Monday, December 30, 2013

Visions of Sugar Plums

Merry Christmas. Mine went well, and I hope yours did too.

I received a couple of thoughtful gifts this year. The one that stands out most are my sugar plums. Now I don't think they're traditional sugar plums, unless traditional sugar plums are gummy candies. To be honest, I don't know, and I don't need to find out. The ones I received are amazing, and can only be found locally at fancy candy shops.

As always, it's the thought that counts. My mother knew I like them, she knew they always sell out locally, and she braved the interwebs to find them for me. She even ordered them in time to have them by Christmas; no small feat for the worlds worst planner.

I hope you all gave and received thoughtful gifts this year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas to all

I am going to be taking the next two weeks off … celebrating the Christmas Holiday. I wish everyone of you a very holy and joy-filled Christmas and a 2104 filled with all good things. 
Christ is born.

Please drop back the week of January 6.

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The Most Thoughtful Gift

Merry Christmas everyone. My last post about thoughtful gift giving lead me to thinking about thoughtful gift receiving. The most thoughtful gift I've ever received was when I was seven, and the shocking part is, it was from my father.

You might be thinking that a father giving his son a thoughtful gift is not shocking, but you Sir have never met my father. He's the worst give giver I've ever met. This is a man who is happy to give an expensive gift, but intentionally does a terrible job taking the price tags off so that you know what he spent. This is also the man who gave me a toy beeper when I was thirteen. If you were not a child of the 90's, let me tell you that a real beeper would have been the coolest gift a thirteen year old ever received, and toy beeper meant for a seven year old would be pretty insulting. Now that I've done my best to give you an idea of his failings as a gift giver, let me tell you about the one time he got it right.

I was about seven, and we were attending the Renaissance Festival, which was always a good time. This trip went from good to spectacular when we were approached by a real life wizard, who chose to give me his real life wizard staff. At least that's the way I remember it.

The staff was short and had a top that was not a traditional grip could be used as one. He was using it that way when he approached, so the staff came to about his elbow. When he gave it to me I was stunned into silence, and I think I had to be reminded to thank him. After gifting it to me, I was able to use it like a longer staff, with it coming to about eye level with me. It was beautiful, and curved, and knotted.

This was the perfect gift for a seven year old, presented in the perfect way. Now I'm not saying it wasn't a real wizard staff presented by a real wizard, but some time later I realized my father must have purchased the staff himself, and had the wizard give it to me for effect. It was the most thoughtful gift I ever received, and he gave it even though he couldn't take credit for it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cathedrals & Churches

A friend of mine, Travis, with whom I work as a volunteer at the Basilica of St Mary in Minneapolis, is a self professed Catholic geek. ( In a previous post, Making of a Volunteer, I told the beginning of what became the unlikely story of my working with Travis. ) One of the meanings of this is that he is very attracted to churches ... their outside, inside, architecture, windows, statues, paintings, layout, virtually everything about them. When going from point A to point B, he will stop at an interesting church and take pictures ... outside, inside, of the statues, of the paintings, of the windows, of the altar(s), ... ; you get the idea. Sometimes when going from point A to point B, both A and B are churches, too!

I offered to preview some of his favorite pictures on my shared blog. I used the word "preview" because he is putting together a website which will be an exposition of churches in the upper Midwest, but is still some time away. He accepted my offer, with more excitement than I had anticipated, and recently sent me some pictures. Below I preview two of them, along with the explanations he wrote and I edited.
High Altar
Basilica of 
Stanislaus Kostka
Winona, MN
High Altar at The Basilica of Stanislaus Kostka in Winona, MN

This is one of the more recent churches to be elevated to the status of minor basilica (done so on November 10, 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI, making it only the second basilica in the state of Minnesota). The church was designed and built in the 1980s in the Polish Cathedral Style. The vastness of the basilica is moderated by its rounded nave and profuse light (thanks to many large stained glass windows throughout the structure).


This cathedral was designed and built at the turn of the last century. The image is of Christ the Judge, flanked by Saints Peter (keys) and Paul (sword).
Apse Image
Cathedral of
Saints Peter and Paul
Indianapolis, IN

I will preview more, scattered among my posts, in the coming weeks.
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Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Gifts

I love Christmas, and for me a big part of the Christmas fun is gift giving. Money is an important factor of course, but it is the thought that counts. You may say that's a cliche, but I don't think it can be said enough. It seems to me that many don't agree, and even fewer understand it.

Everyone seems to understand that when it's the thought that counts, that they don't need to spend a lot of money to give a good gift. I could not agree more. The part that some people don't get is that you do need to give some thought. It may seem simple, but I can't tell you how many people seem to think that the phrase, "It's the thought that counts," means 'It's the decision to give a gift that counts.' As in, 'I gave a poorly thought out gift, but that's okay because it's the thought that counts.' This may just be my interpretation of the adage, and if you disagree, feel free to comment.

I am often told that I give good gifts. I don't spend a lot of money, so I have to assume that I am succeeding in my goal of giving thoughtful gifts. I do recognize that I do this for partially selfish reasons though. I enjoy the hunt for a thoughtful gift, and the glory of basking in my success when I've nailed it.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Oh, to sing

“Ooooohhhhoooh.” … I struggled to maintain the pitch I was trying to sing, as the meeting’s stragglers, members of the parish choir all, stifled their inclination to laugh.

“I think you should take voice lessons from me.”

With that, a dream and a nightmare intermingled.

I had always loved to sing in Church. I enjoyed singing and gave wide berth to my desire. Shortly after getting married, I noticed that my wife, Ellie, at these times, would slink away from me. She did it subtly, but deliberately, and almost always with a furtive glance back to me; it let me know she didn’t really want to be associated with the source of that sound.

Fortunately we could talk about this … No, I don’t know how I sound. Yes, I realize I am singing loudly. No, I don’t know that I am off pitch. Yes, I would guess I’m off pitch. No, I’m not sure what to do about being off. Yes I can read music. No, I don’t know how to make my voice the same pitch as the middle line of the staff … Yes, I know the middle line is B.

I realize I sound dreadful; not easy to admit. There were hurdles to taking voice lessons.

The idea intimidated me; I had visions of failure. I’m not used to failing. I believed that failure here was likely.

I guessed voice lessons were not cheap, and we didn’t have a lot of money to throw around. It was easier to admit that than it was to admit being intimidated.

I knew two people qualified to teach voice. One was Jerry, our parish’s Director of Liturgy .

Not knowing exactly what had gotten into me, I asked Jerry to give me voice lessons. “No.” I figured I had dodged a bullet.

A year later, with no context whatsoever, as the meeting was breaking up, Jerry said to me, “Sing me a pitch … give me your best shot.” I sang ( tried to ) a pitch as described above.
His, “I think you should take voice lessons from me,” made my body quiver; I felt a chill, panic, perhaps. “Think about it. Give me a call when or if you want to pursue it.”

The decision was now mine. Why was I not elated? I knew immediately I would take him up on it; I also knew it would take a while. The intimidation was real.

My intimidating vision was spot on. He asked me to match a pitch he played on the piano. At first I didn’t always even know if I was above or below the pitch. I knew if I lowered my voice and raised it slowly I would, if only for an instant, be matching the note he was playing. This, of course, did not satisfy him. Eventually I could hold my voice steady enough and close enough to the played pitch that we would move on, to another pitch not far removed from the one I just successfully “mastered.” I slowly learned to both hear and feel when my voice and the piano’s pitch were the same. The first song I learned was, “Holy God.”

This excited me; it was learning that transcended mere understanding in my brain. That kind of understanding was insufficient. These lessons became the highlight of my week.

Jerry and I have been going at this for 11 years. Although Ellie no longer slinks away from me in church, I feel barely an advanced beginner. I now learn to sing songs, and sometimes I “get” them fairly quickly. Jerry still has me open virtually every lesson by matching pitches. He still, occasionally, has me sing “Holy God,” to make sure I haven’t forgotten everything I’ve learned.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Giving Thanks

For dessert, we all went to our friend’s, to introduce our cat-loving son and daughter-in-law to Moonshine and Missy Prissy, our friend’s cats. Introductions went well.

To celebrate our recent Thanksgiving, my wife and I had a dear friend over, as well as our son and his wife. We chatted, had some snacks, drank some wine, and then ate the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Then the just-mentioned dessert.

The day went as planned, with everybody enjoying all of it. The day is its own cause, but the quiet mingling of the people in our house added energy to my reflection: how much do I have to be thankful for?

As I see it, items to be thankful for share two attributes: something that allows me to either enjoy life or get more out of it; something that I cannot realistically take credit for having.

Many of these things leap to mind, and I list some of them in no particular order:

My work ethic: this was given to me by my parents and reinforced by those I associated with in the obtaining of my education.

My ability to learn: I can, perhaps, take credit for what I’ve learned, but my ability to learn is not something I can take credit for.

Being born in the United States … along with all the other circumstances of my birth ( the skills and abilities of my parents, the financial situation they were in, the state and city of my birth, the notions about school and learning that my parents had, the “culture” that defined my extended
family, … ; ).

My wife ( meeting her was something that was entirely beyond my control ) and our family

My faith: this is, by definition, my belief in the existence of God and trust that he will envelope me with his loving care as he promises he will … always, everywhere.

After being laid off from a good-paying Engineering job, being able to live for five years on a significantly reduced income without incessant worrying about money, even though I was almost incessantly worrying about it while having that good-paying Engineering job.

The people in our lives, past and present.

My health and that of my wife and our immediate family.

The people I’ve had the opportunity to hear speak and the authors I’ve chosen to read.

What do you have to be thankful for?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas is for Everyone

I recently found out that my friend who teaches at a public high school is indecisive about the separation between church and state. It took her a couple of moments, but she was clearly pleased that she thought of a good example of when it's appropriate to combine the two; Christmas. When I told her that Christmas was not religious, she didn't want to hear it. Maybe you guys will.

Christmas predates Christianity.
Obviously they didn't call it Christmas, but other folks did celebrate that time of year before Christians came along. Plus there's no reason to believe Jesus was born at that time of year, even if there was a Jesus.

Christmas is a national holiday.
If Christians wanted to keep it to themselves, they shouldn't have shared it with the whole nation. Plenty of Non-Christians celebrate Christmas in a Non-Christian way.

Most Christians celebrate Christmas in a Non-Christian way.
That one might take some explaining. What I'm saying is that the way I see Christians celebrate Christmas seems unrelated to their religion, and in some cases, in direct conflict.

It seems to me that a Christian's home is ten times more likely to be decorated with a figure of Santa than a figure of Jesus. Santa is the guy you teach kids to pray to for gifts, and then grants these prayers based on his constant supernatural observation. If you think I'm being overly offensive, please remember the word prayer is not reserved for communication with a deity.

I think Christmas trees are more popular than both Santa and Nativity Scenes put together, and the bible uses a Christmas tree as an example of what not to do.

For most people, Christmas is about family and gift giving. How does that honor a guy who was against family, and material possessions? (References available upon request)

Yes, for some people religion is the primary focus of Christmas. I'm glad they enjoy that, and I'm glad that they're free to celebrate Christmas their way. I'm just saying I'm celebrating it my way, and for a change, I'm actually in the majority on this one. Oh, and Christmas is for everyone.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Football Game

The first hint of a problem with our plan was the total absence of both people and signage at the Carlson school pick-up point. We were early, but not that early. In the unseasonably cold temperature of early November, we waffled about what to do.We asked two other men; they thought the shuttle to the stadium was still running. We decided to try hoofing it to the stadium. I was game, but barely.

“Are you two going to the game?” John shouted to a couple who had left the same sidewalk we were on and were walking down a grassy knoll to a road.

“Yes," one of them shouted back. John rushed up to them, and she continued, "We’re going to catch the campus ‘connector’ inter-campus shuttle just east of us on the road down there,” pointing up a bit from where our walk would bring us to the road. “It makes a stop at the stadium.”

“We were going to take the stadium shuttle,” John told them, as I caught up.

“They abandoned that one at the beginning of the year. There were 5 buses initially; then 3; now the only one is from the State Fair Grounds – that one still runs."

When we passed the stadium without anyone getting off, our new female friend pulled the “I want to make a stop” cord; I heard “You passed the stadium,” from a number of young mouths.

“I said the last stop was the closest to the stadium,” the driver retorted as the bus continued its run to the Agricultural Campus.

"This would have been quite a hike from the hotel," I observed. “I like football and everything, but I am not sure how that would have gone for me. I am very glad we got this bus!”

"Me, too," he nodded. He also said, “I know I wanted to pick you up early, but I didn’t know this was why. Sorry.”

No apology was necessary; I knew we’d circle back to the stadium in plenty of time. Suddenly … a light bulb ... a story … . “You know what John? There’s a story here. No matter what else happens.”

“You mean how this knucklehead friend of yours took you to a college football game, with no hint of how to actually get to the stadium?” he suggested, with a hint of a grin.

“You read my blog, John; I wouldn’t say such a thing where you might read it!” I replied. This was, in my view, well below the threshold of a knuckle headed operation. And  John was no knucklehead.

The bus came back toward the stadium. We got off, made our way to the stadium, found our seats, put up with forty degree temperatures featuring a cold, gusty north wind ( “Where’re your gloves?” “Don’t you have ear muffs?” “OK, I’ll stop being your mother!” ), walked around a bit at half-time, ate bratwurst, shared some salted in the shell peanuts, and confessed, "I'm cold.”

After, we returned to where we had gotten off the bus. We noticed, in the crowd, the couple with whom we had boarded the incoming bus earlier in the day, and we exchanged pleasantries. 

“They’re waiting here, too; must be the right place,” I said, as an aside.

Time crawled by, as if it, too, were frozen up by the unseasonably cold weather.

“I’m not too impressed with the shuttle service,” John muttered.

Eventually a city bus pulled to the curb; much of the horde with us, like a wave in the sea, made their way to it. Behind it, another bus pulled to the curb. Its marquee: "Connector Shuttle.”  

Our new friends and John and I scooted to it. The four of us exited at a stop they told us their driver had skipped several weeks previously. We were astounded to see that this stop was just a bit further than a long pass from the entrance to the hotel where John and I had parked. We bade farewell to our new acquaintances.

As we walked, “Well, that was quite the adventure.”

“All’s well that ends well, no?”

Oh yeah … our team won, extending its conference winning streak to four games and improving its overall record to 8-2.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Movie Review - Ender's Game

One of the first books I read on purpose was Ender's Game. I knew it would be a movie someday based on how awesome it is, but I never expected it to be a good movie. The problem is that there was just too much happening for one movie. Having seen the movie, I can say I was wrong. A lot was lost from what they had to cut, but they kept enough to make a good movie. The following will be my comparison of the two, with lots of spoilers.

I expected Bean's roll to be expanded since there are books that follower this character. I didn't think this was a good idea, and was happily surprised that they didn't.
Harrison Ford's character, Colonel Graff, was extended, which I expected and enjoyed.
I was surprised by the expansion of Major Anderson, who was well acted by Viola Davis, who I'd never heard of before.

Peter and Valentine were drastically cut. This is my biggest disappointment. They had to make cut to make it one movie, I understand that. In the book Peter and Valentine go about taking over the world in Ender's absence, and make good headway. This subplot that comes together at the end, really making the story for me. They did make a good movie without it, but they could have left it to make two great movies.

On the bright side, I was glad to find they fixed the part that happens after that. The ending of the book was sort of shoehorned into the next book in the series. They were two unrelated stories before this. The result was a little silly, and brisk. Instead of sending Ender off to an alien world where the aliens had reshaped the landscape for him like in the book, the movie actually fixed this by making one of the human bases be a former alien world.

What a brilliant change. It's simple and it works. Then they went further. Instead of the aliens reshaping the landscape to match the game, they communicated the existing landscape to him through the game. Again, simple, and elegant. I couldn't have fixed that any better myself. The result is that emotionally, the story ends in a logical place. It ends the story at the end of the movie.

I highly recommend the movie, but I still recommend the book highly-er.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Trying to Rescue a Fountain Pen

"They don't know what they're doing down there."

This response sounded arrogant to me, but, along with the impressive before and after pictures, it gave me hope that the man who spoke them would be able to restore my fountain pen to its luxuriously-writing capability. I had seen his before/after pictures of injured fountain pens. I was impressed and had called to ask him if he thought he could help my fountain pen, which I had stupidly allowed to have a topless adventure in my man-bag. The adventure had bunged the nib up pretty badly; it would not write. I 'fessed up that I had taken it to a stationary/pen shop and the owner had helped, but the nib still was "not right."

I have told you in a past post
( Writing is Hard ) that I enjoy using a pen, especially a fountain pen. I am here confessing that I may be addicted. I have many and varied ballpoint and gel pens, and fountain pens that number more than I will ever need. I toyed with fountain pens as early as grade school, but didn't appreciate a truly fine pen until much later.

I was heartsick when I realized the damage done to the nib of my fountain pen. I took it to a favorite stationary store where I knew a pen doctor resided. The pen doctor no longer resided there, but the owner also knew a thing or two about fountain pens, so I spoke with him. I was looking for advice about where to send it for repair, or perhaps he would send it and charge me for his service.

Nope. He got out his magnifying glass, inspected the nib, put the point of the nib to the top of the glass case we were standing at, and pushed. He inspected it again, put the nib back to the glass and adjusted. He did this several times, got some ink, dipped the pen, tried it, adjusted a time or two more, tried the pen again, adjusted, tried it, and handed it back to me. "What do you think," he asked.

I tried it. While I wasn't sure it wrote like it did before it got lost in my bag, it seemed to write well, which was a significant improvement over its condition when I walked in. "I'm not looking for a freebie," I said.

"Thanks for stopping in," he said. "No charge."

My excitement that the pen wrote at all soon gave way to disappointment that it did not write as it had; now it didn't seem to write well at all. It would skip, it would write well for four words, then hardly at all for the next. And it scratched. I could have gone back to the stationary shop, but I figured they had already done the best they could; and I could hardly complain as the pen did write and they charged me nothing for the service.

I remained disconsolate ( I am sure I am exaggerating my mental state here ).

But then I found the pen fix-it shop and the arrogant-sounding man who ran it. Excitedly, I went to his shop and gave him the pen. He got out his magnifying glass, inspected the nib ... and did nothing. He got some paper and wrote with the pen. It wrote well for him; no skipping at all.

I tried, and it wrote like it had been doing ... OK, not great, varying line widths. "Your touch is much lighter than mine," he commented.

"Well, yes, that's what I like about fountain pens," I replied, "no pressure."

"There is nothing I can do for this pen."

You were so sure when I spoke on the phone with you!

"The hooded nib has a flange inside which makes it impossible to take the nib out without getting into all kinds of other trouble.

Isn't that what you do here? Your before pictures showed some awful damage ...

"I could heat the feed, but that could ruin it altogether. "

Of course I would not want to risk that!

"You might try cleaning it good ... soak the nib section overnight in water with a couple of drops of dish washing soap. It doesn't look particularly dirty, but somewhat. That might help."

"Well, thanks," I said, stuffing my disappointment, "I have had it since the early 80's and never cleaned it good."

I have not done that yet, and will, perhaps, report when I do. For sure I will if the results are dramatic. Until then, however, I am left with a pen that only reminds me of a high-functioning, luxuriously-writing instrument.

Monday, November 18, 2013

10 Things I Disagree with the Wall Street Journal About

The Wall Street Journal just wrote an article called 10 Things E-Cigarettes Won't Tell You.  Now I was never a smoker, but I have enjoyed using a vaporizer.  I use it without nicotine, but I'm sure it's more enjoyable with nicotine.  Even without, it's relaxing, tastes good, and is calorie free.  I think you'd need a good reason to be down on these, but many people are with no good reason.

The Wall Street Journal article was entirely negative, and I feel the need to respond.

1 "We're Big Tobacco in disguise."
Ridiculous.  Yes, tobacco companies are trying to get into the market, just like they sell Nicorette gum, and the patches.  They seem to be selling high priced disposable models to people who don't know better.  They're definitely not the only game in town, and they never will be because it can be mixed yourself for pennies.

2 "We can't promise this won't kill you."
They go on to say that there haven't been any long term studies, and that no one will give you a written guaranty.  Well, duh.  You can't have a long term study on something that hasn't been around for a long time.  As for the written guaranty, that's just the state of our legal system.  You can't go around guaranteeing things, or you're going to get sued.

3 "This probably isn't the best way to quit smoking."
It's clear they don't consider someone who switched from smoking to a vaporizer to have "quit smoking".  Do I need to say more?

4 "We're advertising like it's 1960—while we still can."
By which they mean that vaporizer sellers are advertising the same way that everyone else does.  That is, everyone except for cigarette companies who have been banned from many types of advertisement.  They also complain that, "You won't see a Surgeon General's warning on e-cig packages."  That might be because the surgeon general doesn't warn against them.

5 "We defy categorization."
They complain here that people who make vaporizer supplies don't want them to be categorized as tobacco products.  Well, they're not tobacco products, so...

6 "We're cheaper than cigarettes because we aren't taxed like cigarettes."
They're saying the taxes are coming.  This can't happen.  The ingredients in the liquid you vaporize are cheap, and used in many other things.  If the nanny state tried to impose impossibly high taxes like they do to cigarettes, more people will just mix it themselves from stuff they can buy at any drugstore.

7 "Kids love us."
They're not saying kids use them more than adults, or even more than cigarettes.  They're just saying kids are trying them like anything else they're not supposed to have.

8 "We're bringing smoking back indoors…"
They're not binging 'smoking' back indoors.  Smoking creates secondhand smoke, which is harmful and smells bad.  Vaporizers don't do either.

9 "…and back into aircraft."
That is banned, and for no apparent reason.

10 "E-joints and e-crackpipes are the new e-cig."
Here they claim that "some users" claim that you can "easily vaporize a liquid form of marijuana."  The truth is that the THC that can be extracted from marijuana and taken in pill form is sold in other countries for use in vaporizers.  It's not something you can extract in your basement, and it's not any more available or transportable than the pills.  They might be confused by the kind of vaporizer that can vaporize plant material like marijuana, but that's not the kind of vaporizer we're talking about.  Even if it does come true someday, I don't see that as a reason to blame the vaporizer.  That's like outlawing paper because it can be used to smoke drugs.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I've Changed the Title of some Previous Posts

It occurred to me recently that I have done a disservice to you, the readers of this blog. The disservice was titling my writings in a humorous way
( some might call it a "cute way" ), which almost completely obscured the content ... as if you're going to read it no matter what it's called and "get" my little joke.

I apologize, hopefully most humbly. In addition to 'fessing up I am also fixing up. I've retitled items that were done this way with the new title giving a much better idea of the content.

And, to be even more helpful, I've included below a table which documents what I've done. Note that I've included only the posts whose titles I've changed.

Old Title Content New Title
North Korean religious freedom
( variation on Second Story )
A redo of the writing assignment from last time ... retitled because the first story was retitled.

North Korean Religious Freedom        ( variation on A Writing Class's Assignment )
Second Story I post a one-hundred fifty word fictional story based on a one-sentence prompt provided by Benjamin's and my writing instructor.

A Writing Class's Assignment
Retreat? Read all about it! I share some of my reflections about my silent five-day retreat ... nearly silent retreat.

Reflections Regarding my Five-day ( nearly-Silent ) Retreat

Retreat? Charge to it! I share my excitement and fears about my upcoming Five-day silent retreat.

Thoughts about my Upcoming Five-day
( Silent ) Retreat

Techie Heaven, a version of Some things I notice first about Windows 7, all of which I like. Walter Enjoys being a Techie

Summary of the Life of ... Having shared my six-word autobiography, this is my two hundred word effort.

Walter's life in 50 words
Ham Dinner ... Anyone? The story of how Benjamin and I met on a night we each went gambling.

Benjamin and I meet
May we GO on? Benjamin and I play the ancient game of Go. Here is some of what that game is about.

GO ... an ancient and endlessly fascinating Board game

And in this
corner ...
My response to my blogging partner's thoughts about the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, all of this post-verdict.

Responding to Benjamin's thoughts about the verdict and/or shooting
The Tale of the Deer Ellie and I witnessed deer crossing in front of our car. We disagreed on some easily observable specifics.

Deer in the Headlights

Friday, November 8, 2013

Do You Have Faith? Please Be Specific

I've have had many confusing discussions about 'faith' over the years.  Part of the reason is the wide variety of beliefs on the subject, most of which come down to what a person values.  It took me a long time to realize there is a whole 'nother source of confusion in play here.  As far as I can tell there are three common uses of the word 'faith', and the dictionary seems to be no help at all.

The dictionary's first definition is, "Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing."  I'm not aware of anyone using that definition.  If someone has absolute proof that something is true, they wouldn't say they have faith it's true.  It is not one of the three common usages I'm listing here.

The second definition in the dictionary is, "Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence."  I do find this to be one of the three ways I hear people use the word 'faith'.  As in, "I have faith I'll win the lottery this weekend."  It's likely someone will, but there's no reason to believe that it will be you.  As unlikely as it seems, people do believe in things without logical proof or material evidence all the time.

The second common usage of the word 'faith' I hear is, Belief based on logical proof or material evidence.  As in, "I double checked all the equipment, and have faith we'll have a safe climb up the mountain."  We checked the evidence before determining what to believe.  This definition is not in the dictionary, but it is common usage.

Let's stop for a moment to analyze that.  By my estimation, these are the two most common uses of the word 'faith', and they have the exact opposite meanings.  Most people use both, and don't realize there's a distinction.  I personally didn't realize the distinction for a long time.  Part of the reason is the third usage.

That is, Belief without absolute certainty.  You will not find this definition in the dictionary, nor should you.  It is used, but not as commonly, and is not useful.  The gambler who has faith he's about to win the lottery without any evidence, and the climber who placed his faith in a careful examination of the evidence, are both believing without absolute certainty.  Our ticket holder may not win the lottery, and our rock climber may fall to his death when his line breaks.  The problem is, we can be certain of almost nothing, and we don't wait for certainty before believing in anything.  This definition would apply to just about anything anyone believes, and only leads to confuse matters.