Friday, June 30, 2017

On Byzantium II

So last week I posted about my reading of A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich as I went about acquainting myself with the history of Byzantium, a subject which I knew things around but not necessarily specifically about.  I had reached just before the Fourth Crusade (1204) in which Byzantium was sacked by the Venetians and French Crusaders - and from which Byzantium never recovered.

Upon finishing the book, there are a few more observations about why Byzantium failed.

1)  A Loss of Land:  After the battle of Manzikert in 1074, Byzantium started to lose land in Asia Minor (now Turkey) which was the heart of its yeoman farmer population.  With a loss of population came both a loss of revenue and goods but also a loss of soldiers to enroll in her armies.  The loss of wealth meant that the Byzantines were at best at the edge of financial ruin, preserved only by thrifty emperors (which always seemed to be followed by spendthrifts).  The loss of population meant Byzantine armies became manned less and less by citizens and more and more by allies and mercenaries.

2)  A Loss of Commerce:  Byzantine commerce was controlled by the government to a large extent.  As times got more difficult in the 1100's and following, the Empire began to sign treaties - with Pisa, Genoa, and Venice - to encourage the trade and goods that it was generating for itself.  This trade came at a cost:  a surrendering of certain territory and commercial taxation rights.  Thus over time, Byzantium could raise taxes on less and less of its goods as they came through commercial partners, thus giving an advantage in profit and price to the Italian city states (and ultimately discouraging its own citizens) and cutting further and further into the taxes it could raise from a dwindling population base.

3) A  Loss of Population:  By the time of the capture of Constantinople in 1453, the Byzantine Empire could only muster 4983 Greeks and less than 2000 foreigners to defend walls 14 miles long against an army of 100,000.  This, in a city that at one time had a population between 500,000 and 800,000 in the 9th and 10th Century.  There are references that near the time of the fall, large parts of the city were deserted and the city was really more of a group of smaller towns within a larger, somewhat desolate core.

4) A Loss of Belief: Ultimately, Byzantium fell because there was a loss of belief in the Byzantine Empire.  The religious heretics of the Bogomils and the Cathars that fled the Empire found that life under the Turks was not that bad; as time went on, the hatred of the Latins (Rome) had many in the Empire saying "Better the turban than the crown" or "Better submission to the Turks than to the Roman Catholic Church".  At that point all was lost:  after all, submission to one or the other means that independence has been ruled out.

I would highly recommend the book - if that for no other reason, perhaps more than any other Empire or country of the Middle Ages, Byzantium can speak to 21 Century American in bold and vivid colors.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ranch 2017

So we had a wonderful vacation last week.  Got to see lots of family, some friends and see sights both new and old.

One thing I do not think I have done in some time is show some pictures of The Ranch, the property that my parents own.  This, to me, is home.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Last Vacation

Arriving back home,
my heart resounds for the Home
we will never leave.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Of Amazon and Whole Foods

Last week it was announced that Amazon is buying Whole Foods.

How this works confuses me.  It represents two ends of a spectrum:  on one end Amazon, a company that has a market model of providing goods as quickly as possible and at the lowest price as possible, a company that is on the forefront of automation and reducing the number of human employees. On the other hand Whole Foods, a company that unashamedly is at the top end of the cost chain in grocery stores and prides itself on paying top of the line for its employees and its suppliers.

The argument runs that this is the way that Amazon can entire into the consumer food market in a way that it has not been able to up to this point (Whole Foods has 431 stores as of June 2017 in the US, Canada and the UK), making it almost an instant competitor with current regional grocery changes.  The thought is that it will also allow it to use its model of quick delivery and lower prices to actually reach the point where groceries are as ordered on-line and delivered as they are purchase in store (and even then, the potential of enabling smart phone purchase technology).

Full Disclosure:  I have used both services. Amazon, of course, for purchasing mostly books (but other things as well).  Shopping is quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive and it all gets delivered to my door.  I have also been to Whole Foods numerous times - but more as a sort of outing than a regular shopping stop (as the prices really are too much to afford for someone on our budget).  It is always a treat but always a treat which we do periodically, not regularly.

How does this end?  Not well for someone, I fear.  Either Amazon will have found out that it has purchased something it cannot absorb into its system and must operate as a totally separate entity or Whole Foods will lose the reason people shop there, becoming just another shopping experience - and one which undoubtedly will have fewer employees.

In a way it is the clash of two visions of the future, the ruthlessly efficient and cost-saving minimal employee model or the high priced service oriented socially feel good  model.

Whoever wins, I suspect I will still continue to get my groceries and my books from somewhere else.  And unfortunately, either way I expect a lot of former employees of one or the other to do the same.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Battle of Hohenfriedeberg

The Battle of Hohenfriedeberg occurred on June 4th, 1745th.  I have always enjoyed this painting of it by Carl Rochling (1855-1920) depicting The Attack of the Prussian Infantry.

Friday, June 23, 2017

On Byzantium

To fill in one of my educational voids, I have been reading A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich, which is a summary of his three volume work on Byzantium.  I have crossed Byzantium's paths numerous times through other historical studies - the Crusades, Eastern Europe, the fall of the Western Empire - but have never really studied specifically on it.

Norwich's history, which is quite well written, chronicles the empire from its founding by Constantine to its last feeble flickers in 1453.  In some ways it is hard to fathom how an empire which at one time stretched from Italy throughout Eastern Europe and North Africa and Levant had shrunk to little more than a rump in Europe just before its fall.  And Norwich covers it well, going emperor by emperor until the end (I assume - I am still just before the Fourth Crusade in 1204).

Not everything is the result of bad decisions - after all, outside events effect all of us that we did not initiate and did not control.  But like individuals, empires and states are also victims of their own self-inflicted wounds.  That I can tell to this point, there were three main ones:

1)  Internal Conflict - The Byzantine Empire, it seems was rife with rebellion and infighting, almost from the death of Constantine.  These internal rebellions inevitably weakened the state:  beyond the cost of money and politicization of sides (which often ran to violence), the internal rebellion spent the lives of the Empire's soldier's not defending itself but rather fighting with itself.  Those soldiers and the lands they were recruited from (and was lost) were missed long after the rebellions themselves had died.

2)  A Lack of Sound Fiscal Policy - The Byzantine Empire, like many other empires and states, had trouble managing it funds consistently.  Under some emperors fiscal prudence was maintained, under others all control went out the door.  And the military, which defended the Empire, was caught in the issue of either not being funded enough or trying to make up for poor funding (which over time necessitated higher and higher taxes).  It is not that they were alone in this as a medieval state - autocrats are notoriously big spenders and do not care where the money comes from - but it did ultimately create a state where no money could be spent at all without borrowing it - and all that this implies.

3)  Internal Division:  While the Church and the State were theoretically split in the Byzantine Empire, both the Church and the State meddled with each other.  From the State's side, it took sides in the religious conflicts of the day (the one in question was of Icons) - and pushed the opposing side away.  Likewise, the state acted to enforce religious purity (Bogomil and  Catharism).  What did all of this do?  Embitter and turn away citizens and future citizens from supporting the government at the very times it needed it 

Ultimately the Byzantine Empire ends with a sad sort of silent "pop", hardly befitting  its history.  In the end there were few to fight for her and her reduced size and scope made here as dependent on others to fight for her as herself.

Any and all resemblances to any current nation-states is purely coincidental...

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Without is a profound word.

Without love, there is hate.
Without joy, there is sorrow.
Without understanding, there is anger.
Without peace, there is war.
Without care, there is indifference.

And if without is so profound,
why are we so often without it?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Day The Christians Disappeared

And then one day, the Christians disappeared

At first it was not clear that everyone that had disappeared had that factor linking them.  It was only after the initial shock had worn off and people started to try to piece things together that the realized that all of them publicly or privately shared this as the thing that was common to all.

Initially there was a great deal of confusion:  Where did they go?  In some cases, why did they go? Holes were left in families, in friendships, in businesses, in governments.  In some churches very few people were there on Sunday; in others, it was as if nothing had happened.

What seemed to link the ones that were gone - as opposed to the others that were left -  was that they were always exclusive in their claims about how people could be saved - the "narrow" ones, the ones that always seemed against the tenor of the times, the ones that really acted as if they believed in that whole "Jesus as the Son of God" thing.

The news panels - after floating various theories about what had happened and why - eventually came to the conclusion that on the whole, this was a good thing.  So many things which had been held up  or made difficult by these people could now move forward.  Moralistic arguments about things could now easily be swept away.  And after over 2000 years, the Christian church could finally be put in the place it had really belonged, as a sort of social activity or even a belief system but without any sort of influence or power to interfere with the world as it actually was.  Finally, humanity's utopia was within its grasp.

The problem, of course, was that it did not seem to be going that way.

It is not that people did not try - indeed, at no time in human history had the ability to unite people been better.  But what those that were trying to lead found was that something seemed to be missing, a sort of sense of the common good.  People, relieved of the pressure of the moral judgments they had overtly or covertly suffered from, did not seem to be acting better - in fact, it seemed as if they were acting more selfishly than ever.  And those behaviors that were anti-societal - theft, robbery, violence - seemed to grow in intensity and occurrence, not lessen.  It was if, the self proclaimed "Christians" having left, something had left with them, something that had previously made the world work better, even for those that did not believe.

It was only at that point that some began to consider what they had actually believed.

But by then things began to work very differently.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

And We Are Off...

...on vacation, that is.

For two years in a row (unheard of in quite a while) I - we - are taking a vacation.

We will be returning home to see my family and my in-laws, friends, and old haunts.  It will be refreshing - I have not been to the Ranch in 3 years?  4?  And in many ways, that is where my heart really lies.

I am typing ahead a string of posts while I am gone, so my apologies if I am delayed in responding.  My coverage is always kind of hit and miss.

Am I hoping to accomplish anything beyond vacating while I am gone?  I am not sure.  I feel somehow disconnected, like I am doing all the "right" things but somehow the progress is not there.

And I am surely looking forward to no humidity!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer Is Come

The hot sun beats down
while the plump grass shrinks in size
and trees dream of Fall.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Thought On...God's Justice

"But God's justice stands forever against the sinner in utter severity.  The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.  It hushes their fears and allows them to practice all pleasant forms of iniquity while death draws every day nearer and the command to repent goes unregarded.  As responsible moral beings we dare not so trifle with our eternal future." - A.W. Tozer, The Holiness of God

Thursday, June 15, 2017

On The Events in Virginia

I have really struggled with what to write in this post.

Part of me wants to rant about the dangers of incendiary language, of the fact that words mean things and some people mean things with their words.  The other part of me wants to try to ignore yesterday all together, to just overlook the events and continue on.

Perhaps I can split the difference by just listing a few thoughts.

1)  We need to start holding people responsible for the words they use.  In public.  And mercilessly, until people get to the point of thinking about what they say.

2)  Countries and empires tear themselves apart from the inside long before they are torn apart from the outside.

3)  The longer we as a country pretend that there is not a rhetorical and political aspect to the growing violence, the deeper the divisions grow.  I can almost hear them deepening as I write.

4)  Most times where civil wars start is often unclear.  When they end seldom is.

5)  Seldom do the initiators of such events look back after time and think 'That was a pretty good idea."  More often, they are looking at the smoldering ruin of what their society once was.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

On Modern and Old Books

Glen's comment of two days ago got me thinking:  "I used to be a voracious reader.  Nowadays - I haven't bought a book in years.  I wonder if it's the same stuff we find objectionable."  It got me to thinking about books.

It occurs to me that most books are a reflection of the time and age in which they were written. I suspect that for many - who have not read anything more than what is currently listed as a best seller or what is recommended in a media magazine - lack the sort of historical span to get a perspective on this.

That said, perhaps that is why (on the whole) I tend to prefer older books.  They were written in a different time - a time that I (for the most part) did not live in but have enough of a thread of memory and familiarity to recognize and enjoy.  They (on the whole) eschewed graphic violence and long steamy sexual passages and the rather lamentable use of cursing - let alone whatever the latest social trends are.

I suppose in some fashion this is true of any age, and to think otherwise is foolishness.  It also explains the existence and continued success of the used book store in the face of the faceless Internet Book Selling Monolith.

As I have written before, most of my fiction used to revolve around Science Fiction and Fantasy - until these became less about the act of flight of fancy and more about making them "real" (see two paragraphs up).  Suddenly it was not fantasy or science fiction, a world of medieval magic or far off stars:  it was our world, with special effects, most often with a point somewhere trying to be made.

My bent now is largely history (and even here you have to be careful - I like history, not someone's opinion of history), specific works around projects I am interested in (gardening, livestock etc.) self improvement books, and the Classics (by Classics I mean literature from largely before 1900).  I do scan the Science Fiction and Fantasy shelves for authors I know and trust, but have found myself steering farther and farther away from such authors.

Why?  Like many other things, I have found that my time is limited.  And I do not really have time to engage in reading something that is A)  Not Useful and B) Not Entertaining.

Am I missing out on some modern classics?  Undoubtedly - although I treat this much the same as I treat most movies in the theater now: at some point they will show up on a streaming service and I can watch them then (funny story - I do not end up seeing most of those either:  Not Useful, Not Entertaining.

But even in the areas I have chosen to read, there are still far more books than I will ever read in this lifetime. Might as well spend the time on things I know and like instead of risk it on that which may be highly objectionable.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Zombies and Earthquakes and The End: Oh My!

So in a fit of indulgence, I have been watching some zombie movies.  Which made me think of all the apocalyptic sorts of movies and books I have seen and read over the years.

Oddly enough, it does not really matter how the world "ends - be it by alien invasion, natural disasters, zombies, economic collapse, or just good old armed conflict.  Every one - every darn one - of the presentations of these events are largely the same.  That is to say, pretty much disastrous for everyone.

Without fail, not one - zilch - of these visions of the future ends with anyone or any civilization being in a better state than it is now.  In fact, depending on your choice of world ending events, the odds are pretty small anyone makes it as all - zombies, it seems, can run much more quickly than they did in the old days and societies tend to break down much faster than they used to.  In not one of these dystopian visions - even something as benign as The Running Man - does society change for the better.

Yet for most, they miss the lesson of the entertainment.

Buried in the midst of all these disasters is a crucial message:  civilized society is a fragile thing.  Any sort of significant disruption has impacts which can quickly escalate into a situation that creates real harm and lasting damage to the social structure.

We see natural and man-made disasters (a.k.a war) now, but even these in all their shock and rawness are mitigated simply by the fact that somewhere, there is still a civilized world to watch and give aid.  Imagine a situation where these things happen - and instead of ships and helicopters and trucks bringing aid, there is nothing but the local resources available.

And yet millions - maybe billions? - continue to exist as if such things never occur - and could never occur.

A short-sightedness has infected much of the world, a short-sightedness that says that we are on a continuing slope upward, ever progressing to a utopia that lies just beyond our reach.  To suggest otherwise - that perhaps we are not so much on a slope as on a parabola - is considered an odd affection at best, dangerous at worst.  But what does it say about ourselves that we constantly entertain ourselves with  a subject that in some fashion, has all too real a chance of occurring - and yet treat it as if such things are never to occur?

We believe that between us and such a future lies a floor of concreted.  How shocking for so many when one day the discover it was never more than a thin layer of ice that has begun to melt.

Monday, June 12, 2017

On Returning A Book

Yesterday I did something that I have not done in a very long time:  I returned a unread book.

It was not even in my book.  It was one that Nighean Dhonn had purchased two weeks ago.

We were at the look almost large chain used book store in our area, loading up for summer and she walks up with it.  "This is the author that writes the book series I read" she said. I glanced at the cover rather quickly and quickly read the summary flap.  It seemed innocuous enough.

Only later did I think to actually look the book up.  And was, frankly somewhat horrified.  Very different from the the books that the author has written.  The thing that pushed me over the edge was the comment by the author in the end that "And parents, do not worry about the swear words - your kids already know them."

I made this mistake once long ago with Nighean Gheal, when, foolishly only thinking it was about dogs, let her read Marley and Me.  It did involve dogs - and a lot of other things as well, things that required explanation.  Some things, once done, cannot be undone.

As I went back and forth about this book, I suddenly took a look at my own shelf and realized I was in the same position: I had some things there that while not "horrible", were certainly not the sorts of things that I probably needed to have on my shelf.  Not that they were not well written books - in some cases they were. But that had parts in them, bits that were not within realm of what I hold as my Christian beliefs.  As a wise man once told me, putting sewage in a cookie does not make the sewage anything other than what it is.

And so I went in and returned the book and got a gift card.  My reasoning (I was honest about that) was apparently acceptable.  I gave it to Nighean Dhonn, explained my reasoning, and gave her the card.  It seemed like an acceptable explanation to her as well.

I know, I know - I ultimately cannot keep the world out.  And I am realistic that the probably are exposed to far more than I care to imagine.  But it seems to me that just blandly turning a blind eye is not acceptable in my responsibility as a parent - nor, it turns out, even blandly turning a blind eye on myself.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Task Tracking And Time Investment

So in reading a recent book purchase (The Art of Persistence by Michal Stawicki - well worth your time)  I was introduced to an application called

The application is a tool for tracking activities on goals - essentially every time "check-in" you get a cute little fireworks display and a happy e-mail the next day telling you how many days you are on a streak for this particular activity.  And best of all, it is free.

I have been using the program for about three weeks now and can say it has made a significant difference in my life.  One would not think that a small fireworks display on a phone screen and learning you are on a 20 day streak would be all that much incentive to continue to do things, but it really has been.  For those activities I selected, I find that I make an effort to accomplish them every day so that I do not "break" my streak.

However, it is also been an interesting learning experience as well.

Over the course of the initial two weeks, I set up 8 things I wanted to do - learning a foreign language (Japan 2018!), not biting my names (a 45 year perennial), martial arts training (Iai), practicing a musical instrument (harp), reading (I love to read but found I was making no time), running (which has fallen off over the last year for some reason), writing (another book - not the blog, that is pretty established now) and a nutritional plan.

What I have found is even the daily reminder, not everything is getting done.

For some activities -  language, harp, Iai, nail biting, and reading - it is.  And that incentive to "check the box" means that I have made peace with the fact that even if I do something for a short period of time, I am doing it.  No, I will not progress in it as quickly, but at least it will get done.  But for other activities - running, writing, and diet - the activity is slim or not at all.  Why is this - lack of commitment, lack of desire?  I am not sure, as in theory I thought these were important things to accomplish as well.  Now I am having to consider if they really are.

The other thing that this has brought up - and may indicate - is that I have reached the amount of time in a day I have to give to these things.

Oh, I could always use my time a little more efficiently.  We all could.  At the same time, there does come a point where if we schedule everything in, we leave no space around edges for the impromptu items or the things we just like to do that may not "contribute" to our lives but are important, like laughing with everyone over a Phineas and Ferb episode or catching up on my favorite blogs or even just rabbit time.

I do not know that I have found that balance yet (and let us be honest - this now also highlights the amount of time I am currently spending in my career, which is necessary a lot of time committed to a single activity).  But beyond just making sure I am doing things, this whole exercise has been to highlight very clearly how and what I spend my time on - and if those are good investments.

Friday, June 09, 2017

An Empty Vessel

"Behold Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.  My Lord, fill it.  I am weak in the faith, strengthen Thou me.  I am cold in love; warm me make me fervent  that my love may go out to my neighbor.  I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust Thee altogether.  O Lord, help me.  Strengthen my faith and trust  in Thee.  In Thee  I have sealed the treasures of all I have.  I am poor; Thou art rich  and didst come to be merciful to the poor.  I am a sinner; Thou art upright.  With me there is an abundance of sin; in Thee is the fullness of righteousness.  Therefore, I will remain with Thee of whom I can receive but to whom I may not give.  Amen.

- Martin Luther

Thursday, June 08, 2017

On Not Becoming A Paleontologist

My very first career - decided upon as of 8 years old - was to be a paleontologist.

I loved dinosaurs.  I had a fairly large collection of them that I would arrange on my fabulous cave playset (purchased from Sears and Roebuck) in various poses and forms - the old style ones that had only plastic colors (blue stegosauri, brown T. Rexs).  I had almost all the dinosaur models from Aurora.  I had several books that I read and re-read.  I wrote stories about them, developed narratives for them as they marched across the plastic sheet with ponds and trees and up over the plastic cliffs.

Frankly, I am not quite sure which this career field fell out of favor.  I want to say it was by the time I entered high school for reasons I cannot fully appreciate - after all, it is not like I ever came up with a better career path (to this day).  Perhaps I just got bored with them and moved on to other things - now that I think about it, this was about the time that Role Playing Games entered my consciousness.  Somehow in the longer run, I wonder if this was the better choice.

Would I have been happy with a life as a paleontologist? Oh, probably not.  The career field is pretty limited and it involves either a lot of begging for funding or working for low wages.  But if I think about it there is plenty that I might have like as well:  doing something I found engaging, traveling to desolate places and spending weeks away from .

I still have my original dinosaurs tucked away in a box - they have served me and served my children and hopefully will someday serve my grandchildren. I am sure that now they have some small monetary value (simply from the virtue of being old) but I will probably never part with them - not just from the fact that they have nostalgic value but for the fact that in some small way, they started me down the path of imagination and learning that I have continued with to this day.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

A Rabbit Cleaning

One of the greater pleasures in life is watching a rabbit clean itself.

Rabbits are actually somewhat fastidious, somewhat like cats - and like to keep themselves just as clean.  Given the opportunity, they will lick their paws and then scrub their faces or clean themselves by licking away at their fur.

As I write this, Ibun is next to me on the chair, three feet on the ground and one in the air as he vigorously works away at his right hind foot cleaning a bit, then looking at me, then cleaning a bit more.  It is a genuine pleasure to watch him diligently work away at washing himself, listening to the sounds of his tongue and his teeth digging in as he makes his black and white fur presentable.

All of the pleasure and joy for the cost of a little food, some hay, and pellets to change the litter box.  What could be an ultimately cheaper source of joy?

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Overwhelmed By Inputs

Have you ever reached a point where you are so overwhelmed by inputs that you can scarcely make sense of it all?

This is what the past week has felt like to me.  Between personal life - Nighean Gheal graduating from high school - and a series of national and world events that just in a six month period would have left one's breath taken away, let alone a week - it feels as if the whole world is simply accelerating.

Towards what?  I wish I had a better - or perhaps more correctly said, a happier - sense of it all.  But all I can see, except for a few glimmers  of light (like graduations, for example) is a sort of endless, mind numbing, overloaded darkness.

It is not that it is especially depressing - perhaps simply from the fact that even depression feels like more of an organized thought pattern than I can muster at the moment.  It is more of a sense of events moving faster than I can make sense of them.

Unchecked, this sort of thing can lead to madness.  Too many what ifs and might bes to fully comprehend, a swirling vortex of possibilities that lead to nowhere particularly welcoming. It is like H.P. Lovecraft's fictional Necrononicon by Abdul Alhazred, purported to drive anyone who dared to plumb its depths mad.

Which is why, I suppose, the simples things of my life - rabbits and gardens and harps and books and even Iai - have a power far beyond their humble activities.  They allow one to make sense of one's world in the small, still areas of dappled sunlight amidst the clouds, the quiet sense of something that is useful and good simply in its execution.

True, a rabbit will never avert the end of the world and most gardens are a far cry from the sort of thing that one might actually need if things were to go badly - but honestly, in the event such things were to happen what would I remember more:  the violence and tragedy of the world's events or the quiet sound of a rabbit eating hay?

Monday, June 05, 2017


Did you ever feel as if
you lost your way,
that somehow there was 
an exit missed,
a path not taken,
a road not traveled?

It is not the road you are on
is bad;
it is just that it feels 
slightly wrong,
a territory that should be
more familiar than it is.

Most, I suspect, make a peace
with the situation, 
an admission that this 
is not be the best of all possible worlds
but rather the best of the available words.

But even in my acceptance
I keep looking for exits
that I have long ago passed
never to return,
or see the tops of hills through which
I sense the road not traveled runs

Friday, June 02, 2017

Early June

Green grass and brown hares,
Heat pregnant with almost-rain:
Summer has arrived.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Esau's Birthright

"Now Jacob cooked a stew, and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary.  And Esau said to Jacob 'Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.'  Therefore his name was called Edom.

But Jacob said 'Sell me your birthright as of this day.'

And Esau said 'Look, I am about to die, so what is this birthright to me?'

Then Jacob said 'Sear to me as of this day.'

So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.  And Jacob gave Esau bread and a stew of lentils, then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way.  Thus Esau despised his birthright." - Genesis 25:  29-34

You may be more familiar with the more famous story of Jacob taking Esau's birthright in Genesis 27, where Jacob disguises himself as his brother to receive the blessing of the first born.  But that is really just the working out of this event back in Genesis 25, where Esau gives his birthright away for "a mess of pottage" (as the old King James version says).  

It all seems rather ridiculous, does it not?  Isaac their father was a successful herder and rich in that culture and the birthright was a double portion of all that Isaac had.  And yet Esau just gives it all away - flippantly it seems - because in what seems only like an exercise in the overdramatic he believes he "is about to die".  Really, it just sounds a bit of laziness on Esau's part - and after all, one cannot just lose his birthright over lentils (no matter how delicious)?

But it can - and did happen.  Esau's birthright was given to Jacob (who, for the record, insisted on getting it the wrong way, thus ensuring a rather long and painful life instead of trusting God's timing).

We may laugh at this of course, think it silly or foolish and by all means a waste - and thereby miss the lesson.  Because more often than not, we are just as guilty.

How often have we thrown away our own "birthright" - the good things that God had in store for us - because of laziness or impatience or even simple hunger?  How often have we jokingly let go of something that was meant to be a thing of real value - only to discover after the fact that the joke was really on us, that the thing we had surrender in our flippancy was really and truly gone? How often have we spurned what we were offered as a long term gift for which we had to be patient in exchange for a one time meal of lentils and bread?

Perhaps more often than not it is not that God did not hear and answer our prayers or pleadings; it is that we pray and plead with bowl in one hand and crumbs on our face, wondering where God's promised gifts are when in fact we had already surrendered any right we had to them.