A Cup of Crisp at Christmas

A Christian romance novella that will put a smile on your face, a thought in your mind, and a glow in your heart. Chapter 1 here for free. Available now on Amazon.

Chapter 1 – Friday Morning

Nicole Miller tossed and turned in the early morning, struggling with a dream that dwelt in the recesses of her heart.

A little girl in a faded calico dress sat alone on the front steps of her suburban house playing with dolls. She dressed the girl doll in a red skirt and frilly blue blouse. Then the boy doll came to the girl, took her in his arms, and they danced across the welcome mat. A young man stepped out of the house; bottle in hand. “Daddy, will you play with me?” The man turned and went back into the house.

A beautiful young woman in a tailored Navy business suit sat alone at an outdoor table in a coffee shop in the lobby of a building which housed her penthouse condominium. Her leather briefcase contained hours of work, her cell phone had hundreds of unaddressed messages, and her calendar left little time to breathe. A young man drove up in an old green pickup truck. “Nicole, would you like to talk?” The woman picked up her bag and went back into the building.  

The alarm buzzer jolted Nicole from sleep at 5 AM.

“Damn! I forgot to change the alarm to radio” she muttered, eyes riveted shut and left-hand groping for the snooze button. She hit snooze, but by then was too awake to enjoy five more minutes under her thick, white, down comforter. A single bedroom window cracked open admitted a frosty mid-December breeze.

Nicole rolled out of bed and stumbled in the darkness to her closet. She slipped out of her short, lavender, silk nightgown and donned royal blue shorts, a tight pink t-shirt, and white running shoes. “That is the third time I have had that dream this week…I hope he is not there,” Nicole whispered to herself as she brushed her long, thick, brown hair, put it into a ponytail, and rinsed her mouth. She checked her phone, stepped into the hall outside her condo, locked the deadbolt, and walked to the elevator. Lost in her thoughts, Nicole forgot to put in her ear buds.

The elevator was empty for most of Nicole’s 23-floor ride down to the first-floor gym, but as the doors opened on floor four, Mike’s smiling face appeared.

“Good morning, Nicole” Mike Morgan exclaimed with bright eyes and a cheerful voice. She gazed for a moment at his sandy brown hair, ruddy complexion, green USMC t-shirt and black shorts, which covered his athletic body. Nicole looked away.  After several seconds she stuttered, “Good morning, Mike, did you finish the bid analysis?”

“Starting work off early, eh” he answered. “I finished most of it, but I am waiting for the two vendor finalists, General Electric and Philips, to submit their final offers. Once I have that information, I will make a purchasing recommendation to Miguel.”

Recovering herself for the moment, Nicole replied, “Well, you two had better hurry, because I need to make a decision fast. We are way overspent on outside CT scans this year.”

Nicole looked down and away, well aware that Mike was still admiring her fair skin and fit feminine form. Mike’s gaze lingered long, and then he shook his head as if to shake off a forbidden thought. She put in her ear buds and turned on Journey’s Open Arms, her favorite song. The elevator doors opened on the second floor and an older couple walked in. Nicole stepped to the side, putting the grandmotherly-looking woman between her and Mike. Finally, on the ground floor, she hurried to the gym.

“See you at work…have a good day” Mike called, but there was no answer. Nicole grabbed a towel in the locker room and headed for the treadmill.

He makes me so mad, Nicole complained to herself, starting at a fast run. The first day Radhiya brought him into my office as her new emergency department administrator, I knew he would be trouble. I never would have hired him, he’s just so full of himself. Mike is so privileged he can’t even see it, though I could never say it.

Nicole turned up the speed, remembering their first encounter.

He looked at me with those deep green eyes, letting his gaze linger on my face until I couldn’t breathe. His smile sparkled. Thank god Radhiya noticed and took him away.

She turned up the speed again and pounded the belt with her feet. Her eyes squinted and face tensed as her inner dialogue went on.

Mike is everything that I detest. He comes from West Virginia, a loser state if ever there was one. He drives a gas guzzling, old, green F150 pickup truck. He was a Marine, a war-monger if ever I saw one, and he even goes to church. My sorority friends at Evergreen State would mock him, everyone like him, and everything he stands for. Dr. Svedlos warned us about people like that. 

Minutes passed. Panting painfully and dripping with sweat, she turned down the speed.

Nicole remembered Stan, the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), when she was the administrator for the department of surgery, who asked her to plan the new employee retreat three years ago. Her face softened.

When Stan asked for volunteers for the planning committee, Mike was the first. He had only been with Hillview Regional for four months. He never missed a meeting, never complained, and never ridiculed anyone else’ ideas – and we heard some doozies. The venue that Mike suggested was inspired, a large log cabin on a hilltop nestled in pines, firs, spruces, oaks regaining their leaves, and wildflowers starting to bloom. A creek tumbled over a waterfall just 100 yards away and the water flowed into a crystal lake.

Nicole grew wistful, and her run almost became a walk.

The day that Mike and I first looked at the cabin was glorious. We left at 7 AM for the three-hour drive and talked all the way up and all the way down. He treated me like a princess; better than any man has ever done before. Mike drove, opened my door, and paid for our coffee. He bought me a white chocolate truffle. How did he know that I love white chocolate? We stopped at a gorgeous river overlook with the sun still low in the morning sky. Mike listened to my favorite playlist, and told me that I was beautiful. I talked too much, but I couldn’t stop, and he hung on every word. I wanted… I needed him to know me. It was magic.

Alarmed at her thoughts, Nicole tried to change the subject, but she failed.  

When we finally arrived at the cabin, we wandered around like kids at a camp. Mike climbed a tree to get pictures from a different angle. Silly me. I wore a white skirt, pink blouse, and heels. He had to help me through the grass and mud. Even though I am an independent, self-made woman, I wasn’t angry. Mike’s kindness, his protection, made me feel more like a woman.

A bald, elderly man with a paunch stepped on the treadmill next to her. He began a slow walk.

When we walked on the old wooden dock on the lake, my heel caught a knot hole. I almost fell in, but he grabbed my waist and pulled me back against his powerful body. We both laughed. It was so embarrassing. Since that day, we have been together a thousand times at work – meetings, classes, and events. Mike has always respected me as a leader. We are a terrific business team.

An elderly woman pushing her walker came up to the man next to Nicole. She wore a small cross on a chain. His face lit up when he saw her. She smiled, he stopped, and he grasped her hand. Their wedding rings touched.

Even more, I have never felt so alive as when I was with him…and I never felt so alone as when I was without him.  

Mortified by that self-revelation, Nicole pushed it out of her mind. Her countenance darkened, and she turned up the speed again. Sweat poured from her chest and face.

But Mike was married. He kept talking about his wife, Kellie, and their four children. They were everything to him. I have never seen a man so devoted to his family, except for my own daddy, later in his life. Maybe Mike was trying to protect himself from me…and maybe he was trying to protect me from himself.

Six months after Mike joined Hillview, four months after their drive, and only two months after the employee retreat, Kellie was killed by a drunk driver. Mike had been crushed. Stan offered him 12 weeks of family medical leave, but Mike only took four – work numbed his pain. Mike’s cousin moved in to help with the kids until he could find a nanny. Nicole recalled the sadness on his face; for the first few months, life fled his body. Mike dragged along, with a gray in his countenance that matched the gray in his soul. He was weak, dry, and could barely manage a smile. It took months for Mike to become Mike again.

Even more, Nicole felt shame for her own indifference about the Kellie’s death. Her anger returned. The hurt from her childhood and the mental scripts from her college and more recent years came back. Her face flushed.

Kellie didn’t do much. She only stayed home raising their children, probably baking cookies. Like Hilary Rosen said of Ann Romney, Kellie didn’t work a day in her life. Mike behaved badly even with me, Nicole thought. All that driving, opening doors, and paying for coffee and snacks. Mike probably thought that I couldn’t to do it myself. He is such a jerk…the white chocolate truffle was awfully good, though.

The older man started walking again while his wife picked up a dumb bell and starting slow bicep curls.

I was furious with Stan for promoting Mike to deputy CFO last year. But then Stan died from a heart attack over the summer.

She turned up her music.

Fortunately, since I became acting CEO, I hardly see Mike. Until he rented a room in this building, my building, last summer.

Tiring of this mental debate, Nicole forced herself to focus on the music, and then let her thoughts drift. Kansas’ Dust in the Wind began from her playlist, and she pondered the words.  

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

I close my eyes
Only for a moment, then the moment’s gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

It’s the same old song
We’re just a drop of water, in an endless sea
All we do
Just crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

After another 20 minutes of running, Nicole slowed to a walk and stepped off the treadmill. She dried the sweat off her toned body, thinking of the elderly couple. After so many decades, they were still so in love.

Nicole heard the rain pounding on the pavement outside the door as she left the gym, delighted that Mike had gone outside to run this morning. She walked quickly towards the elevator, hoping to get on and get the doors closed before he came back.

Suddenly, Mike appeared outside the double doors of the tower, taking cover under the blue awning. Reflexively, Nicole hid, darting behind a Christmas tree in the lobby. She watched him through the green branches, white lights, gold garland, and red ornaments. Mike seemed to be talking with the crimson-uniformed doorman, and they both laughed. He walked in. Mike showed no sign of seeing her behind the tree as he dripped step by step towards the elevator. The elevator doors were closing as he turned and looked straight at the tree.

Nicole stepped back and knocked a red glass ball off the tree. It shattered into a thousand shards. She looked up to find the doorman frowning at her.

“Sorry, just admiring the…decorations” Nicole stumbled. Realizing how silly she had been, the high-powered CEO rebuked herself. The housekeeper came with a broom and dustpan.

After a hot shower, Nicole put on a white blouse, navy blue jacket and skirt, and navy heels. She walked into her dining room and sat down at her glass-topped table for a cinnamon bagel with strawberry cream cheese. She made herself a cup of Honey Crisp apple tea with a dash of lemon and a touch of cinnamon. Growing up, her mother made this tea for her almost every morning.

Nicole checked her schedule. Tonight at 8 PM is the Hillview Hospital Holiday party at Ricardo’s. Tomorrow morning at 9 AM I am hosting a Saturday breakfast for the president of the university and his senior leadership team. I’ve got to double check the menu – breads, fruits, and other healthy fare – with our event planner. The university is looking for a new employee health care contract. I’m sure that we can get it.

At noon Radhiya and I are getting our hair and nails done, she said to herself. We have to look great for Joanna’s campaign fund raiser Saturday night for the state senate. The primaries are in June, but Joanna has those sewn up. The general election will be tight, and we need to win this seat. Her opponent is a religious fanatic. Why don’t these stupid conservatives get it? History is not moving in their direction. The world is passing them by.

Nicole finished thinking about politics.  Her parents never really talked about it – they were too busy making a living and raising her and her brother. And then there was her dad’s alcohol; too much alcohol. Way too much. Nicole joined the Democrats in high school, looking to pad her resume for college. She immersed herself in politics in college. Nicole had been a local leader in the left wing of the Democratic party for almost 20 years. There were victories, but Nicole still questioned herself:

I wonder how much all this money and political activity actually make a difference. During the last presidential election, I spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to elect the right woman, finally. And a jerk still won.

Moving on, Nicole concluded, Sunday, I’ll sleep all day.

After letting her mind relax for a few minutes, Nicole perused the internet news on her phone. The local headline read “Riverside General Hospital fires its Chief Operations Officer.”

It will be a good day, thought Nicole to herself.


“Good morning” Mike whispered to Mike Jr, “I love you.”

His sleepy fourth grader pulled the covers over his head. “Go away.”

“This is the last day of school before Christmas vacation, but you can’t be late.”

Mike Jr. rolled a little more, pushed the covers down, and sat up.

“Dad, is my first basketball game tomorrow?”

“Yep, it is.”

“Thanks for coaching, dad.”

“I wouldn’t miss it, Mike, I love you.”

He looked over at Matt, sleeping soundly, and decided not to awaken him. The doting dad left his boys’ room and crept across the hall into Kerri and Kristen’s room.

“Good morning, pumpkin.”

“Good morning, daddy.”

“Time to get up for school. The first grade Christmas party is this afternoon.”

“OK. Do we have the Nutcracker today?”

“No sweetheart, it’s tomorrow night.”

“I am so excited. I am going to dance like a princess.”

“You certainly will. And I will be so proud of you that my buttons will pop off my shirt.”

Kerri was impressed. “Wow, daddy, really?”

“Really” Mike replied. “Now get dressed for school.”

“What should I wear? Will you pick out my clothes?”

“How about the Calico dress?”


Mike looked across the room at his sleeping daughter, Matt’s twin. No point in waking Kristen up, he thought to himself. Mike heard a knock on the front door of his apartment, climbed over piles of toys in the hall, walked through the living room, and opened it.

“Susan, thanks again for coming.”

“Mike, I’ve come to your house almost every morning for nearly three years to take care of your home and your children. Why do you keep thanking me?”

“Because I’m still grateful for you.”

“But you pay me.”

“That doesn’t mean that I can’t be grateful for you. Look at this place – it is a mess. But by the time I come home from work tonight, it will be beautiful.” Mike concluded, “I couldn’t do all this work by myself.”

Changing the subject, Susan asked “Are we still going to the church at noon tomorrow to cook Christmas dinner for the hungry?”

“Yes, absolutely. We do it every year.”

“And you want the children to come this year?”

“Yes, it will be a good experience. But I’ll need you there to look after them” Mike requested.

Susan inspected Mike’s dark brown tweed sport coat, tan slacks, white shirt, and a red tie with bright green Christmas trees.

“You need a woman,” Susan chided Mike, “that combination is atrocious.” “Agreed,” Mike replied with a grin, but I’m late. I was distracted by a woman who ran into the Christmas tree in the lobby.”

“OK.” Susan smiled. “Nicole again?” Mike’s face flushed. Susan went to the kitchen to make breakfast for the children.

Mike grabbed his briefcase, closed the condo door behind him, and left for work.

A Conservative Letter on Black Friday

Being true to conservative ideals on the biggest spending day of the year.

I hope you had a terrific Thanksgiving, doing typical conservative things like enjoying family and friends, eating well, and giving thanks to God and others for the amazing blessings that we enjoy.

Let’s be sure that we celebrate Black Friday in the same conservative manner:

1. Don’t spend too much, because we fiscal conservatives are concerned about personal debt. Fiscal responsibility, after all, starts at home. 

2. Don’t spend too much, because the government already takes away too much of our hard earned money. Purchases come with sales tax, and many other taxes. 

3. Don’t spend too much, because everything that we buy we then have to transport, store, maintain, use, and finally dispose of. These activities take our time, our energy, our resources, and our focus, which we could better use addressing the problems in our communities. 

4. Don’t spend too much, because stores full of customers requires stores full of employees. These employees therefore can’t be home today enjoying their friends and families. 

5. Don’t spend too much, because much of what we buy comes from China, and other places that are not our friends. We end up financing those who would do us harm, and impeding our own national security. 

6. Don’t spend too much, because our worth is not in the stuff that we have, or don’t have, but because of our position as children of God. 

Enjoy your friends and family. Happy Black Friday, 


Simple Sabotage

How many of the things that we do sabotage our ability to do anything, and everything

My son and a friend were exploring the Internet a few days ago and came across a US Government manual from World War II called Simple Sabotage. The book is written to teach ordinary citizens in the occupied territories how to do simple things to impede the operations of the Nazi war machine. The Chinese form of torture and execution, Death by a Thousand Cuts, is a related idea. By inflicting a thousand delays, confusions, frustrations, and small obstacles, the common folk in the occupied territories could help drive out the Germans.

Workers and bosses today use “The Manual” in every organization in America, and the bigger the worse, without even knowing it. People are afraid to do anything without authorization from the Boss, and no one will take responsibility for their words or actions.

Simple sabotage includes suppressing thought. In education, covering yourself is more important the covering the material. In business, agreeing with your colleagues is more important than accomplishing the mission. Conformity is safe. Imagine a group that wants to do action A, but member M wants to do action B. If member M stifles his own voice and goes along with the group, the group will do A, and all will succeed or fail together. No single individual will get blamed and punished. If member M does B and B succeeds, he will get a pat on the back. If B fails, member M will be looking for a new job.

Simple sabotage also includes acts of omission and commission designed to harm the enemy. Consider the excerpts from the Manual noted below.

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual

The Field Manual boasts helpful measures for having a long, safe, and successful career as a Simple Saboteur. Here are a few:

  1. Use materials which appear to be innocent.
  2. Try to commit acts for which large numbers of people could be responsible.
  3. Do not be afraid to commit acts for which you might be blamed directly, so long as you do so rarely, and as long as you have a plausible excuse.
  4. After you have committed an act of easy sabotage, resist any temptation to wait around and see what happens.

The Field Manual includes pages and pages of instructions for those who want to attack the material resources of their enemies. Below is a sample:

  1. In basements where waste is kept, janitors should accumulate oily and greasy waste. Such waste sometimes ignites spontaneously, but it can easily be lit with a cigarette or match. If you are a janitor on night duty, you can be the first to report the fire, but don’t report it too soon.
  2. You can cause wear on any machine by uncovering a filter system, poking a pencil or any other sharp object through the filter mesh, then covering it up again. Or, if you can dispose of it quickly, simply remove the filter.
  3. If you can accumulate sugar, put it in the fuel tank of a gasoline engine. As it burns together with the gasoline, it will turn into a sticky mess which will completely mire the engine and necessitate extensive cleaning and repair. Honey and molasses are as good as sugar. Try to use about 75-100 grams for each 10 gallons of gasoline.
  4. Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Make mistakes in issuing train tickets, leaving portions of the journey uncovered by the ticket book; issue two tickets for the same seat in the train, so that an interesting argument will result; near train time, instead of issuing printed tickets write them out slowly by hand, prolonging the process until the train is nearly ready to leave or has left the station. On station bulletin boards announcing train arrivals and departures, see that false and misleading information is given about trains bound for enemy destinations.
  5. While loading or unloading, handle cargo carelessly in order to cause damage. Arrange the cargo so that the weakest and lightest crates and boxes will be at the bottom of the hold, while the heaviest ones are on top of them. Put hatch covers and tarpaulins on sloppily, so that rain and deck wash will injure the cargo. Tie float valves open so that storage tanks will overflow on perishable goods.

More applicable to the office environment in which many people work, the Simple Sabotage Field Manual contains pages of ideas to impair the progress of any organization:

General Interference with Organizations and Production

  1. Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  2. Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
  3. When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.
  4. Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  5. Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  6. Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  7. Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later.
  8. Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

Managers and Supervisors

  1. Demand written orders.
  2. “Misunderstand” orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.
  3. Do everything possible to delay the delivery of orders. Even though parts of an order may be ready beforehand, don’t deliver it until it is completely ready.
  4. Don’t order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted, so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.
  5. Order high-quality materials which are hard to get. If you don’t get them argue about it. Warn that inferior materials will mean inferior work.
  6. In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers of poor machines.
  7. Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.
  8. Make mistakes in routing so that parts and materials will be sent to the wrong place in the plant.
  9. When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.
  10. To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
  11. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  12. Multiply paperwork in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.
  13. Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.
  14. Apply all regulations to the last letter.

Office Workers

  1. Make mistakes in quantities of material when you are copying orders. Confuse similar names. Use wrong addresses.
  2. Prolong correspondence with government bureaus.
  3. Misfile essential documents.
  4. In making carbon copies, make one too few, so that an extra copying job will have to be done.
  5. Tell important callers the boss is busy or talking on another telephone.
  6. Hold up mail until the next collection.
  7. Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.


  1. Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench do when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on.
  2. Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: when changing the material on which you are working, as you would on a lathe or punch, take needless time to do it. If you are cutting, shaping or doing other measured work, measure dimensions twice as often as you need to. When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary. Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them.
  3. Even if you understand the language, pretend not to understand instructions in a foreign tongue.
  4. Pretend that instructions are hard to understand and ask to have them repeated more than once. Or pretend that you are particularly anxious to do your work and pester the foreman with unnecessary questions.
  5. Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.
  6. Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.
  7. Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms.
  8. If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.
  9. Misroute materials.
  10. Mix good parts with unusable scrap and rejected parts.

General Devices for Lowering Morale and Creating Confusion

  1. Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.
  2. Report imaginary spies or danger to the Gestapo or police.
  3. Act stupid.
  4. Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.
  5. Misunderstand all sorts of regulations concerning such matters as rationing, transportation, traffic regulations.
  6. Complain against ersatz materials.
  7. In public treat axis nationals or quislings coldly.
  8. Stop all conversation when axis nationals or quislings enter a cafe.
  9. Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion, especially when confronted by government clerks.
  10. Boycott all movies, entertainments, concerts, newspapers which are in any way connected with the quisling authorities.
  11. Do not cooperate in salvage schemes.

I have worked in various branches of the Federal government, as well as in corporate America. Every business is awash in simple saboteurs. Every organization, every school, and every church are also infected with such people.

  1. Amanda cries uncontrollably on receiving a “C” in her university English class.
  2. Mahana, a black female liberal, and Maria, a Hispanic female conservative, wouldn’t speak or even look at each other during the group project at their high school.
  3. John acts stupid, misunderstands rules, and gives incomprehensible answers to police questioning him about an accident that he witnessed.
  4. Cynthia, an office secretary, refused to gather pertinent information, type and send the report. Someone else had to do all the discovery and writing and send her the completed product.  
  5. Ahmed requires everyone on this staff to write all communications, know and follow every rule, and never use short cuts. His communication consists of speeches to his subordinates and refers all matters to committees.

Think of how often you have seen these things in your work, school, church, or even home. It doesn’t take long to realize that we all practice simple sabotage. And not only do we sabotage others, we also sabotage ourselves. We make our lives harder and more stressful by the ridiculous restrictions, words, and work that we place on ourselves and others. Perhaps we should all carry around cards reading “SIMPLE SABOTEUR” and passing them out whenever we see others being one. Perhaps others should carry around similar cards to give to us.

Message Bearing Marching Bands

High school marching band shows reflect our priorities and our insanities. How can they help make us better?

Ours is a marching band family – three of our five children have been in marching bands at the high school and/our college level. Of the other two, one was in orchestra and one will be in marching band when she gets to high school. Our kids have been at Hayfield and Thomas Jefferson (TJ) High Schools in northern Virginia, Collierville High School in Tennessee, Shady Spring High School in West Virginia, and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. We have enjoyed parades, pep bands, and shows at football halftimes and band competitions. Dance teams, color guards, drum majors, and lines of marching and playing students entertain us every week in every autumn.   

High school marching band shows have themes, ranging from the musical (the Music of Queen), the cinematic (Illusion, including Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), and the historical (the Transcontinental Railway). Bands compete before judges, who score them on such measures as musicality, marching/dance, visuals, guard, pit, and drumline. At the end of every competition, the band with the highest score in their division wins a trophy.

Since our family began watching marching bands in 2011, we have attended dozens of competitions and seen hundreds of shows. The band at Thomas Jefferson (TJ) numbered near 100, while the band at Hayfield had fewer than 50 students. Quality differed, as did venue. One band competition was in the stadium at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

The theme of TJ’s Marching Colonials in the first year was Twisted, and its songs included Sweeney Todd and Danse Macabre. By design, the tone of Twisted was dark and bizarre. Sensitized by Twisted, I noticed many other band shows in northern Virginia (NOVA) that year with themes of death, the victory of evil over good, or mental illness. From 2012 to 2016 when we left NOVA, many high school marching bands varied these themes, and no matter their musical or technical excellence, I was left feeling low.

Yesterday we enjoyed the Black Walnut Festival in Spencer, WV, including a parade and another band competition. The Lincoln County High School marching band saluted The Greatest Generation, opening with Glenn Miller’s In the Mood and closing with God Bless America. Girls in 40s dresses danced and waved guard flags, while band members in uniform and boys in fatigues marched to honor their forebears. At a competition in Princeton a week before, one band presented a show highlighting the victory of good over evil, rather than the other way around. I left with a smile.

Shady’s show this year, named American Heroes, began with America the Beautiful. Dance team girls in red tops and blue skirts accompanied boys in World War II Army uniforms marching off towards a large American flag. Cantina from Star Wars symbolized the good times on the home front, and the Pacific symbolized the fighting. An air raid siren disrupted the music, and the dance team girls lined up to await the return of their beloved soldiers. The first three came home physically unscathed, the fourth in a sling, and each couple, boy and girl, walked away arm in arm. The last man was not there. Instead, another uniformed soldier carried his folded American flag. The girl ran around the field looking desperately for her beloved as the flag bearing soldier approached. Unable to escape the horrible truth, that her beloved was dead, the forlorn girl collapsed in tears. The marching band concluded their show with Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA. The boys who had played the soldiers ran across the field and set up a flag like that at Iwo Jima. Many spectators clapped and leapt to their feet. I smiled.

What accounts for the difference in show themes? Could it be that high school band leaders liked angsty and depressing shows in the early and middle 2010s but not later? Perhaps wealthy and urban northern Virginia is more focused on death and disorder than poor and rural southern West Virginia, although death rates from substance use would not support that conclusion. Perhaps depressing themes are chic among band competition judges, and directors play to judges, not to crowds. Perhaps those with the most advantages toy with the idea of disadvantage in their entertainment, while those stuck in real poverty, sickness, and pain need encouragement from their entertainment. Perhaps something else is at play. Perhaps a systematic review, rather than my convenience sample, would show no difference in the mood of the themes of high school marching bands.

Followers of Christ must be light in a dark world. We are to acknowledge the brokenness we see around us…indeed, it is so pervasive that we can’t avoid it. However, we are not to dwell on this brokenness. Channeling the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, beauty, and glory of God, we must reflect His light to those around us. Paul writes

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, let your mind dwell on these things.”

Do high school marching band directors and the judges let their minds dwell on what is true, noble, right, and pure? If not, how does that influence their students. If they did, would their influence on their students change? How would their influence on the future change? How would their own lives change?

Calendars of the Ancient Near East

Access ancient Jewish, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Roman calendars to better understand the Bible

The two primary parameters that shape human thinking, regardless of culture, antiquity, or language, are space and time…spacetime for the physicists among us. It is difficult to understand any communication without a common understanding of these parameters. Such simple phrases as “See you tomorrow” require both parties to have a similar understanding of “tomorrow”.

The Bible records over 4,000 of history, from the earliest human settlements from Mesopotamia to Arabia to the cosmopolitan Roman Empire. It thus covers dozens of cultures, nations, and tribes, each with their own understanding of space and time. The Quran doesn’t do this, and neither do the Vedas, the Tripitaka, or any Sutra. The Bible stands alone – no other book is like it.

However, the vastly different understandings of key concepts in Bible, such as space and time, make it tough to understand. Christians are baffled, and skeptics ridicule us and our Scriptures, calling both “incoherent” or worse. Moderns reading the Bible have to cross a gap of at least 2000 years, multiple languages, and many cultures. Further, the Bible is not written as typical modern history, although its historical accounts are reliable. It hits the highlights. As a result, readers tend to “telescope” events, believing that they occurred over days or weeks when in fact they happened over months or years.

We read about Moses’ law, David’s wars, and Elijah’s miracles, and think that Moses was legislating, David fighting, and Elijah working wonders all of the time. They weren’t. Each man was living life, including the slow, discouraging parts, just like we do. Nehemiah, for example, received the report of Jerusalem’s broken down walls in November but didn’t leave for Judah until the following spring. In the meantime, he prayed to ask God for guidance and prepared. Nehemiah’s trip from Susa to Jerusalem (over 900 miles) took up to two months by caravan. The walls of Jerusalem were begun in July and completed in early September. Ezra’s festivals followed soon after.

The calendars below, taken from AmazingBibleTimeline.com, can help modern Bible readers understand when events occurred in Scripture. Please also see Timeline of Events in the Iron Age and Calendars, Cultures, and Politics.

How to Do No Harm

How leaders can minimize harm in health care, in other industries, and in all areas of life.

“How can we change this process to prevent this error from happening again?” the senior ward nurse asked the group. It is a common question, one that I have heard thousands of times from experienced and dedicated health care professionals of all stripes.

I have worked in health care for many years, serving in positions from volunteer to emergency medical technician to senior attending physician to chief of staff at a hospital to chief medical officer of a large network. In every position, “do no harm” is a fundamental theme. This famous statement from the writings of Hippocrates encapsulates quality improvement, patient safety, access to care, and many other goals in modern medicine.

“Do no harm” can be thought of as eliminating risks that could lead to a bad outcome, such as injury or death. Occupational and Environmental Medicine physicians learn that there are four ways to decrease risk in the workplace and in the environment:

  1. Eliminate the risk entirely. We have two inverter generators to use at home and church rather than traditional ones. They are quieter and generate less carbon monoxide, thus eliminating two risks. Taking the lead out of gasoline and paint decreases the chance of lead poisoning, and using nitrile rather than latex gloves helps avoid latex allergies.
  2. Separate the risk from the people. Modern automotive engineers have designed and built cars which nearly the whole car can be destroyed in a crash, but the passenger compartment can stay nearly intact, thus saving the people inside. Hospitals sometimes use devices that automatically retract used needles to avoid needlestick injuries.
  3. Develop administrative controls; processes to minimize risk. “Tickets to ride” ensure the patients are protected before patient transport and “time outs” before procedures minimize the chance of operating on the wrong site, or even on the wrong patient.  
  4. Use personal protective equipment (PPE). Lead aprons in radiology protect patients and staff from radiation exposure. Gloves and mask decrease the chance of infections. In the fire fighting world, bunker gear enables humans to survive and even work in otherwise fatal environments.

The surest way to “do not harm” is to engineer the risk out, and second is to separate people from risk. Neither of these methods require people to do anything, and therefore remove the single biggest point of failure in many safety processes…human error. Techniques 3 and 4 are less reliable precisely because people have to be trained to follow administrative controls and use PPE. Further, people have to follow these controls and use these practices every time and under every condition.

Manufacturing is far more amenable to engineering controls than health care. Producing tires or peanut butter can be broken down into a discrete series of steps which must be done in sequence and in which the production machinery, the rubber, the peanuts, and the other parts of the process can be trusted to behave in reliable ways. In health care, neither the staff nor the treatments nor the patients are equally predictable. That is why health care relies on administrative controls and personal protective equipment, and why we have so many failures…so much risk to patients and staff.

There is, however, another way to minimize the risk of harm, and that is to improve the people. If hazard is thought of as having three components – danger (what can do the damage, like a hepatitis A virus), person (who is at risk), and vector (food and water contaminated with hepatitis A), those who wish to minimize the risk of hepatitis A can attack at any of these points. The Smallpox Eradication Program of the World Health Organization in the 1960s and 1970s, and the modern polio eradication program are examples of attacking the pathogen directly. Purifying the food and water, which commonly transmit hepatitis A, eliminates the vector. Immunization strengthens the person, making them immune to the disease. Simple interventions such as improving diet, exercise, sleep, and mental health improve the person and make disease and injury less likely. Education helps leaders and workers know why they are doing something, and training helps them do it right again and again. Cognitive aids such as checklists minimize reliance on human memory and other sources of failure.

In summary, “do no harm” applies to medicine, but also applies to every other area of life. We can and should engineer harm away, for it is the most effective way to minimize risk to life and health. Vaccines may be considered as a means of engineering harm away. We will attack dangers, block vectors, and strengthen individuals. To “do no harm”, health care professionals will use every tool in the shed, and will use them in a comprehensive and coordinated system. Our patients and our staff depend on it.  

The Christian Community in Society

“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever” opined the famous French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. American society today seems to have taken him at his word. We are told to dream big, take chances, and make our mark on the world. To be remembered in posterity, “write something worth reading or do something worth writing about” wrote Benjamin Franklin. We are even told to misbehave, “Well behaved women seldom make history (Laurel Thatcher Urich).” It is as if 100,000 of us were standing in a stadium screaming to be heard, and spending our lives trying to be distinctive enough to feel important.

Sometimes the Christian community looks little different. In his book You Are Special, Max Lucado writes of a village of little wooden people called wemmicks who spend their days putting stars or dots on each other, stars for doing something that they like and dots for doing something that they don’t. The best had special awards (a sequel, Best of All) and perhaps even monuments to be widely known and remembered. These fictional children’s stories describe an all too common trap into which even followers of Jesus fall.

In the time of Paul, the Christian community was a small part of a large and powerful pagan Roman society. Some Christians were prominent, but to be a Christian sometimes meant to be persecuted – a big downside to seeking the limelight. Paul himself did not seek personal glory. The miraculous powers that he sometimes wielded were not his own, and he could not even use them to heal himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). He traveled from community to community preaching Christ resurrected in the synagogues and later in the churches. He taught in prominent places such as the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34) in Athens, but anyone with something to say could enter the discussion. Paul never wrote about how he wished to be remembered, and it is not clear that he expected to find his name in history.

Paul did, however, have an expectation for how Christians would live in society as individuals and as a group.

  1. Christians would live a quiet life, mind their own business, and work with their own hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
  2. The believing community would require work from their members, and those who were able to work but refused to do so would not be supported by the community (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
  3. Males and females would treat each other well, as would people of different ages (1 Timothy 5:1-3).
  4. Families would consist of multiple generations caring for each other in every way they could (1 Timothy 5:8).
  5. Younger men and women would marry, have children, and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4).
  6. Everyone would contribute what efforts they could to the group. Even older and infirm widows would serve the community (1 Timothy 5:10). There was no period of life in which a person did not work.
  7. Families would take care of their aged and infirm members first, only receiving help from the community when needed (1 Timothy 5:16).
  8. The community of Christians would honor their Christian leaders. This includes paying them a fair wage (1 Corinthians 9:9-14).      
  9. Believers would pray for their leaders and government, and that they live quiet and peaceful lives in the greater society (1 Timothy 2:1-3). We are not to speak evil of others (Titus 3:1-2).
  10. Men and women would have different roles in the church (1 Timothy 2:8-15). Different age groups would also have differing, but equally important, roles and tasks (Titus 2:1-7).
  11. Christian leaders and their wives would be subject to high standards of conduct and appearance (1 Timothy 3:1-13).
  12. Every follower of Jesus would be godly, contented, and not greedy (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
  13. As individuals and as a community, Christians would constantly live in such a way as to avoid just accusation from those outside the community (Titus 2:8). The Apostle Peter agrees with Paul in that we glory God in our lives so that outsiders may be saved (1 Peter 2:12-15).

Paul says far more about the Christian community, and about the structure and government of the local church, in his letters. He says little about how people outside the church should behave or should live in their communities. The Apostle’s instructions to Christian men and women in different contexts (families and churches) do not necessarily apply to those outside the family of believers. Also, Paul says nothing about the structure of government outside the church. Paul was not a political activist.

Much of Paul’s vision for the early church is anathema to non-believers, and even some believers, today. Some of it, such people argue, was specific to that place and does not apply in the 21st century. These arguments are beyond the scope of this article. They are also beside the point.


Napoleon believed that glory was fleeting, but obscurity was forever. He lived his life, killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying nations to gain earthly, mortal glory. The Emperor of France spent his years doing what logically followed his beliefs. If we believe as Napoleon as a society and as a church, we will live like Napoleon.

Paul knew that while mortal glory is fleeting, immortal glory lasts forever. He lived his life not to be in some history book, but to be raised from death with Christ (Philippians 3:8-10). Paul killed no one and destroyed nothing. After coming to know Christ, he gave each moment of his earthly sojourn so that everyone might know Him.  If we believe like Paul as a society, and especially as a church, we will live like Paul.

Rethinking Parties

Americans in 2019 seem to “just want to have fun.” Americans in 1819 wanted fun too, but perhaps had a different idea of how to get there.

My family and I do not watch television. A couple of times per week, however, we break out the old DVDs and watch an episode of Hogan’s Heroes, F Troop, Andy Griffith, or some other old and silly sitcom. My mother bought us two seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies last Christmas and they are a special favorite with the kids. Watching the old shows, and the old advertisements, reveals many of the ways that we have changed as a nation, a culture, and a people.

In the episode entitled The Garden Party, Jed and Granny discover that their next-door neighbor, Margaret Drysdale, is hosting a garden party for her high society friends. “What’s a garden party?” Granny asks Jed. He replies that at a barn raising, neighbors get together and build a barn for the host. At a quilting bee, ladies get together and make a quilt. So a garden party must be to build a garden. Pleased with his reasoning, Jed tells his nephew Jethro to get the tools.

Last Friday night, Nancy and I had a family from church over for dinner. On Saturday my family and I attended a birthday party for the two-year-old son of a neighbor. Dozens of families and friends attended. Yesterday Nancy, David, Stephen, Sarah, and I spent the afternoon at Grandview attending the annual picnic for the Volunteer Fire Department in Beaver, WV. There were about 30 firefighters, family members, and friends present.

Why do we go to parties?

The first reason people go to parties is to have fun. Eating, drinking, and talking with close friends is one of the great joys of life. Birthday parties typically feature cake, ice cream, games, party favors, and possibly even a venue like a museum, garden, beach, pool, or amusement park. Wedding receptions often include these but add a meal and substitute dancing for games. Parties for holidays like Christmas, Halloween, and Independence Day have their own special flair, with trees and gifts, costumes, or fireworks.

A second reason for parties is to build relationships. Though we barely knew the other guests at the birthday party, we went specifically to get to know our neighbors. I had gone on calls and done training with most of the other firefighters at the picnic, but Nancy and the kids were strangers to these people. I went to deepen relationships, and they went to start them. They also went for me – to strengthen our family ties. Our Friday night dinner party was the only party last weekend in which everyone knew and enjoyed everyone else.

A third reason to attend parties is to accomplish something worthwhile. The barn raisings and quilting bees of yesteryear built community, but they also built barns and crafted quilts. In the days and regions before professional builders, modular homes, quilting companies, and the internet, neighbors had to help each other. If they did not, villages and individuals would die; member by member and family by family. I have been to a few such parties, which usually involved moving friends or family from one place to another. When we moved in Alexandria VA in 2013, more than twenty-five people from church showed up to help. Likewise, I have gone to pack and unpack boxes, load and unload boxes, take down and install furniture and appliances, and load and unload storage crates and conexes (steel storage and transportation containers). Work parties can also be a venue where real work gets done.

A fourth reason for parties is to promote yourself. The host of a fabulous party can impress people with their elegance or extravagance. Invitees at such parties can boast that they were invited, can try to impress the people who are there, can name drop, and can network for new opportunities or promotions. Socialite and courtesan Pamela Harriman threw parties in Washington DC that could launch a political career… or end one.   

A fifth reason to host and attend parties is to fulfill expectations. How many of us have gone to a work party that we dreaded, stayed a respectable amount of time, and slipped out hoping that no one would notice? How many people have attended parties that they dread to meet the expectations of others? Captain Georg Von Trapp certainly felt that way when he said in the Sound of Music “More at home here than in Vienna in all your glittering salons. . . gossiping gaily with bores I detest, soaking myself in champagne. . .stumbling about to waltzes by Strauss I can’t even remember?”

A sixth reason to host and attend parties is to glorify God. Christians are told that “whatever you do, do heartily, as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23).” Parties are no exception. The Bible has one story of Jesus attending a party; the wedding at Cana. We can assume that Jesus enjoyed Himself; it was a festive occasion and He was human, after all. Knowing Jesus’ character, He certainly went to build relationships.  Christ knew that He would accomplish something useful – changing water into wine for the glory of the Father. He probably went to fulfill His mother Mary’s expectations. The only thing that Jesus didn’t do was promote Himself. He promoted the Father instead.


The parties that I remember best are those that combine fun, relationships, accomplishments, and the glory of God. The purpose of these “best parties” was to do work worth doing. The fun, relationships, and glory of God followed. Perhaps Jed Clampett was right – Mrs. Drysdale’s garden party should have been to build her a garden. Perhaps for my next party, we’ll work on my yard. I wonder if anyone would come.  

Communion on the Moon

The first food and drink ever consumed on the moon was bread and wine in a Christian communion

No matter the opposition, the testimony of the Lord will not be denied. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins on Apollo 11 on 20 July 1969. He was the second human to walk on the surface of the moon. The following recounts the personal communion he took on the moon:

Forty-nine years ago (July 20, 1969), two human beings changed history by walking on the surface of the moon.

But what happened before Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong exited the Lunar Module is perhaps even more amazing, if only because so few people know about it. I’m talking about the fact that Buzz Aldrin took communion on the surface of the moon. Some months after his return, he wrote about it in Guideposts magazine.

The background to the story is that Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life; and, knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt that he should mark the occasion somehow. He asked his minister to help him and so the minister consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. Buzz Aldrin took them with him out of the Earth’s orbit and onto the surface of the moon. He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement:

“This is the LM (Lunar Module) pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication, and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John, and he took communion.

Here is his account of what happened:

“In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the scripture: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit … Apart from me you can do nothing.’

“I had intended to read my communion passage back to Earth, but at the last minute they had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew’s reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly.”

“I ate the tiny toast and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon and the very first food eaten there were the communion elements.”[1]

“And, of course, it’s interesting to think that some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon – and who, in the immortal words of Dante, is Himself the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.”

Such a message would be unwelcome in many places in America and the West today, not to mention Asia and the Muslim world. This is not new – the message of God has always met fierce, even desperate resistance. The people of God have always suffered. Nonetheless, “if the people keep silent, the stones will cry out (Luke 19:37-40).” As it says it Psalms 2 (KJV),

2 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,

3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.

8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

[1] https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/life-advice/finding-life-purpose/guideposts-classics-buzz-aldrin-on-communion-in-space, accessed 3 May 2019

Never Enough

Why is nothing in this life ever enough?

James Bond tells us that the world is not enough. Billionaire John D. Rockefeller is reputed to have said “Just a little bit more” when asked how much money was enough. While King of England, Henry VIII created a new church, the Anglicans, and made himself the supreme religious leader. Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire chronicles an endless line of men and women from Europe, Africa, and Asia who stopped at nothing to grab the Imperial purple.

The past is no different from the present. Bashar al Assad in Syria has butchered thousands of his own people to retain the reins of power. Chief executives from Beijing to Ankara deceive and destroy in the name of virtue but ultimately to exalt themselves. The world of work can resemble gladiators in the Forum, with managers and employees at every level whispering, gossiping, flattering, threatening, shaming, and accusing subordinates, peers, and superiors to try to look good and get ahead.

This is not to say that all people and organizations are equally prone to such behavior. Some Roman emperors were crowned against their will and ruled with as much virtue as they could muster.  Some politicians energetically pursue the public good. Some billionaires, including John D. Rockefeller, are generous philanthropists. Some work teams and companies are honestly united around a common mission, truly get along, and generally treat each other well. Some leaders are genuinely inspirational and self-sacrificing, placing the needs of others before themselves.

Why does this conflict rage within us? As usual, the Bible has the answer. Proverbs 27:20 tells us that “Hell and destruction are never full, so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” Even the best of us, in our best moments, can think of something that we want. The innocent thoughts “I would like a little more…money, fame, power, good looks, or time off” or “I wish my spouse…” or “I wish my kids…” or “I wish…” can quickly turn into “I am dissatisfied.”

Dissatisfaction itself is not necessarily wrong. We should be dissatisfied with injustice and cruelty and do what we can to correct them. To oppose real evils done to others is the mandate of a follower of Christ.

But dissatisfaction is like a weed that soon grows out of control. Our dissatisfaction with morally wrongs quickly becomes dissatisfaction with things that we simply don’t like. Our indignation with genuine injustice rapidly morphs into anger at “people not giving us our due.” We spend time resenting our bosses for “unfair pay” or “lack of a promotion” and our coworkers for “trying to look good in front of the boss” and “making me look bad.” No matter what good things we receive – pay, promotions, people, and opportunities – they are overshadowed by our resentment at what we didn’t.

The root problem is that God has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), but we think in terms of time. Since He is God, our Creator, our Sustainer, and the source of all that is good in the universe, we cannot be joyful outside Him. Innately prideful and unwilling to follow His moral laws, we want to be joyful in ourselves. God is eternal, but our focus is temporal. He is infinite, but our desires are finite. He wants to give us life forever and joy unbounded, but we want a bigger house, a shinier car, and a more important job. God offers the chance to praise Him, but we want to praise ourselves. He has set us a little lower than Himself, but we crave being higher than the guy or gal next door.

No matter what we get, it is never enough. Man tries to fill his soul, the part that craves the infinite, with the finite. We try to build bridges across the chasm separating us from God with money, power, fame, human relationships, and achievements. It never works, because only the infinite can fill the infinite, and only the eternal can fill the eternal.