for Microsoft which has only just started a year or so ago.  The idea behind the Microsoft store is to allow potential PC purchasers to come in and buy PC from some of Microsoft's largest hardware vendors.  You can also buy xBox gear, Microsoft software, and other Microsoft related products.

So, back to my trip to the mall.  I passed the soon-to-be opened Microsoft store today and I was quite surprised by the fact that it looks an awful lot like the Apple store.  Same style glass-fronted windows, similar furnishings, etc.  When I got home, I decided to look the Microsoft stores online.  The pictures that I found of other Microsoft stores showed people in colored shirts with name tags hanging around their necks, glass fronts to the stores, and a minimalistic interior with flat tables displaying products.  Sound familiar?

I felt like I was looking into an alternative Apple store where Apple suddenly started selling Microsoft stuff.  The Microsoft stores look very similar to the Apple stores.  You could easily swap staff, products, and signage between the Apple store and the Microsoft store without anyone noticing a difference.  Other than a small minor details, the Microsoft store could be a twin of the Apple store.

Microsoft is one of the largest software companies in the world.  I wonder why their marketing people couldn't come up with an original idea for their stores.  I would have thought that Microsoft would have wanted to create their own image and brand so that they could stand apart from Apple.  But, instead, it seems like they simply copied the Apple store.  What purpose could this serve?  I am fairly certain that Apple fans won't be tricked into thinking that they are walking into an Apple store.

They say that "imitation is the highest form of flattery".  Should Apple be flattered by Microsoft's attempt to imitate them, even down to the actual store design?  Or, was Microsoft simply out of original ideas?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where Were You?


When I awoke this morning, I had really not considered what day it was.  It wasn't until I was driving into the office that I heard it mentioned on NPR that this was September 11th.  Just like the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination, September 11th has now become a fixed point in time that will always raise the question, "Where were you on…?"

I was living in Baltimore at the time, working down near the Inner Harbor.  I remember having been in the office for about hour when one of my co-workers announced over the sea of cubicles that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.  CNN's website was providing instantaneous updates as the events unfolded.  But, it wasn't long before it was overloaded by millions of people across the global.

The building in which I work also housed the offices of a local magazine.  They had a conference room with a television, which is where myself and most of my co-workers ended up spending most of the morning, watching as the second plane slammed into the second tower, and as both towers eventually collapsed.  

The day seemed so surreal to me at the time, and even now, it seems like something out of my dreams, or perhaps nightmares is more appropriate.  The raw emotions, that went from despair over the accident to anger as the truth unveiled itself, are still seared into my mind.  And, i can still envision the moment that the first tower began to collapse.  The horrors of the death and destruction were only overshadowed by the selfless sacrifice that was seen throughout that day.  Watching as heroes from the NYPD and NYFD charge headlong into the building to assist those trying to get out, then losing their own lives in the process was not only heart wrenching, but also heartwarming.  The way these men and women cast aside their own safety to help others was what truly defined americans on 9/11.

Do you remember where you were on 9/11?  How did it impact you?  For me, I've began to take more interest in current events.  Before 9/11, I was happy to remain oblivious to what was happening in the world around me.  Now, I stay much more in tune with the news and current events.  I'm no Wolf Blitzer, but at least I am lingering on the fringes these days.

Two months later, I had to fly to Amsterdam for a business trip.  That was when I saw how 9/11 changed things in the world around me.  The presence of heavily-armed military personnel in the airports was the first sign.  Over the years, we have seen many changes in the way that we travel.  The heightening of security at airports, the passing of the Patriot Act, and the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars all show the impact of what 9/11 did to, not only our country, but the whole world.  I wonder if the terrorists had any idea how widespread the impact would be.  Their actions didn't just impact the United States, but every other continent, country, and person in this world.

As we remember those who lost their lives on that day, take a moment to think about how it has changed you.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Release - BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER is available now!

I am very proud to announce the release of my new book, BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER.  To celebrate its release, I am pledging all of my September royalties to two Delaware charities, the Delaware SPCA and the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.  This includes the royalties of the new book, as well as my first book, The Case Files of Doyle & McCraken.  My goal is to sell 500 books in September and divide the royalties evenly between each charity.  Please help me reach my goal so that I can help these two awesome charities.

The new book is available for sale in paperback and ebook through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.  Please click here for information on both of my books.  You can also purchase both books through this website's bookstore.



About the Book

BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER is the first in a new mystery series set in Delaware.

When the skeleton of a teenage girl is uncovered at a construction site in Newark, journalist Brian Wilder must follow a twenty-two year trail of deceit and lies to uncover the truth behind her death.

While still struggling with his own tragic past, Brian uncovers a haunting secret of passion and anger that could threaten to destroy one of the most powerful political families in Delaware.


Available Now

To purchase BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER from Amazon.com, click here.

To purchase BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER from Barnes & Noble, click here.


About the Charities

For more information on the Delaware SPCA, please click here.

For more information about the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, please click here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Press Release - Local Author Releases New Book; Pledges September Royalties To Local Charities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Author and Newark resident, Michael Bradley, is releasing his new book, BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER, on September 1st.  To celebrate the new release, he has pledged to donate all royalties from September sales of all of his books to two local charities, the Delaware SPCA and the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.  

Newark, DE - August 20, 2012

Local independent author, Michael Bradley is releasing his new book on September 1st, BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER, which is the first in planned new mystery series that will be available in paperback and Kindle ebook from Amazon.com, as well as Barnes & Noble Nook eBook.  Michael, whose debut book, The Case Files of Doyle & McCraken was released earlier this year, has pledged to donate all of the royalties received from his September book sales to the Delaware SPCA and the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.

"Both charities are close to my heart.  I am blessed to be able to publish my work and I wanted to share those blessings with two charities that mean the most to myself and my family" said the author from his home in Newark, DE.

The Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition Works to raise awareness of breast health issues through outreach, education and support services, in order to facilitate the early detection and treatment of breast cancer.  For more information on DBCC, go to http://www.debreastcancer.org.

The Delaware SPCA is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to the elimination of animal cruelty, neglect and overpopulation by providing services for people and their companion animals.  For more information on the Delaware SPCA, go to http://www.delspca.org.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Toll of Writing

I received word that the final proofs for my new book are arriving this week.  Now that the book is done, I have to admit that it has been a bit of a struggle over the past few months.  Unlike my first book, which was more of a tongue-in-cheek take on Noir fiction from the 1950s, this book takes place in modern times, with complex characters, each with their own backstory, struggles, and emotions.  The process of creating those characters and then bringing them to life has been quite an mental and emotional strain.  I find that I am now feeling a little drained from all of the work.  It is hard to believe that writing can take such a toll.

While I was creating the backstory for the main character, Brian Wilder, I found myself feeling some of the anguish that he would have gone through had he been real.  It may sound strange, but I feel like that made me a better writer.  When I was writing The Case Files of Doyle & McCraken, there was no need for an elaborate backstory, no need for complex character development, but this new book turned out to be a completely different experience.
I sat down last night to work on the next book in the Brian Wilder series and found myself feeling utterly wiped out.  So, I ended up taking the night off.  As hard as BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER was to write, I think that Deadlines will be even harder.  I foresee that the topics tackled in the new book will be very difficult to write about.  There will definitely be some significant emotional and mental effort in the writing.

BLACK and WHITE and DEAD ALL OVER will be released in September.  Plus, watch for a special announcement later this month in conjunction with the new book release.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Check It Out - Cover Artwork For Upcoming Book Has Arrived

The cover artwork for my new book has arrived.  The new book, due for release in September, is titled Black and White and Dead All Over.  Check out the artwork.  Let me know what you think.

   

 

Plus, don't forget to check out the sneak peek of the new book here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Free Reading Weekend!!

If you own an Amazon Kindle, you can get a copy of my latest book, The Case Files of Doyle & McCraken, for free.  That's right, FREE!!  This deal is available only until Sunday.  Just click here to pick up your copy now.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

SNEAK PEEK - "Black and White and Dead All Over"

I thought I would treat you to a sneak peek of my upcoming new book, Black and White and Dead All Over, due for release in September.  Don't forget that my current book is still available for purchase.  Check out my author page on Amazon for more details at http://www.amazon.com/author/mbradley.

And now, your sneak peek ... Enjoy!

__________


        THE BY-LINE on this story, like most others, would say Brian Wilder.  There were occasions when a story would appear in the Newark Observer that was written by one of a string of interns from the University of Delaware's Journalism department, but most of the stories were Brian's.  After all, he was the only full-time writer on the newspaper staff.  Of course, as the owner, editor, and publisher of the Observer, Brian had the right to give himself as many by-lines as he wanted.

If he was honest, he liked being primarily a one-man show.  He had the freedom to write the stories that he wanted, when he wanted, without having to answer to anyone other than his reading public.  It was quite different from his life of seven years ago.

Brian was standing along the side of Ogletown Road, watching as two-dozen construction workers swarmed around an old house like bees around a hive.  Behind him, Cars and trucks flew by, transporting their passengers and cargo to wherever they were headed on that cool Monday morning in September.  The grey clouds were threatening to rain on the activity before him; Brian was hoping it would hold off because he had forgotten to grab an umbrella.  His shoes and the pant legs of his tan Dockers were damp from the morning dew, which covered the grass on which he stood.  The long sleeves of his turquoise button-down shirt had been rolled up his forearms.  A gentle breeze blew through his bronze hair, sending a chill throughout his body; Brian wished that he had remembered to bring his windbreaker too.

Jessica O'Rourke stood next to Brian, her auburn hair pulled back into ponytails, which shifted back and forth with the breeze.  The cheeks on her round face were pink from the cool morning air.  Her almond-shaped brown eyes were sharp and focused.  She was a good eight inches shorter than Brian's six-foot frame.  Her grey cargo pants and hiking boots bobbed as she stomped her feet on the ground, trying to keep warm.

"It’s freezing out here." she said.

Brian smiled as he caught a glint of sunlight reflecting off the small diamond stud in her nose.  Her blue sleeveless t-shirt was doing little to keep her petite body warm.

"You should have dressed more appropriately." Brian commented, not wanting to admit that he was feeling a bit chilled as well.

Jessica checked the settings on the Sony DSLR camera that hung around her neck.  She lifted it to her eye, focused on the activity around the house and pressed the shutter.  Glancing at the small LCD screen, she reviewed the photo she had just taken.  Satisfied with the results, she turned to Brian and said: "Explain to me again why we're standing out here watching a bunch of men in hard hats move a house."

"It's not every day that an entire house is lifted off its foundation and moved to another location, especially in Newark.  I thought it would make a good story for the next edition."

"Yeah.  I can see the headline now.  HOUSE MOVED FROM ONE SIDE OF YARD TO OTHER SIDE.  That has Pulitzer Prize written all over it." retorted Jessica, shuffling her feet again.

"I've told you before.  Journalism is not about getting awards." he said, thinking of the Pulitzer Prize that he had won nine years ago for his reporting from the battlefields of Afghanistan.  To him, that felt like a long time ago, almost another life all together.

Jessica shivered.  "Why didn't they just knock the house down?  No one has lived there for years.”  She paused.   “Besides, it's not like it's a particularly nice house.  It just seems like a lot of effort."

Another smile crossed Brian's face as he listened to Jessica continue to ramble on about the morning's activities.  She was almost twenty years younger than him, yet he had a lot of respect for her, and her abilities as a photographer.  He had seen photos come from her camera that could have made Jessica highly sought after by all the top magazines and newspapers.  Yet, she chose to stay in Delaware, working at building up her photography business, and acting as the part-time photographer for the Observer.

"Jess, don't you have any concept of sentimentality?” Brian gestured toward the house.  “That has been in the Chandler family for generations.  Just because they sell off part of their property to a commercial developer, doesn't mean that they can't keep the house.”

The house in question was an old two-story home built in the early 1900s; its stucco facade, which had once been white, had faded to a color not dissimilar to oatmeal.  The high sloping roof descended past a row of dormers that served as windows for the second floor.  The windows and doors were covered with sheets of plywood, just as they had been for the past five years.  Surrounding the house, where a paved driveway and well-maintained yard had once been, was now a small fleet construction vehicles and equipment, ranging from bulldozers and dump trucks to backhoes.  Mounds of freshly dug earth, the remnants of earlier preparations for the move, stood in piles around the property.

The area surrounding the house along Ogletown Road had long since gone commercial.  With a large home improvement store, a banking call center, car dealers, and other businesses, this lone house had been the single holdout from an era long gone.  Now most of the property had been sold to Rimdale Commercial Development, who was planning to put up a small shopping center.  The house, which stood in the middle of the otherwise empty lot looked like a solitary sentry waiting for the return of its occupants.  Rimdale purchased two-thirds of the Ogletown Road property from the Chandlers.  The only stipulation of the sale was that Rimdale had to relocate the house to the adjacent land still owned by the family.

Brian watched as the workers adjusted the unified hydraulic jacking system around the edge of the house's foundation.  The planning and preparation for the relocation had been going on for weeks prior to this day.  Trenches had been dug around the outside of the old foundation, holes had been cut through the masonry, and steel beams had already been strategically positioned underneath to provide support during the relocation.  A few weeks ago, a new foundation had been constructed a hundred yards away in preparation for the move; it was waiting like an empty shell to take on the weight of the old house.  Brian had to admit that Jessica was right in thinking that this was not the most exciting of stories.  Even presidential dinners at the White House had been more exciting than this.  But, his whole purpose of starting the Newark Observer in the first place was to cover the stories in Newark that the regional newspapers would skip as being too mundane.  The Newark Observer was only a weekly newspaper, distributed every Monday morning.  Although only a small newspaper, the Newark Observer had a large subscription list and the editions available for purchase in local businesses always sold out in the first few days.  Its high rate of sales could be attributed to the quality of each edition.  Brian made sure that each edition had the same quality of writing as the larger papers that he had worked on in the past.  This story would be no different.  Although mundane, Brian planned to make sure that it was a story that his readers found interesting and informative.

Eddie Morrison had been a site foreman for Lehman Home Movers for five years.  In his eyes, this job would be a cakewalk.  His team was brought in by Rimdale Commercial Development to move an old house a hundred yards.  There would be no roads to navigate, no traffic concerns, not even a need for a police escort, as was normally the case when moving a house from one site to another.  This house wasn’t even leaving the property.  This would be a piece of cake as far as he was concerned.

Eddie, who was standing by the controls of the unified hydraulic jacks, was waiting for his team to finish their final checks before beginning the lifting process.  The hydraulic jacks were centrally controlled, allowing the performance of each jack to be monitored from one console.  The system would maintain unified lifting, ensuring the all of the jacks rise and lower at the exact same rate, regardless of how much weight each jack was supporting.  No matter how many houses he had moved, Eddie had always considered the system was an ingenious set of checks and balances that would keep the house level during the lifting process.

His portable radio squawked to life as each of his men reported that they were ready.  Eddie gave a tap on the head of the worker sitting at the jack controls, signaling to begin.

Jessica was snapping more photos with her camera, when the construction foreman gave the Ok to start the lifting process.  Brian and Jessica watched as the jacks slowly lifted the house, centimeter by centimeter.  The process was slower than Brian had anticipated.  His hope that it would be completed before the rain began to fall was looking less likely.  Jessica, camera raised, was ready to catch the moment of separation.

Scott Hendricks was watching the progress as the house began to separate from the foundation.  He could see the minute gap grow in size.  A six-month veteran of LHM, Scott was the least experienced of all of his co-workers.  The gap grew to an inch, then an inch and a half.  It wasn’t until the gap grew to an inch and three quarters that the first sign of trouble began.

The old foundation, which had been there since the house was built, had seen better days.  Even with his limited experience, Scott could tell that, once the house was clear, it would not take much to demolish the dilapidated foundation.  When the top edge began to crumble, Scott didn’t think much of it.  After all, there was always some small amount of shifting that would occur during these jobs.  However, when the foundation wall closest to him began to fractured and fall inward into the basement of the house, Scott knew that something had gone wrong.  He signaled to Ed Morrison to halt the lifting process.

“What’s going on?” Ed said over the radio.

Scott fanned the air, trying to clear the cloud of dust kicked up by the collapse.  “Just a small collapse of the foundation wall.  Give me a minute to check it out.”

As the dust settled, Scott could see into the shallow hole opened by the collapsing cinder blocks.  At first glance, there didn’t appear to be anything to be concerned about.  The foundation had fallen in to what was a small crawl space underneath the house.  During the initial walk around in the basement, Scott had surveyed this area, noting that, although the rest of the basement was eight foot high, this area was a narrow three feet high with a dirt floor.  About to give the thumbs up to continue, Scott’s eyes were attracted by something in the dark opening.  Not able to quite pierce the darkness, he reached for the flashlight in his back pocket.  The beam of light cut through the darkness, bringing the bottom of the darkened pit into vivid view.  Scott clicked on his radio and said: “Ed, you might want to come see this."

Brian had seen a cloud of dust rise from the left side of the house.  The jacks stopped while the dust began to settle.  His interested piqued, Brian stared intently towards the foreman, trying to judge the severity of the situation.  His interest level rose when the foreman walked from behind the jack controls over to the left side of the house.  Another worker was already kneeling over the foundation, shining his flashlight into a narrow gap in the foundation.

Ed Morrison gazed down into the opening.  His flashlight shone full into the darkness.  He slid his hard hat from his head and scratched his scalp.  This wasn’t good, not good at all.  This would definitely delay things.  He yelled across to the jack operator.  “Henry, you better call the police.”

When Brian heard the foreman’s words echo across the construction site, he tapped Jessica on the shoulder and said: "Come on, Jess.  Let's go take a look at what's happening." he said, leading the way across the field towards the house.

The foreman and two other workers were on their knees, gazing into the collapsed foundation as Brian and Jessica reached their side.  Only about three feet deep, the hole was cluttered with chunks of crumbling cinder blocks that had once served as support for the old house.  The collapse of the foundation wall had disturbed the dirt floor below.  When she saw the source of all the commotion, Jessica started snapping pictures.

“Way wicked!” she exclaimed.

Brian gazed down into the hole, following the beams from the workers' flashlights.  A pair of hollow eyes from a partially buried skull stared blankly up out of the hole as if pleading to be hoisted up from its shallow grave.  Jessica stopped shooting photos long enough to say to Brian: "I think your story just got more interesting."

__________


Black and White and Dead All Over is coming in September.  Stay tuned for the latest details.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

You Can't Erase History or 111 Wins

With yesterday's announcement of NCAA sanctions against Penn State, students and alumni are trying to make sense of what it all means to the future of the university's football program.  The $60 million dollar fine, loss of 20 scholarships, and a four year ban from postseason play has some asking if it would have been better to simply shutdown the program for a year.  I want to say right up front that I never would condone the reprehensible behavior of the Penn State administration in relation to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  I think the efforts to cover-up something as heinous as sexual abuse of children should be punished to the full extent of the law.  I think that the NCAA should sanction Penn State.

But, there was one point in the sections that I disagreed with.  As part of the sanctions imposed, the NCAA striped Joe Paterno of 111 wins from 1998 to 2011.  My question for the NCAA is "Who does that punish?"  Let's face it, Joe Paterno was a staple on college football.  His record of wins was a testament to his many years of service to college football.  Again, I don't condone his or anyone else's actions, but you can't just wash away history.  Yes, he made a grave error in judgement when he aligned with the university administration in covering up Sandusky's abhorrent behavior, but how does taking away the wins of a legend punish him?  It's not like those games suddenly never happened.  You can still call up ESPN and get the films for all of those games.  This is like a group of historians deciding to say that the battle of Gettysburg never happened.  The loss of those games doesn't impact Joe Paterno any longer.  But, what about the students who played in those 111 games?  What about Adam Tallaferro who suffered a paralyzing neck injury as a freshman in one of those games in 2000 against Ohio State?  That game no longer exists, according to the NCAA.  Adam has the injury to prove that the game did indeed happen.  Then there is Evan Royster, who now plays for the Washington Redskins.  He set a school career rushing record from 2007 to 2010.  Now, according to the NCAA, he lost every college game he ever played in.

You can't erase history.  Just as the soldiers of Gettysburg died in an event that can't be denied or erased, the effort and work of the coaches and players can't just be washed away.  NCAA, punish the school, but leave the records where they stand.  Don't make the players of years past feel like their injuries and efforts were for naught.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tragedy in Colorado

This evening, I am watching all of the news coverage of the tragedy in Aurora, CO. The shooting at the movie theater is such a senseless waste of life. My prayers go out to the families that are suffering during this terrible event. It is such a shame that one person can cause such pain for so many people.

I wish that I had more to say, but no words that I can write will be sufficient.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

TomKat? Is this really news?

This week, while enjoying the complimentary breakfast at my hotel near Boston, I had the opportunity to watch some of the morning shows on the major television networks.  This week, I found it interesting to see how much they were focused on the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes split.  It was covered in great detail on all of the three networks.  The networks even had nicknames for the couple.  The one that stuck out for me was TomKat.  Now, there have been many celebrity marriages in the past that received massive coverage from all of the news networks.  It raises a question in my mind … Who cares?

I am always amazed at how much coverage celebrities get in the news.  Who can forget Charlie Sheen and his departure from Two and a Half Men?  Is it truly possible that there isn't enough news out there that the networks have to dedicate huge chunks of airtime to a celebrity's temper tantrum or a celebrity couple's marital problems?  Isn't that what the tabloids are for?

Maybe I am just out of touch, but I think there are more important things that are newsworthy.  What about the economy?  Or maybe the ongoing war in Afghanistan?  Or even the slaughter going on in Syria?  Does the pending divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes really trump all other news items for top billing?

On a daily basis, you can walk through almost any city and find homeless and hungry people who are suffering.  Jobless rates keep climbing, and the country is drowning in debt.  Yet, the big concern is who will get the one of many houses in the divorce settlement between Tom and Katie?  Let's face it.  That's not news.  Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are just two people in a world full of people.  They both put their pants on the same way that everyone else does.  Granted, their pants probably cost five times as much as everyone else, but they still go on one leg at a time.

I've never been one for celebrity worship.  I could never understand how problems that individuals deal with every day, can become important news stories when they happen to celebrities.  There are couples all over the world who are facing divorce at this very moment.  None of them are getting primetime news coverage.  The same goes for financial troubles.  Millions of people are struggling to make ends meet, but when a celebrity suddenly has money problems, it is plastered all over the headlines.

My request to ABC, CBS, and NBC, please give me the news that truly impacts the world around me, not the intimate details of some person's divorce who I have never met, have no interest in meeting, and could care less about.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

To Pick Or Not To Pick. That Is The Question.

I want to talk about a bit of a taboo subject. Some of you may be shocked and horrified by this, but I don't care. I think it is time to ask the hard questions and demand some hard answers. If you are squeamish, this might be a good time to move on.

So, here is my question: What is so wrong about nose picking? Everyone has done it at one time or another. Babies do it because they don't know any better. Adults do it when they think no one is looking. How many times have you passed a car on the highway to find that the driver has his finger up his nose?

So why the taboo? From an early age, we are taught that picking our nose was some kind of evil thing that is only done by sinners and reprobates. Parents are appalled and embarrassed when their child picks his nose in public. And as adults, if we, despite all of our upbringing, feel the overwhelming desire to pick our nose, we dash off some place private to do the deed. There are even those who can get an entire finger up there when they need to do some serious booger mining. And finally, there are those that hide their nose picking behind the pretense of blowing their nose. We've all seen that one. A quick blow and then up the finger goes all wrapped in a tissue. Come on, who do you think you're fooling? You're picking!!

I again ask, why the taboo? Let's face it, there are some boogers that a tissue just can't get out. Some of them cling on for dear life. Some of them wedge themselves up there in such a way that even the hardest blow won't budge it. Sometimes you just need to get in there and dig that sucker out. Plus, there are people out there that have noses that are simply made for picking. You know the ones. They have cavernous nasal passages that could hold an entire booger mining crew.

So why is nose picking such a horrible thing? Is it a hygiene thing? How unhygienic can it really be compared to blowing your nose? At least you're not blowing your germs all over the place when you pick.

Is it a disposal issue? What do you do with it once you've picked it? There was the old saying, "Pick it and flick it". That doesn't sound like a good idea to me. Who wants to be involved in a drive-by flicking? Not I.

Is there some health concern? I remember being told in elementary school that picking your nose flattens out the hair inside your nose that is used for filtering out particulars from the air I breathe. I find that one hard to believe considering how often I have to trim my nose hair.

So, what is it that we find so repulsive about picking our nose? I don't have an answer for this. I guess I am more asking for the sake of asking. So I throw this out to the public. Why do you think nose picking is so taboo in our society? Please feel free to add your comments to my blog.

Whatever the outcome of this little debate, i think we all need to remember the famous words of William Shakespeare when he wrote: To pick or not to pick. That is the question.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New Book Release!!

Those of you who knew me in school may remember that I had a desire to be a writer.  It has been many years, but with the advent of new technologies that make publishing much easier, I am pleased to announce the release of my first book.

The Case Files of Doyle & McCraken is available now for purchase exclusively on Amazon.com for the Kindle for $2.99, and the paperback version will be available sometime next week for $6.99 through Amazon.  In about 90 days, it will be available on the Apple iBookstore for the iPhone and iPad.  This is a collection of seven short stories about the detective agency, Doyle & McCraken Investigations in the early 1950s.

If you like the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, then hopefully you will like these.  Check out my author page on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/author/mbradley.  Plus, watch for additional books which should be released over the next few months.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Class Distinctions

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I travel quite a bit for my job. That gives me the opportunity to sample a number of different rental cars. Normally, I get cars like the Chevy Cruze, or the Toyota Corolla. Last week, I was shocked and surprised to find a Mercedes C-class sedan waiting for me at Hertz Rental Center at Boston's Logan International Airport. I didn't know what mistake someone made to place this vehicle at my disposal, but, since I have never driven a Mercedes before, I was not going to complain. Although the C-class is a four door sedan, it was quite sporty, almost sexy. The interior was covered in buttons to automate just about everything on the car. The sun roof was a nice touch, although it rained all week so I did not get to take advantage of it. All in all, it was a pleasure to drive this marvelous machine for four days.

This week, I was surprised to find that I was once again being graced with a Mercedes from Hertz. This time it was a E-class four door sedan. Imagine my excitement at being lucky two weeks in a row. I must admit that my hopes for an even more enjoyable experience were high. After all, the E-class is the next step up from the C-class. At first glance, the E-class appears to be luxury at its finest. Leather interior, individual climate control, sun roof, satellite radio, and much more, giving the feeling of ultimate driving pleasure.

I have now driven the E-class for one day. Where the C-class made one desire to drive it to the ends of the earth, the E-class makes one desire to drive it off the end of the earth. Preferably into the fiery pit of hell. The C-class Mercedes had pep, spunkiness, energy, excitement. On the other hand, the E-class is like imagining your parents having sex. You know that it must have happened, but every fiber of your being finds it wrong in every possible way.

Let's start with the fake wood trim that is present all over the interior. I have never understood why car manufacturers feel it is necessary to create pieces of plastic that look like wood and put them in a car. Am I supposed to be fooled by this, thinking that maybe they went to great lengths to carve the interior of the car out of a single hundred year old Oak tree? It's cheap plastic ... No one is fooled. Then there is the gear shift. In the C-class, the gear shift was between the two front seats and looked, surprisingly, like a gear shift. You knew when you have put the car into park because of the position of the gear shift. The E-class has a gear shift that comes off of the steering wheel console and looks like a turn signal. To put the car in park, you press a button on the end of the so-called gear shift. The only indication that you have put the car in park is a small sign on the dashboard. I guess you could wait to see if the car jolts forward, smashing into anything in front of you when you lift your foot off the brake, to find out that it isn't in park. But, why?

Now, I want to talk about acceleration. When driving the C-class, one felt like the power of the gods was at one's fingertips. The E-class, on the other hand, is slower than a turtle stuck in Super Glue. Where the C-class' zero to sixty acceleration is measured in seconds, the E-class should be measured in minutes. It's like watching the launch of the space shuttle. You reach zero, the engines ignite, but the shuttle still just sits on the launch pad for a minute before taking off. Because of the acceleration, I feel like I need to keep at least three miles between me and any other car in front of which I might be pulling.

Finally, there is the size. The E-class doesn't look big from the outside, but when you are driving, it feels like the front grill is fifteen minutes ahead of the rest of the car. It feels like I am driving the Titanic, without adequate warning, I'll hit every iceberg around. It feels like this car was made specifically for people that won't drive over ten miles an hour ... Ever.

This all raises the question of what went wrong at Mercedes? They made such an awesome car with the C-class, then came the E-class and someone said "Let's not do anything that worked with the C-class, and instead take a chapter out of Yugo's business plan". It is just all wrong. I want to love this car because it is a Mercedes, but I just can't. I can't shake the thought that this should be a really awesome car, but it just isn't. There is definitely a distinction between the classes. After my four days are up, I will be glad to hand this Mercedes back over to Hertz, looking forward to the Toyota Sentra that I will most likely end up with next week.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Maybe It's Not All That Bad After All

I am, I must admit, a complainer. And, perhaps, a bit of a pessimist. One might also call me a whiner. And, why not? There are so many things in life to complain and whine about. I never have enough money for ALL the things that I want. There is never enough time to do ALL the things that I want. My job requires that I travel every week, which may sound cool until you have done it for four and a half years. Living out of hotels Monday through Thursday can really suck. I don't have my dream job (which, by the way, is mattress tester). So, as you can see, I've got it rough.

At least that was what I have been thinking over the past several months. I won't lie and say that everything has been perfect. I have been struggling with these things for a while now. My attitude has been severely impacted by "what I don't have" and "what I can't do". However, two things have happened over the past few weeks that are opening my eyes to a single thought. Maybe it's not all that bad after all.

A few weeks ago, a couple that I know from my church, Sam and Kristen, were facing a tragedy that was, not only sudden, but heart-wrenching. Ethan, their 20 month old son, was rushed to the hospital with uncontrollable seizures. After being brought back, miraculously, from a cardiac arrest, he fell into a coma with little hope of recovery. Like most people in my church, I was glued to my mobile phone, checking Facebook constantly for an update. It seemed like Facebook was on fire with posts about people from all over the world who were praying for Ethan. In the end, Ethan passed away. After that, life went back to normal for me. The brief distraction was now gone and I was back to focusing on the hardships of MY life.

Around the same time, I started reading the Book of Ecclesiastes. If you ever read Ecclesiastes, you were probably close to suicide before you reached chapter three. It is not the most cheerful book, and probably not the best book to read when you are already whining about life. For those who have not read Ecclesiastes, the recurring theme in the book is "It is all meaningless". One might consider it to be the ultimate demotivator. For example, verse eight of chapter one say "Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content." That certainly makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning.

So, how do these two events, which seem in no way connected, impact my life enough to make me want to write about them?

It started this morning as I was scanning through recent updates on Facebook. I came across a post with a link to a blog that Kristen had started writing. She was opening her heart to the world, not only about the pain that she was enduring, but also the life lessons that she learned from her 20 months with Ethan. The blog entries were sometimes touching, sometimes heart-wrenching. Kristen's blog opened my eyes to a level of pain that I have never experienced. But, it also opened my eyes to a level of faith that was inspiring. When I had finished reading her blog entries, I went back to Ecclesiastes, reviewing my highlighted verses from the past few weeks. Three verses jumped out at me, starting in chapter five: "Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life - this is indeed a gift from God"

Then came chapter six: "Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless - like chasing the wind."

And finally, chapter seven: "Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked? Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life."

I will probably never suffer the level of pain that Kristen and Sam have suffered. But, through their ordeal, they have set an example of how to accept their lot in life. They are doing what is written in Ecclesiastes, chapter seven. When I look at the things in my life that I call "hardships", they don't even compare. I complain about having to travel for my job. A job which pays for my house, cars, kayaks, insurance, Internet, computers, mobile phones, food, and other gadgets. I was going to add wife to that list, but I was afraid how it might be taken.

My point is that I am starting to realize that my suffering might not be all that bad. Sometimes, I think we, as humans, miss what is around us and focus only on our own little world of suffering and despair. We create a kind of tunnel vision that only sees our circumstances. We amplify our suffering to the highest level, as if it is the worst that any person has ever endured. We fail to consider what others may be experiencing. Then, along comes a tragedy like that which Sam and Kristen are enduring. It makes one take a long look at life and realize that maybe it's not all that bad after all.

As chapter seven says, I need to "accept the way God does things". I can dream of things that I don't have, but as chapter six says it's "like chasing the wind". Where is the pain from not having some material object? Where is the suffering with spending a few nights a week in a hotel (other than getting a really bad mattress)? Where is the hardship in having a job, house, cars, kayaks, insurance, Internet, computers, mobile phones, food, and a wife? There is none when you compare it to those who do not have those things. Where is the pain, suffering, and hardship in all of those things compared to a couple who have just lost their son? If Sam and Kristen can endure the worst pain of their lives, why can't I endure the small inconveniences in my life?

Maybe it's not all that bad after all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Starting a new conversation ...

This past Sunday, we started a new series at my church called "Blah, Blah, Blah: Starting a new conversation with God".  The series is about prayer.  This is a topic that greatly interests me, because if there is one thing that I struggle with, it is my prayer life.  To kick off the series, we were in the 6th chapter of Matthew.

Let me start by saying that I spent most of my childhood in the Catholic church.  So, prayer was ingrained in me as being very ritualistic.  When you pray, you get on your knees, fold your hands together, and repeat a series of scripted prayers.  Or you would get out your rosary beads and pray through the rosary.  There were THEEs and THOUs, as well as "Hail Mary's".  Even after moving to evangelical churches, I still found myself often feeling uncomfortable with prayer that didn't have some sort of ritualism.  I would often fall back on the same old words over and over again.  You should hear me ask the blessing at dinner.  I think I still use roughly the same words that I have for the past twenty years.  It has become a ritual in my life.

Part of my struggle with prayer has been the fact that it often feels so impersonal.  I say the words that I think I should say and eventually they all come out the same.  Frequently, I fall back on the same prayers over and over again.  This is why I am excited by this new series at my church.  As I listened to Paster Andrew Wilson preach on Sunday, a couple things dawned on me.

First, as Christians, we are called to not only worship Christ, but also have a relationship with Him.  I started to think about relationships.  I have a relationship with my wife, Diane.  Part of that relationship includes the need for conversation.  When I want to have a conversation with my wife, I don't need to take up a certain position or strike a particular pose.  I simply sit down and talk to her.  I tell her my thoughts and my feelings.  There are times when the conversation needs to be more focused, particularly when discuss important decisions.  Then there are times when the conversation is more casual.  In both cases, the key is to be open, honest, and not afraid to speak my mind ... Except in those cases when she asks if those pants make her butt look big.

Why would a relationship with Christ be any different than with my spouse?  There are times when I need to show reverence for His power and majesty.  There are times when I need to be on my knees with my head bowed before the Creator of the universe.  But, there are those times when I should drop the religious words, drop the rituals, and let Christ know what I am feeling.  Rituals do not come easy during struggles, tears, and pain.  But, truthful and honest conversation does.

The second thing that dawned on me should be a no-brainer.  It is something that I know, but often forget.  A conversation is two ways.  I can't do all of the talking.  If I ramble on and on with my fancy "biblical" words, but never hear the response then I have wasted my time and God's.  Have you ever spoken to someone who talks so much that you can never get a word in?  You find yourself saying; "Hmmm" or "Really?", but nothing else.  Welcome to my prayer life.  I'm not a great listener.  I can talk, but listen?  Not so much.

So, as this new series at my church continues, I am starting a new conversation ... with a dear old friend.



_______

You can hear the podcast of the first week of the series, "Blah, Blah, Blah" at The Journey.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Call the firemen! There are books to be burned!

Last night, I finished reading "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury. This was one of the most prophetic books that I have read in a long time. Bradbury wrote this book during the Cold War in the early 1950s. The novel presents a future American society where reading is outlawed and firemen start fires to burn books. Now you may be asking why I found this so prophetic. We don't ban reading in this country.

"Fahrenheit 451" focuses on a man named Guy Montag who is a fireman in charge of burning books in a grim, futuristic United States. The book opens with a brief description of the pleasure he experiences while on the job one evening. He wears a helmet emblazoned with the numeral 451 (the temperature at which paper burns), a black uniform with a salamander on the arm, and a “phoenix disc” on his chest. As we later learn, Montag’s society has abandoned books in favor of hollow, frenetic entertainment and instant gratification.

Bradbury describes a world where technology has replaced actual human contact for most of the people in this futuristic society. At several points in the book, Montag's wife refers to the people on her interactive TV parlor walls (which have been written with one part missing, so that the viewer can read those lines and feel a part of the action on screen) as her “family” and values their company much more than Montag's. Programming on the TV parlor walls is shallow, lacks any type of depth, and has destroyed her attention span, and now she can hardly even comprehend what is going on in the programs she watches.

I was enthralled as I read this book by how much of Bradbury's futuristic society resembled our current world. With large screen TVs in most households, iPods in most ears, and video game consoles galore, our society is slowly becoming more and more like the world that Bradbury describes in his book. When you add the massive number of plotless reality programming on television these days, I can see yet another prophetic description from this novel coming true. We live in a world where people are more concerned about what happens to the Kardashians than their own families. Talk around the water cooler in offices is more about the latest episode of the Bachelor than about our own families and lives. We are losing our personal relationships to superficial conversation.

As I type this blog on my iPad and prepare to post it, I wonder if our technology, as wonderful as it is, may be destroying our intellectual thought processes. Our desire for instant news, entertainment, and information is creating a world not unlike the one described in "Fahrenheit 451". We live in world where some people find there claim to fame to be that they have 500 friends on Facebook. Yet, those same people don't even know their neighbor's name.

What is my point? I don't know if I really have one. I just know that Bradbury's book seems eerily familiar. Too familiar. If you are looking for a good book to read, pick this one up. I think you will be amazed at how well Bradbury describes current society. Then you will remember that he wrote his book over 60 years ago.