Monthly Archives: April 2013

Change

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I was relaxing on my day off from work, text messaging my father, and started thinking about “change.” First, my thoughts jumped to Jim Butcher’s novel Changes in the Dresden Files series. After that, I managed to start thinking on change more seriously. Surprisingly, though, Jim Butcher’s book continued to hold in my thoughts. So I started picking it apart, dissecting its title and plot. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, Harry Dresden, undergoes several changes in mind, body, and soul. Granted, his experiences in this particular novel, and the entire series, go far beyond anything a normal person will know.

I then started to think about my own life and the changes that I’ve experienced in my small number of years. I’m young, in the grand scheme of life, but even I have had some changes. My older brother enlisting in the Army; graduating from high school and moving out of state for college; getting engaged; graduating with honors from college; getting married; the news of our soon-to-be-here daughter; new jobs; new responsibilities.

Have those changes been good, or bad? In hindsight, they’re good. At the time, though? Some of those times were rough, and not necessarily filled with hope and happiness. My brother joining the Army was something very hard for me. It meant that he would never be to any of my football games, or see me graduate from high school. It meant he would miss out on many things in my life. It made me sad and depressed that every time I made a great play, or somehow stood out from others, that he couldn’t be there to see it. As I grew up, I realized that was pretty selfish. He’s proud of me, even if he couldn’t be there in person to see those accomplishments. In turn, my sadness grew into overwhelming pride in my brother. That itself was a change.

My entire scholastic experience was filled with hundreds of changes, from handling stress to dealing with “questionable” situations on my own. I’m no longer the boy that I was my freshman year of high school, or even the man standing at the altar getting married. Life has an interesting way of directing and influencing your life.

The quote above by Heraclitus is a perfect example of change. Though his topic was on metaphysics and the perceivable world, it still applies. His concept was this: you cannot step in the same river twice because it is always moving, always changing. The water is not the same water that you had stepped in before; that water has flown downstream to be replaced by other water. Those same molecules are somewhere else. Holding to that principle, your right foot and left foot aren’t even in the same river. Life changes, moves, adapts. The water flows around you on its insistent journey downstream.

You are never the same person.

Yesterday, I made decisions and was formed by those choices. The day before, I also made decisions and was formed by those. Today, I’m faced with choices I must make. Tomorrow. And the next day and the next after that. Every single day of our existence, we are faced with choices. How we respond to those choices, to those situations, dictates who we are and who we eventually become. An ancient Greek philosopher (forgive me for not remembering his name or the exact quote; I believe it was Aristotle) said something to the effect that actions create habits and that these consistent actions, or habits, create who we are, so be careful with what you say and do for it will form your character. Every choice we make is an action, and therefore lends itself to the formation of who we are.

Change is simply the effects of those choices. If we choose to switch lanes on the highway, then get stuck behind a slow car while our previous lane zooms by, thus making us late for some appointment, we must live with it. We must adapt. We must change.

Darwin flushed out the idea of the Survival of the Fittest. It is, in a way, the essence of our daily lives. Not in some kind of physical confrontation, or even intellectual competition, but in our own capacity for handling whatever life throws at us. We are forced to adapt, to change, to grow, or risk being stuck in whatever station we find ourselves in.

This requires a certain amount of courage and hope.

My parents are moving up to Alaska this weekend. For the first twenty-something years of their marriage, they lived in California, then a few years ago moved up to Washington so my father could get a better job. That job turned out to not be that great, but they were better off in a new place. Now, they’re doing something takes much more courage than facing a bad job every day. They are leaving behind what they know and understand and are embracing a completely different life. My older brother will be there to help them, with his wife and son, but it is still a vastly different experience. It is a major change in their lives and it has not come easily.

Both are plagued with doubts and worries, particularly my father, about “abandoning” my wife and I (and our upcoming daughter). My father worries about the example he’s set for his sons, about the choices he hopes we do or do not make. I can’t blame him for his concerns. If anything, it proves to me just how great of a man he is. He’s sacrificed so much for his family, just so we could have food on the table and a roof over our heads.

The courage and strength he’s shown us is the best example he could ever have set.

Change is a part of life, it’s what makes it exciting, terrible, wonderful, sad, beautiful, terrifying, and amazing. Every twist and curve in the road of life is centered on change. Every choice, every decision, every opportunity shown to us requires courage and hope. One verse in the Bible that is my personal favorite and that I believe exemplifies the belief in courage and hope is John 1:5 – “A Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” Even a single candle can light up a room. One, small, solitary flicker of flame at the end of the tunnel can guide you through the whispering darkness.

Tread forward, dad, and embrace the change for what it is: another step on the road of life. Enjoy the ride. When you’re on a rollercoaster, you can’t change its speed or direction. All you can do is enjoy it. Throw your arms up in the air when you go plummeting down and let out a scream of excited terror, then take a deep breath and relax on the slow climb back to the top. Because, no matter what, there will be a top, a top that, when you get to it, let’s you see the whole world.

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Categories: Misc., Nature | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Vikings – Quick Glimpse

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Here’s a small bit on the vikings. To tell their whole story would require much more time and space than I have available. With this, I’m simply hoping to shed a little light on who they were.

To many people, the vikings were a barbarous group who spent the majority of their time murdering and pillaging and all the things associated with both. While this did often occur, I would not call it the bulk of their daily activities. Their culture was different than those they came into contact with: far more aggressive and yet surprisingly rich. Viking beliefs and technologies spread across the world, from the concept of a wergild to the design and construction of their ships.

Every person in a viking society was worth something. This is the concept of wergild. The king of the land was worth more than the peasant who mucked out the pigs’ stalls, but both were worth something. If the king murdered that peasant, he was bound by his society to pay the peasant’s family compensation. In the instance of theft, fingers were usually removed as a physical sign of the thief’s actions in addition to any monetary compensation. Wergild was incorporated into the Laws of King Alfred the Great in the late ninth century. King Alfred was the king of Wessex (in the west of England) and was the first English monarch to envision a unified England.

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The construction of the viking ships was unique at that time as well. Above is an example of the general shape and structure. Not all were built to this size (this particular one was probably used for transporting trade goods; the width was necessary to store large quantities without over-balancing) but many were indeed large. Look at the structure, how the wood bends and forms the prow. Unsophisticated barbarians would have had a difficult time mastering the technique needed to create these ships.

Another interesting trait for many of the viking “longboats” was the entire steering apparatus. While virtually all other seafaring vessels had fixed rudders, the rudders on many viking longboats could actually be raised or lowered or even removed entirely. This allowed them unprecedented range. By being able to raise the rudder, the ships could sail into rivers and streams.

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There are records of vikings sailing along the Euphrates River, serving as mercenaries to a warlord in modern day Turkey, and even trading with the Inuit peoples of North America. When reading the Sagas of the Icelanders, it’s interesting to note how one of the stories talks about a viking ship being blown far off course to the south, to warm region with tall trees and “strange” people. The leader of the voyage was described as red-haired, tall, and with a large beard. An account by the Aztec people of a “god,” red-haired and tall, arriving to their land in a strange boat coincides with this story.

One last little tidbit about the vikings. They did not create maps. They traveled and traded all across the world, from Europe to Africa to Greenland, and still managed to find their way. They traveled, as all ancient explorers did, by the stars and memory. If you knew the route and the dangers it entailed, why create a map so your rival could find it? Or your enemy find your home?

All in all, the vikings were a very complex society, with their own beliefs and practices that set them apart from other cultures. As I said in the beginning, there is simply too much to the vikings to adequately describe them here. If you are interested in reading more, I highly recommend Vikings: A History by Robert Ferguson. Also, my honors thesis on the vikings is published online if you want to look: http://www.carroll.edu/library/thesisArchive/KaiserB_2012%20final.PDF

I’ll leave you with one final thought. This is not a viking:

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Categories: History | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Wind

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Today I woke up to very loud, strong winds. The leaves are not rustling, nor the branches creaking. They are hissing and moaning. Dirt flies through the air as easily as birds. There are no clouds in sight, not even a tiny, wispy little thing. Eyes, lips, and noses are dry, clothes are full of static, and cars are pushed around as you drive down the street. As some people would say, it is a very blistery day.

But is the wind really bad? What is the wind? Air moving about? The breath of some deity? Like the sunset, wind is full of symbolism and meaning. Can any person living truly live without breath? Our lungs wouldn’t inflate, our heart wouldn’t pump blood throughout our bodies. We would, quite simply, be dead.

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Despite the cold harshness of a winter wind, or the humid, muggy blanket of a summer gust, wind is vital. It circulates oxygen, carries pollen spores for plants and trees, and, as a friend from high school once said, “It cleans everything.” In some places, a good, strong wind storm will blow all of the top layers of dust and grime, leaving things clean. However, in other places, particularly desserts, a strong wind storm brings the dust and leaves a thick layer of it over everything. Ever look at someone’s pool after a good dust storm? It’s a mess to clean up.

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But what about that gentle breeze, the one that lightly stirs your hair or turns a field of grass into a soft, rolling sea? That caressing breeze, that comforting touch of coolness on your skin on a hot day? The one that carries the wonderful smell of baking bread from the house to the children playing outside? The soft wind that carries the laughter of families across the empty spaces? The warm wind at the ending of winter that brings such stirrings of hope that you know spring has come?

It is easy to forget the quiet, gentle breeze when the tornado is ripping your home apart. There’s a passage in the Bible that speaks about finding God. Again and again, God is looked for in the peal of thunder, the flash of lightning, the roar of a firestorm. But in the end, He is found in the soft whisper of a gentle breeze. Too often we look for answer in the big things, the grandiose explanations. Why did the chicken cross the road? To create a philosophical quandary, or to simply get to the grain on the other side? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Why does it matter, both are here. Or perhaps this: What is the meaning of life? That is a question that has hounded thinkers throughout history. What are we supposed to do with our lives, our talents? Change the world of course. It’s a rather simple answer, but means so much more. Deciding to become a teacher changes the world. Deciding to spend your life in quiet contemplation changes the world. Every action, no matter how small or large, changes the world.

And so, as I sit here looking out my window as the wind sways the trees back and forth, I can’t help but think about how important it is to remember the softer, quieter parts of life. I always seem to be on the move, doing one thing or another, tossed this way and that by the winds of life, but I tend to forget the quiet parts that let me think, let me enjoy the people around me. The wind is howling outside, but sooner or later it will become a soft and comforting breeze.

Categories: Nature | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sunset

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As the sun sets in the west, casting a beautiful golden glow across the hills and clouds, I can’t help but think of what it means. Symbolically, a setting sun means death, destruction, the coming of the darkness that is night and terror. It means an end. An end of what, though? Poverty? Sadness? Happiness? It’s a very versatile metaphor. By using the west, the setting sun, as a symbol, an author can convey a breadth of meanings. Then, couple the setting sun with the promise of dawn and an entirely new set of meanings emerge. 

In reality, what is a sunset? Merely the sun passing beyond the currently visible horizon. The sun isn’t actually falling below the earth, or dying, or fading into the underworld to be reborn the next morning.

The picture above is full of its own meaning and symbolism, apart from the sun. But let’s just focus on the sun for now. Is it setting or rising? It would appear to be setting, but can we know that for sure? Maybe the camera is looking to the east on a particularly foggy morning? Are those mountains continuously cloaked in mist, thus obscuring the rising sun? Maybe, maybe not. 

So, is a sunset really focused on an end, on death? Some would argue that it is necessary for the sun to set, so that night can be born. So perhaps it can also symbolize birth? Ah, but the birth of what? Night is not frequently held in high regard for “good feelings.” 

My conclusion on the sunset is this: It is an end to one day, the beginning of night, and the promise of a new dawn. Everything must come to an end, both good things and bad. This is neither a curse, nor necessarily a blessing. It simply is. So it is with our lives. Each human on this planet goes through a sunset, an end. A death. A darker time when the good things are cloaked in shadow and the bad things seem all the larger. Night will come, in its inevitability, but also will the dawn. 

Categories: Nature | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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