29 November 2007

New Book: Passion and Principal

I just finished one of the most fascinating books I've read on the topic of American history: Sally Denton's, Passion and Principal, a biography of THE American power couple in the mid-19th Century: John C. and Jessie Fremont.

I was so inspired, I published a review on Amazon.com, which I will include below. Let me just say that I found a kindred spirit in Fremont: a man probably too adventurous for his own good--and one far too ahead of the curve to succeed as a military man or a politician. Perhaps it's a sign of my age that I find myself spending more time sympathizing with the flaws of the individuals I read about than I spend aspiring to copy their greater attributes.

Does anyone else find themselves reading biographies in this way?

Like Fremont, I also married a powerful woman, albeit one who lived in a culture that was more accepting of brilliance in women. Jessie Fremont excelled as a writer and political strategist long before such occupations were appropriate for her sex.

Anyway, here's the review:

His career wedged between two American titans, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, John C. Fremont leaps into the his rightful place in history through this remarkable book.

Fremont's idealism both helped an haunted his career. He was the first American to systematically map the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin, and he played a remarkable role in the Bear Flag Revolt and the conquest of California. But the "Pathfinder" often found himself too far in front of his contemporaries: his failure to adapt to the changing military change of command led to court martial within a year of his California exploits; his adamant opposition to slavery cost him first his senate seat and later his position as commander of the Union's Western forces in the Civil War (he issued the first Emancipation Proclamation in the state of Missouri in 1861, and Lincoln punished him harshly for this); finally, he invested the huge fortune he had made in the California gold fields in transcontinental railroads, only to fail at every turn and die in poverty.

No better example of both Fremont's strengths and flaws can be found than the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado: a rugged mountain chain he tried twice to traverse, ending in failure each time, the first time in the service of the U.S. Army and the second time in an attempt to survey a pass for the railroads through the mountains.

This is the first biography I have read of Fremont, and I felt that Denton's tone was sometimes overly sympathetic. She seemed to play down obvious indications of both Fremonts' extra-marital affairs and the personality tics that prevented Fremont from succeeding as a politician (despite runs for the presidency both in 1856 and 1864).

All in all, though, Denton does a wonderful job of bringing this power couple to life. From beginning to end, I was fascinated by these two individuals and their contributions during a critical part of American history.

21 November 2007

Star Wars

"Dad, what's the name of the the pit that took 1,000 years to eat Boba Fett?"

"Dad, when did Luke find out that Leia was his sister?"

These questions and more have been echoing around my house as Owen develops a true love of Star Wars.

It's funny. I was Owen's age when Star Wars burst onto the scene in the late 1970s. It captured my imagination at the time: a universe far, far away with X-wing fighters, The Force, and Darth Vader, the most terrifying character I had seen in the movies.

Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw in the theater. I begged my mom to take me, almost from day one, but Adventists at the time frowned on visiting movie theaters. During it's second run in the Spring of 1978, she finally consented and took me, along with my best friend, Eric, to the theater in downtown Athens, Ohio. Afterward we went to Dairy Queen, and I had a Peanut Buster Parfait--it's amazing the things you remember thirty years later.

Owen took an indirect route to Star Wars obsession. He is currently fixated on Legos. At his birthday, recently, he received four or five different boxes of Legos. One Lego series is based on Star Wars. More importantly, they have a series of video games called "Lego Star Wars."

Owen is working his way through the movies. It's confusing now, because of course George Lucas released a three-part prequel to Star Wars between 1997 and 2004. Owen says that he likes Episode 1, but by that he means The Phantom Menace, not Episode 4, which was the original Star Wars. He likes to refer to the three movies of my childhood as "the original trilogy."

It is fun, though, seeing the movies through his eyes once again. Star Wars is for kids: the Jedi knights and droids and spaceships are tailor-made for a seven-year-old's imagination. As I grew older, I began to focus on the soap opera quality of the storyline. Watching the movie with Owen again, I realize, "there are worlds out there...all we must do is imagine them; there are monsters and heroes and robots and spaceships...all we must do is create them--and play, most of all."

Giving Thanks to God

I'll try to get caught up on my blogging this holiday weekend. Things have been tres busy here, and I need to recover!

If you're looking for something to be thankful for, look up. God has been great to my family this year. I'll enclose this new song from my favorite praise artist, David Crowder: "You Make Everything Glorious." Enjoy.

03 November 2007

Heart Warranty

I'm the chairman of the men's group at my church. We call ourselves the Men of Bethpage, a.k.a. "the MoB."

One of the cool things that I get to do as men's group leader is ask people to have the devotional at our monthly meetings. I always make it a point to pray before I seek, and God has led me to some inspiring people. Today I had asked Mike J., the harmonicist for our church band and a man who has come back from valve-replacement surgery, which he had back in June.

"I've been praying for a new heart every week for years," I said. "Now Mike is going to tell us what it's like."

Mike S. piped up from the audience. He's an engineer, so he's all about the technology. "That's a refurb' you've got there," he said. "A refurbished heart." He paused to arrange the punchline: "Did you get a warranty with that?"

Mike J. didn't miss a beat as he walked up and took his place at the podium. He looked back and winked at Mike S. "A lifetime warranty," he said.