Thoughts on Houston

It’s been a while since the last time I wrote about where I’ve moved to, if I’ve written anything at all (can’t remember at the moment although it’s been talked about on Twitter and one-on-one for certain). So in the interests of either filling a gap in writing, or being redundant and amusing myself by talking about the same things again, here we go.

Houstonians are, as a rule, ruder than people in South Carolina. I’m not sure why that is. Could come from everyone having to live so close together.

I have yet to find an Asian restaurant that understands the concept of sweet tea.

Traffic lights mean nothing. Neither do the lanes painted onto the road.

Many I’ve run across don’t seem to realize there is a world outside Texas. (Is this a problem endemic to Texas?)

The lack of income tax is more than compensated for by the higher sales tax and cost of living.

So far I haven’t said anything positive about Houston, and it’s a policy of mine to at least try to find something positive to say when I have a list of negatives, to at least pretend to have balance.

Unfortunately I can’t think of anything worth liking about this place. My plan from the beginning was to be here short-term, but it may end up being shorter-term than even I anticipated.

Post-Christmas Thoughts

(This was scribbled in the back of my notebook while I was restless during church on Sunday. That will explain most of the discordant thoughts.)

It is a few days after Christmas when this is traditionally celebrated (at least by most Protestants) but I can appeal to the twelve days of Christmas tradition and say my notes are still timely.

It was long ago that the coming of the redeemer was announced. Some will tell you that God declared it in the garden shortly before evicting the first man and woman from it. He said there would be a descendant of Eve who would crush the serpent’s head. Ever since that day, the darkest in the history of mankind, the adversary had been at work trying to thwart God’s plans. He persuaded man to sin and polluted the human race (possibly physically as well as spiritually), and was inconvenienced by the Flood. He was soon back to work, first with the people at Babel before singling out one man’s descendants to harass for centuries to come, as he learned that from this family would come the one who could stop him. It was not for hundreds of years though that it finally happened.

And when it did, would it not have caught many by surprise? God humbled himself and took on the human flesh and entered his creation. He came into his own, but his own did not recognize him or receive him. They were looking for someone else, someone more impressive who could lead an army and bring deliverance. He did bring deliverance, but again, it was not the type they expected.

The next surprise was in how the deliverance was carried out. The devil figured out who the Messiah was (this was not kept secret by any means) and tried to make him fall, and of course he did not succeed. He then decided to kill him.

And he was playing right into God’s hands, because he’d planned this from the beginning. That set the stage for the next shock, when the Messiah rose from the dead.

God has not agreed to carry out his plans in the way we expect. How might he do it in the future?

Thoughts on the Season

Advent is easily my favorite time of the year. I can’t quite explain it, but for many years it has been, with Thanksgiving a very close second. It helps that I start preparing myself for this season immediately following a day for the giving of thanks, and besides, Christ coming to free us from sin is quite a lot to be thankful for.

Then there’s the matter of our own materialistic culture failing to find a means to monetize either season to the extent they have others. Indeed, stores all but ignore Thanksgiving in their rush to get people to spend for Christmas. (I choose not to mention the travesty that is “Black Friday,” or the new abomination of starting from the time of thanks in order to satisfy some greed.)

I guess this reveals how shallow this feeling of thanks truly is in the American psyche. Merely another symptom of the deeper problem I have preached on before; if you have known me long enough, you know my thoughts.

Anyway, Advent. The focus for me is not so much on his first coming, but in anticipation of his second. At least, this is true at the beginning, when the traditional emphasis is on hope and prophecy. Just as the nation of Israel waited for their coming Messiah for centuries, so now we anticipate his coming as king, when he will set all to right and be worshiped. Evil’s grip on this world will finally be broken, and the curse will meet its end.

It’s a time for reflection. Are you prepared for that day? The world was not then, and it is not now. Do not be like the world, but be ready and do God’s work.

Moving and Starting Over

I suppose it is time for another “life update.” As of a couple weeks ago I am employed again, and as of two days ago I am living in Houston. This is not where I expected to end up (and indeed if you look at what I was hoping for three months ago, and where God placed me instead, you will see that there is little matching), but God knows what He intends and my job is to follow His lead.

In a way this is a good thing. Those of you who have been speaking with me for a while know that upstate South Carolina, despite liking the climate and landscape, was miserable for me. Work was a constant stress, especially from April until July, and after being there for two years I could still say I had no friends in the area. True, I had acquaintances at church and was beginning to get along okay with some locals, but there were no relationships deep or significant enough to call real “friendships.” Alongside this, because I have moved every year since 2006 and have had little chance to “settle” for a while, I ended up falling back to online contacts because I knew that even if I moved, they would still be with me, so I devoted more time than I probably should have to those friends I have online.

This has gone on for years.

But when I was driving through Spartanburg to drop off my cable box and router, and a few times going to church in the past month, I passed through parts of town I had never visited in two years. I did not know what was on the east side of town. I did not visit the downtown library until six weeks ago. I never stopped by to see what the downtown square had to offer.

In a way this could be viewed as two years of wasting opportunities.

This is not going to happen in Houston. In a way, moving this far out here will be a good thing, because I know no one and have no one nearby, so I will be forced to get to know people in order to function at a minimum and enjoy it here. The last two years were squandered. The next two, three, or however many, will not be. I have been given a chance to start over and do not want to lose it.

Culture Shock

Culture shock can manifest itself in the oddest of places. I have lived in the South all my life, so I am used to the Carolinian/Georgian way of doing things, but for the most part I don’t feel too out-of-place when travelling. Some of this is due to the effect of modernization on different societies (when I landed in Bogota I wasn’t sure if I’d left Atlanta). I don’t even feel out of place in Toronto, although this time around I did notice a few more differences I did not quite pick up on at first.

Visiting Texas for an interview was another matter entirely. The entire trip was a reminder that I was far from home in unfamiliar territory. Even though I am used to life near the ocean, and have worked at a plant on a river, there was much different. I did not figure out the feeder roads while I was there, nor was I sure what to make of the menus at restaurants (missing items I am familiar with), and the way of life I observed during my brief stay there was different enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

What are the odds that I would have more trouble adjusting to a town in “my own” region rather than one on the other side of the continent? Apparently rather high.

Life Since July

A month ago I lost my job.

Things had not been going as well as they could have been. A few weeks after my new supervisor started, the company elected to move me from my old process engineering role to a more involved project management role and give me several projects at once to, in their words, “see what you would do.” It ended predictably, and a few months ago they took me off the management and restored me to my old engineering role.

Last month they told me they did not want an engineer who was not ready to be a manager, so rather than train me for a year or so they opted to get rid of me and find someone with more experience.

So I have had a month to think about the past and the future.

Firstly, God be thanked that after the first sleepless night and feelings of misery the first morning, there has been next to no stress. Would this inner calm and peace not have to be from God? He will provide something new.

Secondly, God is the one who must lead. I have wondered in the past few months if the reason I was so miserable here is because I acted, not contrary to the will of God, but too quickly when God would have provided something better had I waited. At first God said I could be here, and he instructed me to remain with the congregation I have remained with from the beginning, but lately he’d been saying, “I have a better path that you must take.”

So God allowing me to be removed from my job was from him. All the other offers may not be from him, although I consider it nonsense to say that only one offer is the right one and all others are against his plan for me. The right option is acting in faith and trusting in God, that no matter where I go I will seek him first always.

If God is the one who allows me to lose my job, and he is the one who will lead me forward, what reason is there to fear?

None that I know.

I have had the option to reexamine myself, my likes and dislikes, and to my dismay discover a fair amount of mental, emotional, and perhaps even spiritual damage I had suffered during my time here. I have only recently begun to enjoy old activities and feel myself again, so this time away from work has been a time of healing. Again, God be thanked.

But my life is about to reach a decision point from which I cannot go back. A company in Colorado has been courting me ever since late May, and while they are interested, their hands were tied for a while. No longer is this the case. More recently, a company in Wyoming has asked me to visit them at the end of the month, after which they are likely to offer me a job but of course they may decide not to.

Today another company called. This one is local, and I would be doing almost the exact same work as I have done the past two years.

My options become this: Do I stay here and continue to live as I have, and do what I have done, where I know what to expect and what I will like and dislike, and have a reasonable estimate of success? Or do I go to a totally new place, where I know no one, in a job capacity that is unlike anything I have ever done before, and there is no guarantee I will be successful?

Do I step out in faith with darkness before me and only the light of God inside me illuminating the way, or do I remain here where my knowledge can fill in the gaps? Do I leave this place with its memories of stagnation and despair and begin life anew elsewhere, or is this where I belong and to leave here is to chase a fool’s dream?

Do I stay where I am stable and secure, where prudence suggests I ought, or do I abandon my security in favor of the unknown? Am I a fool for leaving and wise for remaining, or am I a coward for staying and courageous in venturing?

While this is posted for anyone to see, I’m not asking for feedback, not really, unless in God’s wisdom you are compelled to leave your thoughts. Please respond only in wisdom as God directs, and not on your own understanding.

Defacing “Howard’s Rock”

One news item that came to my attention earlier this week was the defacing of “Howard’s Rock,” a Clemson athletics icon that has stood at the entrance to Memorial Stadium since the 1960s, when football coach Frank Howard reigned. Elevated in the past few years from a gift to a shrine worthy of worship by the most dedicated of fans, even going so far as to put it in a protective glass case, the transience of these icons was demonstrated when an as-yet-unknown individual or group took it upon themselves to carve a chunk out of it for themselves.

Now, there are some admissions to make before I go any further. First, I am a graduate of Clemson University, which is likely the only reason why the story came to my attention in the first place, and possibly the only reason why I am writing about it. Second, I care nothing for sports and never had an interest in their sports program, so while I know quite well what “Howard’s Rock” is and have seen it many times, it is in my mind about as interesting and important as the rock collection I kept as a child.

I don’t make a good Clemson fan for the same reason I make a bad nationalist or traditional Christian: symbols don’t mean a whole lot to me. The supposed “most exciting 25 seconds in college football” are dull, and I don’t see the thrill of having every player rub their hands on the rock as they run past it. To be honest, it sounds very unsanitary. Maybe it is supposed to evoke memories of grandeur and forge a connection to the past, but I still don’t get it. Symbols and the traditions surrounding them are not bad, I do not mean to suggest that, but when a symbol becomes something to be revered, and tradition takes on the authority of holy writ, then there are problems.

Perhaps the next Clemson fanatic, hyper-nationalist, or Catholic can explain it to me.

Neither does the rivalry make much sense. I can understand difference of opinion and even playful banter, but this division into groups always strikes me more as social conditioning to make people good, controllable citizens than anything else. It reinforces the “us versus them” approach that dishonest individuals use to advance their agenda. In the long run, does it matter if one team’s players are better at running and keeping the ball than the other team’s? It is a game, nothing more. It is not life. Why can you not simply enjoy the game as a game, without adding all the other baggage to it?

And yet, we see this rivalry turn into brutality. “Fans” of rival schools think nothing of denigrating the students or institution that is not part of their “us.” A physically old but mentally immature Alabama fan poisons very old trees held in honor by rival Auburn, for no reason than to show his irrational dislike of his concept of Auburn. A Clemson fan scribbles a rendition of the tiger paw on a South Carolina field (at least grass grows back). Someone else irreparably damages a rock symbolizing Clemson’s athletic achievements.

These are not good things. It keeps a people fragmented who ought to be together. It keeps them fighting each other when they should be identifying and fighting a common enemy. It enables stupidity to escalate, encouraging a few to descend from trivial damage, to something more noticeable, all the way to causing irreparable harm.

We should not approve of these things. We should be trying to build relationships with others, not tear them apart. If we do not, or if we only address the symptoms of the larger problem, then there is no bright future, only the guarantee of worse to come.

On Writing

Yes, I know six weeks ago I said I would begin writing a few posts relevant to transformation, furry, and how that fits (or doesn’t fit) in the Christian perspective. I have not gotten around to doing that yet and don’t know when I will. I know it will eventually happen, but please don’t demand a timeline.

Anyway, I have been working on the first major revision to the coyote novel I began last spring. It is going well (about 22,000 words into it) and there have been no plot absurdities as there were in the first attempt. The story from its current point onward has been mapped out, giving ample room for future creative freedom, so it should be easy going from now on. Many story elements have remained the same, much to my surprise, but a few major changes have helped the novel along. I don’t want to go into detail, but I did want to share one of them.

The most notable change has been consciously making the novel more theistic. While not a religious story by any means, the primary characters reflect a more theistic mindset, rather than the attempted agnostic approach from the earlier draft. I am simply unable to replicate a believable agnostic attitude, so for the sake of the story I abandoned it.

There’s something else I have found. Two earlier novels which I enjoyed, and which I consider to be my strongest, had this in common: both were written around a particular theological question. I would not call them “preachy;” I was not trying to insert and promote a given doctrine by adding it to the text, but a theological controversy formed the backbone of both stories, which were written to explore the problem and develop a possible solution. The stories had meaning beyond pure entertainment value.

Naturally, I don’t want to state what the questions were. :)

The coyote novel lacked this at first. This, I think, was a large part of why it failed. There was no compelling reason to finish the story, nothing to share with the reader. It still isn’t there, although it is exploring a concept that arose through writing that initial draft. It has meaning again.

Two future stories will return to the model of constructing a story around a question, and I am excited to see where they will go when I am finally able to write them. Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from you. If you are a writer, what drives you to write? What made one story better than another?

Thoughts on April Fool’s Day

Now that it is no longer April Fool’s Day, there may be some out there who are wondering why I am waiting until now to write this post. Part of it can be explained by my work schedule (I am a coyote working full time) and general busyness yesterday afternoon. For the rest, I wanted to be able to talk about this outside the pranks and other chaos.

In keeping with my species, I am not above the occasional prank. When I was younger, I would engage in silly acts such as sewing a victim’s socks and undergarments together and placing them back in the drawer, putting a very-visible rubber band around the spray nozzle beside the sink, or put food coloring in the milk. A couple years back, a friend and I swapped nicks on an IRC channel and kept it up for a while, leaving a couple hints that we were not who we said we were, but still confusing some who came in. Part of the challenge there was making sure we adopted each other’s mannerisms and vocabulary.

But I do not do this much anymore.

Humor and jokes have their place and are okay, but especially around 1 April it is too easy and common for jokes to get out of hand, and become humor at another’s expense. This is not good. It cuts the victim down and makes him appear to be a fool, and the one devising the prank to be superior. It goes against what Paul told the church at Ephesus as well: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29, NASB) Does your humor edify? If not, then you should not do it. It is not loving.

There is also this proverb: Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “Was I not joking?” (Proverbs 26:18-19, NASB) This includes not only humor that makes fun of a friend, but also when people tell very-convincing stories to make others worry or be upset, and then follow up the stories with an admission that the story was a lie. This is cruelty. It is not acceptable any other day of the year, so why have a day where it is permissible to lie to another?

Spring is here

Spring is here… I think. It is the beginning of April as I write this, and as hard as it may be to believe, I have to consider using a qualifier or three when making my declaration. Is it truly spring? In my post a month ago, I speculated that the end of winter was near, based on the budding trees and warmth in the air. What I did not expect was a cold snap lasting through most of March, making March colder than January according to TWC. It remains to be seen what happens to the local crops. I hope they have not seen too much damage. This is still a largely agricultural area, and we can’t afford to see a crop failure.

What will the season hold? The WagzTail crew has recorded a future episode about springtime, which will be released sometime this month. It… had a few issues but it should work out okay in the end. There’s bound to be a high pollen count for the next few weeks, which makes me glad to be inside, but if the weather stays pleasant, you can be sure I’ll complain a little bit — just not here.

I have other posts in the works. I will be posting them in the next few weeks.