Friday, December 21, 2012


It finally happened. I did something almost right and learned firsthand what it feels like to be stung by a stingray. Not pleasant.

I was lucky (or "blessed" if you prefer the term). The barb didn't set in my flesh so I didn't need a trip to the ER to have it removed. I still had to deal with the pain, though, which was like a wasp sting. Since I was leading a private kayak tour at the time, and didn't want to freak my patrons out, I smiled and made the best of it. Yes, I toughed it out.

The point of this blog is not to describe my pain, however, or praise myself for how I handled the situation. The point is that I did something almost  right and got stung as a result.

When wading in the shallow waters of the Indian River Lagoon, one is advised to do the "Stingray Shuffle." Never never never pick up your feet when you wade in the estuary!  Stingrays have a
reflex that causes their tails to flip up whenever they are stepped on, just as humans will kick anyone who hits them in the kneecap with a hammer.

[Side note: what is up with that particular reflex? What possible purpose can it serve?]

So before letting my patrons get out of the kayaks to explore sandbars, I always instruct them to shuffle their feet and keep their eyes down.  I also demonstrate the technique, giving a little dance lesson.  I sweep the perimeter.  I look for the telltale shape of the stingray and point out any that I see.  As I shuffle near them, they swim away, often too quickly for my patrons to get a glimpse.  Over the past 8 years I have been in the water with dozens of rays and have never even come close to getting stung, because I take the appropriate precautions. None of my patrons has ever gotten stung, because they are wise to follow my instructions.

On this particular tour, however, I messed up.  We were on the sandbar with about twenty rays.  (Usually we see only one or two.)  These rays were everywhere, and they got so used to us that they stopped swimming away when we approached.  We got some excellent photos.  Then it happened. I got so used to the rays that I stopped looking at my feet while I shuffled.  I was talking to my patrons, looking up at them as I shuffled, and I shuffled right into a ray.  I was so close that when he flicked his tail to swim away, he flicked it right into my ankle.

Later, telling my sons about the incident, I started to say, "I was doing everything right, but . . ." when I realized it wasn't true. Yes, I was shuffling, but I wasn't doing everything right or I wouldn't have been stung. I had neglected one thing: I had taken my eyes off the rays.

In life, we need to remember to keep our eyes on the right things.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


I've been revisiting Brothers, the (unpublished) sequel to The Carpenter, and I am almost ready to release it as an Ebook. Still contemplating a few changes. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Prestige

Have you ever seen the movie The Prestige? (If you have, please bear with me as I summarize it.) It is about two magicians in London a hundred years ago, and how they destroy one another in their pursuit of vengeance.  The first magician, who calls himself “Danton,” is a talented showman but he struggles with the total dedication to his art that is necessary in order to be truly successful. His rival is a man named Borden, who is a rotten performer but is totally focused on his art and willing to take life-or-death chances. The movie begins with Borden standing trial for Danton’s murder; apparently, he

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Can't Breathe?

Ever feel like you just can't breathe? That things are so overwhelming they're smothering the life out of you? That you desperately need time to stop and take a deep breath, but all you can do is gasp? You're not alone. When it comes to spiritual matters, most of us tend to run a bit short of breath. (That's what the word "spirit" means, actually: breath. You can see it in words like "inspiration" and "respiration.") Sometimes during a race runners develop a "stitch" in their sides, a stabbing pain caused by a lack of oxygen -- maybe it's even happened to you. Did you stop running or push on in spite of the pain?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Theology Is Like a Kayak Trip

God speaks to each of us in slightly different ways, depending on how He wired us. Just as people speak different "love languages," so also people hear God in diverse ways. Myself, I hear Him best through the voice of nature. I also think in metaphors, so God frequently instructs me in life's tougher lessons through what I call "living parables."

I am currently taking a course in basic theology and have been asked to examine how I "do" theology. Here is the metaphor I have chosen to use to illustrate my understanding of the way in which God reveals Himself to me:

Theology is like a kayak trip. (Yes, I know, that is a simile not a metaphor. Work with me, people.)

The water represents my life experiences

Y-E-S Send?

Well, I’ve done it. Three little letters with the potential to change my entire life: Y-e-s. And then the ultimate commitment: send. A life’s ambition ruined in less than ten seconds.
This afternoon, stuck without internet or email access, and too low on cell phone battery to wait out the interminably long message on my employer’s voicemail service, I sent a text. Yes, I texted. If you’ve read my bio, you know that it was my goal to die without ever having done so . . . I wanted my epitaph to read, “i nvr txtd.” Alas, that is now impossible.
I fear, however, that having once done the dirty deed, I will now be expected to continue doing it. I am no longer a virgin; I have become “textually active” (if you will excuse the pun). My friends will now demand that I respond to their texts and will take offense when I don’t. No longer can I hide behind the eccentric but respectable excuse of total abstinence. People will not accept it. “You did it once,” they will say, and then they will ask me to prove my love for them by doing it again. And again. And again.
Is this right, I ask you? Should someone be expected to continue in a self-destructive behavior just because of one slip? If this rationale, so often applied to sexuality, were to be extended to other areas of life -- for example, alcohol consumption and over-eating -- institutions such as AA and Weight Watchers would have to close their doors. So would the church, for at the heart of the gospel is forgiveness of sins and repentance. This is the first message Jesus preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Over and over he told those he forgave, “Now go and sin no more.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase? God forbid!” and the Apostle John warned that no child of God can live in sin. 
So now I find myself torn. Should I repent of my momentary weakness -- the fact that I texted “Yes” rather than give up a paying kayak job -- and resolve never to text again? Or should I sigh and admit that I was a fool to imagine that I could hold out against the pressures of society to conform?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Consider the Crabs

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made... (Romans 1:20)

God speaks to me through Creation. He always has, and I'm guessing He always will. That's just part of the way He wired me, one of the few things I have in common with Annie Dillard and John the Baptist. (I'm assuming JtB was a nature boy. How else could he have managed to live out in the desert all those years?) Whenever I am stressed, I head for the woods or the beach, the two places where I am most likely to hear a clear word from God. I even bought a waterproof Bible so I can lie in the surf while I read.

Last week I was preparing to lead a group of nature lovers on a kayak tour of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (or "MinWir" as we guides say), an evening paddle where our goal is to spot bioluminescent organisms in the shallow waters of the estuary. Just after sunset but before the twilight had faded to black, I spotted something large moving along the bottom of the waters just off the shore where we launch our kayaks. I waded out and came ashore with this beautiful creature:

Yes, it's a hermit crab. I catch a lot of hermit crabs in the estuary, most of them living in the shells of Florida Crowned Conchs or Florida Banded Tulips. Two weeks ago I caught a hermit crab whose shell was the size of a pinto bean -- its legs were as fine as hairs. The average MinWir crab, though, is about 2-3 inches in length, and once in a while I find one the size of my fist. The guy in this picture is living in a barnacle-encrusted banded tulip, but it's difficult to judge his size from the photo, so let me step into the picture with him to give you a better idea of the scale:
My first thought upon seeing this crab was, "I didn't know they could get that big!" Hermit crabs will continue to grow as long as they have bigger shells to move into, and according to my research some species of hermit crab live over 30 years. I would imagine that the older ones have to deal with something of a housing shortage. It takes a long time for a mollusk to grow to the size of a watermelon, after all. While I don't know how long this guy (whom I christened "Gojira" after the Japanese monster lizard) has been living in this particular shell, he was filling it up pretty well and looked about ready for a new home. Where is he going to find one? No one I know has ever seen a banded tulip shell this size before; they aren't just lying around waiting for hermit crabs to move in. And a hermit crab without a home is vulnerable to predators . . . in other words, there are no homeless hermits; there are only dead ones.

As Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount, though, God has the situation under control. He feeds the birds (Matthew 6:26) and clothes the grass (Matthew 6:28-30), and he provides homes for hermit crabs. That's particularly encouraging to me . . . I'm looking for a home right now and I will confess, the process is stressful. But if I consider the crabs, I'll have an easier time trusting God to work it all out in time.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

New Year's  Resolutions . . . I confess, I gave up on them a long time ago. They seem so contrived, like those jokes that start, "A piece of string walked into a bar." (Really? A piece of string?) The entire nation decides to lose weight, give up smoking, walk three miles a day, etc. etc. etc. So I don't make New Year's resolutions.

Now that January is well underway, however, I am willing to confess that there are a lot of things I would like to do better. So here are the resolutions I would make if I were prone to the habit of making New Year's resolutions:

1. I will try harder not to be so performance-driven.
2. I will . . . hey, wait a minute, if I keep making this list I will be breaking #1. Forget the whole thing.

Maybe next year.