Saturday, March 31, 2007

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...the Diner patrons slow down with commenting in the springtime. Not exactly sure why.
...the hit man I hired to whack my willow tree is scheduled to come Tuesday, which is good because I think the tree knows the jig is up. An apparent suicide attempt took place during the storms this weekend and he lost one of his major branches.
...the new air-conditioner is in place and working, although we haven't needed it. In the words of the air conditioner guy: "There have been a lot of advancements in cooling technology in the last 25 years." He was right...even down to the thermostat, which glows.
...remember how much I like the phrase, "Strange things are afoot at the Circle K" (a Bill & Ted reference) to describe interesting activities where I work? Well, strange things are afoot at the Circle K again, and I'm kind of excited about what appears to be going on.
...Blades of Glory was an hour-and-a-half SNL skit that was typically Will Ferrell: 100 quotable lines based on a flimsy premise. I laughed. A lot. But don't let his silliness dissuade you from seeing Stranger Than Fiction. Brilliant movie.
...speaking of movies, due to the horrible weather, Tracy and I ordered a movie on our Verizon that was up for a bunch of Oscars: The Departed. Apparently, all you have to do these days to get a nod for Best Picture is get a bunch of stars to shoot each other and reveal a flimsy plot line over nearly 3 hours.
...that's way more movie reviews than I've ever done at the Diner. Maybe that's why people don't comment in the springtime.
...I've got to get my iChat up and running so I can see my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly's belly and begin bonding with my new niece. case you were wondering why my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly isn't commenting as much lately, it's because she's going back to college to finish her degree. The Gifted One is taking some 18 years to finish a 4-year degree. But I'm glad she'll have something she can fall back on. *smiles, knowing that he'll have to work on his Ph.D. in order to stay two degrees ahead of her since this is the only area of one-upsmanship he currently holds*
...the book I ordered didn't come by UPS yesterday and I'm kinda bummed about it as I have a weekend with some good reading slots to fill.
...that I wish I was a fan of the NBA (although it might be the worst to watch of all team sports, with golf being the worst to watch of individual sports) because the Mavericks are pretty much doing what they want to with that league. We'll see about the noise they make in the playoffs, though.
...Opening Day is tomorrow. You can almost hear the anticipation in the way the earth is spinning today, with creation itself being excited.
...Tracy's car needs a new battery. It's one car repair I can actually do and it makes me feel manly to walk into an auto parts store with confidence, tell them what I need and ask all the right questions. tattoos are on the radar screen. When people tell you that they're addicting, whatever you do, believe them. I didn't. I should've.
...Tracy tried this little business in our area where you go with your friends and prepare meals for your family for the next week, then you bring them home, freeze them, and enjoy them as you have time. I really like that business's social, it encourages families to eat around the table, and they even have corkscrews and glasses if you'd like to enjoy wine while you hang out with your friends and make dinners. I hope those folks do well.
...that I've got a meeting in an hour so I better hop to it.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Achtung, Baby (Boomers)

I've always seen the Church from the bottom up.

What I mean is that the students I serve happen to be teenagers. Generally speaking, they don't give financially as much as those that are older--largely because they don't have careers. They aren't in the decision-making circles. They have more enthusiasm and energy but tend to be in need of gaining wisdom. Even the cynical and hardened among them would qualify as idealists and romantics by adult standards. They're definitely a crowd whose brain engages much more amygdala than parietal lobe.

All of which makes a soup that the older folks smile. They like them at church. They want them at church. They appreciate the enthusiasm. They provide good resources to get them in church. They get involved on occasion, too, helping out with mission trips and Bible studies and all sorts of activities. It's a nice set-up, all in all.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Big Church. Grown-ups tend to enjoy the status-quo. In most cases, they established the status quo. And, as is the case at our church, it's a pretty effective status-quo. And the attempt to maintain, tweak and improve the status quo goes on. The people in charge usually make those types of decisions through their own eyes & experiences and that of their peers.

So, I sit in those meetings where those decisions are often discussed. I am a card-carrying member of GenX, which now puts me sqarely in the demographic that defines "middle age." I know this because I saw a commercial the other day in which the product they were selling used the Violent Femmes music in the background. So, I get the thought processes behind the decisions.

And, at some point during those meetings, I'll bring up a quote or idea from the constituency I used to exclusively serve (I guess I should blog about that little piece of information, huh?) but now indirectly serve. You know, advocacy for my voting bloc. It could be anything, but I'll ask a question or give insight or throw out a constructive criticism from the perspective of my teenagers.

I get confused looks.

The people in the meetings want to help. They want to serve. They want the input that I give them. They simply don't understand the thought processes of the next generation. They don't know exactly what they want. They don't know what to do with the information I gave them. They don't know how to find a balance between serving their "voting blocs" and what they want with what my "voting bloc" wants.

In fact, generally speaking, they have a hard time getting their arms around what my "voting bloc" wants. They don't understand the thought processes of the amygdala-using, idealistic romantics with more enthusiasm than wisdom, powerless & broke group I serve.

And I read a quote yesterday by John Burke in this month's Catalyst (it's a small-group resource for twenty-somethings with all the hip & with-it writers of right now writing Bible studies for folks. Yes, Donald Miller and Rick McKinley and Andy Stanley all wrote one, too) that just might have help with getting your arms around that mindset:

"Our generation longs for something authentic. They are searching for 'the real thing,' though they don't really know what 'the real thing' is. Because this generation has endured so much 'me-ism' and let down from those they were supposed to follow and trust, they want to see a genuine faith that works for less-than-perfect people before they are willing to trust. They want to know this God-thing is more than talk, talk, talk. They desperately want permission to be who they are with the hope of becoming more. They aren't willing to pretend, because hypocrisy repulses them. Most have yet to realize that every person is a hypocrite to some degree--the only question is whether we realize it and are honest about it."

Now, you'll have to read between the lines of what Mr. Burke wrote. See, the stuff he listed are reactions. Yes, I think it's fair to assume that the next generation is reacting to the previous generation's approach to spirituality. And, don't get offended, did the same thing when you were their age. That's why our churches look like they do now: Because you reacted to stuff from the previous generation and did things your way when you came into leadership.

The thing is...'s the next generation's turn.

If we take Mr. Burke at his word, we have to give them the real thing. They don't even know exactly what it is they're trying to find, which is a type of angst. We've all had that.

We have to focus on others, in particular the next generation. This might upset our status quo apple carts.

We have to be people worthy of their trust and followership.

We have to make it more than talk, talk, talk.

We have to walk worthy and authentically.

Yes, I know we have to design systems now (and maybe I should expound a bit more on that tomorrow) to let them see us. Let them get to know us. Being transparent and honest and knowable.

And it won't be easy.

But we can ignore it at our peril.

Achtung, Baby (Boomers).


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sometimes, They're Just You're Clothes

Kurt Cobain was once interviewed about the success of Nirvana and the interviewer asked a question about the "statement" his flannel-over-long-johns-and-jeans look. You know, trying to get a quote about Nirvana's influence in stripping away the glitz and just playing rock and roll, some sort of nod toward a blue-collar mindset, or a rags-to-riches type thing. Kurt disarmed him by simply informing him that he lived in Seattle, where the weather went from cold to hot during the day and back again so he wore layers. He made a comment that sometimes clothes don't make a statement...they're just your clothes. He died in the only pair of shoes he owned: Converse Chuck T's.

Or so the legend goes. Myths grow after rock stars die.

And, frankly, I don't dress that well. My staff signed me up for a television show called "What Not To Wear" in which they surprise you with cameras and then give you a style makeover...and it wouldn't surprise me if I were selected and woke up one day with those folks at my door (*staff high-fiving in the background, pleased with themselves as well as relishing the chance to be on television*). A while back my sister signed me up for "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and I got a phone call telling me I was a fantastic candidate for the show, so I wouldn't be surprised one bit if my staff hit the jackpot.

But I don't really care much about or for fashion.

I like my blue jeans.

I like my t-shirts with a non-descript button down over it. And no logos if possible. I don't like advertising after I paid for the shirt. The simpler the better, and lots of blue, grays, or olive if possible.

I like sweatshirts...particularly with colleges I didn't go to on them.

I like jerseys from sports teams. Usually a size too large...but they've got to be authentic. None of that replica stuff for me...which explains why I don't have those, but I'd wear them consistently if I did.

I like baseball caps. My favorite has a logo from a non-existent hockey team in New Jersey called the Leonardo Reapers, which Randall wore in Clerks II. If I wear it backwards it's especially funny but I can't tell you why.

The hardest fashion choices in my day involve which particular t-shirt to wear or my choice of Birks, Docs, Chucks, other sneaks, or flops. If I'm really out there one day I'll roll with Crocs...but that's rare.

I like my top-coat my wife bought me when we got engaged. It's very 1980's but it's the first piece of clothing I got that has come back into fashion...teenagers see it and seem to be impressed that it's "vintage retro."

I like sweaters. Not Cosby-esque with flash, but just a plain old sweater.

I like my flannel pants for in-home puttering.

I dislike shorts and short sleeves.

I dislike khaki's...especially Dockers. But I wear them as a default choice if where I'm going isn't jeans-accessible.

I dislike suits and ties. Unless I'm going to a wedding or something. Then they're okay...and they're easy.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'd probably be a lousy guest on that show "What Not To Wear" because they could give me the haircut with the frosted tips and put me in some sort of get-ups that would make me somewhat fashion-forward, but they can't make me actually care.

Maybe if they had some sort of clothing line for people who want to be comfortable but not care about what they looked like but wanted to look like they cared while maintaining some level of "casual" that wasn't mass-marketed, then they'd be on to something. And maybe I'd be a better guest on that show.

And a better fit for society.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

If I Could Trade Places With Anybody...

*I got today's topic from Creativity Portal because getting out of my chair to get the journal jar and pull out one of the slips seemed like too much work* would be Douglas Coupland.

Most of you don't know who he is, or if you do, you really only know him as the guy who wrote the landmark novel Generation X. Yes. He's the one who "invented" that term that labels my generation. The media got that novel's title about a group of 20-somethings who bounce from McJob to McJob...later movies like "Reality Bites" along that same theme came about and enhanced the careers of Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garafalo and Ben Stiller.

Anyway, the reasons that I'd swap places with him would be that he's a full-time writer. He gets paid to simply sit around and type. I'm not much for fiction, which is his forte, but I think that it would be pretty nice to build your career around imagination. While I'm sure his occupation has very unique demands (I mean, what if creativity didn't hit you that day?) and requires specific disciplines, I think it'd be cool to have a career in the arts.

He also has critical acclaim and fame. He get invited to universities to give lectures on his various works and when he releases a new book he gets to travel internationally to promote it--book tours and talk shows and things like that. It's always nice to be respected for being good at what you do. But he also has the good kind of fame...the kind that can get you into the really great restaurant or tickets to the best shows but you can still go to those things and have nobody recognize you. Now, he gets to use his position to try to do new things, so he wrote a screenplay, which recently premiered at Austin's SXSW film festival.

He also has the best kind of wealth, too, I'd imagine. The kind that keeps you from having to worry about money but also the kind that keeps you working hard to get better at what you do so the book advances can keep rolling in. I'm a firm believer that deadlines and pressure spur creativity...but not overbearing deadlines or pressure. The "starving artist" thing has a nice appeal when you're in your 20's, but I'd think being a "full, but not gluttonous" artist would be highly enjoyable and help you "keep it real." (sorry, I'll try not to use rap phrases in the future)

He gets to live in a loft apartment in the Pacific Northwest (specifically, Vancouver). Well, at least he did at one point. Now he lives in a house designed by an in-demand architect. I'd like to think I'd have stayed in the loft apartment, but maybe if I had the chance to live in a house designed by an in-demand architect, I would.

He gets to be quirky and it's endearing to people. They almost expect it, and if he does something (like a promotion for Blackberry stuff, or claims that the old khaki-a-go-go commercial for the gap was the best commercial ever made--and puts it on his website) it immediately has a "cool factor" to it where others might get criticized for the very same thing.

So, that's who I'd trade places with. Who would you, and why?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

There Is A Difference

According to the good folks at Merriam-Webster:

passion: ardent affection : LOVE b : a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept

charisma: a special magnetic charm or appeal

personality: the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group; especially : the totality of an individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics

I've been hearing a great deal about passion lately. Seems lots of people want that from their pastors, or potential pastors, these days. They use it in sentences like, "I really like that guy when he teaches, man. He's full of passion."

The problem that I have is that people are usually using the three words I defined above interchangeably. See, when I think of passion I think of the definition above.

And I am passionate about some things: Christ. My wife and kids. The study of God's Word. And I'm also passionate about things of a more elementary order. You know, like Auburn football. Mississippi Delta blues. Reading/Writing (hence, words).

And my personality demands that my passion be displayed in different ways at different times. So, for example, when I was growing up in church it was highly liturgical...we listened a lot. We were really somber. We were wrangled by parents. Auburn football games we attended were loud, raucous and intensely emotional. Some of you know what I'm talking about in both cases. But both were passionate pursuits for me, but the "totality of behavioral and emotional characteristics" were displayed in both instances--simply in different (and may I suggest, appropriate, ways).

In the charisma department we've all met people that could just walk into a room and have a certain quality that drew others to them. Think of Gwen Stefani or Justin Timberlake...I mean...they're full of charisma. That's what makes them stars in an industry full of incredibly talented people. They just have "IT"...which is a vague intangible, when it comes down to it. But we all know people that just have whatever "IT" is. I mean, you have other celebrities that you like or don't like and you really don't even know them. Usually that's because some are more charismatic than others, for whatever the reason.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I don't want people to mistake passion for charisma or personality. Do you think that The Ramones could have the same intensity for their music on night 186 of a 220 night tour? Likely not...but they could be just as passionate about the music, or entertaining their fans or whatever else their motivations might've been each night. But fans could think they did, because their charisma or collective band personality got them through it.

Do you think a school teacher can have the same intensity for a subject on the 4th of 5 class periods that day? Probably not...although that might be a little easier. But a teacher's charisma or personality combined with their training/classroom style could still show an effectiveness with students in both content and presentation. We all had teachers we liked and didn't like as much, but we learned from each one, didn't we?

And it's the same for pastors, too. We all have our "complex characteristics" and backgrounds and training (yes, seminaries have different styles of training in the pulpit) and some have "IT" and others not so much--

--all of which have different responses in different arenas. I mean, we're going to behave differently in various circumstances. You know, a pastor at a baseball game might be different in a worship service (even if not leading that service) and most of that behavior is going to be driven by those "complex characteristics" that come out through their personalities--

But that doesn't mean that they aren't passionate about what they do.

So, why am I telling you all this today?

Because words mean things.

And it's important that you make sure you say what you mean.

Because you can cheapen passion by mistaking it for charisma or personality.

Because any professional in any line of work can handle it if you say they don't have charisma, or maybe you don't like their personality.

But make very sure you mean what you say when you say somebody lacks (or doesn't have) passion. Because if they do have passion and you accuse them of not having passion, you might just see a side of their personality you don't like when they choose to say what they mean.

And they won't care about their charisma rating, either.
Today's Funnies Speak Truth

Monday, March 26, 2007

Reasonable Things I Want To Do Soon

Get the yard mowed today before it rains. We'll see, but I should have done it Saturday when I had the chance.

Write the book I've been talking about writing for years. Hell, I'd be happy if I finished the "Carlin-esque" rant about suburban Christians I've been working on...but words aren't coming easy these days.

Get the bathrooms finished. Thankfully, our family schedule allows for easy scheduling for four people using one, but it'd be nice to get them done.

Get the tree guy to finish the job. I feel like I've hired a hit-man to whack our weeping willow and he hasn't got the target sleeping with the fishes yet.

Get the new pastor in place ASAP at our church...or at least get my attitude focused on whatever God wants for us during the wait.

Get that piece of furniture from IKEA that's never in-stock when we go.

Get those two books finished...I don't know what it is but almost all Christian publishing seems trite & pithy these days. There's little substance beyond the latest pastor-of-the-moment turning his latest sermon series into chapters. It's hard to get motivated to read those authors. If you're asking me, there's definitely a collective yawn in Christian publishing these days.

Get the garage cleaned and use that closet organizer we got almost a year or so ago. Both of those would require a garage sale, Goodwill donation trip, and Craigslist sale...and a healthy dose of parting with a lot of things we don't want to part with.

Get committed to my exercise program. Granted, I've been hitting the gym twice a week, but the goal was three times. I've also been less than committed to my diet the last two weeks and I'm feeling it. I was going so good in 2007, too. I'm still ahead of the weight loss I was hoping for, but the set back seems silly and discouraging. Darn daughters who are learning to bake cookies.

Get further ahead on my teaching preparation.

Find some good music to download. I'm in that phase where I'd like some new music for the iPod, but nothing really sounds good.

Have that conversation I've been needing to have.

Start that FlowerPlex Writer's Collective, FlowerPlex Photography Collective and maybe even a FlowerPlex Filmmaker's Collective. You know, start collective blogs/photo exposition/film festivals all on-line...where a community of people supports and encourages each other. A mixture of high schoolers college kids and assorted grown-ups having a creative community on-line. It's easily doable with all the free web hosting available. It'd be fun, too.

Get so many things I feel like I'm just doing what it takes to get by.

Get breakfast made so I can at least accomplish that first one on the list today...

Yeah. I'm kinda feeling inadequate today. So, sue me.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

When Two or Three Are Gathered in His Name

Yeah, they'll hear a lot of negative from the EC (Evangelical Community).

Photo Courtesy of Dallas Morning News Shared Content

And this isn't necessarily my cup of tea.

But I'm behind 'em and glad they exist.

Rock on, Deliverence Bible Church!

Rock on, brothers & sisters!

Rock on.
On the dry and dusty road, The nights we spend apart alone, I need to get back home to cool cool rain, I can't sleep and I lay and I think, The night is hot and black as ink, Oh God, I need a drink of cool cool rain

I like my comedians versatile...and Adam Sandler was fantastic as Charlie in Reign Over Me. The language was rough--but appropriate given his post 9/11 circumstances...but be in a VERY GOOD PLACE if you see it, man. It's kind of a Garden State for the 35-54 crowd. Easily as good, if not better, than Stranger Than Fiction. But, like I said, be in a VERY GOOD PLACE if you see it, man. It's emotionally heavy.
Proud Dad Alert

Kelsey's latest painting allowed for public viewing (there's some that she's done for a planned show that are excellent, too, but she's keeping those on the down-low until the show--hopefully this fall):

Acrylic on Wood, 34" table...created for Roads Coffee House:

I dig it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sorry For The Delay

Woke up.
Went to my cycle class.
Talked to the air-conditioner repair man who told us the obvious: Yeah, we need a new one. Yeah, they are expensive. Yeah, he's coming Tuesday.
Gave the double-red donation for our church blood drive.

Those nice people gave explicit instructions they expect me to follow: Drink lots of fluids, make sure the next two meals are balanced, no alcohol for 24 hours, and no, repeat, NO strenuous exercise. I asked specifically about yardwork and she put the kibosh on that.

So, good book at the ready.
Mild, breezy weather.
Tired dog.

And I will follow the nice nurse's explicit instructions with a happy vengeance!

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Couple of Spring Break Conversations I've Had

Me: "So, you believe that Jesus Christ was a historical person, like George Washington?"
Teen: "Sure. That's really kinda obvious."
Me: "So, you believe that he was killed on a cross, pretty much like it happened in The Passion?"
Teen: "Sure. I'm not sure that the Bible got all those details exactly as they happened like a history book. Times were different then. But I'd bet the gist of the story's there. A great teacher, maybe even a prophet or whatever, was in Jerusalem during that feast and said he was God. Sure, the religious people in charge would make an example out of him. It was probably a lot like The Passion."
Me: "So, the Bible says some women went to the tomb and discovered that Jesus wasn't there. They were told that Christ was alive. That he was raised from the dead."
Teen: "Yeah. That's where the story gets a little fuzzy for me."

Me: "Would you agree with me that how people see themselves affects how they act? You know, like a person who sees themself as a guitar player might pull out a pick when they reach in their pocket to get their keys or loose change. Or maybe somebody who sees themself as a writer would read a lot in public. If they saw themself as a football player they would go to a lot of games and lift weights. Or even somebody who saw themself as a student would go to school, do their homework, study...stuff like that."
Teen: "Yeah. I see that in my friends, too. They'll join some new club or group and change a little. Especially if they get a new boyfriend or girlfriend. They just totally change. But, I'm following what you're saying, though. So, you're saying that if people saw themselves as followers of Christ that it would change their behavior?"
Me: "Exactly."
Teen: "If you're asking me, not many people who say they follow Christ really see themselves as followers of Christ, then."

Sometimes, I wish I had some sort of recording device to let you in on my days at work.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I Think My Normal is Abnormal

One of the occupational hazards of spending the last 19 years in student ministry is that you get used to the idea of change. It happens more in my area of ministry than most others. I mean, when I asked a teenager for her e-mail address the other day she told me that it was 2007 and asked me who still uses e-mail. Apparently, with the advent of text-messaging, e-mail is "too slow."

It wasn't long after I got to Crossroads that we moved the middle school ministry to Tuesday Night. Sure, it was a forced change as that little ministry had outgrown meeting in someone's home and our children's ministry used our entire shoebox of a building on the same night. We just changed nights. We eventually had to add a nighttime Sunday School class, too.

Not long after that our high school ministry outgrew Room 22 upstairs. Our Sunday School class got too large and there was no room big enough during our three, we moved to Sunday nights. A stand-alone Bible church Sunday School class out at the end of FM 407 at 6:30PM. We just changed services.

We've had small group leaders come and go due to life circumstances. We've combined in-home groups and then un-combined them.

We've changed the way we do outreach so often that I couldn't tell you exactly how many times we did that. We kept tinkering until we found one that fits, and now we're tinkering with that little coffee shop until we get it right. We're close.

We've added staff & interns. Talented staff & interns have come and gone. Talented staff & interns have stuck around.

We moved into the Dungeon from our shoebox at the end of 407. That room alone has undergone 7 transformations and redecorations. We're close.

We've jettisoned programs that didn't work, experimented with others--some "worked" & others "didn't." We've changed teaching formats. We've done summer things differently. We focused on missions in the summer instead of camps. We moved the ski trip to every other year in hopes of adding a mission trip and/or service projects or the ever-popular financially affordable camp out near town.

So, in my way of thinking, change is usually a good thing. Seems to me that necessity often spurs a creative solution, so professionally, I'm pretty used to things changing. Youth ministry is almost always evolving or morphing or transforming due to the changing dynamics that are happening with graduation/promotion, or a community change (like adding another high school or middle school) and other things like that.

I've grown used to it by now.

It's been a normal part of the warp and woof of my "church" existence.

But I'm learning that my "normal" is not everybody's "normal." They haven't been morphing and evolving as a second language for nearly two decades.

And I'm learning more about serving more effectively as a "grown up pastor" by trying to be more considerate of that reality.

And, I'm thankful to work for a church that puts up with my "normal" as they allow me to understand and figure out their "normal."

I have a really great church family.

And I'm terribly encouraged by what God is doing in and through my church family these days. Even after almost 11 years there, I still wake up and am glad I get to work there.

I should say that publicly more often...which might become my new normal.
My Friend Joan

My friend Joan passed away two nights ago from a struggle with cancer. Mind if I say that it wouldn't bother me at all if someone found a cure for all types of cancer?

See, this is the first time that I've had a friend who has lost their wife. I spend a lot of time fighting my thoughts and where they seem to want to go because of that.

And I hurt with my friend Paul.

And I hurt with my friend, their daughter, Stephanie.

That's all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Pity Party

Those days.

We all have them. Some folks more than others, but we all can relate to having one of those days. And I had one yesterday. No worries, kids. Like I said, we all have them, and it really wasn't that big of a deal, anyway.

But I had one of those days. The last thing that didn't go well was trying to arrange a video chat session with my Barnstorming Brother-in-Law Shane so I could get a glimpse of my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly's pregnant belly. See my computer has the capability to do that stuff and I'd never tried it. Turns out it'll be a relatively easy fix but as with most things technological, I don't have that ability to enact the "easy fix" so it'll have to wait a few days or so.

I know. Real tough life, right?

But it was a series of things that should've been "easy fixes" that I didn't have the capability to fix. You get the idea.

So, I tried to fight my way out of the self-pity: Loud music on the way home didn't work, and I tried three different genres. Watching a few episodes of The Office didn't help, either.

Then, I tried to indulge the self-pity, hoping that a brief indulgence would wash it all away. Watching MTV's Cribs is usually good for that sort of thing, too. You know, watching people overspend for luxuries I'll never have? That's usually good for indulging the pity. Well, it didn't work this time...largely because I didn't really want anything Ludacris had.

Then, I tried to eat the self-pity away. Suffice to say that a Big Nasty from McAlister's is a nice attempt. And it worked, albeit briefly. But then the food was gone.

Then, I tried to entertain the self-pity away...tried to get my daughters to design the way they want their names for my next tattoos using really cool fonts. That was kinda fun, but I didn't really choose a good activity for my involvement because when I tried to get involved they told me they were doing it.

Then, I thought about goofing around with Lloyd--the greatest of all dogs, Part II. But he's not the kind of dog that you take to the park and throw a tennis ball for an hour while he chases it. He's more of a dog that sits there and wags his tail and everybody says how cute he is. Which is true, but cuteness during a pity party isn't going to cut it.

Then, I tried to ignore the self-pity by reading a book...getting my mind on something else. I'm not choosing the right books these days because my motivation to read is zilch based on what's in my stack.

Then, I tried to zap the self-pity by watching the news. You know, seeing that other people have it worse and all that? Well, let's just say that it's a slow news day and some people actually had it better than me.

But then...

...the magic potion of sleep.

And I woke up today raring to go. Life is full and it's spring break.

Like I said, it was one of those days.
We all have them.

But it made me wonder what everybody else does during their pity parties.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Barna, Jim & Casper

Georga Barna, a researcher known for using exacting survey methods (who focuses on gathering information for Christians), highlights a reality in the United States...that nearly 100 million people (one in three) don't go to any type of church:

To put that figure in context, if the unchurched population of the United States were a nation of its own, that group would be the eleventh most populated nation on earth (trailing only China, India, the churched portion of the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, Japan and Mexico).

To read a breakdown of Barna's most recent findings, you can grab that right here

Of more interest to me was a look at the first chapter of a new Tyndale Publishing release Jim & Casper Go To Church. The basic premise appears to be along the lines of "those that go to church have a difficult time figuring out what visitors actually see when they walk through your doors, especially those not of the tribe." That's my summary of it, anyway...but here are the author's words:

"Finally, consider the fact that few religious leaders or churches have any idea what it’s like for an outsider to try to break into the holy huddle. Most churched people have been so immersed in the church world that they have completely lost touch with what it is like to come through the church door and try to fit into a place that has very distinct habits, language, goals, events, titles, architecture, traditions, expectations, and measurements."

Then, the authors Jim Henderson and Matt Casper, in effect, hire some "Secret Shoppers" (much like businesses use to determine similar things) and asked them to answer questions visiting 10 or 12 well-known churches in the U.S. Here were some questions the "Secret Shoppers" (also non-Christians) were asked to determine:

* What is, and how compelling is, the call to action?
* How is the Word of God integrated into practical examples of living the faith?
* What prior knowledge and belief does the church assume attenders possess?
* Is the church more interested in conversation or conversion? In dialogue or debate?
* How accessible is the heart and mind of the ministry?
* Is the church engaging people or performing for them?
* How realistic is the teaching? Is it the result of proof-texting or contextualization?
* What is the church’s capacity for listening?
* Is this a body of believers who are more interested in serving or in being served?
* What makes a church genuine and authentic in its interaction with people?
* How honest are Christians in discussing the cost of following Christ?

Sure, I would add some questions and take away some, but I couldn't help but wonder what an outsider would see when they came to my church.


(Yes, I'm going to get the book today.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Brimming With Possibility...Or Lack Thereof

Lemme see...

Yardwork? Yeah, there's always something that COULD be done, but I mowed Saturday.
Exercise? My club doesn't offer cycle classes on Mondays. Tomorrow at 6PM.
Hobby? Don't really have one unless you count blogging & reading books.
Kid responsibilites? Well, it's Spring Break in our burg. They'll sleep late and won't be full-throttle until noon or so after they eat and shower and all that.
Do something with the wife? Not so much. She's gotta work today.
Work? Oh wait...

Yeah, it'd be my day off, so I won't be doing that today.

Coffee's going.
Newspaper is about to be read.
Copy of The Message nearby.
Windy & overcast, but not cold. Re: Perfect hammock weather.
A couple of books I need to finish off today.
Flannel pants & oversized t-shirt will be the order of the day.
Razor: He gets the day off, too (I like to live on the edge, man).
Biggest decision: Will a nap come before or after lunch? Or both? Or neither?

What does it say about me that this is a kind of day that I truly enjoy?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I Loved Her First

You all know by now I'm a sucker for weddings. All weddings. But I'm especially sucked in with weddings of my former students and exponentially sucked in when they ask me to perform the ceremony.

It happened again yesterday, this time with a different set of glasses on.

Yes, she was beautiful.

Yes, the mom cried and dad shed a tear or two.

Yes, the ceremony had it's funny moments that you can't predict exactly when or where but they all happen.

There wasn't much different from pretty much all the other weddings we all go to. The couple did their own vows, washed each other's feet, mixed sand instead of a unity candle...but at the end of the day the end result was the same. They kissed. They were announced. The people clapped. Lots of photos were snapped. Yada yada yada.

The reception was nice, too. Good food and good friends. The people that make up my church family have been doing things like this a good deal over the years and we've gotten pretty good at it, too. We've done a lot of life together after a decade and occasions like this are pretty fun for all of us.

But one word of advice to dads with teenage daughters:

Don't sit at the same table together while the bride dances with her father and chooses that hokey country song "I Loved Her First."

That silence you heard from our table's Dads-With-Teen-Daughters Club was caused by the lumps in our throats.

That lump in our throats was caused by the chilling reality that went completely down our spinal columns from the whispering echo in our brains that said:

"You know, it really won't be all that long before you'll be having that dance with YOUR daughters."

And, all of a sudden, that song didn't seem that hokey--but eerily matter-of-fact.
Helicoptor Parenting

I realize I've been touching a good bit on parenting at The Diner these days. I think it's my new occupational hazard--what with the staff realignment at our church and all. I'll have more opportunities to work "hands on" with parents--which might prove to be the most effective way to minister to teenagers. I'm actually kind of excited about the whole deal.

Anyway, my radar is fine-tuned to pretty much anything parent-related these days, and I grabbed this one in today's paper. Here's a bit to whet the appetite:

"The way we parent these days in middle- and upper-middle-class America has become ripe not just for parody, but for frequently ugly debate. We are portrayed as a generation of meddling, micromanaging and over-scheduling parents who are so hyper-involved in our children's lives that we have earned our own lexicon. We are helicopter parents, and some of us have even crossed the line to Black Hawk – swooping and attacking."

A little more...and I even said this very thing to a parent recently about letting the teen deal with their own grades:

"Even more potentially corrosive is Edline, a hovering tool extraordinaire. Mocked for being overly involved parents, we are then given a Web site to view every test, quiz and piece of graded homework. We can watch every recalibration of our child's grade-point average, then e-mail the teachers to complain. Gone are the days when a kid could lose a physics test, then make up for the bad grade on the next go-around with no harm done and no parent the wiser. Edline feels a bit like spying."

If you want to read the whole article by Susan Coll, you can get it here, on today's Dallas Morning News. It could give you a few good insights.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that the normal springtime slowdown in blog checking/commenting is beginning to occur.
...that the Big Dance is pretty much Big Boring at this point. Granted, I haven't watched it that much (kept up with it on ESPN highlights) but it seems like there haven't been as many upsets as in past years...only one I can think of.
...that it never ceases to amaze me how inconsiderate people are of other's time.
...that I'm leaving my cell phone on my desk when I go to meetings and in my car when I'm coffeeing/lunching with teens, and I'm not missing it one bit.
...that as much as I mind mowing my lawn, it ramps up my sermon listening, which is good.
...that my sense of "undertoad" (a reference from "The World According To Garp"--an excellent book, a lousy movie)--that sense of dread beneath apparently calm waters--level is orange. I'm not sure why.
...that as many weddings as I've performed, I'm still a sucker for them and I think I've figured out why I enjoy them so much: They seem to encapsulate all the best things about being a human in community with others--and remind me of when I went through the exact same emotions.
...that Auburn's football team will be better this fall than they were in our "disappointing" 11-2 season last year (times are good when you lose 2 games in a season and it's a disappointment) but they'll likely lose 3 games as they have road games at Florida, Arkansas, LSU. They'll win one of those but they'll lose one somewhere along the line they're supposed to win. They'll beat Bama at home, though, Saban or not.
...that we still haven't solved our stupid Mac problem when all the systems should be working.
...that I actually enjoy the cycle class I take at my health club. Maximizes the time I spend there.
...that it's nice having teenagers in the house on Saturdays. Nobody stirs until around 9AM and I have lots of time to myself.
...that I'm glad our church slows down for Spring Break--this means that for the first time since last September I'll have 5 nights in a row that I don't have to work and can come home at 5PM and just be home.
...that my reading has slowed down and I don't know if it's because I've read so many lousy "Christian" books that I can predict them after about 20 pages and/or there doesn't seem to be much better fiction out there either. I think it's time to head back to Barnes & Nobles' "classics" section.
...that all-in-all I'm pretty content with life these days. A little to busy for my tastes, but that just requires seizing moments with family and friends rather than just waiting on 'em.
...that my DVR really has revolutionized the way I watch television.
...and speaking of television: It looks like Grey's Anatomy is in the early stages of "jumping the shark" with all the pat story lines. Why do good shows wind up falling back on having their characters start sleeping around to create interest? Especially a show with the endless storylines a hospital can give you.
...that my daughters have started baking cookies, which is NOT good for healthy eating habits, especially since they're good at it.
...that when you observe Lent for the first time since you were 12 you are acutely aware of the offerings restaurants have on Fridays when you never really noticed so many seafood-based menu items in the springtimes before you observed Lent.
....that I should get on with my day if I want to get to the gym and mow and still get to the wedding on time!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Making Me Crazy

If there's one thing that really gets under my skin, it's when technology that's supposed to work doesn't work.

Yeah, Mac folks, I downloaded the new Airport software update you told me to.

Yeah, Mac folks, I restarted the computer like you told me to.

Yeah, Mac folks, my very expensive computer won't freaking connect to the internet now.

*rolls eyes*

Yes, Mac folks, I've walked through all your little help screens and FAQ's and such.

The whole reason that I got a Mac was to avoid all this kind of crap.

You've really let me down, Mac folks.

Boo! Hsssss.

*stews, but doesn't have the technological know-how to fix it, so just becomes bitter*
Okay, It's Been Done Before, But It Seemed Like It Was Time Again

Yeah. I have a MySpace. It's an occupational hazard of sorts, being in student ministry and all. They don't check e-mail anymore so if I want to get in touch with them it's gotta be a text message, and I use MySpace as a backup.

And they post all these little surveys and games. Hey, we amused ourselves with cable television when we were bored so I cut 'em some slack on this. Sure, they should read a book or clean the house or mow the yard, but it's pretty normal and harmless stuff.

Anyway, it gets them to know others and be known by others. Grown-ups call that community and I kind of like that aspect of it. But still, it's just a goofy survey...but I did it/took it and here are my results. Feel free to play along!

Instructions: Put your favorite music player on shuffle (Party Shuffle on iTunes) and fill in the names of the songs in the order they show up.

Next time I'm in front of a crowd, I'll say:
What's The World Got in Store--by Wilco
(not off to a very good start)

Somewhere in my wedding vows, I will include:
Here She Comes Now--Nirvana
(getting a little better)

The best thing about me is:
Not for You--Pearl Jam
(that might just be the best thing about me)

My day will be like:
Breakdown--Tom Petty

If I got lost on a desert island, I would yell:
Welcome to the Jungle--Guns N Roses
(now the shuffle is warming up! This one's really good!)

Happiness is:
Listen to the Band--The Monkees
(well, kinda, if that band isn't The Monkees. What're they doing on my iPod?)

To cheer myself up I:
Jump Around--House of Pain
(it'll cheer me up if I jump around to that song!)

My love of life was inspired by the song:
I Hate Everything (But You)--Derek Webb
(I think it was, too)

Will I ever have kids?
Paint It Black--Rolling Stones
(I don't know what that means)

This song will be playing when I meet the love of my life:
Ace of Spades--Motorhead
(Hmmm...the love of my life would've been more likely to listen to Prince)

My make-out song is:
I Hate Myself and Want to Die--Nirvana

Behind my back, my friends think I'm:
(snickers to himself)

This song describes my grandparents:
Jungle Boogie--Kool & The Gange
(laughs out loud at this one)

What makes me happy is:
Kill My Darlings--Stavesacre
(creeps himself out with this one)

How will you die?
Swamp--Talking Heads
(creeps himself out even more with this one)

My alter-ego is:
She's No Lady (She's My Wife)--Lyle Lovett

At my wedding they'll play:
The Devil in Miss Jones--Mike Ness
(thinks that's kinda funny)

My message to the world has always been:
Slash Dot Dash--Fatboy Slim
(thinks the world won't understand the message as it's in Morse Code)

My friends see me as:
She's My Pusher--Crystal Method
(now that's funny!)

My innermost desire is:
Go--Pearl Jam
(well, it is spring break)

When I'm drunk I say:
If I Had A Boat--Lyle Lovett
(if you've ever heard that song, a drunk COULD say those very things, too!)

Highschool was like:
Lay Your Hands On Me--Bon Jovi
(really, not so much, now Diner patron Hal on the other hand...)

If I reached the top of Mount Everest, what I would scream:
Sharp Dressed Man--by ZZ Top
(I guess North Face winter gear would be sharper than I normally wear...)

My birth was like:
Offend in Every Way--The White Stripes
(not much has changed, either)

My family is described by the song:
I Stole Your Love--by Kiss
(my girls kinda did...hmmm)

My last words will be:
Is This It--The Strokes
(are you kidding me?!)

My ultimate song for dancing is:
World Class Fool--Paul Westerberg
(are you kidding me even more?! My iPod must've seen my dance moves)

At my funeral they'll play:
Heavy--Collective Soul
(I must've put on even more weight in the future)

My theme song:
Sick of You--Lou Reed
(it's scary how much my iPod knows me!)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Happy Big Dance!

The tournament kicks off today, and I'm scheduled pretty much all day until 10PM. I'll miss the late-game heroics and upsets and all the things that make that tournament great. hooky from work for me today.

And tomorrow night I've got a wedding rehearsal.

And Saturday's the wedding.

And I've got to work on Sunday pretty much all day.

I can only hope that some sort of ESPN highlight show can keep me into the flow of the tournament until such a time as I can devote my attention to it...

...because it's one really good sporting event.

Imagine how cool it'd be to have something similar for college football. Hmmm....

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Things I Want To Blog About Today...

...about some things that discourage me.

...about some things that are disconcerting to me.

...about some things that are eye-opening to me.

...about some things that I really can't understand.

...about some things that are really nothing in the big scheme of things.

...about some things that will add up to something in the big scheme of things.

...are best left under my hat.


And they will remain unsaid.

But if you could read my thoughts today your eyebrows would singe.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Blessings

Yesterday, in response to a sign I saw, I took some time to list the 10 Plagues of Now where I happen to abide. So, in an effort to give the bright side a glance, here's the Blessings of Now where I happen to abide:

The Blessing of Finances. Where I live, people tend to be amply compensated for the work they do. And many people do a lot of wonderful things with their money. They contribute to charities, Parent-Teacher organizations, schools, athletic departments, churches and things like that. In my church alone people have joyfully given to suppor the work of the ministry (our mission budget alone is considerable, not to mention the other ministry budget where people are growing spiritually) so I can imagine that many worthy charities and causes are the beneficiaries of good hearts of a lot of nice people.

The Blessing of Opportunity. The American Dream is alive and well in my little 'burb. There is not one thing preventing any person from being who they want to be or developing their talents and passions to the maximum ability. We don't have the constraints of urban or rural environments that can (and often do) take hope out of the equation when it comes to making the most of your opportunities.

The Blessing of Education. Public education is excellent in this neck of the woods. Kindergarten. Elementary school. Middle school. High school. Community colleges. Universities. They're all there for the taking. Don't like the public system? Got plenty of quality private school options to take advantage of, man. Can't afford that? We generally have ALL the resources one would need for quality homeschooling environments, and several of those combine resources to make that an attractive broad-based option as well.

The Blessing of LIFE & LIVING. According to the Bible, it's a worthy endeavor to enjoy the fruits of one's labor. And, you know what? People here work long hours and often travel a great deal. And we can enjoy the fruits of our labor here...everything from buying a grill to cook out, or tickets to a sporting event, or a nice vacation every now and then, or golf, or restoring that old car to mint condition, to redecorating a room in the house. Whatever it is, people here can enjoy the fruit of their labor, and that's a good thing to see.

The Blessing of the Metroplex. We live in a place that isn't too far removed from the arts. We have the museums of Dallas and Fort Worth (DMA or the Kimball, anyone?), the clubs of Deep Ellum for the alternative crowd, the concert halls, 25 GREAT churches within a reasonable drive, the symphonies, the writer's groups & book clubs, the sporting events, the excellent restaurants in all price ranges, the historical sights (from JFK to Robert Johnson), rodeos, the whole kit and kaboodle. Living near a major metropolitan area is pretty nifty for those of us that like all those options.

The Blessing of Not The Metroplex. We also live in a place that's within an hour's drive of some of the nicest camping and such...and within a day's drive of the mountains. If you want to get away from it all, you certainly can...even if you're looking for a Bed & Breakfast in Granbury, a campsite at Lake Texoma, a tour of the Hill Country, fishing on Lake Palestine, boating at Possum can do that, too.

The Blessing of Affordable & Spacious Housing. I know people in other parts of the country that pay 2 or 3 times what we pay per square foot here. Sure, you can spend whatever you want to building a home in our community if you want to (and some have), but for the average Joe in the FlowerPlex you can afford a home on a somewhat modest income. Believe me, I'm certainly not in the highest pay scale in our community and I can afford a home. Sure, it's in what realtors call a "starter neighborhood" but if I finish in this starter neighborhood I'll have plenty of space, plenty of yard and room for an office once the kids move out. Can't afford the Flower Plex? You can move out about 10 to 20 minutes from here and get the price down considerably.

The Blessings of a Small World. Living near a major aiport gives people the opportunity to get out and about if you're into that sort of thing. My children have already visited places that I didn't get to visit until I had them...I mean, I grew up in Alabama and I never went further south than Tampa, further east than Atlanta, further west than Dallas, and further north than Gatlinburg until I became an adult. Living here allows the world to become accessible...and people take advantage of that. It just isn't too parochial here--kids view the entire nation as a potential for university studies, not just a two or three state area.

The Blessing of Safety. The police here are trained and ready if needed, but outside of writing teenagers traffic tickets and maybe stepping into a domestic dispute here and there, we're relatively crime-free. A local radio host even refers to callers from my town by starting with, "Let's welcome John to the show, calling from crime-free Flower Mound." We worry more about the things that might happen rather than the things that do happen, and that's a very nice feeling.

The Blessing of Growth. Because we're not much of a secret anymore, people want to move here for the previous reasons listed. Businesses come here even if there's that same business 8 miles from here. The earth movers and concrete pourers and bricklayers and electricians and road wideners and carpenters all are finding work here. Same for enterprising business folks. And that's good for all of us in 100 different ways.

Sure, the 'Burbs have their drawbacks--and it's really pretty easy & trendy to attack them--but there's a lot of good people here, too. People who work hard to support their families. People who try to raise their children the best they know how to. And there are a lot of nice "perks," too. And sometimes we forget that...

...and I do indeed live a charmed life here.

I do indeed.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Prophet To Suburbia

The local synagogue has a question on their sign out front asking, "What are the 10 Plagues of Today?" I'm assuming they're wanting that answer for our little suburban neck of the woods--in other words, unique to the environment of the people driving by that very sign. That's how I took it, anyway.

Well, I've been thinking about that...and maybe it's born out of the reality that I'm teaching a class on the Minor Prophets at church...but I'll play the prophet to suburbia today--much like Amos and Hosea and Micah. So here's my response to the sign, in no particular order:

*putting on my camel's hair clothes and wild hair and eating locusts and wild honey, screaming in the wilderness, drawing a crowd of the curious and seeking--generally behaving like a lunatic*

The Plague of Materialism. We nod politely when we say that "things don't make us happy," but I'm not sure we live that way. I know I don't.

The Plague of Homogeneity. In everything from architecture to car purchases and everything in-between, sameness is highly valued. Sure, people will mouth the words "be different" but when you challenge preconceptions or step off the beaten path, eyebrows will raise and they'll sincerely want you back in lock-step with the rest of the penguins.

The Plague of Academia. Somehow or another, academic success is tied to system manipulation rather than actual learning and free-thinking. Just learn it for the test and get the "A" and finish in the top-10 of your class because we really believe that this kind of thing is a panacea when we're actually just taking a placebo.

The Plague of Polarization. Honest discourse is no longer valued. Make your mind up on an issue, usually by parroting the views of a radio talk show host or cable "news" anchor you already agree with, and then demonize those on the other side of the issue at-hand. The street runs both ways, but to honestly have conversation on any meaningful topic doesn't happen much. It's more of an attempt to evangelize.

The Plague of Pre-Maturity. Apparently, parents think that they're helping their children by treating every single event before high school as if it's something to master and to do it in pursuit of a college scholarship. Doesn't matter what it is, but make sure that it'll look good on your resume and ensure that you excel at it. Could be drama. Could be band. Could be school. Could be athletics. Could be yearbook/newspaper. Do whatever it is with the end in mind, rather than just doing it for fun. Never mind that if we invested the money we spend on private lessons or special training we could've given you a scholarship.

The Plague of Busy-ness. We live at warp-speed and brag about it. It's the new status thing. Everyone has a gadget that's supposed to make them more productive with the time they have and we make choices that starve our souls. They're not using the time saved with those gadgets or service payments (think paying someone to do your yard or wash your car) to rest or have down-time, they're using their extra time to do work in the recliner at home or shuttle off to the weekend tournament.

The Plague of a Service Economy. We live in a service economy in which specialists handle all the tasks. So, for example, we choose a health club that has child-care instead of switching off with our spouse. We drop our kids off at the youth group and leave them to handle the task. We sacrifice personal Bible study on our own because specialists teach us what we should know. We go to bookstores to get self-help stuff that is all written from a position of strength and makes you feel inferior for not measuring up. We let radio hosts or comedians do our thinking for us. We inundate conferences or seminars we believe will educate us. We like going to IKEA because they provide a kids' play area while we shop. It's all about convenience and serving my wants/desires, and this filters into more area of our lives than we realize.

The Plague of the Child-Icon. We make icons of our children, as if they're the first children to grace the planet. Parents say that they're teenager is their best friend, failing to realize the sadness of that very statement. We bumper-sticker and window-sticker our children's involvements. We fight their battles for them in everything from playing time to homework grading. We let our children define us, rather than understanding who we are and what we're about and letting them figure out who they are and what they're about. The parenting task should be giving them a road map and shining a light down the path, not hacking away the weeds and vines and doing the dirty work for them.

The Plague of Cacooning. We lose the value of life in community. We have six-foot privacy fences rather than picket or chain-link. We pull into our garages or alleyways and never see our neighbors. We don't have front porches (unless you count a bunch of parents with chairs from Target sitting/watching soccer practice a the field) to visit with our neighbors after work. Our kids don't play outside or ride bikes (where would they ride them to, anyway?) so we don't know the people in our neighborhood. We paint a Normal Rockwell picture of our lives to others and avoid transparency and heartache...fighting these burdens on our own rather than allowing others to share our joys/pains/families. We get in our cacoon and we stay there because it's safer there, but we miss the joys of flight and the beauty of the end result.

The Plague of Over-Entertainment. It's hard work to think. And, yes, we all need some time to decompress and do something mindless. That might be Soduku or silly movies or goofy television shows or whatever. I'm cool with that. It's just that we can't stand to deal with atrocities around the world or the injustice or poverty or wars or our newscasts start out with a fire downtown and then tell us about what Britney or Angelina are up to. There's time for us to play and decompress and rest, but there's also ample time to educate yourself on injustice and activism and weep or celebrate rather than living vicariously through celebrity.

I thought the question was very provocative...

...and, yes, I'm actually a very happy person today. So, don't comment that I'm a bitter and angry's just that the question was asking about PLAGUES--those things that by definition can't be pleasant. I mean, who's happy about frogs or locusts or rivers turning to blood and boils and such? So, don't worry about me, kids.

I'm just mixing it up today and stirring the pot here in The Diner.

So, let the discussion begin!
The Generosity of Others

Why anyone would willingly part with any of them is beyond my comprehension.

But they did.

The sight of my daughter yesterday was her running up to me...

...smiling that genuine smile of bliss that you can see on any teenager.

Without saying a word, she pulls out a green, pre-paid, parking pass with a large, black #1 inside a Texas Rangers logo.

Then she pulls out two shiny tickets, and you can get a view of the field from the seats by going here and clicking on section 17.

Tickets to Opening Day.

At The Ballpark in Arlington (intentional use of the original name instead of the corporate sponsor).

With my daughter.

The anticipation is fantastic.

The day will be better.

Win or's one of my favorite days of the year.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

It's A Beautiful Spring Day...

Too beautiful to be blogging.

Plus, I got nothin'.

Absotlutely nothin'.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Taking the Luster Off The Day

I don't like the Daylight Savings thing, anyway.

But I definitely don't like Spring Forward.

And it goofs up my whole Saturday. Just lurking. Staring over my shoulder. Reminding me... change the six clocks in my sphere later, but not too early...

...that it'll still be daylight at 9PM...

...and that it's really an hour later than it is.

Which really stinks when you work for a church and have to be at work early on Sundays.

Friday, March 09, 2007

If I Wasn't Doing What I'm Doing Right Now...

A lot of my coffees with teenagers involve them figuring out who they are. Somebody told them they have to have these kinds of things figured out by the time they're 18 so they can make the proper choice of college so they can get trained & prepared for the next 60 years of their lives. I don't have the heart to tell them that they're actually going to be figuring out who they are for the next 60 years of their lives and really all they can do at this point is make an educated guess and hope for the best.

Of course, that's really what we grown-ups are doing, too.

But, they seem to think it's important and I don't dismiss it. It's age-appropriate stress. So, we talk about it and they let me overpay for hot water flavored with ground beans and various milk-based product. In return, I ask them lots of questions and listen. They make certain deductions on their own and get happy with their choices and it alleviates the pressure and then they tell me how wise I am and what a great friend I am. I don't have the heart to tell them they figured it out all on their own...let's let that be our little secret, okay?

But that's how it works.

Recently, one of the teens turned the tables on me with this little phrase: "If you weren't doing what you're doing now, what do you think you'd be doing for a living?"

Hmmm. I thought for a minute. I'm okay with awkward silences. Sometimes I even try to create them for my own amusement...but this one was genuine.

And, you know...I think I wouldn't be doing too much terribly different.

I could see myself working at some Christian college or seminary as a professor of youth ministry. That might be what I want to do when (if?) I grow up.

Maybe writing books--but you have to do something else to support your habit.

But I honestly think that if I couldn't do what I was doing now and was going back to university knowing what I know about myself...

I think I'd get a double major in education and English. And I'd have tried to get a job as a high school teacher teaching senior English (Literature) and creative writing. Maybe assisant coaching one of the baseball teams. And, if it were a private high school, teaching Bible, too. Or for sure volunteering at my church teaching a high school guys' Bible study.

So, mine wouldn't be too terribly different. Would yours?

Thursday, March 08, 2007



We've let a few things go around the house. I'm really good about putting off home repair projects and such. Largely because I can't do them and need to hire folks that can to get 'em accomplished.

So, when water is coming through the shared wall between the shower and the living room...yeah...time to call the plumber. As long as he's here, could you give us a quote on remodeling the other bathroom, too.

And, since you work for a flooring company, could you help us out with a quote on flooring options to replace the carpet the previous owners put in the house to sell the house which we haven't really changed since we moved in a decade ago?

And I gotta get a few more quotes on cutting down the willow tree in the front yard that now has a major crack in the trunk that's so bad I warned my neighbors not to park their other car on the street.

And, while the plumber guy is here could you check on that leak in our 20 year-old air conditioner that seems to be leaking a bit?

Ahhh, the joys of home ownership...

...which strangely enough, beat the other options.

But I wish I could just turn up the radio to ignore that strange knock on the engine and just keep driving. I preferred blissful ignorance.
The Answers

Yesterday I pretended I was back in college and writing down random song lyrics on the front of my notebook like I used to do when I got bored in class. I was kind of amused when folks came up to me all day having "all but three." So, for those that are curious, here's the songs:

Kiss Off, by the Violent Femmes.
Smart Patrol, by Devo.
Minuteman, by Stavesacre.
Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, by Nirvana.
The Kingdom, by Lost and Found.
The Final Cut, by Pink Floyd.
Something to Believe In, by The Ramones (but I was actually thinking of The Pretenders version).
Rearview Mirror, by Pearl Jam.
Karma Police, Radiohead.
Drown, by Son Volt.
Once in a Lifetime, by The Talking Heads.
The Great Beyond, by R.E.M.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Song Lyrics

I used to write random song lyrics on the fronts of my notebooks in class when I got bored...or on my Chuck Taylor's. Or my hand. Or jeans. Whatever. Just stuff that popped into my head from that iPod section of my brain. Well, it's 6:30AM and I'm already bored of this class, so here's what I'm writing on the front of my notebook today. Free points to people who can tell me what the song is and who sang it...

"I hope you know...
that this will go down...
on your...

"I guess I'm just a spud-boy
looking for that real tomato."

"Cause all of it matters
the war and the battle
and this life
is a means
to an end."

"I do not want what I have got."

"The kingdom's big enough for you
and you were made to be here to
the kingdom's big enough for you
where you are
as you are."

"Through the fish-eyed lens
of tear-stained eyes
I can barely define
the shape of this moment
in time."

"I wish I was someone else
I'm confused
I'm frightened
I hate this loneliness
There's nowhere to run to
Nothing makes any sense...
take my hand...
please help me, man."

took a drive today
to emancipate."

"Karma police
arrest this man
he talks in maths
he buzzes like a fridge
he's like a detuned radio."

"And the cruel, cruel mornings
Have turned to days of swim or sink
If living right is easy,
what goes wrong
You're causing it to drown"

"You may find yourself
In a beautiful house
with a beautiful wife
and you may ask yourself
Man, how did I get here?"

"I'm breaking through
I'm bending spoons...
I'm pushing an elephant up the stairs
I'm tossing up punch lines that were never there
Over my shoulder a piano falls
Crashing to the ground"

*bell rings
slides out of desk
moves quickly out the doors
headed back to the fraternity house to take a mid-afternoon nap*

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lent Update

On Ash Wednesday I wrote a little entry about how our students were undertaking a Lenten observance this year. It caused a little hulaballoo in the comments, mostly from folks who'd had negative experiences in their earlier approaches to spirituality. There was also a misnomer in that folks thought it was observed only by Catholics.

So, I won't speak for my students who've come up at chatted with me about what's going on in their spiritual journey during this season as that's kind of a skewed sample. I mean, if they're telling me about it, it's probably going well.

But as for me, I can honestly say it's been a deeply meaningful time thus far.

The Thing I Gave Up has been a gentle reminder to focus on Him. The times I've set aside for what's known as "fasting" have heightened my awareness of His presence.

The sense of community of those that are participating with me has been encouraging and, as it is written, allowing "iron to sharpen iron."

My time in the Word, whether devotionally or prepping for a class, has been acutely vivid. Sometimes cutting away those things that need to be cut away, sometimes penetrating, sometimes restorative.

The only downside has been in the area of my act of worship. I haven't given that the attention I should've. We'll see how that progresses.

Maybe it has little, if anything, to do with a liturgical practice. Maybe it's just an uptick as I'm walking on this path. His path.

Either way...

...I'll take it.

Suffice to say that I'm enjoying my walk immensely these days.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Business Meeting

Last night our church had a business meeting. I know for a lot of churches that's a monthly, or even weekly, affair. But for our church...well, they're few and far between.

But we're realizing that the bigger we get the more we need to keep people informed. So, we did that. We had church. We had a pizza feed for everybody, and then we had a meeting.

And, there was good news in some areas & some updates on where our church is in our search for a new pastor and some staff realignment things. Kinda businessy, but stuff people need to know about.

And, I'm guessing it's rare that people come out of a business meeting with a reminder that the people you have the true privilege to serve are a group that cares about their church, cares about the people that work there, and are generally excited about the future of our body--here and around the world.

But that's what I came out of our meeting with last night.

And this makes me happy.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I Wonder...

...what would happen if The Tribe Known As Christians attended services with the idea that it was about community rather than "what I'm getting."
...what our church services and educational opportunities would look like if that were the case.
...what would happen if a little town in East Alabama actually won the National Championship in college football.
...what would happen if I pretty much didn't live financially pretty much month-to-month.
...what would happen if I ever felt like I had "gotten back into shape."
...what would happen if I really did finish the book and got nothing but rejection letters from publishers (it's bad enough getting them from magazine article submission queries).
...what would happen if our family just dropped out of extracurricular stuff.
...what would happen if I actually took all my allotted vacation time, sick days and off days.
...what would happen if I had season tickets to the Rangers baseball games.
...what would happen if I published what I write in private journals on my public blog.
...what would happen if I read all the books that were currently in my stack.
...what would happen if we had a national "dinner hour" where everybody had to eat a meal with people they cared about every day, and all businesses and everything just shut down for that hour.
...what would happen if we turned off our mobile phones. Just stopped using them.
...what would happen if the U.S. government stopped exploring outer space and used all that brain-power and finincial resources toward alternative energy sources.
...what would happen if we had to pay for the shows we watch instead of having a monthly cable bill. Watch the nightly news? A quarter. Watch "Friends" re-runs? A quarter. Watch the NBC hour-long drama? A dollar. Stuff like that.
...what would happen if I stopped blogging.
...what would happen if the world got back to writing letters and sending them by "snail mail."
...what would happen if my wife or daughters got kinda famous for their art.
...what would happen if I got another black lab.
...what would happen if parents let their kids play sports because they're fun instead of trying to win or get scholarships. They'd let them play for keeps once they hit high school, but everything before that was to discover if you liked it or just for fun.
...what would happen if GPA's and class ranks weren't given to students until AFTER they graduated, except the valedictorian & salutatorian could know in enough time to prepare a speech.
...what would happen if presidential campaigns were all done in written formats (like newspapers & websites) with NO video at all.
...what would happen if I decided to do eat breakfast instead of type this blog entry.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

My Prediction: Pain

Yeah. I'm going to the health club today.

Beginner cycle/spin class.

40 minutes.

And so the New Year's lifestyle change continues to take shape...

...but why am I dreading this?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Proud Dad Alert

The art studio has been quite busy...Kid1 has to fine-tune her portfolo for her audition for the fine arts school she's applying to. The music's been loud. The moods have been in full-swing. There have been three paintings in the last two weeks or so (only one of which I've been given permission to show--the others are part of a Dallas-themed show she's planning and doesn't want the public seeing them before the opening). The audition is tomorrow morning.

As always, I don't know good art from bad art. But, if you're asking me, the magic is happening if this painting (oil on canvas, 24 x 36) is any indication:

This'll Take A While, But It'll Get Your Brain Going

The higher-order life-liver sister Jilly, in response to the possibility that I might do a series on parenting here at The Diner, sent me Mark Morford's article from the February 28 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. I'd encourage you to read the entire article as it's certainly insightful.

And sometimes, the prophets we need to hear from in Christian circles often come from places we'd least expect or want. I enjoy reading about parenting from circles I don't normally hear from...and this certainly gave me food for thought.

So, to whet your appetite a bit, here's a few quotes:

"But the truth is, my folks have a point. Parents today really are faced with a largely new, high-speed, fire-breathing battery of issues and potential problems that kids of previous generations never had to face, ominous issues of drugs and sex and sinister marketing agendas, global warming and body image and entitlement, huge gobs of frothy in-your-face adult information to which kids have unprecedented access and it requires some very nimble parenting indeed to help kids navigate the storm. Right?

Well, sort of. This is what we seem to misunderstand, to entirely underestimate: the power of the young human brain to assimilate, to shift and adapt and modify its wiring to survive and thrive and live to procreate again. This seems to be the rule: The older we get, the more we tend to be victims of our own fixed worldviews, unable to see how the younger creatures of our species are at once us and also not us in the slightest."

Not good enough to get you chatting? How 'bout this one:

"Maybe it's all the media's fault. Easy argument to make, I know. I told my folks of the beautiful-yet-infuriating duality of this here modern media: how it at once distorts and exaggerates and blows issues all out of proportion like never before, and yet also informs and delights and provides unprecedented insights and global perspectives we'd otherwise never see and which provide an entirely new sense of human unity and hope. What a thing.

But hell, if you believe the media skew, if you see it all through a lens of fear or lack of nimble perspective, suddenly it's all drooling MySpace sexual predators and binge-drinking frat-boy idiots and millions of lost brain-rotted teens snorting ketamine off each other's stolen iPods and then shooting each other in the face after playing 6 million hours of Grand Theft Auto, one giant violent sexed-up gum-snapping body-pierced eating-disorder STD-ready freak show ready to implode at the drop of a hat or the shave of a Britney.

And it's also one big dumb, overblown lie. Well, most of it."

I've got some thoughts...I mean, I work with teenagers every day and have for two decades now. (Well, that's not entirely true, but it will be on May 25, 2007). But I thought it'd be more fun to get us rockin' and rollin' early this morning.

I'd encourage you to read the entire article to get the context, and, then...

...Have at it, kids!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Yancey, On Prayer

I'm reading a book by an author I generally like but this volume is too wordy and it's obvious he used too many research assistants that he evidently didn't want to hurt their feelings by not using their nuggets of insight. But it does have some helpful quotes here and there...or at least some things I relate to.

I found this one yesterday:

"A media-saturated culture conditions us to expect a quick-fix to every problem. Relationship problems, however, rarely lend themselves to quick and easy solutions. I have not seen, for instance, that shelves of books on 'how to save your marriage' have had any discernable effect on divorce rates. If relating to another person proves so resistant to formulaic advice, how much more does relating to God? The secret to keeping company with God will likely not be found in a new set of tapes, another book, a different preacher, a weekend seminar.

After reading scores of books and interviewing scores of people about prayer, I would expect a more noticable improvement on my own prayer life. If I invested the same energy in say, golf or learning a foreign language, I would likely see results. Still, I find that prayer involves an effort of will. Sometimes it proves rewarding, sometimes not, at least that I can detect at the time. Prayer requires faith to believe that God listens, though I have no hard evidence, and that prayers matter. Neither belief comes easy to me."

Among the many, many words of this book--I found a few where I'm not sure I could've said it better.
Just A Random Thought

I caught bits and pieces of The Oscars' broadcast last Sunday. I'm a big fan of movies so I like to see if my favorites win anything.

And they seemed to be patting themselves on the back big-time regarding environmental issues--they even had Leonardo DiCaprio & Al Gore on the stage to talk about how this year, The Oscars had "gone green." You know, taken little steps here and there to buy necessary products from enviro-friendly companies and using recyclables wherever possible. Good for them. I like being responsible no matter how small the gesture, and I'm glad they raised awareness. Go Free Speech!

But a thought did cross my mind: How come all the stars didn't take public transportation? Or at least rent three or four enviro-friendly busses and then more or less "carpool," and then they could've gotten off one at a time for their red carpet moment. Apparently, doing little things to save the environment isn't nearly as important when you have a date with the paparazzi.