a la brava

I recently had my third visit with Mike, the woodworker who has taken me under his wing in a mentoring relationship. The plan of the day was for him to show me how to build cabinets. We planned out what dimensions would make sense in his shop and gathered the wood from his cache. Since this is a shop cabinet, we won’t be too worried about the beauty of it, but Mike’s expectation is to end up with a piece that is sturdy and built to perform its function for years to come.

The cabinet is actually two identical cabinets, each with double doors. The intention is that the two pieces will match each other and be attached together side by side. Mike made the first front piece with my assistance. He let me cut boards to size with his table saw and his miter saw and cut out notches for rabbet joints with his band saw, all with close supervision and instruction. Once that was done, he fit the pieces together, glued them and affixed them with brad nails as well as pegs into the holes we drilled into the wood. Mike uses very little metal in his woodshop.

Then he told me to make the matching front piece. The boards were already cut to length. All I needed to do was make the joining notches, measuring thrice, cutting once, and then put the front together, along with the cross board held in place by a peg into the drilled hole that had to be perfectly placed.

Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

(Proverbs 15:32-33 ESV)

My cabinet front turned out better than anything I’ve made before, but was… imperfect. To say the least. One of my peg holes was off a little because of the way I was holding the drill. Some of my rabbet notches were a bit askew because I was pushing too hard on the band saw. Those were both easily fixed. I am not all that handy with tools, which is why I reached out to him in the first place. Then I put the front together, glued it and brad nailed it together. Rather than walk around the piece, I reached across it. And after I did that Mike checked that joint and one of the sides was off by about a 16th of an inch. If it’s held together by sticky glue, that’s no big deal. If the glue is dry you can break the bond and reapply. But this was brad nailed together.

“A la brava,” Mike said.

“What’s that?” I responded.

A la brava. It’s Spanish. It means to do something with haste, but not with skill or understanding. Much of what you do you do too quickly. You don’t slow down and make sure everything is perfect before you continue. You don’t think ahead to the next step. You over apply yourself on the tools rather than letting them do the work because you allow yourself to work out of position. That’s a la brava.”

I nodded in my understanding and he continued to tell me a few stories about when he was in some hot situations in Vietnam. These were stories of how American servicemen injured themselves and other servicemen because they didn’t think about their actions. They just reacted according to their fear or their bravado, but not according to their training or the council of those around them. Some of them did not return home.

We vacuumed the shop thoroughly as we do each week, then we agreed to meet next Saturday unless something comes up. With the holiday weekend,  I imagine a veteran like Mike would be fine having the Saturday off over the Independence Day weekend and I’m considering it since we have family coming into town.

It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:5 ESV)

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “a la brava.” Working in an environment of zero defects has been a goal in my career at various companies, but overall efficiency has really been the name of the game. If you can do a task 95% as well as the next guy, but can do it 30% faster you are likely to be praised. Of course you are instructed to improve the quality of your work. But if you do quality work but can’t keep up with the production expectations you may have to find another occupation before too long. It is an example of many companies rewarding a measure of “a la brava.”

When a car company discovers a flaw in their design, they typically don’t issue a recall right away. Before they do, they measure the financial cost of how much it would cost for them to fix the problem and weigh that against any class action lawsuit they might encounter as a result of the flaw. This is a regular occurrence and is an example of companies weighing the pros of “a la brava” against the financial consequences.

A la brava pervades our culture. Rather than understanding something, it is common to just Google the topic and skim through the first few results. If you really want to go in depth on the matter you check to see if there’s a Wikipedia article about it. We seek surface level knowledge, but wisdom seems to take a greater investment than we are willing to make in too many cases. There are exceptions, but everybody has an example of “a la brava” in their life. It is the human condition.

This doesn’t mean that people should aspire to be experts in every topic. It does mean that anything worth doing is worth doing well. It means that if you don’t have time to do something correctly the first time you won’t have time to fix it or redo it later. It means that you need to measure thrice and cut once. It means that you need to take care of your tools and your tools will take care of you. It means that you should be in a proper position when using your tools. It means that you should work over your project, not off to the side of it reaching across it when you can’t see what the result of your actions will be, even if they end up only a fraction of an inch off.

It’s time for this generation (defined as anyone reading this) to recognize areas of “a la brava” in our own lives and to demand better of ourselves. I have heard people not only blame their failures on their laziness, but they also seem proud of the fact. This should not be so! We were not created for “a la brava” and I will go so far as to say that this state of mind is only present in us as a result of the fall.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

Our mandate as Christians is to do all things to the glory of God. And one way to do just that is to seek out aspects of “a la brava” in our own lives and root them out. There is no place for “a la brava” to reside uncontested in lives that are meant to be lived to the glory of God. Working against these tendencies and to the glory of God, is an act of daily worship that anyone can do, whether they are woodworking, stuck in a cubicle somewhere, folding laundry, or faithfully checking the neighbor’s mail while they’re on vacation.

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:22-24 ESV)

Finding a Mentor Nextdoor

Screenshot_20160613-111536No, that post title isn’t misspelled. Or rather it is purposefully misspelled. I have this app called Nextdoor on my phone. You put your address in it and it shows a map of what it says your neighborhood is. Mine is a bit bigger than what I would think of, but that’s fine. Once your neighborhood is designated, you can post post anything there that matters to someone in your proximity. Garage sales, babysitter requests, items for sale, open houses, etc. And these posts will be seen by anyone who has the Nextdoor app and is in that area, and also in surrounding neighborhoods depending on your settings.

Someone in my area was selling a handmade dog bed frame a few weeks ago, and from the posting it was clear that they had built it themselves. It looked awesome, but we have no need for a nice frame like that. Nonetheless, I decided to take a shot in the dark and reply to the post. I commented that we don’t need the piece, but offered to help if they ever need a hand, in exchange for letting me observe and learn.

After a little interaction, I had a “play date” with Mike, a 2-tour Vietnam veteran. He is mostly self taught and has been building furniture and home improvement projects for 50 years. Using some, selling others. And he’s willing to let me informally apprentice. I believe mentor would be the more accurate description of the role. He’s 75 years old, but acts and moves like he’s much younger. And when he runs the sander over a piece of wood, his stance and movement is more like a dancer than as a clumsy knuckle dragger, which is my current style.

Our first meeting lasted four hours in his self-made workshop. The workshop is a shed in his back yard, complete with adequate power, a heater for the winter, windows and shade for the summer, and of course a radio set to the local country music station. The interior is about the size of a one car garage, and he remarked that his last address had a shop much bigger than the current one. The city would only let him build one this big, causing him to leave his planer and a few other tools behind. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

During this initial meeting we worked on a medicine cabinet that will go in his bathroom. We discussed lengths and angles of the wood and he let me make the cuts on the table saw and the miter saw. I learned about some safety tips for both, including the danger of a table saw launching a piece of wood back at you if you don’t push it all the way through. Thankfully the wood didn’t fly back at me, but Mike told me that impalement is a real risk you take if you don’t stand properly behind the wood and to the side, and then if you don’t finish the cut.

I also routered the joints for the door on this cabinet to fit them together. and cut the center piece of the door to size. We fit the pieces together with glue, used putty on all of the seams, clamped it and went inside for some cake. We got to know a little bit about each other and he and his wife showed me several of the previous projects they are using around the house. He has even made his own hinges out of wood, which is time consuming, but if his wife wants this for her recipe box, he will do it for her. “She gets whatever she wants” he said to me.

He has asked me to bring over some projects that I’d like to make and the first order of business is a laundry room insert to replace an unused “mud room” bench and locker combo. I have several other projects in my queue, but this is first. He’s already told me I can use his tools, and we’ll sort out what that looks like in the weeks and months ahead. Best of all, I haven’t had to talk my way into future visits. He speaks of me becoming a competant woodworker through regular visits and anticipates me working with him for the forseeable future.

I’ve already had some thoughts about how the lessons you learn working with your hands coorelate to lessons that will serve you well in life. Expect to hear more about this in the future, along with some pictures of my work.


Here’s a link to find out more about Nextdoor, the app that enabled this meetup: nextdoor.com


Doug McHone’s Testimony (2016)

I’ve been asked to share my testimony, and at first I approached this like I would my resume. I would just pull out a former example and tweak it into an updated version, highlighting the sort of things that would be most relevant in the current matter of hand. I wrote a version several years ago, even shared it on my website. It was the gold standard and would require the least amount of updating.

Of course, that version is nowhere to be found. Maybe it’s in the innards of my website and I just need to contact the hosting company to see if it’s tucked away somewhere in there. As I was pondering this, I became convicted of a few things.

  •  I’m approaching a spiritual exercise in a carnal manner.
  •  The details of my testimony have always been the same. It’s been my understanding of the events that has changed.
  • Every testimony I’ve ever written has been way too much about me.

The request is still out there, and it’s one that I will honor. But how do you approach your testimony in a God-centered manner? It’s usually a story about how you behaved prior to your conversion to Christianity, how you came to Christianity, and how your behavior has improved from your conversion until now. Based on my understanding of Ephesians 2:8-9, I have decided to craft something a little different. I’ll still be writing from my own perspective, but my aim is to be more mindful of the story from God’s point of view. I hope that comes through.

Keep Reading →

Social Circle of Life

AKA: The endless search for the one ring to rule them all


I’ve been blogging for a dozen plus years. But not always on my blog. The mediums have changed. The acceptable content lengths, structures and cadences have changed. But I have been sharing my thoughts, for better or worse, for a dozen years.

And as I look back on it, it’s all been done with the same intention, no matter the vehicle. Creating community through the public written word has been the name of the game, and using my written thoughts toward personal growth. Whenever one goal or the other becomes over-emphasized, the writing has suffered.

A dozen years ago, when I started, there was no Facebook to my knowledge. MySpace wasn’t taken seriously by anyone over 16. Forums and usergroups were narrowly focused. The blogosphere was social media as far as I was concerned. Comments, trackbacks, links and blogrolls were how people interacted.


Discussions were longer than they are now. People put more thought into what they had to say before sharing it publicly. Our attention spans weren’t as long as they had been a generation prior, but they were much longer than they are now. Of course, smart phones weren’t everywhere. There were distractions, but nothing like it is today. And each side of a dialogue would be longer than 140 characters.

In time I tried Facebook out and it was OK. Nothing to take seriously as far as I could tell, and even now I don’t take Facebook seriously. The only reason I’m even on it is because everybody’s on it. And I bet a comfortable percentage of people out there would say the same. I tried to blog on there, but it ended up as a pure social site. Which is OK. But meaningful interaction is the exception on Facebook, not the norm. Facebook is meant for emoting.

I have a real love/hate relationship with Twitter. You post links to the real content or tweets with as much tact as a drive by shooting.

The above paragraph was just under 140 characters. You can tweet it if you like. They say that Twitter will need to expand beyond the current 140 character limit to remain relevant. Um, guys, your key selling point is your limitation. What will differentiate you from your competition if you remove your key limitation? Won’t you just be Facebook minus the game invites? On the other hand…

Honestly, the best form of social media that combines thoughtful discussion with passionate interaction among people with common interests continues to be Google+. The reason Google+ hasn’t caught on to a Facebook world is because users are looking for the next Facebook, which is something Google+ never tried to be. And to those who will be defending Facebook I will ask, why were you expecting Google+ to be an alternative to Facebook? Are you looking for an alternative to Facebook? If Facebook is so awesome at meeting your needs, why would you be looking for the next big thing? I use both, but the style of interaction is different on each medium. I also have more than one tool in the toolbox in my garage. Crazy, I know.

I have a Snapchat. I use it only to do face swaps. And my dog won’t sit still long enough to do a face swap with me. If/when she does, you will know it immediately. Snapchat is a growing network and is based on self-destructing images. Permanent images of Instagram is too thought provoking so now we need pictures that will destroy their own evidence?

So back to the original thought. There are some among us who are looking for a way to interact online with others in a more thoughtful format. Every medium made publicly available either isn’t conducive to a thoughtful conversation or doesn’t already have a population of every one in your graduating high school class. It’s a different game now, and in order to get the best of both worlds I really think that a personal online presence is necessary to have a long form discussion. I have a self-hosted blog, but there are services out there that will host a free or inexpensive blog for you. If you use one, back it up regularly. It’s your content, your history.

What about the interaction? My comment area on my blog is pretty barren. By my site stats, I know my blog is read by others, but comments are few and far between, at least on the blog. The feedback comes on the social sites that my blog automatically shares to. The blog itself is the one ring to rule them all. I haven’t yet discovered a way for my entire blog content to go to the social sites, but that’s OK also. People don’t engage with long content on social sites. They just don’t.

I think Tim Challies is on to something over at his blog. He removed all comments from the blog itself, largely because moderating the comments was a task with diminishing returns. He updates social networking sites whenever a new blog post hits and he closely monitors his social media presence, both in quality and in quantity. And every so often he responds to the best of the feedback he has received on his posts in another blog post. I really think this is a brilliant idea! It gives his blog more of a magazine feel and allows for a pre-moderated interaction with the content. His blog is his one ring to rule them all. And in an ever-busy social media world, finding that one ring is becoming all the more necessary.

Here are my favorite resources for those who want to originate on their blog and seamlessly share to social networks. There are others, but these are what I prefer.

  1. WordPress can be configured to automatically update your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Path and Eventbrite accounts whenever you post to your blog
  2. IFTTT is a Swiss army knife for just about any major service on the Internet. You can configure it to perform a specified task whenever a specified trigger action is performed. The possibilities are YUGE! and continually growing.

January 23, 2016

Gen 37.2-36, Ps 23

Today’s Reading

For the remainder of the book of Genesis, I am altering the passages to be read each day from the original plan. The story of Joseph is contrasted with similar situations that Judah experiences, and I wanted to highlight this. The change is minor. I invite you to look for differences in how each man responds as the story unfolds.

This understanding comes from one of the best books in my library, linked here for you. Yes, you.

Jackpot Lunacy

You know what really cracks me up? Hearing people imply that the Powerball jackpot is/isn’t up to an amount that is worth their time. Everybody seems to have their own threshold amount that prompts them to buy a ticket. The jackpot is “only” $10 million? No thanks. But when it gets up to $100 million? Let me run to the nearest retailer and get in line!

Your odds of winning are the same in either instance. The only difference is that when the jackpot rises enough for even more people to decide it’s worth their time, your odds of sharing the jackpot increase. With unchanging odds, why is a paltry $10 million not worth one’s effort but a larger amount will have them running to the nearest convenience store?

Let me tip my hand a little bit here. As a Christian, I believe every jackpot amount is in the category of “not enough” money to participate in the lottery. Mark 8:36 makes it quite clear, in red letters to boot, that gaining the world only to lose your soul is not a good transaction. How much less profitable is it to gain a measly billion or so?

I’ve made a pretty bold statement here, haven’t I? Am I saying that by playing the numbers you have forfeited your eternal soul? I certainly hope it doesn’t come across that harshly. I could list off many reasons why placing your hope in gambling is contrary to the mindset/worldview laid before us in scripture. I could explain that state-sponsored gambling is a tax upon the financially weakest among us, and thus a horrible way to love your neighbor as yourself. I could point to the fact that the lottery is NOT A RANDOM DRAWING and can be rigged. I’m not saying it always is rigged. I am saying that it can, and that it has been, rigged.

I’m not here to say any of these things. I’m just saying that each person who plays the lottery does so based upon his or her own motivations. Have you bought a ticket? Not yet? Check your motivations.

Do you want to quit your job? Go on a permanent vacation? Have a taste of the good life? Live in security and stability so you don’t have to rely on anyone else? Be careful of the desire for complete autonomy. Nobody is the master of their own domain. You were bought with a price. You are not your own.

Do you want to bless others? Hasn’t God provided you all you need to be a blessing? Does God need the riches of the world in order for you to accomplish His task that He has laid before you? Hint: check out Ephesians 2:10 before answering.

Do you want to give a mighty tithe to the church? I asked my pastor a few years ago, hypothetically, about this exact question and he told me that if he became aware that a generous offering was the result of lottery winnings, he would decline to accept it on behalf of the church. You might want to inquire with an elder at your church if that’s your motivation.

Is playing the lottery evil? I’m not prepared to say that. Buying a lottery ticket is not always a matter where church discipline needs to take place. Placing your hopes and trust in money is a gospel matter though, and an unhealthy obsession with a jackpot of any size betrays the treasure one is truly excited about.

Matthew 13:44

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

2-Year Bible Reading Plan

This is a new year and so many Christians have a goal to read through the Bible in that time frame. I’ve done it and believe it’s a noble effort. Heck, I first came to faith while doing it! But reading the Bible in one year is a time commitment that many people may find to be difficult. Also, it doesn’t allow for much flexibility if you want to pause in a section and marinate in the word.

I had pondered a do it yourself reading non-schedule where I would read a chapter a day, figuring that would take about 3 years to get through it all. While a one year plan is a real commitment, a three year plan seemed like a noncommittal action on my part. Splitting the difference, I decided to use a two year reading plan from Stephen Witmer. Stephen, if you see this, your PDF is off by two rows!

In case you’d like to follow, I’ll give each day’s reading in a post. I may or may not include my thoughts as we go along. If you read with me, the time commitment will be 5-10 minutes a day. You can check this blog for each day’s reading, you can also subscribe via RSS or email to my blog. The email signup is on the blog sidebar toward the bottom, mom, so you’ll be able to find it easily.