Happy 17th Anniversary!

Leaving Ford Dining Hall

Leaving Ford Dining Hall – Berry College

A friend of mine recently commented to me, “Are you aware that you are the only person I know who never, ever trash-talks about their spouse?”

There’s a reason for that. I was very, very picky about the person I married – and so was she. Neither of us knew what the hell we were doing, or how we were going to make it work, but we both knew that we were marrying someone who would take marriage seriously and would put our relationship above every other priority. To this day, I know that I am the most important person in her life, and that she is in mine.

And so, 17 years later, the room still lights up for me when she walks into it. No matter what is going on in my life, making eye contact with her or feeling her hand in mine is all it takes for everything to be right with the world. I’ve heard people say that love and passion fade with time, but as we approach the close of our second decade together, my own experience is that I feel both more deeply and more strongly than I ever have.

I love you Brigit! Happy Anniversary!


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Happy Fathers Day!

At the Chattahoochee

At the Chattahoochee

When I was very young, I quickly realized that popular perceptions of what it means to be a “Dad” did not jive with how my own father went about the job. Every day of my life, I have always known that being my dad was the single most important thing in my father’s world. He went about learning to be a parent with great intentionality – reading every book he could on the subject, talking to parents and mentors whom he respected, and also talking with me about the decisions he made – even the mistakes he made – as a parent, and why.

There isn’t enough space to enumerate all the things I have learned from Dad, but certainly one of them is that parenting is a partnership of mutual respect and honesty that requires an absolute commitment of time, energy, and priorities. Above all, it requires a boundless supply of love and grace.

I’ve never met anyone who has the kind of relationship with their father that I have with mine, although John-Francis Villines is always quick to point out that he and I also have that kind of uniquely close relationship of shared affection and trust. He’s kind to say so, but I think that’s cheating. In being the best father I know how to be to my own son, I am only following the example of the best father and the best man I have ever known.

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How To Never Become a Grown-Up

"Daybreak" - Maxfield Parrish

“Daybreak” by Maxfield Parrish

If you wish to download this as a PDF formatted for a single page, click here: Never Become a Grown-Up (Printable).

Few people actually grow wiser as they age.  Even if we do, we all feel like we’re walking around in our parents’ clothes pretending to be adults.  90% of the time when an adult chides a teenager for something, the adult had the exact same idea.  But they know they have to sound like an adult, so they mumble the admonishments they think they’re obligated to repeat.  Most of the “wise, adult” things you hear adults say, especially the lame and irrelevant ones, are just them parroting what they heard growing up.

Ultimately, most adults journey through their lives jettisoning all the things that are truly wonderful about youth:  passion, creativity, freedom, spontaneity, and loyalty; while also clinging to the very weaknesses they hoped to outgrow:  insecurity, pettiness, jealousy, gossip, and selfishness.  It all looks very “grown-up” from the outside, but that’s just window-dressing.  Don’t let the nicer clothes and more expensive toys fool you.  Unless you choose your friends and your path very carefully, most of adulthood is just a larger version of the high school cafeteria, but the cliques are more stratified and their members are more tired.

Some people, however, manage to become adults without ever becoming “grown-ups” (a patronizing word I have never liked).  Over the years, I have tried to figure out their secret, and tried to incorporate what I could into my own life.

So, for all my younger friends and friends who hope to stay young, here is my advice for how to become an adult without selling out to a system that never grew-up but insists that you should:

1.   When confronted with doing something new or doing a familiar task differently, ask “Why not?” instead of “Why?” If you can’t think of a good reason why not to, then do it.

2.   You will constantly hear people say, “I always wanted to…” or “I wish I could…” When faced with those statements, ignore their excuses for why they didn’t/couldn’t/won’t and start thinking about how you can/will/must!

3.   Remember that most people are unhappy, most people are unfulfilled, and most people are not in control of their own lives. With that in mind, doing things the way most people do them is insanity.  If you’re not weird, you’re wasting your life.

4.   Pay attention. Most people don’t. Train yourself to look for patterns in the way the world works, and then take advantage of those patterns to gain more freedom for yourself and control of your environment.

5.   Morality is often the opposite of what you think it is. Most people define “morality” as “doing the same things they do.” They allow any compromises that they, themselves, make, and scorn anyone who doesn’t avoid the same things they avoid.

Real morality is very different, very rare, and most often found where you least expect it. Truly moral people have an inflexible code when it comes to two things: betraying another’s trust, and harming someone else for their own gain.

Everything else is bullshit.

6.   “Achievement” is a meaningless goal in and of itself. Even the greatest achievements – landing on the moon, curing polio – are infinitesimal when you look at them on a cosmic scale. It’s the small decisions that will ultimately lead up to your greatest achievements. In whatever space you are given, make the choices that will improve the lives of the people around you.

There will be days when crooking your arm so a baby can sleep more comfortably will be your greatest achievement. It seems a small thing, but  being someone who makes others safe and comfortable is an amazing accomplishment and a tremendous legacy.

7.   Do not waste time or energy on unhealthy people. Only a small number of people are worth making your close friends.  This bears repeating.  Choose your friends very, very carefully.  They can, and should, be different from you in myriad ways, but they must be people who value:  Loyalty, Integrity, Kindness, Generosity, and Intentionality.  There is no room for flexibility on these things.  Be kind to everyone, but you should only entrust your friendship to those rare people whose lives are defined by those five traits.

8.   Stand up to bullies, of every kind and in every place.

9.   If you don’t find yourself occasionally saying, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke” then the joke is on you.

10. Remember that the silly stuff, the painful stuff, the embarrassing stuff, the icky stuff – that is where ALL of the magic in the world is to be found. Not some of it, ALL of it. If you pretend that stuff doesn’t exist, you will lead a life devoid of magic.

If you insist on seeking out those things, if you celebrate them, if you deal with them honestly and publicly you will scare people, but magic is not for the timid and afraid.

“Adults” become masters of pretending that stuff doesn’t exist. Don’t ever buy into that.

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25 Random Things

This actually turned out to be a really enjoyable exercise. My thanks to the Facebook friends who encouraged it:

Tiger Drinking

Source: Flickr

1. I rarely drink anything besides water (sparkling or still, I do like variety you know). The usual alternatives are juice or a fruit smoothie.



Joshua as a soldier.


2. I have worked as: a soldier, police instructor, a counter-terrorism consultant and trainer, a crime prevention expert, a pastor, a writer and editor, a bodyguard, a private detective, an interpreter, a photo-processor, a professor, a and a stay-at-home parent. I’m currently looking for more jobs that start with “p.” (And I was a paratrooper when I was a soldier, so there’s a preponderance of p’s already.)



Family snowman picture.3. I value time with my wife and son over anything and everything. I don’t care who you are or what the personal or professional gain might be from attending a particular event, I will blow you off to spend time with Brigit and John-Francis.



Secret Lives of Mobs4. I love Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, and have edited a few of them.



Rainy Day photo from freephoto.com5. I really like rainy days.



Joshua & Sean6. I am highly selective about my close friends, and fiercely loyal to them.


Tie-dyed Peace Sign

Source: www.phatdyes.com

7. I never outgrew my hippie idealism from college.



Monty Python and the Holy Grail8. I think that doing something because “most” people or “normal” people do it is a really terrible idea. In fact, I immediately question the logic or quality of an idea or behavior if it’s popular.



Smooching Brigit9. My wife is my best friend, and our relationship is one of affectionate intimacy. I’m amazed by how many people don’t seem to want this from a spouse, and instead spend much of their lives bitching about how little they have in common with the person they married.



Source: http://www.cte.usf.edu/materials/institute/ct/bltax.gif

10. I like organizing physical objects as well as ideas. This is obvious if you open any drawer I’ve been near (mine or otherwise) and if you read my research. I like taxonomies and putting things in boxes, which drives my dear friend Katy crazy. (I’ve put her in the “doesn’t like to be put in a box” box.)


Carter Family11. I love roots music and old shape note gospel hymns.



Die Hard Poster12. I enjoy banal TV programs and feel good movies (especially with gratuitous nudity and/or explosions), and I usually have the TV on while I’m working.



Grandpa Vanderhof13. I want to grow up to be Grandpa Martin Vanderhof from Frank Capra’s “You Can’t Take It With You.”



Karl Barth14. I think the profound spiritual insights of our ancestors in the faith should be preserved without fettering them with the cultural assumptions and superstitions of the eras in which those ancestors lived. If that sentence makes sense to you, you’ll understand my theological writings and public stances on social issues. If it doesn’t, no amount of explaining on my part will help.



It's a Wonderful Life cast15. My greatest hope for John-Francis is that he will grow up to be someone who thinks deeply and loves generously.


Bread and Cheese

Source: http://www.lloydexpedition.org/Cheese_bread.jpg

16. Fresh-baked bread and sharp cheese is one of my favorite combinations in the world.


Poetry Magnets

Source: http://dlcal.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/words1.jpg

17. I used to write a lot of poetry, now I write a lot of prose. I think that what I lost in artistry I gained in clarity.



Dad and Me by the Chattahoochee18. I’ve learned more from Dad than I have, cumulatively, from everyone else in my life.




Source: http://sfcitizen.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/_o8f1289a1.jpg

19. I wish I were more kind.


Car Wreck

Source: http://sfcitizen.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/_o8f1289a1.jpg

20. When I think about the number of stupid things I survived to learn the lessons I have learned, I am tempted to lock John-Francis up until he’s 30.



Source: Troy University Tech Tip Tutorials

21. I can design web pages from scratch using a text editor, but I prefer not to.


Parts of the Brain

Source: http://www.narconon.ca/images/info_brain3.jpg

22. I have never done any illegal drugs or smoked cigarettes. I hate both vices with a passion, the former because it makes you stupid and the latter because it killed three of my four grandparents.



Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast23. Although I test as highly extroverted, and think of myself as one, I rarely enjoy parties with large groups of people I don’t know these days. I find I like fewer and fewer people the older I get, and that my tendency to speak frankly offends most people.


ENTP - with Lightsabers and Squirrels and Whooshing


24. I think scientifically calibrated personality assessments are useful, and that Internet ones can be fun, so I keep results from both on this page.  I am definitely an ENTP.


Bernard Fall

Bernard Fall

25. Nearly all of my diverse skills have something to do with words or weaponry, and I think it’s important that every person be willing to use both to defend those who are in positions of vulnerability.

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Thoughts After Reading and Seeing Watchmen

Watchmen Cast - Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Watchmen Cast – Courtesy of Warner Brothers

For years I’ve heard friends talk about Watchmen and I never got around to reading it. I’ve always found the style of storytelling in graphic novels to be distracting. I’m a word guy, and superimposing images with words usually distracts me.I finally sat down to read the graphic novel in its entirety this week, and I think it’s fair to say that Watchmen reaches the full potential of the medium. It tells its story on multiple levels with sophisticated interaction between the evocative images and the (several?) brilliant storylines(s).

The movie trims out a few layers to focus on the central themes and images of the novel; an appropriate recognition of the limitations of the genre. Visually, the movie is stunning – it recreates the world of the Watchmen flawlessly, and it does so in ways that replicate the emotional impact of key moments in the novel. The acting feels a little weak and contrived in places (especially Matthew Goode, who clearly doesn’t understand the subtlety of his character); but overall the characters are well-represented. The subtleties and moral ambiguities of the novel’s plot are also generally well-implemented, and the overall experience of seeing it all take place on the big screen was awe-inspiring.

John-Francis and I were actually struck silent for a few moments after it was over, something that is rare for both of us. Then we found ourselves talking for some time about the various moral and anthropological implications of the story.

Having read the novel, I was initially hesitant to take John-Francis to the movie. Admittedly, the violence didn’t exceed what he’s seen on evening television or in James Bond/Jason Bourne movies. In fact, the worst scene in Watchmen almost perfectly mirrors a scene from Battlestar Gallactica. The sexuality barely went beyond that of a perfume ad. And the language is no worse than he’s heard from his classmates. Still, it’s our job to filter that sort of thing and to help him to process what he does encounter in a manner appropriate to his emotional maturity. (Of course, no one was monitoring our emotional maturity as kids when we found my grandfather’s Playboy collection, but you tend to forget that sort of thing as you get older.)

Ultimately, I decided that he was old enough to understand the themes of the movie and appreciate its artistry. I really wanted him to see it on the big screen, and I wanted to watch it with him and interpret it with him. For me, discussing these sorts of powerful artistic experiences – engaging in deep discussions about the nature of good and evil – is the very best part of being a parent. I wanted to share this with him, and I thought he was ready for it.

I was right, and here are some of the things we discussed on the car ride and after we got home. I’m listing them here, because I’d love to talk about them with you if you’ve read the novel or seen the movie; and I’d like to encourage you to talk about them with your kids if they’ve seen it.

– Which is more important, justice or peace?

– Should we have to choose between the two? Do we?

– Is humanity capable of real heroism?

– What defines a “good” person? A hero?

– Are there some flaws that cannot be balanced by any level of heroism?

– Are there any heroes in the movie? Any villains?

– Is fear the only real motivation for peace?

– How do we determine the right thing to do?

– Why is it important to ask these kinds of questions? How does good art make us think in these ways?

In case you haven’t already realized it, this is not a typical action movie, nor is the graphic novel what you might expect if you aren’t familiar with the deep and morally complex themes dealt with in modern works of that genre. Don’t go and see Watchmen if you’re looking for a Superman movie. Also, I’d highly recommend reading the book first.

Even if you don’t see the movie with your kids, I think these are important themes and I hope you’ll find other ways to talk about them. Our children are exposed to more images of violence, sex, and profanity than we realize; and it’s important that the feel comfortable looking to us to help them make sense of them.

Excerpt from Watchmen, Vol 1

Excerpt from Watchmen, Vol 1

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