Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Proper Care and Feeding of Rattlesnakes

There have been a few questions lately from friends and family about the practice of rattlesnake hunting. Since it is a good time of year for this, I thought I would describe it. Then in a few weeks, I'll try to post some pictures of the practice.

First, a disclaimer. I absolutely hate snakes of any kind. They give me a combined case of the heebie-jeebies and the holy molies. I think the guys on TV who catch them bare-handed are nuts. My heart does not go out to their plight as depicted by environmetalists. Although I have never personally been to the World's Largest Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, TX, I support the effort in spirit. I have no desire to touch snakes or make them pets, put after going hunting a few times last year, I am hooked. Here is how it started.

I met an old one-armed man named Bill who mentioned that he hunted rattlesnakes. He did bull-dozer work for us at the ranches. He is a little crazy, but if you're curious he lost his arm in an accident- not to a snake. In his history of hunting snakes he has sold about 23,000 pounds to the Roundup in Sweetwater. 23,000 pounds! He catches them in the winter and sells them in the spring. In the meantime, he just tosses them into an old abondoned schoolhouse he owns out in the boonies. They are not caged. That is not a big problem during the winter, but in the spring as it becomes warm they get a little annoyed.

One day I mentioned to him that I would like to watch him catch snakes from a respectable distance because it blew my mind that someone would actually do such a thing. I still remember his response.

"Well, he**. Ya ain't much good a watchin'. If you're goin' your gonna carry the da** bucket and a stick! Da** city slicker..."

Well, that idea did not appeal to me, but then about a year ago my family had taken our neighbors with us to the ranch and Bill was there with his equipment. As it often does, the subject of snake hunting came up. He said he knew of a den where we could drive up pretty close in a 4x4 and the kids might even be able to watch from the safety of the truck. He reiterated, however, that I would not be so lucky. On a whim (and perhaps because my neighbor, Steve, was pretty keen to go) I agreed.

We drove over to a part of the ranch just below the summit of the Safe Place for those of you who have been. I got as close as I could with the truck and then we climbed the rest of the way up to a rocky ledge on the side of a steep drop off.

When it is winter time, the snake will gather in a den under ground and hibernate until spring. They are not aggressive in this state. Using mirrors, we reflect the sun's rays into holes and when you see diamonds reflecting back at you, you know you have found a den. When that is the case, we agitate the den and the snakes crawl out. It gets interesting when you are on a cliff or in a cactus patch, but when they come out you use a grabber to pick them up and put them in a can. The grabber I bought is about 2 1/2 feet long. The short ones are easier to use if you're in a tight spot.

At that first den, ten snakes came out. As they wake up and warm up in the sun they become a little more agitated, but catching them is best while they are still groggy. The next den we went to was harder to reach so the families did not go to that one. We caught 23 there. At the bottom of that mountain, Bill dumped them all out on the ground.

"Are you crazy?" I asked him, even though I knew that was a loaded question.

He explained that that many snakes in a can will suffocate and a dead snake is worthless to him. He wanted them to get some air. Well, by now the ones who could breathe were rather bothered by the events of their day and were rattling and coiling up. Bill said when they were doing that they were breathing fine and ready to go back in the can. Actually he said if they struck at us they were feeling better and could be loaded back up. So, because I was drunk on adrenaline at the time, we walked among them pestering them with sticks until they struck or tried to get away at which point we would put them back in the can. As I look back on that, I can't believe it was real.

By the end of the day we had caught a total of 40 snakes and I was hooked. I went a few more times last year and now that we have had a good cold snap it's time to go again this year. There's a hunt this weekend, but I will be out of town so perhaps next weekend. It really is fun and I have learned a lot. If you are around here during the winter and curious, perhaps you can go too. Bill is a crazy old mountain man built about 100 years too late, but he has never been bitten nor has anyone in his company.

Now all of that having been said, I need to offer one caveat. I do not want anyone to think that Highland members are now into snake handling as a sanctioned church activity. Although, if I get Mike to go, perhaps that will change. After all, one of Lynn Anderson's sons was bitten by one he caught several years ago.

Monday, December 27, 2004

And now... Holiday Mundane

If you're keeping score, I haven't offered much of the blatantly mundane recently. So, here we go.

It is getting to be great rattlesnake hunting weather. I may go this week. I might post pictures if we get any big ones. The main thing to remember when hunting rattlesnakes is that no matter how cute they are, they are not very cuddly pets.

Today during a movie, my phone rang 5, count 'em, FIVE times. Ahh. Vacation.

Follow-the-leader on bikes with the kids can be fun.

I saw a segment on the "Today Show" this morning on something called Googlewhacking. Basically, this is the practice of entering a two word search into the Google search engine without any quotes or any other signs or punctuation in the hopes of finding only one single hit. The guy in the segment was a frustrated novelist who gave up on writing a book and instead is chronicling his Googlewhacking efforts and results. He also visits with some of the website creators of the "single-hit" results. It is cheating to use a dictionary or to create a program that automatically conducts searches based on dictionaries or word lists. I tried it for a little while and found one rather quickly: "peuce swashbuckler." It took about 5-10 minutes.

Today, we gave up on the "Ella Experiment." A friend of mine had his dog die recently and he had commented on Ella a few times. What else could I do? It is for the best on many levels.

Yesterday I actually heard someone say in a prayer that we needed to be mindful of the tragedy in Asia because there were probably some Christians among the casualties. I find it disgusting to think that that is the only reason we should pray over that situation. God, I pray that you will work in the lives of all those affected by the earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Stars v. Scars, Lights v. Plights, Gifts v. Rifts

When this time of years rolls around, we get to hear about many top ten or even top one-hundred lists. Well, if we were to make lists of the most repeated mantras during the holiday season, I really believe we would find that we hear more about how depressed we should feel than we hear about the message of Christmas itself. In fact, we hear this dark message so much, that I wonder if we are enabling self pity rather than encouraging people to move past it.

I understand that the holidays can be a very difficult time. I would argue that I understand this very well. On December 23, 1973 I lost a Grandfather to a heart attack. Merry Christmas. One year later on December 24, 1974 I lost my mom. I was five. Merry Christmas- and wasn't it a Happy New Year? And while I struggle with the notion of being upbeat and positive and often with overcoming dark feelings, Christmas seems an odd time to succumb to these tendencies. While it is true that the first Christmas was anything but pageantry, it is also true that viewed as a whole the other 364 days a year have a strong share of sadness, difficulty and grief for so many in this world. Therefore, is it so wrong to try and pursue the joy that comes with Christmas despite the strife that may try to seep through? I don't think so. Clearly, when these feeling do get through, it is appropriate to deal with them. But is it possible that when we concentrate soley on disappointment and grief that we are fulfilling our own prophesy?

Today, amid the happiness of another Christmas with my wonderful family, I felt the old tug of melancholy, the first step toward darker things. Admittedly, it was a little tough to shake off. Sure, some time with great family, neighbors and even a boldly "fat" guy and his "good time" friends helped, but what seemed to help the most was a conscious effort to direct my mind toward the blessings I enjoy and the hope that some of this season's message will take root and in so doing, overcome some seed of evil somewhere. I encourage you, also, to think about such matters- that and Christmas cookies.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Flash of Sub-mediocrity

Well, Tuesday was an interesting day in that amid the rest of my put-soap-operas-and-prime-time-melodramas-to-shame kind of life lately, the worship committee decided a special song (or, if you prefer, presentational song) would be good. The song was "Mary Did You Know?" which really is a good song for Christmas. But that is a pretty small window to try to pull it together. Still, I acquiesced, which is good, because otherwise I might not have had the opportunity to use the word "acquiesced" before the end of the year.

We tried (Gina and I) to find an arrangement that seemed to be what the committee had requested, but nothing came up. So I, because I have an overly developed stupid gene, decided to take a shareware copy of Finale Notepad and arrange it myself. Now there were many problems with this plan. First, I am a very remedial music reader. Second, I am an even worse music writer. Third, there are reasons they give that software away- chief among them being the fact that it sucks. I'm sorry. I know that sounds harsh, but someone had to say it. I admit that much of the problem may have been the loose nut on my computer keyboard, but that has not yet been clinically diagnosed so I am blaming the software.

For about 8 hours or so I pecked and hummed and clicked until I am sure my eyes bled and the result was an arrangement that might graciously be described as ho-hum. Still, my praise team sang it pretty much as written (with a few changes for the better that they took upon themselves) and we pulled it off in the midst of an otherwise great Sunday. As disappointing as my efforts were, I did learn some things that I intend to apply to future efforts. Who knows? Perhaps eventually I'll come up with something that does not make people cringe and come up with new reasons for intercessory prayer.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

From the Dept. of Redundancy Dept.

True story. The other day, a pillow ordered from arrived. I opened it to find that it was carefully packed in bubble wrap. Am I the only one who finds that strange?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Real Men of Genius

Today we salute you, Mr. Cannot Possibly Get the Tree to Stand Up Straight. Still under the intoxicating effects of Thanksgiving Butterball trichanosis, you decide it is time to set up the same Christmas Tree that has frustrated you each and every one of the previous six years. Determined to prove that seven is not, in fact, a lucky number you forge ahead in your task all the while feeling less and less thankful this Thanksgiving and increasingly naughty instead of nice in the face of the coming Christmas. Finally, in the desperate hope that no one in your home will need to breathe for the next four weeks, you feebly declare your delicately balanced task completed only to experience a total collapse of the structure when the neighbor across the street sneezes. So, march ahead over the broken glass of priceless family heirloom ornaments to your rightful place in holiday folklore Mr. Cannot Possibly Get the Tree to Stand Up Straight. And remember that no matter what happens, when it comes to your family tree, how lovely are your branches.

Monday, December 13, 2004

I'll Be Your Candle on the Water...

Over dinner with (much older) friends recently, my wife and I were discussing the fact that we have known each other for over twenty years. Yes, TWENTY YEARS!! We met eight years before we got married and in August we celebrated our 12th anniversary. If you don't get thrown off by the fact that she has not aged and instead has gotten more amazingly beautiful you would see that the math comes out to over twenty years. Well, on that first date twenty years ago, we went to see a movie together at Camp Blue Haven where we were campers. That movie was "Pete's Dragon." It still reigns as one of my favorite Disney movies ever. Coincidentally, it was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. My brothers and sister took me to the historic Crest Theater in Wichita, Kansas, but I digress.

Other than Pete and his dragon, another central character in the movie was a lighthouse. I don't know if that is when it started, but as long as I can remember I have had a fascination with lighthouses. In fact, I want one. I want to move one right out here in the middle of West Texas where it is highly unlikely it will ever be used in exactly the way it was intended.

Yesterday in his sermon, Mike mentioned a life-saving museum on the island of Nantucket and how the organization it honored got started. Basically, it was an organization made up of people who wanted to help protect and save sailors approaching the island. Their slogan as it related to going out to save those in trouble was "You have to go out. You don't have to come back." As it happens, Kendra and I drove past that museum several times back in May on a visit to Nantucket Island. Oddly, in front of the building housing the museum is the light from the top of a lighthouse. I say it's odd, because it could not be of much use in that position. Then again, how much use would mine have if I ever became an eccentric millionaire and moved one to West Texas? Carrying that thought further, I wonder if perhaps our light is most effective when found in unexpected places. Granted, lighthouses exist in places of trouble and this is part of there effectiveness, but where do we exist? Are we out in places of trouble or are we staying in safe harbour? I wonder about that as it relates to how we raise our kids. Do we keep them in the safe harbour of home schooling or send them out to be examples to dysfunctional families? In our jobs, do we only hang out with Christians or do we spend time with people who may ridicule our way of life?

Just yesterday I had lunch with a friend I used to work with who has repeatedly ridiculed Christianity or any other form of religion. As it turns out, we were both late gettting back to work because we talked for over an hour about faith, God's work in this world and His desire to reconcile all people to him.

Perhaps that's our purpose. To work along side God in this world to call people to Him. Maybe I am stating the obvious, but it still seems like a lot of people are still missing the point if they think merely sitting in a warm pew will be an effective way to do that. Be a light in darkness, in times of storm- where light is absent, but needed.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Building Campaigns

I think I have been on almost every side of a building campaign. I have financed the construction of a church building here in Abilene while a lender, I have been on the committee when Highland did an addition, I have contributed to a campaign, I have been against a campaign, I have even worked for a consulting firm that handled campaigns for churches and other non-profits. I could tell you some interesting stories, like while at Highland when we approached one member about giving to the campaign, he tried to essentially buy a sermon, saying he would give only if Mike did a sermon on a specific topic.

One amazing thing that kept coming up again and again was the fact that so many people had extravagant lifestyles but chose the building as an issue to espouse frugality and superior views on stewardship. It rang hollow when they went home to manage the enlargement of their three-car garage to accommodate their Escalade.

I don't say any of that to suggest that being against a building or building campaign is in itself inappropriate. I think that these and other ways of spending money can be both sinful and insane- especially if our reasons are creature comforts or impressing men rather than serving them and God. But when we choose to fight so vehemently about those things while in the meantime people within walking distance are hurting, what are our motives? Some might say that is exactly the motive- building instead of serving. But might that issue have been around and ignored before anyone thought about a building? Fact is, it is possible for buildings to help. I really think our last effort was blessed at Highland and has borne fruit as a result. We are able to host more people in our facilities than we were before and we now have neighborhood meals resulting in an outreach in our low-socioeconomic area that is truly missional.

I personally fought against some of the extravagance in our plans, like excessively expensive furnishings and trim, but I did not get contentious about it. I fear that many of the people who get ugly about things like this and then say they don’t know if they’ll ever be able to participate again may not have been whole-hearted participants to begin with.

Basically, I think that we need to be prudent with what we call ours just as much as what we may call the church’s since it’s all God’s anyway. He demanded our first fruits and still does. Read the list of David’s contributions when the temple was being rebuilt. In today’s dollars that would be over $15 billion. While that seems excessive to me, I am not going to pass judgment on David about it and say he really wasn’t a man of God or his worship wasn’t sincere. I just think that matters of buildings and things can be handled judiciously. Believe it or not, we are capable of building quality structures reasonably and furnishing them with things that will provide many lasting years of service.

Now to the issue of the campaign itself, even as a former consultant in the business, I think it is entirely possible for a church to conduct a campaign from within rather than pay over six figures for a consulting firm. I know this may be blasphemous, but I have seen it done; most recently at Highland. Often, using an outside firm is the very thing that harms the campaign and its results. This is not always the case, but often- especially in churches of Christ. This background of faith has long resisted organized giving, fund-raising and even tithing. If you know of PR or marketing people in your church, try to pursue their knowledge. It is good to make it a family matter rather than something slick in my opinion and experience.

Well, I have rambled, so I’ll stop. But if you want to talk more about it let me know. Whatever happens, I hold firm to the faith that God can and will be glorified in spite of our efforts or because of them. I also believe the people at OC will seek Him in this process. I hope it goes as well as ours did at Highland.