Monday, April 30, 2007

I Think Today I'd Like To...

...pack a suitcase. Light. Only bare necessities.
...get the tent, cot & sleeping bag together.
...get the iPod charger, iTrip radio frequency transmitter, and iPod ready.
...charge the video camera, digital camera, buy a new composition book & Bic pen.
...get some dog food, with the metal dishes for random food & water stops. And, of course, the dog.
...bring the gas card.
...give the car the once-over & make sure she's good for the long haul.

And just drive. No agenda. Stop where I want & when I want. See some of the good old U.S. of A.

That just sounds like it'd be cool to do, doesn't it?

So, I think I'd have to drive towards Colorado...then maybe do Las Vegas. Then head towards the Pacific Northwest & hangout with friends and then go south down the coast. Visit family & friends in the Bay Area...then drive down Highway 1 and just see all of California's coast.

Then, I'd check out the Grand Canyon on the return. Maybe see a bullfight in Juarez & maybe see a professional soccer game, too. Then I'd just blaze through west Texas to get home. There's not much to see there. Trust me on this one.

But, you know what?

The romance of that seems so much better than the reality of that. I mean, after about day 3 I'd really start missing my family. I'd get annoyed with myself because no matter how much I'd like to be that free spirit, heading wherever the wind takes me, I'd have some sort of agenda that I'd get frustrated with when I wasn't making good time or some thing I wanted to do or see was foiled by bad weather or closed that time of year. And I don't think I'd make those fast friends on the road who'd give me places to stay & home cooked meals. I'd miss my creature comforts. My back would start to hurt. Stuff like that.

Maybe I should just go to New York City and hang out for a month...

Both are nice to think about, though. I KNEW I should've gotten a higher-mileage lease on my car...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

It Ain't Rocket Science

I don't think I need to "discover eight critical strategies successful people apply in the face of adversity."
I don't think I need to become "a spiritual champion."
I don't think I need "inspirational promises."
I don't think I need "insight into developing a lifestyle of success and spiritual greatness."
I don't think I need to give my 2007 graduating seniors a gift of an "encouraging and inspiring 64-page gift book" with a keychain with a "key verse" on it.
I don't think I need my days referred to as a "gift of 24 little hours."
I don't think I need secrets to "unleashing power."
I don't think I need to have any "secret breakthrough techniques" to enhance my walk.
I don't think I need a pastor's signature on a new edition of his book for an additional fee.
I don't think I need a list of "psychological studies that affirm what Scripture has taught for ages."
I don't think I need a CD with audio samples which will "bring the Bible to life."
I don't think I need a "new cover and fresh updates."
I don't think I need to "re-discover a masculine heart."
I don't think I need an "upbeat and intriguing gift book."
I don't think I need a pre-packaged questionnaire that will "lead me to a discovery of my spiritual gift."
I don't think I need a "six session DVD study to avoid becoming a 'Desperate Housewife.'"
I don't think I need a paperback book that will tell me everything "I want in a woman."
I don't think I can "affair-proof" a marriage.
I don't think I can "transform a child into a spiritual champion."
I don't think I need "oustanding thoughts of encouragement & hope."
I don't think I need a "one-minute Bible."
I don't think I need to live life with a "grande passion" and a "latte" cute puns.

I don't think I need to go into Christian bookstores anymore.

I think I need Christ.
I think I need grace.
I think I need His abudant life living through me.
I think I need to abide in Him.
I think I need to abide in His Word.
I think I need to take up my cross daily.

I think I need to get my arms around a relationship with Him.

I feel far afield from my fellow Tribesmen & Tribeswomen today.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Is It Me?

We have this rule in our house: If you empty the tea or lemonade pitcher, you are required to make the next pitcher. Simple, right?

Why is it that most days, I open the refrigerator door only to see the bottom of either pitcher barely covered with a thin layer of beverage? The capper is that Kid1 and Kid2 will both go a day or so drinking water so as to avoid the responsibility.

Then I got to thinking about the other stuff that goes on around here... the leaving of trash on the top of the trash can once the little revolving lid won't revolve any longer. And, if that balancing piece of trash happens to be a box of any kind, that will then become a mini-trash can until it, too, begins to overflow. the space next to the sofa about six feet from the front door where gravity's pull on things like book bags, dance bags, shoes, etc., increases exponentially. the roaming hair brush that no one knows where it is until you go into the girls' bathroom. Apparently, this brush has magical powers as no one has moved it or knows anything about how it might've gotten there. the remote control winding up in a room where it won't remotely control anything (hey, if I'm airing dirty laundry, I'll air my own, too). both phones winding up in the same room, three feet from each other, with both ringers turned off. a simple question like, "Hey, does anyone know where an iPod charger might be?" causes a teen's eyes to look for cloud patterns in the popcorn ceiling or a glance back at the television pretending that the question wasn't heard. the CD no one borrowed only to be found with toothpaste splatter on the burned side on, of all places, a bathroom countertop.

Now, these things really amuse me more than annoy me, and I kinda smile bewilderedly when I run across these peculiar occurrances. But, you know what? I think that somewhere around 2012 (if not sooner), when these things happen with markedly less frequency, these are the very things I'll miss.

Note to self: Remember these nuances are signposts reading "I LIVE here" written by the people you love most.

Friday, April 27, 2007

I Think I'm Reading Too Many Books About Church

In my new position at church, well, let's just say I'm sort of responsible for discipling the entire congregation. No small task. So, I've started doing a lot of reading on my own about "where the church is" and "where it's heading" and sort of comparing and contrasting where my own church "is" and "where it's heading." You know, thinking is hard work...but you gotta know where you're aiming.

Anyway, there's a lot of literature out there, too, on the state of things in the new millinnium when the Tribe Known As Christians congregates. So, here's a few observations from the newest one I read (listed at left). Take them for what they're worth because I'm not saying I'm in full agreement but they got me thinking. They're all by Dan Kimall.

"Church leaders are mainly dealing with complaints about last week's sermon or that the music wasn't good enough, along with threats that people might go to another church where these things are better. When church leaders feel pressure from this kind of complaining, naturally the focus becomes having better programs, music and activities to keep people in their churches. Pastors face subtle pressure from Christian parents to have good youth programs to make sure their kids stay away from the bad non-Christian kids and have the opportunity to meet other Christians. The whole thing feeds itself, isolating us from the outside world. It feels like we're building this social, spiritual and consumeristic infrastructure...protecting us from the outside while we create this very strange Christian subculture inside."

"We start to see evangelism as inviting people to go to a church, where the pastor will do the evangelizing, and explain Christianity, instead of spending time with people and talking with them and being the church to them."

"Musicians writing the songs that influence people at a national and global level are primarily in their twenties. The creativity and innovation of people in their twenties and thirties are used in the marketplace and in the music world, but are they given a place to help shape the church?"

Have at it, kids!

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I'm sure it all went down something like this:

Some advertising guy and some software writer get together. The advertising guy says, "Hey, do you think we can write a program that will remember everything somebodys purchases off our web site?"

The software writer says, "Yeah. We can do that."

Ad guy: "Would it also keep track of the stuff they look at and think about buying?"

The software writer says, "Sure. Simple enough."

Ad guy: "Can we make it so it'll keep that information, cross reference it with our inventory, and then...every time that person comes back to our site it'll give him or her a list of stuff they will want to buy based on all sorts of data regarding demographic buyer's patterns?"

The software writer says, "Oh, yeah. Piece of cake."

The software writer creates the program with a bunch of LOC's and the advertising pro gets the boss to cut the software writer a check big enough to put the pool in the backyard.

And everytime I'm amazed that program actually has stuff on it that I would like to purchase. So, for example, I hit and here was what was recommended for me:

1. Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality And Spirituality
by Rob Bell (Author) (March 2007)

2. The Onion Platinum Prestige Encore Gold Premium Collector's Collection
by The Onion Editors (Author) (November 4, 2003)

3. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
by Shane Claiborne (Author) (February 1, 2006)

4. JPod: A Novel
by Douglas Coupland (Author) (May 16, 2006)

5. New Millennium Funk Party
~ Various Artists (April 3, 2001)

6. Radio On: A Listener's Diary
by Sarah Vowell (Author) (December 15, 1997)

7. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens
by Neil Cole (Author) (September 8, 2005)

8. Complete Discography
~ Minor Threat (February 26, 1990)

9. Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules
by David Sedaris (Editor) (March 29, 2005)

10. Double Nickels on the Dime
~ Minutemen (October 25, 1990)

So, today I'm wondering what this says about my demographic buying habits as determined by the ad guy and the software writer. Little help?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

10 Random Movie Quotes In My Brain Today

"The rain on my car is a baptism. Of the new me. The ice man. Power Lloyd. My assault on the world begins now."

"Check me if I'm wrong, Sandy. But if I kill all the golfers, they're gonna lock me up and throw away the key."

"Not only did we embarrass Marky Mark, but we let down the funky bunch."

"Do what you love. $%&* everything else."

"I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem *may* have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being *crushed* by a *dwarf*. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object."

"If you can't laugh at yourself, life is going to seem a whole lot longer than you'd like."

"According to the map we've only gone 4 inches."

"H.I., you're young and you got your health, what you want with a job?"

"Ladies and gentlemen, can I please have your attention? I've just been handed an urgent and horrifying news story. I need all of you, to stop what you're doing and listen. Cannonball!"

"To have never taken a solitary road trip across country? I mean everybody's got to take a road trip, at least once in their lives. Just you and some music."

Granted, this isn't the only way to figure it out...but I think it's safe to say that if you can identify 7 out of 10 of the movies these come from, we can hang out and REALLY enjoy each other's company.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Brain Engaged

In between a series of honey-do's yesterday (they involved demolition of sorts--removing sliding shower doors and decapacitating a vanity--so don't get the idea that I was really involved in home repairs. I was just preparing the room for the real redecoration.) I got in some professional reading.

There was an article by Dean Nelson who interviewed Eugene Peterson and I thought I'd throw out there for your review and consideration:

Q: You have said that most of what we've been taught about God is wrong. How can that be?
A: Maturing is a long process of correcting misperceptions. Everything we experience is distorted by sin. Our desires and experience distort God's reality. Why do you go to church every Sunday? Because your eyes get dirty. We need to get our perceptions cleansed...It doesn't happen all at once. It happens incrementally.

[after a discussion on a church's role in culture]

A: You can't be relevant to this sick, sick culture.
Q: What's sick about it?
A: It's totally depersonalized. Everything in the culture is against anything relational. You are defined by your function. You can do most jobs competently and excellently without caring one bit about people. This depersonalization is so pervasive, and the heart of the Gospel is relational. So, when the Church tries to be relevant to culture, the first thing they do is depersonalize it so it can be relevant and efficient and successful. But te minute you start being personal and relational, you are not successful in terms of the culture, because you're not efficient. The crowd we're trying to draw has grown up watching football games in big stadiums, shopping malls where no one knows their names. They'd much rather be in a crowd than in a room with a few people. Technology removes us from firsthand participation in basic realities. If we're going to save our lives, society and culture, it's important to restore practices in which we are part of what we are doing.

Q: Are you hopeful about the church's future?
A: Statistically, churches are diminishing. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. You can't be a member of a church anymore without making some decisions. A lot of churchgoing used to be cultural--you just did it. It's not cultural anymore...There's never been a perfect church. If you're looking for models that will work and be successful and work, forget it. The Church has always been in trouble...(we need to know about "success" stories) but we can't replicate them. We need to discover ways to do it here...And be wary of making the Gospel attractive in a consumerist way. The Gospel is not a consumer thing. It's a sacrificial thing.

*flips Diner sign to read "Yes, We're OPEN (underlined twice for emphasis)" to those outside*
*sets up chairs & gets the coffee pot going*
*laughs to himself, because there's WAY more to discuss here than can possibly be hammered through in a day*

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Weather Today...

...fits my mood.

It's overcast & breezy.

It might rain. It might not. The sun might come out. It might not.

The trees go back and forth, but not too much one way or another.

It's not cold. It's not hot, either.

It's kind of nice. It really is. It's not prohibitive if you want to do anything outdoors. It's also good enough of an excuse to stay inside and read a book or just go hang out at a movie or bookstore.

When it's the weather it just is what it is and you deal with it.

When it's your mood just seems so wishy-washy and indecisive.

But I have the freedom to sit in my chair with my and read a book with my cup of coffee, which sounds good. And boring.

But I also have the freedom to go on a swashbuckling adventure if I want, which sounds exciting. And too much hassle.

Neither sounds enticing.

Neither sounds awful.

The weather's an odd mix.

So is my mood today.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Tradition Continues, Part 1

It started innocently enough. The limo arrived late so they came over to my house to kill time and we took their pictures on our sidewalk.

The next year, the logic was that they did it last year, so they should plan to come by again.

At that point it became a tradition: My students who are going to their prom come over to our house for photos before their big night out. It's fun for us & the neighbors actually like to see all the goings on in our front yard, too. After 11 years of it they've even started asking us when is prom weekend this year.

Now, it's changed a bit since that first group. Our community now has three major high schools (this year 6 were represented) not to mention the private schools and home schoolers. So, there are more proms...which is good for the photo shoot because it's hard enough to get one school's prom kids all here on time before they're off to the next thing.

Anyway, here's this year's Marcus High prom girls:

And the guys:

And the group:

And like I told Retiree Sam across the street, we'll do it again on May 12!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Relevant Interview

Let's make one thing perfectly clear: I'll never be the Christian artist/writer who will ever be interviewed by the trendy, glossy magazines. It's not a motivation that I have, largely because I have some issues with the Christian Celebrity Industrial Complex. It's not a desire they have, either, largely because well...ummm...let's just say that I haven't done much of anything that would want them to.

So, since this is a free forum (eliminating any ties with and "selling out" to the CCIC) and I think we all have that latent celebrity thing where we'd all like to have done something that would make us worthy of an hour on Oprah or 15 minutes on Letterman/Conan/Kimmel and what we'd say or do...

...I stole the questions from this month's Relevant Leader magazine where they get someone and e-mail them some questions and pretended that this is what I'd send them if they wanted to interview me:

Age: 41
Occupation: Professional Follower of Christ
Favorite Movies: All-time, Caddyshack, Raising Arizona, Dumb & Dumber. This year, thus far: Reign Over Me.
Favorite Musicians/Bands: All-time, Ramones, U2, REM, Nirvana & Pearl Jam. This year, I like The Shins & Son Volt's newest efforts.
Church Background: I'm a mutt. I grew up Episcopalian, went to an independent Bible church in high school, attended a Presbyterian church in college, have worked part-time for both United Methodist & Southern Baptist churches to make ends meet, and currently work for an independant Bible church.
Current Church Involvement: It's my vocation, and I go to an awful lot of meetings and worship services and teach a bunch of classes.
Involved in a Small Group?: Yep. My junior/senior guys' Bible study on Wednesday nights. I prepare lessons and they respond with real life applications.
Favorite pastimes: Reading & writing. Absolutely no math. I goof around with power chords on a guitar and can play 80% of about 50 songs. I never learn the solos or breaks.
Are most of your friends Christian or non-Christian: Christian, at least by profession. Occupational hazzard.
How much money do you spend on entertainment every week? Are books entertainment? If so, and you combined that with cable per week, I'd say about $25.
Do you have a good relationship with your family? Yes. I can say for sure that we love and like each other. We chat a lot and laugh a lot and supportive of one another. Of course, there will be things I'm certain my children will tell their therapists about me in about 10 years.
How would you classify yourself politically? Cynical, and I vote my conscience. I never miss an election on any level.
What social issues are important to you? I rally around two: alternative energy research (on a 60's space-race scale) & it's sister, public transportation. You might think those are actually political issues, but I'd say each one has tremendous social results. I'm not sure I could tell you the dominos that would fall over if we mastered those...and how our entire world would benefit. The downside is that people are too selfish to make that idealism a reality. See, I told you I was cynical.
How do you feel about homosexuality? My feelings, quite frankly, are irrelevant to the discussion. I believe, however, that the Body of Christ has picked on this issue to the exclusion of more important ones (and talk about dominos that fell over) and I believe that the political lobby of the homosexual community has actually hurt the cause of said community. I do think both extremes have lost the ability to love the other as people instead of trying to achieve political/religious objectives.
Do you believe in absolute truth? Yes. It's the foundation of my beliefs, and historic Christianity stands on it, IMHO.
What would you change about your local church? I would like to see the generations "converge" more. The older generation can use the innovation, creativity, passion, excitement & enthusiasm of the younger ones, and the younger ones can use the wisdom, history, experience, values and insight of the older one. I think we're working towards that, but it's slow going.
What frustrates you about the Church?: The way people bring a "serve me" mentality to it. They want what they want when they want it and how they want it instead of loving and serving. Plus, the way it works in America now is that there is pressure to provide more goods & services since people don't find their liking at one place they can go to another one down the road that does (and is a good church, by the way).
What encourages you about the Church?: The availability of incredible resources out there that allows people to disciple themselves, which will allow them to grow and turn around and use those gifts and talents to serve. The Web has so much good stuff out there for free and the community that result from like-minded folks from all over the world gets me excited about the possibilities.

*the accompanying photo that these words overlay would be one of me in my hammock, wearing my flannel pants & Auburn t-shirt & Birks, holding "Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut, with dog Lloyd at my feet.*

Friday, April 20, 2007

That's Not Writing That's Just Typing: Friday Stream of Consciousness

*in case anyone was wondering what goes on in my brain when I have writer's block:*

Clothes don't fit.
I'm a misfit.
Don't spit.
Dry wit.

Four tattoos.
Four pair of shoes.
Paid my dues.
Listen to blues.
Look for clues.

Choctaw. Chickasaw. Cherokee. Creek.
Blessed are the meek.
Don't take Greek, but go to Greece.
Turn the other cheek, but don't see Grease.
Shepherd the flock, but try not to fleece.
Who is Ed Meese?

Film splice.
Roll the dice.
Try to play nice.

Read a book.
Don't give me that look.
Breakfast nook.

Bad hair.
Bowl a spare.
Send up a flare.
Don't care.

I-T guy.
Don't know why.
Program spy.
Glass eye.


Sun is up, kinda.
I'd like an 18-month rewind-a.
I think I'm going blind-a.
I don't know what I'm going to find-a.
Maybe shekinah.
Mabye not.

Late night.
Not quite right.
Not taking flight.

It's a thnead I'm needing.
Cut but not bleeding.
Books I'm not reading.
Or writing.
Or typing.


I don't think this helped.
I don't think this hurt.

Neither time nor place.
Wasted space.
Time waste.
Bigger waist.

(at least I closed the circle)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hey, Here's A Couple Of Questions...

Seeing as how I'm the pastor at our church who is responsible for discipleship of everybody (no small task, just in case you were wondering):

What do YOU think that you want or need help with in order to be a true Christ-follower?

And, on another note:

Secondly, why do the people in charge of setting up meetings do so on the night when there's a new Grey's Anatomy, The Office, Stars playoff game and a Rangers game I want to see?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that there will be a tendency for Dallas Stars fans to blame goalie Marty Turco for the series of one-goal losses in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs (the most exciting playoffs of all major sports, by the way), but somebody better look seriously at Mike Modano not showing up. I realize he's a fan favorite, but he's disappeared this series, and we'll likely be out of the playoffs Thursday because of it.
...maybe it's because it's so rare here in Texas, but manalive do I enjoy the rain like we had yesterday.
...I teach a class of adults on Tuesday nights and made a conscious decision to teach adults the same way I've taught teenagers for two decades now. My teenagers have grown used to my fidgety approach but I can't decide if the grown-ups truly enjoy it, are amused by it but fight through it, or see it as distracting. They tell me they like it, but maybe they're just being nice.
...I have no idea why, but when you owe money on your taxes, there's something kind of fun about waiting to the last day to send them the money.
...I'm reading another really insightful book about the future of the church based on current observations of where it is now. I'm not sure this is good for my mental state.
...It's been a while since I've extolled the enjoyment of the unlimited free podcasts available from our good friends at iTunes, but that is one truly helpful use of the internet.
..Ian Kinsler might be the best-kept secret in major league baseball.
...that there isn't much better in high school than not having to report until 11:30AM, and this week they get to do that with the exception of their particular state mandated testing day. My daughter only has to go in at the regular time on Thursday, which has given her a predisposition to happiness above and beyond what she normally is anyway.'s so strange to be going to Bible study these days because it seems like this group is really only starting to gel and be helpfully transparent with each other, and now we only have four weeks left before summer and everything will change.
...I'd like some new music, but nothing really excites me right now. Any suggestions?
...I think it's funny that The Diner patrons stroll up to me to discuss whatever was in my entry that day and they start with, "I'd never comment, but here's what I would've said." Somebody asked me how many people read each day and it's around 200 different people, but those people hit 3 or 4 times per day. So that means that even on busy days, about 180 people read but don't comment.
...I'm not given to gadgetry, but once someone shows me how to use various ones I get on the bandwagons quickly. And I really don't like my cell phone anyway (I've gotten to where I take it to work, and leave it on my desk, or leave it in the car at lunch, or it's in the back when I'm at home--I truly dislike it) but now I want one that keeps 100 songs on it. I have no idea why this is, but I think it has something to do with how fun it'll be to pick a song for the 30 people who are stored on my phone's ringtones. So I guess phone ringtones will be fun but I won't hear them most of the time.'s springtime again, because I'm considering shutting The Diner down and focusing energies on more creative/helpful writing pursuits. It's an idle threat, but one that enters my brain almost every day when I sit down to do this.
...that I'm the only person on the planet that thinks the Blacksburg police and Va Tech administration all did the best they could with the information they had at the time. If someone's willing to die to make something happen, you can bet that thing is going to happen, no matter the precautions or protocols set forth. dog makes me happy even when he's not doing anything. He doesn't do anything for about 20 hours a day. For some reason, this is actually endearing when it comes to him.
...Tracy and I feel cluttered in our home these days. We attribute this to the reality that we've never lived anyplace as long as we've lived in this place and you just kinda keep stuff when you have the space for the stuff. I think we need one of those shows on TLC where they unclutter your life, otherwise we'll likely just keep the clutter.
...that I should do something constructive with my day, so I'll let you get on with yours, too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Today, We're All Virginians & Hokies

photo courtesy of the Associated Press

I wish I had a time machine.
I wish I had an explanation.
I wish the parents of the victims never had to go through this.
I wish it would never happen again.
Any time.
Any where.

My heart hurts.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Diner Wall of Fame

I often make references to certain people as being on The Diner Wall of Fame.

I'm not making this up: Someone stopped me yesterday and asked me if I remember everyone who was on the wall...which amused me on two fronts. First, that someone was paying attention that closely. Second, that some of you people out there take this Diner thing pretty seriously.

And they also asked about what it takes to be included on that wall. The criteria is actually very simple in that it is whoever had a truly profound influence on my thinking and/or inspires me for whatever various and sundry reasons. Oh yeah, and it's a tribute wall, so they must be deceased. I alone am the Panel of Judge.

But I was thinking about who I've mentioned as being on that wall...and I'm not going back through years of entries to make it definitive, but here's the list from memory:

First, the upper left-hand corner: A photo taken on a cruise of Charlotte the Scar and Eddie the Steelworker. It was taken on a Carribean cruise my parents took not long after my grandfather died and my grandmother footed the bill. I'm no expert on this because I was about 9 at the time, but if you're asking me that's when my parents were as happy as they'd ever been. That photo shows them sitting at some table on the ship holding hands and smiling. If you're asking me, I think they both were gone too soon from my life.

Next, Martin Luther King, Jr. I use the word "hero" sparingly, but MLK is one of mine. When I was a kid growing up in Alabama so much of the history there involves the civil rights and the civil war (taught as "The War of Northern Aggression, by the way) Alabama got a front-row seat for both. So I heard a lot of MLK speeches growing up and I can hear them now on documentaries or newscasts and still get chills. He had the moral high-ground and knew it and convicted us all...because he was freakin' right. His photo is one removed from those grainy movies that recorded his last few speeches, right after he said, "Now, I've seen the Promised Land. I might not get there with you."

Next, that painting of the founding fathers signing the Declaration of Indendence. I'm fascinated by their work and their understanding that words and ideas can change the world...and I soak up any biographies I can on them. They were freakin' right, too. Endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The brilliance of that document is the reason I wake up every July 4 and read it.

Next, Theodore Suess Geisl. Who else could teach little kids the importance of being an individual and the evils of big business and the horror of war? Manalive, this guy is more or less all of America's first teacher that isn't related to you. His photo reminds me of the kind of teacher I want to be...and it's him next to a blown-up photo of the first drawing from his "Mulberry Street" story--his first published...which I think would have significant meaning to him.

Next, Jim Henson. Muppets...everyone from the Count (who loves to count, aha ha) to Grover to Animal to the Swedish Chef and of course, Big Bird, Kermit, Miss Piggy, et al. Yes, they got their start of Sesame Street but they also fired it up on movies, too. Everybody has a favorite muppet...and his photo is one of him surrounded by all of them, kinda like when E.T. was in the closet hiding among the stuffed animals, so it'd be hard to pick Jim out.

Next, Chuck Jones and Mel Blanc. The mornings I woke up to Looney Toons...god bless the advent of cable television and they had hours to fill up and cartoons went from being a Saturday morning thing to an every stinkin' morning thing. I still watch them and laugh out loud at the timeless, classic stuff that Chuck's team drew and Mel's voices brought to life. If I were in prison, I'd use the in-house black market to procure the DVD box-set of these bad boys and I could endure months of solitary confinement (I like to think I'd be the kind of B.A. prisoner that would wind up with months of solitary confinement). The photo would be of all the characters in front with the two of them peering over them in the background.

Then, come the authors: Edgar Allen's one of those paintings that there only seems to be one of and every literature book uses that same stock photo. I couldn't believe how they let us study this stuff in school because it seemed so dark and when you're 12 and reading this stuff it's all so creepy. And I couldn't get enough of fact, it's when I first started to realize I liked reading and writing but couldn't tell anyone because it wasn't, well, hip and with-it.

Recent inductee Kurt Vonnegut. I'd love the photo of him to be from Dresden, with the other guys he hung out with in that slaughterhouse to survive the bombings with the caption to read: "And so it goes..." Just once in my life I'd like to write phrases like he did routinely.

Newly inducted comic strip creator Johnny Hart. B.C. and the Wizard of Id are still must-reads in my daily routine of the daily miracle that is a newspaper. His photo would be one of him with the Fat Broad.

Music inductees include Joe Strummer (the Clash), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Joey & Dee Dee Ramone (the Ramones). All would be concert shots because they were all more influential being "live" than on their studio records or interviews.

And, yes, there will be some automatic inductees upon their various demises, like John Hughes, Stephen King, Bo Jackson and Willie Mays and Frank Robinson, the writers of Arrested Development, Jim Carrey, and a host of seminary teachers and spiritual mentors...

But as it stands, that's the Wall of Fame because of their various influences on me that fit the criteria mentioned above.

So, who is on your Wall of Fame?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Jim and Casper Went To Church...Final Installment

Same old situation.

Same old ground rules.

Scroll down to day 1's entry to get on board.

Some questions and quotes from the final chapter:

From Jim: Are we in the preaching business or the people changing business? If preaching for twenty to sixty minutes every week is as critical to our spiritual well-being as it has been made to sound, then why didn't Jesus use this method more often?...We need to honestly admit that, in fact, Jesus didn't give a whit about church services. He cared about loving and serving others and introducing them to a personal God who not only loves them but more important, likes them.

From Casper: What does the way Christianity is practiced today have to do with the handful of words and deeds uttered by a man who walked the earth two thousand years ago?

From Casper: Jim asked me what I'd say to Christians everywhere, if I could, and I think it's quite simple. There are two rules we must live by to live healthy, happy lives with each other and with everyone on the planet: 1) Be open-minded. Learning is the best thing that can happen to anyone. 2) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

So, to Jim and Casper, thanks for your work...I enjoyed the read and appreciate your efforts.

And, to Diner patrons, thanks for the discussion this week. I enjoyed those reads and appreciate your insights, too!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jim and Casper Went To Church...Day 5

Same situation.

Same old ground rules. Scroll down to day 1's entry to get up to speed. One more entry on this topic after today's...

...but for today:

Casper mentioned at one of the earlier visits to a church that what he actually liked most about that church was that they provided plenty of tables and other areas to visit where you could discuss the sermon you heard that day. Maybe grab a cup of coffee and chat about ideas together.

So, later in the book, they visit a church that actually incorporates this idea into their services in a way. The teaching pastor had the congregation read the passage together at tables and discuss it, and they'd gather together in 10 minutes for feedback. Here's the interaction between Jim and Casper:

Jim: Don't you think this makes it feel like it's a classroom?
Casper: Well, yeah, but isn't that the point of church? To teach people? I mean, at so many churches we've visited, verses from the Bible are reat at the congregation: Here are the words, you listen. But here, the Bible is being used as a congregation starter, to get people talking with each other. And I think it's only in these kinds of discussions--whether they're one-on-one or in small groups--where you can really connect or learn anything at all.
Jim: So you're saying that at a megachurch, it's impossible to connect with God? It seems like you're saying that the larger a church grows, the more difficult it is to keep people connected, and not only to God but to each other.
Casper: I hate to simplify it like that, but yes. Think about it: How do schools sell themselves? By class size. The lower the student/teacher ratio is, the smaller the class size, the better the education. You get more interaction with "the expert" and more interaction with your classmates. Why do churches do just the opposite? Why is a church deemed successful by its size rather than its ability to truly teach its people?

So, what this spurs in my mind, as the pastor responsible for discipleship at a larger church, do you agree with the idea? If not, why not? And if so, what are some ways to be "large" and "small" at the same time? Or is that even a good idea?

Like I said, I've got one more entry on this topic tomorrow...but I like the provocation of this book and could teach a semester-long class on it if I wanted. Hope you're feeling the same...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Jim and Casper Went To Church...Day 4

Same book.

Same comment ground rules. Scroll down three days and re-read both if you're new to the conversation, okay? The coffee's been flowing and The Diner's been joyfully crowded and busy these last few days...and conversation's been enlightening and intriguing along the way...and I'd be disappointed if you weren't up to speed if you're just joining us today. So, if you're a new customer, why not take a few minutes and catch up, okay?


...we're off on day 4.

I'll record a little section in it's entirety because it prefaces today's discussion. See, in the book, the author has some background vignettes that proivde a context for the relationships he builds...which helps understand the dynamic the two of them have as they visit churches. It's a nice addition. Anyway, here's one of the vignettes titled "Defending the Space":

"From Talking To Listening. In my first book, Evangelism Without Additives, I talk about free attention giveaways. This involves simple practices like asking someone 'How are you?' and actually listening. We've been experimenting for a number of years to see what happens when, rather than asking people for their time and attention, we offer them ours.

For some reason, Christians continue to believe that we can talk people into following Jesus. That's why we think we need to memorize the right words or even our own story (as if we can't remember our own story). We all know the impact it has on us when someone listens to us. This simple act is so rare that wheover practices it (even poorly) is immediately set apart in our minds as someone we would like to spend more time with."

Defending the space means we practice listening."

With that in mind, Casper discusses a concept known in evangelical circles as "friendship evangelism." Kind of like making an intentional effort to befriend neighbors or co-workers with the intent of leading them to Christ. Casper's words: "Wow. That seems so cynical...(that) anyone would think that friendship is a technique for reaching the unchurched. I mean, that makes for a pretty manipulative friendship, for both folks. The unchurched person is basically being decieved, and the so-called church person is being deceptive..."

Now, I'm not sure many of the Diner patrons would disagree with that line of thinking, but it does speak to how our church interacts with those that aren't in our, ahem, world...which is what I really wanted to touch on, as Jim does when they go on their visit to Imago Dei (that has The Diner's featured podcaster, Rick McKinley, as their teaching pastor). They called this chapter their "emerging church weekend" adn Jim actually used a word I like better than "emergent": Neo-evangelicals. In other words, "they hold traditional evangelical beliefs but have changed the way church is done. That's why they have those candles down along the front of the stage, the guy painting while we sing, and a more casual dress code."

Casper liked the "otherliness" of the folks at Imago Dei: (Jim) "Otherliness is a word I use to describe people caught in the act of following in the footsteps of Jesus. They're focused on others, listening to others and serving others in small, doable ways. In short, they're 'otherly.'"

Casper: "You don't need to be a Christian to practice otherliness. In fact, many Christians don't practice otherliness at all; some actually practice beliefism, or the worship of right beliefs. [after a discussion on how chuch members cleaned up an urban park, and didn't use the results to invite people to church or anything of that nature] Their actions told me what he (Rick) meant...Think about it. What are you going to respond to? Someone getting in your face with the Bible or someone showing you care and campassion? The pastor also said something that made me think...he called Sacred Space (the cleaned-up park's new name) a 'beautiful inbreaking' which is the opposite of what many of the megachurches seem to practice. Imago Dei is not trying to get you to join them so much as they're trying to join you. I really like that."

So, today, it's on my mind to lead the discussions along the lines of the future of showing Christ to others. I mean, after working with teenagers for two decades, I saw that they'd get wise to the "free pizza" type deals where you'd give them a flyer advertising the Super Bowl and give them free pizze but then turn off the halftime show and give some type of gospel presentation. I learned quickly that those type events held little long-lasting return and for the better part of those two decades just loved on teenagers where they were (and taught my staff to do that)...that we couldn't "out-glitz" the world anyway but rather we could build relationships with teens and love them as best I could by showing up at their games, plays, concerts, workplaces, etc.

And this chapter really resonated with me because, well, I was already "there."

But what I'd like to hear about is what you see as the effectiveness of the church in the world. Are we really being salt & light or are we more of a holy huddle, waiting for those in the world to come around to our way of thinking and join us? I see pockets of both, frankly, but would enjoy hearing what you have to say about our "otherliness" today.

Manalive am I enjoying this book/conversation, lately! I think I've got about two more posts on this and then I'll move on...for those of you who aren't interested in it, though. Thanks to those of you who aren't interested for bearing with me!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jim and Casper Went To Church...Day 3

Same story, third entry. Scroll down for introductory notes as to what we've been up to here at The Diner the last couple of days.

Same ground rules apply. Scroll down to get 'em if you don't know 'em already.

Jim and Casper made a few observations in a couple of different areas I'd like to comment on:

First, after they entered several churches:

[after making a proposal to teach any and all church members to simply say 'hi' to folks they don't know consistently rather than rely on a team of volunteer greeters]

Jim: Here's my idea. We tell pastors to retire all of their ushers.
Casper: I bet a lot of people would be relieved to not have to be nice every Sunday, Jim, but who would take the place of all those unusually friendly people we've encountered at the front door of every church we've attended so far?

(Brent talking here) See, personally, I relate to this. When I attend another church, I want to be left alone. I want to make m own observations without a sense that I'm being given a "party line" or "trained viewpoint." I'll ask questions if I need to or want to, but I don't like the trained greeter approach. Or nametags, for that matter.

Second, another observation from Jim & Casper based on repitition from a few visits:

Casper: One thing I really liked was their use of the Bible. In many of the churches we've 'worked,' they pull one sentence or even just one clause from one verse, and we get no context. I often feel like the pastor makes up his mind on what he wants to say and then does a keyword search in the Bible to find whatever verse he can to support it. But here, we read a whole passage, and we got the whole story in context. And yeah, while there was more than a fair share of thees and thous, I really enjoyed it. The Bible is chock full of interesting stoires, and sometimes it may be more effective to just let them speak for themselves."

Have at it, folks!
Another Addition To The Diner Wall Of Fame

A couple of weeks back, author Kurt Vonnegut fell and sustained serious injuries. Yesterday he passed away from some of the results of those injuries. He was 84, and as his photo goes up on the wall today, in tribute, let's all read a few pages from our old paperback copies of Cat's Cradle and/or Slaughterhouse Five. What? You don't have them? You should run, not walk, to your local large-chain retailer of books, head towards their "classics" section and pick up and add them to your permanent library. You won't regret it.

And, as an added tribute, when anyone, and I mean anyone, says that he "recycles" characters, butchers punctuation & other literary conventions, or that his works are "incomprehensible," roll your eyes, smirk, and walk away...but feel sorry that their high school or college English lit professor wasn't intelligent enough to grasp it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Jim and Casper Went To Church...Day 2

As I told you yesterday, I finished reading a book titled Jim and Casper Go To Church. It's about Jim, a "professional Christian" and Matt, an atheist, and they act like "secret shoppers" at various churches around the U.S. And, it was a good that provoked a lot of thinking in me so I thought I'd kick it around here at The Diner.

Same ground rules as yesterday, okay? (read them for yourself by scrolling to the entry)

They went to a large church with all the accoutrements of a large church, and here's a conversation they had about the music. See, Casper is a musician by trade and Jim figured that since so many people attend church because of "worship" that he'd be impressed by this church's ability to have excellent musicians and presentation:

[after a few songs in which Jim was figuring Casper would be impressed by the technical excellence of the musicians, and Casper gave it a "2" out of 5 rating]

Casper: Well, yeah, for presentation and professionalism, they get a four or five, but the music is too contrived, too slick, too professional, really."
Jim: But that's a good thing, no? That should attract people, right?
Casper: Maybe people who like American Idol. I mean, don't get me wrong. I see the entertainment value, but when it comes to music, I like it pure. Too much polish and you lose the heartfelt power, you lose the soul of the music, and you're not gonna move anyone.

[Casper later described the lyrics as "contrived" and "soulless"]

Your thoughts?

I thought I'd start to keep the topic to one as yesterday was a little to scattered to get good discussion going, is that okay? We've got as long as we like here at The Diner to kick this stuff around.

*Pours coffee, sets up even more chairs, calls fire marshall to ensure that we're within code, and extends business hours, knowing that today's topic ought to bring in a rush*

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Jim and Casper Went To Church...


I'd heard about a book called Jim & Casper Go To Church and ordered it direct from the publisher. See, Jim is in ministry full-time and Matt (Casper) is his friend, who happens to be an atheist. Much like a "secret shopper," Jim paid Matt to go with him to several churches, ranging from Joel Osteen's church in Houston (which meets in a former NBA arena) to a little house church in their hometown. They did their best to cover as many types of churches as they could and varying denominations, too. Tough task.

They also focused only on the main worship services, too. So much of a church can be found in other Sunday School or small groups, nursery, student ministries, children's programs, missions, etc., and they purposely stayed in the main services to get the general "feel" of things.

So, what I thought I'd do for the next few days is pull out various comments from their findings (I'll do my best to avoid mentioning the specific churches) and let us discuss those ideas from our perspective.

See, I'll recommend the book. It's an enjoyable read as far as that goes, and certainly provocative. And to rattle off their findings in this forum might stop you from purchasing it...

...which as a supporter of the arts, I'm hoping you'll do so and these guys might can do another one.

And, one other thing, there'll be a temptation to "bash" our own church, too. I'd really like to stay above the fray because most of your church experiences are going to be along the lines of the specific church I love and happen to work for. I also work with a lot of people who try very hard to serve and I don't see how a critique of any particular church worker in a public (and possibly anonymous) forum is helpful.

So, a ground rule is that your opinions should begin with "It's my opinion..." and try to avoid anonymity if you can this time around. As always, you're welcome to remain in cognitio but if you're going to be critical, it means a little more if you'll be so kind as to sign your name or some other identifying marker. Oh, yeah, and let's try to keep the comments generic to the church at-large (such as, "Churches seem to do...") rather than specific local bodies (such as, "Crossroads never does...").


Okay, then we're off!

We'll start today with the forward and introduction...

George Barna, noted researcher (think Gallup but for Christians) and pollster, said that the reason people tend to avoid going to church--according to most research done by others--is "busyness." However, his findings led him to believe that was simply a smokescreen and came up with 4 reasons most people don't attend church:

1) They see church as irrelevant.
2) They have vivid memories of bad personal experiences with churches.
3) They feel unwelcome at church.
4) They lack a sense of urgency or importance regarding church.

A few questions that came to my mind: Is church indeed irrelevant? I mean, a lot of high-minded platitudes or nice ideals with a lot of difficulty translating them into day-to-day life? Do bad experiences keep people away and why? What would constitute feeling "welcome?" Most of the time I'm trying to go to a visiting church undetected (more on that later in the week). Why would someone who follows Christ feel that church is "unimportant?"

In the introduction, Jim says that "the teaching profession has risen to a place of primacy" in the evangelical church today, so the focus is on principles as that's how teachers think. But then he says we're almost over-informed and this stings us with this quote: "It has become painfully obvious that what we need is not more information, but more formation. We need to learn once again to minor in principles and major in practices."

A few questions: Is it painfully obvious? And, as someone who is now responsible for discipleship at my own church, how can I help take principles and make practices part of the curriculum (I have ideas, believe me. What I'd like to know is how you see that happening).

And, one last quote, regarding how we deal with unbelievers...trying to win arguments, primarily. The quote reads, "Too often, conversations about our beliefs are too much like debates, and we spend time looking for chinks in our conversational armor, spaces where we can insert an argument or launch a rejoinder."

Question: Does that mean we don't listen well? And, have you found that to be true personally or by observation?

How's that for Day 1?

Invite your friends and family to The Diner this week, kids.

I think we're in for quite a provocative week.

*extra coffee made, extra tables set out, extra chairs in place*
*flips lights on, turns sign over on the door that says, "Yes, We're Open!"--"open" underlined twice--and waits for customers*

Monday, April 09, 2007

I Was Going To Start A Long Topic Today...But...

...comic strip artist Johnny Hart (B.C. & The Wizard of Id) died last night at the age of 76. He has officially been inducted into The Diner Wall of Honor immediately upon receipt of this news. He died at his artists table, doing what he loved...which is the way I think we all want to go--doing what we love.

At any rate, it was stuff like this...

...that gives him a spot on the wall.

He used his gifts, talents, passions and platform to further the Kingdom. I think that, too, is the way we all want to go.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

If You Missed Our Sunrise Service Today...

You missed this, at about 6:50AM:

Followed by this, at 7:05AM

Sure, the "inside" services are nice (even if "standing room only"), but there's definitely something to an outdoor service, and worth every minute of 40 degree weather to get it.
The Only Thing Worth Blogging About Today

""After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back th stone and sat on it. 'His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.'"

I believe this.

Every word.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Just What The Doctor Ordered: Observations From The Home Opening Day

A lady didn't see the irony of her "Baby on Board" yellow reminder while talking on her cell phone going 75 M.P.H. on the highway to the game.

The parking lots were full by 11AM (we beat that time by 15 minutes) for the 1:05PM start. You could smell burgers and brats and beer walking to the stadium. Tailgaiting is good. There were jazz bands playing music as you entered. The cops were wishing everyone a happy opening day. The ticket takers and bag searchers were all ultra-friendly, too. I told a lady Kelsey was 21 so she could get the free magnet schedule, sponsored by a beer company so they can't give them to minors...and she laughed and handed me an extra one.

Kelsey and I had a Lent-observers shared lunch of nachos and garlic fries. It seemed appropriate. I called a co-worker while he was at his desk and acted like I couldn't hear him because I was crunching my nachos. He accused me of taunting. I called it information.

We shopped. A chilly day can cause the Easter Bunny to fork out more than he normally might for a Rangers sweatshirt for Kid1. She lobbied. The Bunny responded. I helped myself to a commemorative opening day baseball and wondered why I didn't get one every year and line 'em up in my office.

Pre-game: Kelsey wouldn't let an usher take our picture. "Dad, we've done that pretty much every year." *eye roll, with movement toward our seats* Oddly, I thought that was my argument for getting the photo taken. I guess that tradition ends, even though the Easter Bunny had just delivered on an highly priced Rangers sweatshirt.

Then the Rangers "legends" were announced. Suffice to say it's been a pretty bleak history when they call out around 30 names, you'd heard of 18, and only 3 were what you'd call legends...even if using that term loosely. The one legend they really have, Nolan Ryan, wasn't there.

The flags unfurled and the anthems were played:

I kinda felt like I shouldn't be taking pictures during the anthem but I kinda wanted them. Here's the traditional opening day line-ups after the teams were announced. They only do this on opening day:

This year's "Texas Hero" threw out the first ball: Michael Irvin...wearing a number 88 Ranger jersey and proving why he's a football player and not a baseball player. He lobbed a ball in there, but it wasn't impressive. Even Diner patron Hal text messaged me to let me know The Playmaker can't pitch.

Then a bald eagle swooped in from center field to the pitchers mound. The other 51,000 people seemed pretty impressed by all this, and I didn't have the heart to tell them that happens 7 times a year at Auburn University and they do it while 85,000+ screaming football fanatics are full-throated and yelling "Warrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (during the minute-long flight).... EAGLE, HEY (when it lands). They have a bunch of those flights on YouTube and I was underwhelmed. The 51,000 others seemed impressed.

I was impressed by the F-something fighter jets flying over as well as my ability to actually get them in frame. They set off car alarms in the parking lot.

And, the best part of it: A win for the home team!

The worst part of it: 45 minutes to get out of the stadium lots. Once on the highway, it took 35 minutes to get home.

But, sometimes, you just gotta get your baseball fix. And a 2-0 pitcher's duel that took 2 hours 14 minutes was just enough to whet my apetite...and if any of you season ticket holders don't feel like braving tonight's 35 degree weather, I'll take those tickets off your hands!

Now to go put that ball on my office shelf...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Coudn't Have Said It Better Myself

From this morning's Dallas Morning News EDITORIAL page, 3rd of three:

"Time to get your mind right.

Starting today at 1:05 p.m., for the next nine innings (and, if you're lucky, bonus frames), let's resolve to not discuss:

Iraq. Afghanistan. Global warming. Taxes. Medicare and/or Medicaid. Seamless mass transit. Immigration, illegal or otherwise. Alberto Gonzales or his boss.

We have better things to talk about: middle relievers, runners at second and third, can we please turn two and, of course, "He was out, you bum!"

Clever marketing campaigns aside, your hometown Texas Rangers are right. You really do need some baseball. Despite the forecast, we're hoping for good weather. Baseball is best seen outdoors in the sunshine, and whatever they're calling The Ballpark these days (OK, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington) provides one of the best venues in America.

But a coolish, cloudy or even rainy day at the yard is better than just about any other day anywhere else.

On the occasion of the Rangers' 2007 home opener, let us predict you won't see grass so green and perfectly lush, drink a beer so cold and refreshing or inhale a hot dog so, er, hot-doggy (and, just this once, you won't even wonder what's inside).

Let those peanut shells fall where they may. Nacho cheese fulfills one of your four food-group requirements (and, as a bonus, sliced jalapeƱos count as a vegetable serving).

Most important, of course, is what happens on the field. If you're fortunate enough to have a child (or can borrow one for this special day), be sure to explain why that man near third base is gesturing so and what it might mean, even if you're not 100 percent sure.

Think of today as the one day you can pay to watch the Rangers play, secure in the knowledge that they have as good a chance as anyone of winning it all. Don't worry too much about those first three games in Anaheim.

No, we're not completely sold on their starting pitching, but work with us here. Today is for optimists. Get your mind right, and join us at The Ballpark."

It is time to get my mind right.
I won't discuss anything work-related, war-related, politics related, global-warming related, etc.
I really do needs me some baseball.
I won't worry too much about those three games in Anaheim.
And, now that you mention it...

...I WILL join you at The Ballpark.

I can't tell you enough how much I enjoy the home opener.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I'm not like them, But I can pretend, The sun is gone, But I have a light, The day is done, But I'm having fun, I think I'm dumb, Or maybe just happy

I know.

I didn't mention the anniversary of the assasination of one of the most important Americans who ever lived yesterday. So, apologies to Martin Luther King, Jr. I assure you The Diner Wall of Fame member (top row, 2nd from the left) will have several mentions this year--as he does every year--of the greatness of his cause and his words.

But on this day, for me, another Diner Wall of Fame member (albeit on the bottom row, right-hand corner) is remembered.

13 years ago, likely on this day (there's some questions about timing, but his body was found on April 8), Kurt Cobain shot himself. For a myriad of reasons, this:

affected me. You can read previous years entries for more details as to why.

It was too early, Kurt. You were just getting started. In fact, that last song you recorded, "You Know You're Right" was downright brilliant. Maybe one of the best rock songs ever written. Forget that Pixies knock-off that made you and your band famous...there were 10 songs better than that one. And that one's great.

But my CD changer and iPod will be all Nirvana, all day today. Thanks for the great music...and I'm sorry you were such a tormented soul and no one was around you to help you think a bit more clearly about life and living.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Answering Diner Patron Questions, Day 2

When springtime hits and The Diner slows down, I open up the floor for Q&A. Here's stuff from Day 2.

First was a question from Mutt on a Mission, asking how I help teens deal with criticism. A couple of things play into this. I mean, some people are very sensitive (which is a wonderful trait) and others are have a harder shell (which is also a wondeful trait)...I mean, a coach could've yelled at me all day long and I never would've thought it was personal or taken it any other way than that's what coaches do to make you better. Then I'd have worked up an imitation of the coach to get laughs in the locker room. Other kids would've quit.

But the common thread I teach teenagers, regardless of their personality traits, is they have to be grounded in their identity in Christ. In fact, I'd say that's one of the more important things I drill repeatedly into my teens is an understanding of what it means to be a "new creature." If they get that, the damage from criticism is negated a bit.

The other thing I do is try to get them to make a distinction between criticism and a personal attack. If a coach told me I needed to work on my footwork and then showed me what to do, well, even if he was cussing and yelling and waving his arms, it wouldn't really matter. I'd better work on my footwork the way he just showed me. But if he was cussing me out, calling me names or making it personal in some other way, that's another in which I'd need to weigh my enjoyment of the game against playing for that coach (among other decisions). So, I teach teenagers that if you understand who you are and get an accurate understanding of what the critic is after, almost all criticisms are actually helpful to you. Takes the heat right off.

Next, Natalie wanted to know about how much you "push" a kid to be better at say, school or music or whatever. A very general rule of thumb is to let the kid do their own pushing. Every parent I know truly believes that if their kid "just applied themselves" they'd be "better." So, I've found the trick to it is to let the kids make their own choices and the parent should be a student of them. For example, I never had to ask my kid if she wanted to throw the ball or take batting practice. I always had to remind her to practice piano. They'll do what they enjoy and you won't have to tell them. So, why would you waste your money on something they really weren't enjoying? I know. I know..."But they'll regret not having taken piano when they're 35." Maybe. If so, they can call a teacher and take lessons then. That's kind of how I think the extracurricular stuff should work. The crucial thing parents say is "I want them to (insert whatever noble thing is)..." The reality is that they're their own people and God wired them certain ways. It's our job to study them and try to help them find that out. Trust me, I'm having to learn a great deal about ballet when I wanted her to hit softballs. And I certainly don't know much about painting.

Now, about school work, that's a bit different. We've got some firmer rules about getting work done before "fun" because the bigger picture of parenting requires helping our kids learn about discipline and structure--because most will have jobs working for someone else or need the discipline to run their own business. So I'm a bit more "between the lines" on getting school work done and done well. However, I've found the public schools here are plenty challenging for students, and I've found the structure of my other child's educational choice (going to, in effect, a correspondence school of sorts) to be one where we let the demands of the course work dictate her pace. If she wants to learn more she can always grab a book or watch a documentary. I remember when I was in school and I didn't take it seriously until grad school. So, Tracy and I let them dictate the flow, but there is a minimal base line of acceptance in grades. They haven't pushed that yet. We'll see what happens.

Next, Jilly wanted to know if I thought my life would've turned out differently if my dad hadn't died. I don't think there's any question. I went through my middle teen years without learning stuff that most guys learn, so I think I would've learned how to change oil and shoot guns and fish and all that. I think I would've learned a lot more about dating & marriage just from watching theirs--the good and the bad. I think I would've stuggled to pay for college (rememeber, U.S. Steel went out of business when I was about 17) and I don't know what dad would've thought about me and my changing majors and such at university. I wonder how my religious shift at 16 would've turned out given that the major drive in that was working through the anger at his death...and if he'd died, I have no idea if I'd even gone on that search in earnest. I think it's safe to say everything would've been different...from my wedding day to vacation choices to Christmas to seeing him as a grandfather and everything in between.

My favorite childhood memory? One time, in a big game, I was batting with the bases loaded, two outs, game tied. Dad, coaching third, called time out & called me over. First, he said, "Man, that Sandra Allen is really cute, huh?" Followed by, "Hey, it's a big at-bat. Dig in, do what we practiced and you'll be fine. Just enjoy the moment for a second, okay? How often do you get this experience? And, if you get a hit and we win, I love you. If you strike out on three pitches, I love you. Get in there and have some fun." He died abouut 5 months after that.

Laura wanted to know about friends of your child and their negative influences. I NEVER worry about that. Truly. Whenever I see my kids friends who might (or might not, my perception's been wrong before...hell, I was, and still am, the cause of bad perceptions) be negative influences, the question I ask is, "What is it about my child and their heart that leads them to want to hang around those types of kids." That's usually when I ramp up coffee's, breakfasts, etc., to get more conversations. No matter where my kids go, they'll be surrounded by the influences of culture and I want them to learn to deal with them now. Then I get to know the other kids and usually find out they're not so bad after all. Those that are that bad after all usually stop coming around after that.

On Lori's question about the emerging church group that hangs out in bars: Here's my stance on all "unique ministries." I'll trust that God has gifted them to do what they do and that they're doing it before Him as their sacrifice of worship. So, if a non-emerging group wants to form a ministry that golfs on Saturdays, more power to 'em. Now, what about them spending $110 a round to play? Isn't that eliminating a whole entire ministry potential group that can't afford it? Isn't it a stumbling block to some of those other guys who should be at home with their famiies instead of spending 4 hours on a Saturday with their buddies? You could ask those very same questions about almost any ministry and any group that gets together. So, you know what? If a bunch of mid-life crisis suburban Wild Hogs want to form a group to encourage each other and do what they enjoy together, or if a bunch of homemakers want to get together over lunch once a week, or some guys want to have an outreach to the porn industry (don't think it can be done? try the folks at "XXX church" who are doing it), I'll trust that God is in it, and they're on the up and up until proven otherwise. I always find it interesting that people apply standards to the "emerging" generation that they don't apply to their own age group. So, rock on Rick Warren. And rock on to those guys at the pubs. And rock on to suburban golfers, bikers & homemakers & businesswomen and everybody in-between. The kingdom's big enough for you. And me.

Goliath wanted to know about Reign Over Me: I'd put it in my top 10 list of excellent films I've ever seen (I'm not talking about Raising Arizona and Spinal Tap and Dumb & Dumber here, but simply great movies). Adam Sandler & Don Cheedle were brilliant and Oscar worthy. But it's old-school in that it's highly driven by dialogue. About "300": It's a poor-man's Braveheart, and you'll see clips shown at various sporting events for pump-up-the-crowd moments...and frankly, some of the battle scenes were wonderfully artistic. But, I'm not sure I'd be happy if I'd paid $9 for it.

Ian wanted to know where the girl he's supposed to marry is. I'd suggest that there's a pre-supposition there that he's supposed to get married...there are benefits and gifts to being single. However, if she's out there, my guess is that she's hanging out at some Bible-believing church, doing ministry and growing in Christ. She knows her identity in Him and doesn't need a guy to complete her. In other words, she's focusing on Christ, trusting Him, and if you show up, great. If not, she's doing her thing.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Answering Questions From Yesterday, Part 1

Many of you'll remember that when The Diner goes into what appears to be an annual spring slump, I invite the readership to just ask questions of the management. So, here are some answers to yesterday's questions...but don't be afraid to keep 'em coming!

Jilly asked when the iChat was going to be up and running: When my friend Chris can come over and do it. He has family in town this week, so when he gets some time. He thinks it'll be easy.

Ian asked what was the fastest animal in the world: the Peregrine Falcon. It can go in excess of 120 m.p.h.

Shane asked me what was my favorite concert of all time and why. Well, I'd have to say when I saw Kiss on their "Destroyer" tour when I was 12. My friend Tim's dad took a carload of us and it was my very first concert. We purchased the glow necklaces and the t-shirts and got to mess around with the festival seating (back then there weren't reserved seats, you just flooded in when the gates opened, and Tim's dad, an off-duty cop, actually waved his gun around to keep the crowd from pressing in on us). And, when you're 12, let's be honest, the make-up, stuff exploded, there was fire-breathing and does it get better than that?! Plus, we got to brag about it the next day at school, which was probably better than the concert itself. Later on, we'd realize that all the stuff they said about Birmingham being the "true Rock City" and how much they loved us was rote schtick, but it was probably the most fun I ever had at a concert.

There were a steady stream of bands I saw in college that were good shows (like The Replacements and R.E.M.) and I saw some bands past their prime that I'm glad I saw live (like Tom Petty & the Ramones), but they were pretty much just shows I wanted to see.

I late saw John Lee Hooker from the front row at City Stages (an outdoor festival of sorts held downtown in Birmingham) when I was out of college & married, and it was a fantastic 45 minutes...but the set was too short and the crowd was pretty small, but the music was greatness. Probably my third favorite.

A close second was when I took Kelsey to go see Social Distortion at the Granada a couple of years back. It was a great show for me because I was seeing it through her eyes and knowing this was her first big-time rock show. I really liked the band, too, and knew all the songs and they played my favorites, but I was having such a great time seeing it all through Kelsey's eyes.

The best shows I've never seen: Pearl Jam and Nirvana (I didn't go when they came to Birmingham because I was short on cash and figured they'd come through town serveral times. Dangit.)

Donna wanted to know what to do about a situation with her son and baseball: I'd meet with the coach after practice and tell him what you told me about how much your son likes the game and all that, and then tell him that all of a sudden he's thinking of quitting. See what the coach's insights might be. Then, with that information, I'd chat with the son. You've got to get more information before you can make a decision on whether or not he plays this season...and you have to get it in a hurry. So, for example, maybe this coach takes practice more seriously than his previous coaches...well, I wouldn't let him quit for that reason alone because he might get a lot better with a more disciplined approach. But, the coach might bark hard at players and whatever, and that might be a reason not to play for that coach. Like I said, you've got to get more information.

To Caroline & anonymous' questions about the committee and children: Absolutely. In fact, the reason that children are allowed into the service on the 1st Sunday of the month IN THE EVENING ONLY is related to the reality of parents saying that they didn't feel children were welcome in the services at CBC. In fact, there was an activity following that service especially for parents with children. There's still Sunday School in the morning services each week as well as during the evening services the other three weekends per month, too. Now, we might want to have more crayons and such for the younger ones and find other ways for them to be supported, but we've even held classes for parents to learn how to help their kids do well in "big church."

Tracy wanted to know what details I remember about my wedding: Not much. See, in the Deep South, there's a WAY to do weddings and there isn't much deviation from that pattern. There was a basic structure to how it all worked and you were always working within that structure to make a nice day and all, but you didn't color too far outside the lines. As far as the planning goes, I remember going to a department store to register for china--both every day and "fine" (which we've only used once that I recall, but moved the box 5 times to new locations)--with my only requirements being that I didn't want any type of painting or scene underneath my food while I was eating it and I wanted deep cereal bowls. And, Tracy more or less was running the planning but she asked my opinion about most of it. There were nice parties beforehand and I remember it being a generally exciting and fun time.

Our wedding was smallish, but the room held probably 10 times the number that attended and the reception was simply cheese and dancing or drinking, but time to visit family & friends. It's funny now, but at the time we just did what was kind of expected. I think we'd both do something way more fun and way more "us" if we were to do it all over again. We've seen so many weddings (our occupational hazards) now with so many people putting their individual touches into their ceremonies that we'd probably come up with much more fun stuff. But, hey, we were both 22 at the time and were the first of our circle of friends to get married so we played it pretty close to the vest.

Jennifer asked me what song would I use to describe my life. I'll stay away from "religious" music choices because it's simply too predictable for a pastor to choose one of those. Hmmm...I'd be very tempted to go with Social Distortion's "I Was Wrong" as it's an ode to a man who looks back on his younger years from his new position as a husband and father. I might have to think that through a little more. I mean, my iPod only has some 5,000 songs on it.

So, there's day one...I'll do this for a day or two more, kids, so keep those questions coming!
As If It Really Needs To Be Said Again

The Southeastern Conference is the best conference for athletics in college sports.


Name the sport: Football? Are you kidding? Only the Big 10 comes close, and you saw what Florida did to Ohio State. Basketball? Okay, top-to-bottom there are other conferences with more teams, but when it comes to making the final fours, the SEC sends somebody no matter how bad the seeds or the slights. Baseball? Check the college World Series and you'll notice usually 3 out of 8 schools. Swimming? Auburn, four straight national titles in both men's & women's. Gymanastics? The top four schools in the nation are all SEC. Softball? 3 of the top 10, including #1 & #2.

And with the Gators beating Ohio State again last night for the national championship, well, just adds to the obvious.

Now graduation rates and national merit scholars and Rhoades scholars and such are entirely different matters...

Monday, April 02, 2007

It's That Time Of Year Again

Blog comments are down.
Other bloggers write less frequently.

And, when that happens, you should know the drill by now, folks. Here at The Diner, the management opens the forum up for Q & A. It can be anything...personal, political, religious, sports-intensive, whatever.

But it hinges on you asking the questions...

So, have at it, and I'll respond all week!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

It's Baseball, Ray. It's Bigger Than All Of Us

James Earl Jones, as Terrance Mann, in Field of Dreams:

"Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come."

Burt Lancaster, as Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, in Field of Dreams:

"Well, you know I... I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn't. That's what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases - stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That's my wish, Ray Kinsella. That's my wish."
St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Mets.

Happy Opening Day, everyone!