Sunday, December 31, 2006

Current Book List

Here is a list of all of the books that I have current checked out on my library card. Several of these I have already started reading but most of them are just waiting for me to find time to start them. Either way I thought I would post this just to give a sort of cross-section of what’s been going on in my mind lately.

Blind Faith : the unholy alliance of religion and medicine

by Sloan, Richard, Ph. D

The Boys' War : Confederate and Union soldiers talk about the Civil War

by Murphy, Jim

Breaking the Spell : religion as a natural phenomenon
by Dennett, Daniel Clement

Ethics for the New Millennium
by Bstan-dzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV

Evolution vs. Creationism : an introduction
by Scott, Eugenie Carol

Freethinkers : a history of American secularism
by Jacoby, Susan

From Jesus to Christianity : a history of the early Church

by Madden, Thomas F.

On the Ridge between Life and Death : a climbing life reexamined

by Roberts, David

The Problems of Philosophy
by Russell, Bertrand

Transforming Suffering : reflections on finding peace in troubled times

by Bstan-dzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV

Truth and Fiction in the DaVinci Code : a historian explores what we really know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine

by Ehrman, Bart D.

The Varieties of Scientific Experience : a personal view of the search for God

by Sagan, Carl

The Demon-Haunted World
by Sagan, Carl

The God Delusion
by Dawkins, Richard

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Worth the Effort

Sometime in the last month or so I completely lost focus. Faced with all the daunting tasks ahead of me with this remodeling project I just became numb and was moving only out of a sense of duty rather than having any real goal in mind. For months I’ve been working at least full-time and when I’ve returned home I’ve been working as long as I could on the house. It was not uncommon for Victoria to come out and rebuke me for being on the top steps of a ladder late into the evening without a flashlight. My back hurts, my knees are bruised, my arms and legs have been scratched with everything from roof flashing to oven sheet metal, my fingers ache and only a few of them don’t have splinters in them. You know how every Olympics there is that one marathon runner who got a cramp early in the race but still manages to hobble her way to a last place finish? That’s kind of how I felt. I just kept plodding forward because that was what I was supposed to do but there was no joy left in the task and I had no hope of making my goal.
Well that changed Saturday afternoon. My wife and I had just finished buying all the groceries for the family dinner and Stephen and Reuben showed up to help with the cooking. We bragged about whose knives were better and had a lot of fun standing around the kitchen getting the food ready. They were both a tremendous help in preparing for the party. Stephen was cutting veggies and mixing ingredients, Reuben rolled most of the egg rolls and then slaved over the fry daddy for hours to get everything ready. Slick and Shalene made a trip to the church to "borrow" some chairs for the event and pick up the sushi. I suppose in most families this would have been the women getting the food ready and the guys going after the chairs, but we're more than a little unorthodox in many ways. But we're okay with that.
During the dinner there were rave reviews from all the family. Marcus even suggested that we do it every month. We had a great time together and the new kitchen just facilitated that.
Afterwards Reuben and Angela refused to leave until all the dishes were washed and dried. They didn't leave until well after midnight and they had an hour drive back home.
I went to bed that night exhausted but with a renewed sense of the importance of family. My new kitchen is just a thing. Ultimately it is meaningless. It's just a bunch of wood and appliances. However as a gathering place for family it is priceless. Thank you to all my family. You made that day such a positive experience for me that will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Religious Beliefs on Trial?

Read this article. Due to the potential religious and political ramifications I’ve been following this case with a lot of interest. In summary, the state’s case here is that Mitchell has to be psychotic because he believes that God speaks to him. In my mind that pretty much leaves the door open to declare that anyone with religious beliefs can be declared incompetent to stand trial and be force medicated in order to receive a “fair” trial.
Please note that my remarks should in no way be interpreted as a defense of Mitchell's criminal actions against Elizabeth Smart. We just need to be sure that it is his actions that we procecute and not his beliefs which triggered them.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Reading" a book

While reading Misquoting Jesus- The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why the author goes into great detail to describe the differences between reading a book and hearing it read. Due to the very low literacy rates in ancient times he describes three different meanings that may apply to the phrase, "I read the book."
1. Reading it silently to yourself. This is the commonly accepted modern interpretation of the phrase and needs no additional explaination.
2. Reading it out loud so that others may hear it. My wife reads books every night to our kids.
3. Not actually reading the book but simply hearing the book read. My kids can be said to have read the book because the heard my wife read it.
Understandably this is the more disputed version of read. It may imply some level of literacy on the "reader" that they don't neccesarily have. I can see how people would be confused if I were to tell people that my 4-year old read a certian book. But if the doubt about a certian person's literacy in not present does it matter which of the three definitions we use? The reason I ask is that I frequently read in either the first definition or the third definition. To allow me to multi-task while doing some of the more repetative task I do at work I will frequently "read" books on CD or MP3. When I read at home I prefer to stick to the first definition. Occasionally I will do both. I will "read" in the car or at work to the CD or MP3s and then "read" the same passages silently to myself. I typically resurve this technique to books I really enjoy or really want to study more deeply.
Out of a sense of being intellectually honest with readers of this blog I need to confess that many of the books I have "read" and reviewed on this blog I have simply heard read to me. About half of them I have also read silently to myself. And three or four of them I have done both. Short of this confession I don't plan on making a distiction between these different definitions from now on unless comments convince me that I need to do so. I enjoy all three types of reading and gain different perspectives by each.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Misquoting Jesus

I’ve just finished reading my latest book on Early Christianity. Misquoting Jesus- The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman. If you’ve every wondered how people could preserve the words of the Bible in a world before printing presses this would be a good book for you. If you want to go through life simply believing that Bible was preserved by God for our day and you have no desire at all to know how He preserved it then stay away from this heretical book. If you believe that a mistranslation or a mistranscription can create thousands of variations of the same book of say the Gospel of Luke then you might enjoy this book. On the other hand if you believe that the Bible has been preserved right down to every jot and tiddle and are completely comfortable with believing that way then you might want to stay away. If you are fascinated by the slightly different doctrines and seemingly contradictory personalities of Jesus in the Scriptures then you might also enjoy reading about how those doctrines and traits have been transcribed and translated differently in some of the original texts. If you have a bumper sticker that says “The Bible says it so that settles it” then you’d likely not be interested. If you can accept that the best manuscript that we have of the New testament is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy then you too would enjoy Ehrman’s book. If you are content to simply stick you chin out, raise your voice and say, “The Bible is the inerrant word of God” as if this declaration alone will assure you a place in Heaven then you won’t enjoy reading this book.

I wanted to go on with these little “you’d like it” or “you’d hate it” sentences for a little bit longer but I think ya’ll get the point. I hope everybody knows which side oft this debate that I’m on. I really enjoyed this book. Ehrman points out how and why many of the thousands upon thousands of variations have crept into the Bible and also details the science/art of textual criticism. In the many cases when he cannot pin down how or why the changes were made he offers his own speculation as to what may have happened. Admittedly, most of the time these subtle changes have little to no effect on doctrine however, on quite a few of them they create dramatic differences in the character of Jesus as well as the doctrine. This book has inspired me to read the New Testament again, this time with a more open mind to certain aspects. At the very least I don’t see myself jumping up on a soapbox to defend a slight doctrinal variation that may not have even been included in the original text.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


If you haven't noticed I have a tendancy to overthink even casual remarks and look for deeper meaning and philosophies. Such an event happened today. As I was leaving the building to go to lunch a co-worker commented, "Is it Friday yet?" I resonded truthfully by saying, "I sure hope not. I've got far too much to do before Friday." I realize that this was just hallway conversation however I was struck by the image of somebody always looking for tomorrow in hopes that it would be better than today. Without going into a whole "Carpe Diem" diatribe I just think we need to find things to be happy about today. Find a reason to make everyday as important as Friday. perhaps I'm just overthinking this. Maybe.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Letter

I want to get a Tivo for my life. How I'd love to be able to pause the great moments of the past year and be able to savor them even more. It's been a really good year for the Michaelites. This is a term my brothers and I coined to distiguish my wife and kids from the 4 other clans of Taylors.
Eve is just plain silly. She loves animals and she's growing like a little weed. She typically wakes up in a very good mood and proceeds to transform into her favorite animal for a few hours. This girl loves any and all animals and it wouldn't suprise me at all if she became a vet.
Noah is my little analitical thinker and scientist. The class they put him in this year has been a true blessing for him. He was struggling with his reading last year but he has made up all that ground and is gaining speed. Considering how much he was struggling last years its really a joy to help him with his homework. Next week we're headed to the planetarium with his cub scout den. He love science and cub scouts so I'm really looking forward to attending that with him.
Rachel is growing up far too fast for me. She's becoming quite a little lady. In spite of the glasses and the braces her smile and positive attitude radiate to everyone around her. She is still a compulsive writer. I think next year we'll give her the task of writing the Christmas letter. She has expressed interest in setting up her own blog to share her stories. I'll sit down and help her with that soon.
Aaron is doing well and enjoying being a Boy Scout. He's still being home schooled and making some progress there. He enjoys playing computer games and riding his bike and scooter. He is enjoying his new responsabilty as a deacon at church.
I'm still engineering for BellSouth until they become ATT. In all likelyhood the only affect the buyout will have on my job is that I'll have somebody else's name on my shirt. I've been drafted as the Scoutmaster of our Ward's troop. I enjoy spending time with the scouts but the planning is an awful lot of work.
On a personal note I'm still continuing my "quest for truth". I've been reading compulsively and updating my blog as often as I get a chance. It's been a great outlet for me to focus my thoughts and ideas.
Our big project for this year has been a major overhaul of our home. The 1977 structure was in pretty good shape but had been neglected by us and previous owners for far too long. We've been working everyday after work and Papa Dennis has been working his butt off for months to help us get the house repaired. We've made some great changes and fixed a great deal of serious problems. We're looking forward to living in a home without sheetrock dust everywhere but that still looks to be a few weeks away.
As I write this it is the eve of Victoria's and my 17th wedding anniversary. The single best descision I have ever made in my life was to ask her to marry me. She has kept me grounded and given me focus. In my personal stuggles she has been more supportive than I could have ever planned for. I admire her efforts with the children. She sells herself far to short but she is an amazing mother. Our kids have never gone to school without a warm meal in their tummy and they have never gone to bed without at least a chapter of a book and prayer. When she's not acting as a chauffer, teacher, nurse, financial planner, general contractor, or wife she spends her time scrapbooking. How she manages to fit all these tasks into each day will always amaze me. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful that she still thinks I'm worth hanging around.
This time between Thanksgiving and Christmas always makes me step back and look at my life as objectively as I can to see how blessed I really am and take stock of what action I need to take to make my life even better. I have a long way to go but I feel that things are headed in the right direction. So as long as I don't have the option to Tivo my life I am comforted by the fact that it seems to be getting better and better each year.
I wish you all peace on earth and goodwill t'ward all.


There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
Nelson Mandela

Friday, December 01, 2006

Remodeling blues

It’s been really hard to update my blog lately. If you’ve been reading My wife’s blog you’ll know that we’ve been attempting to remodel our 1977 home that was long overdue for some major renovation. The biggest problem, and the most critical in the long term, is completed. That’s the replacement of all the swollen and warped masonite siding that was original to the house. I took a lot longer than we thought to replace it but the new hardie plank is up and ready for painting.

Since last week the focus has been turned to the inside of the house. Every day is a new surprise and only rarely a positive one. We’ve found massive, gapping holes in the kitchen wall that were just covered over with any scrap of plastic they could find. The sheet rock on the ceiling is about 1 inch shy of actually meeting the wall sheetrock. The wallpaper was incorrectly applied and it’s damaging the sheetrock when we remove it. The previous cabinet installer just punched holes in the wall with their hammer to find the studs. Now since we hadn’t planned to put cabinets in exactly the spots they had we either have to fix their problems or change our plan to cover them up somehow. It seems like every day of progress reveals 2 days of additional work to be done. I realize that this is normal for a home improvement project but it’s more than a little stressful. We’re not even half way finished and the budget is more than half gone. Throw on top of this that we have a deadline of sorts of December 16th.

Lately the crux of the problem has been “stuff management”. That’s my way of saying that we have so much stuff that we’re tripping over it all and we don’t have anywhere to really put anything else. We move stuff out of the cabinets with the plan to then put it in the new cabinet once it’s installed but the condition of the walls now mean that all the cabinets are going to have to come down at once so we can fix the walls. So now we have to move all the stuff that we just moved so we can have room to work in the kitchen. Moving stuff from one temporary spot to another is creating a lot of extra work.

I have little philosophy that I’m trying to indoctrinate my kids with. Do it right the first time and you’ll be better off in the long run. If you take a little extra time to get thing right while you’re doing a task the first time you won’t have to make corrections or changes later. With my oldest and his homework I try to stress that if he writes neatly and follows all the directions then he won’t have to waste time correcting what he did wrong or sloppy. With the other kids I’ve been focusing on teaching then to always put stuff back where it belongs. It may take 20 extra seconds to walk your shoes over to the shoe rack but that 20 seconds is easily made up for the next time you save half an hour by not having to search for your shoes.

Everyday after work I come home and work on the house until I just run out of daylight or I’m so exausted that I just can’t lift another sheet of sheetrock.

It’s really tough but the biggest victims of this project are my kids. Their just trying to do the same things that they’ve always been doing in spite of the chaos. It'll be nice to sit down at the table in our new kitchen and just have a nice family dinner together once this is all over. It's that image that keeps me motivated to get the whole project finished.