Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Oh How I Want To Be An Offense...An Unsettling Presence In This Life

Their fans weren't many in number, but once you were on their bandwagon...manalive were you on their bandwagon.

And I was on their bandwagon. Manalive was I on their bandwagon.

Notice the past tense.

Stavesacre announced that they were breaking up yesterday. There'll be an EP of the songs they're working on and a small farewell tour (and if it hits Big D I'm oh so there). And it won't mean that much to most of you.

But they meant a lot to me...largely because I related to their fans, their musical style and their lyrics. Particularly these lyrics, from the song "Shiv":

i'm crawling out of my skin
i hope i get under yours
so many times before
but you still wanna know
why i won't just lay down and die
what did you expect
i think that i could guess
but this weight is lifted and i'm like
back from the dead
and i'm feeling kinda strange
i'm not the same, and i think i like the change

nothing lost, just cut away
nothing left to hinder me
pushing on, stronger every day
leaning into the wind that used to carry me
(nothing left to hinder me)
the last shot
nearly killed me
eternity lifted me again
(nothing left to hinder me)
oh, how i want to be
an offense, an unsettling presence in this life

why'd you try to take me out
why try to keep me down?

to get my eyes off me
down each ugly street
too many needs,
too many souls on their knees
and where have i been?
too much is me and mine
too much is wasting time
with the cares of this life and now
i understand and i'm
i'm on my way i feel like a man
and i, i think i like the change

nothing lost, just cut away
nothing left to hinder me
pushing on, stronger every day
leaning into the wind that used to carry me
(nothing left to hinder me)
the last shot nearly killed me
eternity lifted me again
(nothing left to hinder me)
oh how i want to be
an offense, an unsettling presence in this life

why'd you try to take me out, why try to keep me down?

Hey, I get it if you don't like 'em. They're not everybody's cup of tea.

But I can't tell you how much I'll miss stuff like this:

So, thanks, Stavesacre, for 11 great years. For being an unsettling presence in this life. For crawling out of your skin. For getting under ours.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Results Are In

On my first vacation to Manhattan I'd had experiences with waitresses and cabbies and ticket-takers that taught me the difference between being "rude" and being "frank." See, I was raised in Dixie, where manners and social graces erased both "rude" and "frank."

But New York is a tough town--even on the kids.

See, I was taking in a Jets game on a Sunday afternoon and the halftime entertainment involved a group of Pee-Wee football players who'd somehow won the right to play at halftime of a Jets game on a Sunday afternoon.

After about five plays where the capacity crowd cheered either a good run or a good tackle, one 10-year-old is wide open past the defenders. Another 10-year-old throws him a perfect pass (keep in mind this long bomb travelled about 15 yards), which the receiver misjudged. The ball hit him in the facemask and fell harmlessly to the ground.

My first suburban parent reaction: "Awww, man. So close! He almost had it!"

The reaction of 55,000 New Yorkers: Booing lustily, punctuated with catcalls. They repeated the process when the replay was shown on the big screen.

I nudge the native next to me and said, "Crowd's pretty tough on that kid, huh?"

Native next to me: "Where you from? The kid knows he should've caught the ball. The crowd knows he should've caught the ball. He'll do better next time. He's not gonna get any better if people tell him 'Nice try!' and he's not gonna need a psychiatrist because he got booed at a football game. And if he does need a shrink it ain't because of what just happened."

Sure enough, the kid catches a ball a few plays later and gets applause.

And I thought about my childhood where I'd had my moments.

Like when my dad put grabbed me by my collar and told me if I ever used that language to my mother again he'd knock my teeth down my throat and then I'd have to pay for the orthodontia to fix them.

Or when he made me stay in the garage while I had a serious case of road rash from a fall I took skateboarding down Savoy Street, all the while saying, "That was stupid, son." over my yelps created by the bottle of Bactine being spritzed down the left side of my body. The stupid act was not wearing long pants and/or pads while going down the 2nd biggest hill in the neighborhood and that maybe I should've waited another year for that attempt.

Or when I'd had a grading dispute with a teacher and my mom told me, "That's not my problem. If you've got a problem with it, then you need to set up an appointment and talk to the teacher. It's your problem."

Or when a coach barked pretty hard at us and when we complained about it to our parents, the party line from our parents went something like, "Well, you should've done what the coach asked you to do the first time." Or if the issue was playing time we weren't getting, "Work harder."

Or when your mom hung up the phone after saying something like, "No. No. No. Mrs. Baker, don't apologize. I appreciate your call and I can assure you this won't be a problem again. Please feel free to call as needed, and I'll call you, too, if I need your help with something." You knew some sort of discipline was coming from your own parents after Mrs. Baker had already read you the riot act.

Now, what I don't want to do is get a serious case of Good Old Days Syndrome. I know that things weren't perfect back then and sure, my parents didn't do everything right. They made mistakes.

But I knew that my parents weren't going to stand for foul language.
I knew that my parents weren't going to baby me for not wearing the pads and pants they'd told me 100 times to wear.
I knew my grades were my problem.
I knew that they were going to side with the authority in place in front of me, and if they had a problem with the way the teacher/coach handled something, they'd take it up with them directly out of my earshot...but I don't think that happened more than once or twice.
I knew that parents looked out for each other, and felt free to inform the other parent what disciplinary measures they'd put in place.

And, again, it wasn't perfect. Injustices occurred here and there.

But, as far as I know, none of us needed a shrink. And if one of us did need a shrink, it wasn't because of those things.

Which is why it makes me a little nervous when I read articles in the paper headlined, "More youths think it's all about them." The first line reads, "All the effort to boost children's self-esteem may have backfired and produced a generation of college students who are more narcissistic than their Gen-X predecessors, according to a new study." It's based on an upcoming book entitled Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before."

Which is why it makes me a little nervous when I read a columnist in the next section of the paper under the headline of "Through grade inflation we're failing our students." The article talks about how kids are taking all these advanced classes and making grades that have used "changes in the grading standards" while they're not really prepared for college or the working world.

All this does is reinforce what I've been experiencing in the last 5 or so years of student ministry. I can relate to the articles as they put into words what I've already been sensing.

And what I'm realizing is that this generation of parents of teenagers isn't out there trying to mess up their kids. They love their kids. They want the best for their kids. Their motivations are based on doing what they think is right in that circumstance.

But what I'm also realizing is that most parenting is a reaction to the parenting you got as a kid. You're either making sure to do what "worked" with you so you repeat what your folks did right, or you're "never going to do" to your kids what they did with you.

And I feel for parents in our society. They don't know what they don't know.

It's a tough town out there.
On both parents and kids.
And what we're doing now isn't working all that well in the broad spectrum of society.

And I wonder if it isn't time to give serious thought to some sort of month-long blog topic on my random thoughts on parenting...if it would even help...or if I'm even the guy to do that.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Shouts Out

I don't do it often...simply because the people I work with are terribly good at what they do so you become desensitized to it, but tody I feel compelled.

I'd like to kick some shouts out to Bill. I thought his sermon at 5 O'Clock Worship last night was the best sermon I've ever heard him deliver.

*raises coffee mug, encouraging those who heard it to do the same, and says, "Nice work, Bill."*
The Off Day

Mondays are valuable to me.

See, in ministry, they are the "off day" for me. I turn the cell phone off. I don't answer my home phone. I've stopped checking the e-mail.

But they turned into lazy days. I'd sleep late. I'd lounge around and think about going to the gym. I'd decide against that. I'd try to read and do that some, but eventually I'd nap. Then I'd walk around in a post-nap fog. I'd go to lunch with Kid2 (who's schooling allows for that) and/or my Smokin' Hot Photographer Wife, but I'd generally be so tired that I'd find myself having to focus more. I viewed them as recouperation and allowed this to happen.

At the first of the year, I made a lifestyle change regarding my diet. I gave up sodas & made wiser choices when I had options. Still haven't hit the gym with any consistency but planning on that in March (*crosses fingers and closes eyes*).

So, for the last few weeks, I tried something different. I'd go to bed a bit earlier than usual. I can do this because my church lets out a little earlier these days. And, I'd get up at the normal time and go through the morning routine of DMN, devotional reading of the Bible, blogging/blog checking, breakfast, Kid1 to school...

...and if the early results are any indication, this is the way to do it, man. I have more energy. Stuff gets done. Nothing really serious, mind you, but piddly stuff that should get taken care of. Books get read. Shows get watched. Lunches happen without having to force myself to pay attention. And creativity finds some short bursts.

And at the end of it all, I feel a bit more rested than I did when I slept the day away.


But good.

Gotta go...I have an entire day in front of me with no real plans and only piddly chores!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The "good" from yesterday:

The fine folks at the Apple store replaced Kid1's fancy-schmancy bells-and-whistles iPod without so much as a blink. Her iPod was flashing some screen telling her that big trouble was afoot. The guy behind the desk, wearing a t-shirt that read, "Genius," turned it on, saw the screen, listened to it, got out a box to mail it in, had Kid1 sign a form and we were out the door in a matter of seconds.

Auburn beat Alabama in basketball again! This time on Bama's home floor, and potentially knocking them from contention from the NCAA tournament.

We spent some time in conversation with Kid1 last night. She's going through a class at our church on sex & dating in our culture...and there's discussion questions for parents. For about an hour, we had meaningful conversation with our teenager.

Kid2 gave herself a little break from dance this weekend in order to go to our church's Bible conference designed especially for teenagers. They get to hear from our pastors & staff as well as have some "lock-in" type fun. She had fun and told me some of the things she learned.

The wife and I still had time for a date. We could've picked a better movie, but, hey...we actually went out as grownups. Kid1 and Kid2 were thrilled to have the house to themselves for a few hours, too.

The "bad" from yesterday:

I had a parent tell me that their kid should be able to bring their iPod and PSP to church/Sunday School because "they get bored too easily." I would've said more but my brain went into overload and anything I said certainly wouldn't have been from a motivation of love.

I saw a mom driving, talking on a cell phone, while letting her child watch a DVD. Keep in mind that they were driving around town. I'd say more but my brain's on overload and anything I say certainly won't be from a motivation of love. Am I the only one that leaves my mobile phone on silent when I drive or am with others (the exception being that around 3:30PM, if I'm with you, I'm on stand-by with the wife for possible kid taxi responsibility) and that maybe you could turn off the DVD player and somehow chat with your kid?

Hollywood just pushes some things too far for no reason. It was funny enough WITHOUT some of the parts they included, and those parts didn't seem necessary at all. I'm all for pushing the envelope and am far from a prude, but when you have a funny premise, let it BE funny. You don't have to go crass under the guise of thumbing your nose at the establishment. If you want to push the envelope now, you should be more Cosby-esque in your approach.

The "ugly" from yesterday:

Some sort of front is moving through and bringing sustained 30 m.p.h. winds with it. It blew through here, shutting down the airport, blowing down power lines (our willow tree somehow miraculously survivied, despite the 3-foot crack in the trunk) and making a general mess of things. It also lowered visibility to about a half-mile because it brought in all the cotton field dust from West Texas and our town was clay-red for about three hours. It was gross and smelled like dirt.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


The local school board made a major decision recently: They're adding "freshmen only" schools to each of the local high schools. Like most decisions of this ilk, there are upsides and downsides. Loudest on the upside list would include easing overcrowding and the benefits of smaller class sizes and that it is working really well at the one school they've tried it in our community. Downsides would range along building costs and the loss of other opportunities (like maybe a fine arts high school) and the reality that it hasn't worked large-scale in other communities near us. Really, I can see both sides so at that point I just mentally let it go.

I mean, they've already purchased land for a couple so I'm pretty late to the dance as is.

But one quote from board president Fred Placke (a former teacher) in the local paper today read, "Ninth-graders mingling with 12th-graders I just never thought was a good thing. Too much of an age gap." I think I know what he means. Something along the lines of the experiences an 18 year-old is going through and the socialization of a 14 year-old are different things, and the younger ones can be influenced in a number of ways, many of them negative for a young teen. If I'm wrong on that, let me know, Fred.

Anyway, I got to thinking about my experience as a ninth-grader.

The first semester, I had a general P.E. class where, for some reason, they actually spent a few weeks on square dancing. My good friend Smitty's older sister was in the class and invited me and some of my buddies to be in their group. They were really nice to us and made that awful stretch of P.E. fun. These senior girls just laughed and had a good time with it instead of making it drudgery like the other guys and girls our own age were doing. The principle I learned was that you just grin and bear some things in this life...and that there are worse ways to spend an hour than dancing, even square dancing, with fun girls. Me and my friends returned the favor by getting them on our court during basketball and not taking it competitively during P.E. We laughed a lot during that, too.

I learned from Mr. McBay that if you step out of bounds on a rule or two, that corporal punishment can be quite a deterrent to any future thoughts of stepping out of bounds on a rule or two.

Then I started hanging out in an athletics period during the last hour of the day once baseball season rolled around. Yes, the guys were bigger. Yes there was the day they got all the freshman guys in the gym for a "players-only" meeting, rolled in with the grocery carts they'd pilfered from the tennis team's storage, turned on some loud Twisted Sister music and pelted us with the contents of the grocery carts for the duration of "We're Not Gonna Take It" and then left us to clean up all the tennis balls and return the carts. But that was the first and last day of what someone might call "hazing" today--but it was more or less a rite of passage. After we returned the carts the older guys were laughing with us and high-fiving us for good escape moves or whatever. The principle I learned was that these guys could pound you if they wanted, but as long as you give them a little respect and know your place in the pecking order, they'd also be pretty cool to you, too. I think that's called learning humility.

The older guys would help you out sometimes with how to handle girls and dating and stuff like that. Sure, in retrospect there was a great deal of pooling of ignorance...but at the time these guys had three years of their own trial and error stuff and they'd share it with you. Like the time I had a crush on Kim Markovich, cheerleader in my homeroom class and she was very Go-Go's and outgoing and fun. One of the senior guys overheard me telling whatever plan I was hatching to impress her, stopped and said something like, "Don't try to impress her, just talk to her. Ask her a lot of questions about what she likes and doesn't like. Get to know her, man. That'll impress her." Good advice. Which I didn't follow. And I tried to impress her by spending a little too much on a birthday present for her...on a night when she got about 30 presents and it got lost in the shuffle. I spent more time asking Kim Markovich questions, but then she moved. But I got to know Kim Markovich...and she showed up at my senior trip and told my girlfriend what a great guy I was and how lucky she was. Maybe she was just being nice, but either way, it was good advice.

I used to stay after practice and catch the pitchers who wanted some extra work...two of whom would go on to impressive colleges to play ball and one even pitched in a World Series. He now analyzes baseball on ESPN. I learned a LOT just from standing around after the sessions (I always needed a ride home because I'd stay late and one of them would usually help out) on everything from cars to girls to music to teachers to avoid/get to scholarship talk to college decisions to football to hearing about sex to which churches were good/bad to cool places to eat to what jobs were good ones to military service options and well...

...all of life at that time.

Yes, there were practical jokes.
Yes, there were times when you'd get embarrassed in the hallway because one of them would be a big shot when you were with your freshman buddies.
Yes, they hit on all the girls in our grade who were a bit more naive than they thought they were.
Yes, they inadvertantly encouraged us to do some things our parents wouldn't wanted us to do (like sneaking in to see Halloween at 14--of which I slept with the light on for three nights afterwards. I mean, c'mon...the horror movie genre was just getting going and when Mike Myers wasn't laying on the ground when Jamie Leigh Curtis looked over that railing and that creepy piano music started playing, well, he had to be OUT THERE somewhere.)
Yes, I had some R-rated moments brought into my PG-13 world.
It wasn't all roses and ice cream in my high school experiences that first year.

Yes, there is a large age-gap.
Yes, there's a large experience gap, too.
Yes, it's possible that the experiential life of a teenager is markedly more overtly permissive than my Alabama public high school life nearly a quarter-century ago.
Yes, it's possible that the 3,000 teen high school is overwhelming compared to my high school (one of the largest in the state at that time) literally half that size.

But there are some healthy lessons to learn...and maybe keeping 9th graders isolated only continues to make icons of our children and they lose another year of the chance to observe older teens and learn from them. Maybe it helps them understand what they believe instead of just parroting. Maybe it helps them to make their various faiths their very own instead of the one their parents told them. Maybe it makes them think and analyze socially. And maybe they don't learn some of those valuable life-lessons that might actually help them grow in wisdom instead of one more year of telling them how magical and wonderful they are. At some point, they have to deal with that.

So, I'm not sure that being a freshman is a bad thing.

And I'd still rather have a fine arts high school than 9th grade campuses...but having a painter and a ballerina might just have something to do with that--so my opinion might be irrelevant.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Little Things That Make Me Happy


My Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers & my Birkenstocks.

Shopping for new music at the iTunes store.

When I get on the website and it has recommendations for things that I might like based on my past purchases and browsing history.

Bookstores--even the generic Barnes & Noble stores.

Owning a car that starts every time I put the key in it and the air-conditioning works--this hasn't always been the case for me.

Reading the comics in the paper.

Having ring tones of the Ramones, Pearl Jam and Social Distortion.

Checking the blogs of Diner patrons at some point during the day.

All the construction in our community--lets me know times must be good, even if it makes traffic worsen.

When an idea our staff plans works out like we wanted, like our "poetry burn" at Roads Coffee House last night (frequent patron Shelia S. told me about some club in NYC that features an open-mike type event where you read old love notes, journal entries, poetry/art attempts, etc. and instead of wallowing in it, you make them light-hearted entertainment for the masses! We stole the idea and we had a big crowd, funny notes & entries and it's been a long time since I've laughed/winced that much in 45 minutes. High school girls still have notes they got in middle school, where bad poetry laced with too many adverbs sound a LOT worse than they did at the time.)

When my family is under one roof and spontaneous funny things happen, like last night.

Guy red-meat nights, where my Bible study guys get together and grill red meat, and have brats for dessert.

Chock Full O' Nuts coffee--it just reminds me of New York, which is one of my favorite places to visit.

Pulling the knob out that starts the dishwasher, or putting the lawnmower up and taking off the mow shoes.

Oscar Night.

My terra cotta warriors that guard our fireplace.

My wife's photography studio and my daughter's dance/painting studio.

Ice that comes, crushed or cubed, right out of my refrigerator door. Water, too.

My grill, that even has a burner on the side for pots or griddles.

Spur-of-the-moment purchases of ice cream.

The sound of a baseball hitting a wooden bat or popping into a glove, especially when done by professionals.

Hearing from former students who don't even realize that by my observing their conversations, they're letting me know they've grown in Christ.

Sorry for all that...I'm just trying to play my way out of the slump...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It Happens Every So Often

I'm having one of those days.



I have them every now and then, too, which makes it worse because I know how things'll play out today.

I feel...

...once again...

...terribly far removed from my fellow man...

...and from the Tribe known as Christians.

I don't know where this comes from.
Or why it's here.

But it is.

And in spades.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

This morning I led my first observance of Ash Wednesday. Our student ministry staff likes that idea of making more liturgical strides in our ministry--we believe our teens are curious about such things and that we can teach them to appreciate the ways other denominations within our faith practice their ($0.25 word coming up) sanctification.

We can also enlighten them as to where, if anywhere, some of those other denominations have made mistakes or headed off into "error." At least we can point out some inconsistencies and get them thinking about where they might be off-base--and get them thinking about where WE might be off base, too.

It's a good thing.

And we started with Ash Wednesday know...sackcloth and ashes. The Old Testament version of repentance?

Read Psalm 51 in your favorite version...that's kind of the tone of the service today.

And our teens are walking around with ash on their foreheads to symoblize their mourning...
They liked the ritual that the adults at our church tend to recoil from (usually from negative experiences when they were younger)...
They chose things they'll go on a 40-day "fast" from...
They chose offerings they'll make as worship to Him during the season...

And they spent the morning in examination of where they are in their walk with Him.

And it was beautiful...

...even if they get strange looks at their foreheads from others today...

...because they're a peculiar people...

...because they follow Christ.

And I maintain this is a good thing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Really Good Prayer

The book I'm fighting through on prayer is too wordy but nebulous (I'm really tired of Christian literature saying stuff that sounds right but doesn't have much real meaning behind it--it all sounds like "happy talk"), but I can't not read a book I paid for, but it does include some prayers the author found while doing his research.

I thought this one was good for those of us who see the glass as half-empty, if we see a glass at all. It's entitled "A Franciscan Benediction":

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you cna do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.


I really like that prayer, largely because of the appeal to the right and genuine emotions combined with the "action" aspect. For some reason, it was just what I needed to start today with.
Tape-to-CD Update:

It worked, was relatively easy to figure out, and you can do other things while it does the work!

And it was only a matter of time before Berlin, The Monkees, Guadalcanal Diary, Timbuk3 and others were burned to CD, loaded in iTunes and transferred to the iPod.

One side "historical" benefit: Tracy asked if I could burn the mix tapes (five volumes, but I only have the latter two in my tape box--I have no idea where she has the first three) I made her in college. This was cool on two fronts. First, it scored points with the missus. Second, I got to explain the art of the mix tape to Kid1...which is obviously a generational rite of passage as it came up on a television comedy we watched later.

The good thing is that art is revived and updated by this generation with the art of making a good playlist.

Monday, February 19, 2007

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that we shouldn't be surprised that Al-Quaeda is re-grouping. Did we think they'd just admit defeat and move on?
...that I'm skeptical of pretty much all U.S. intelligence reports these days, because, well, umm, WMD's anyone?
...that my dream last night involved current co-workers, past students, and college friends as the supporting cast and a ride in my van with my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly in which it was so dark we could only see about a foot in front of it. Not to mention that a parent of one of my students was helping me by steaks in a supermarket. In color. And I only ate chicken spaghetti for dinner and read part of a book on prayer before I went to sleep.
...I might just switch back to razor blades after about a year of the electric razor.
...that book on prayer I'm reading is one of the hardest books to get through that I've ever picked up, and I can't figure out why because I like the topic and a lot of the other stuff the guy has written.
...I might want to get an early start on Fat Tuesday!
...that I don't know why I dread taking my car in for the 30,000 mile check-up. I have had NO problems with it and the maintainence should be routine, but I really dislike car repair places. I'm guessing it's because I have no ability to intelligently respond to them. I'm pretty much at their mercy.
...that our little 5 O'Clock Worship project at our church is starting to take shape, and it's a pretty cool experience. If attendance figures are any indication (and I'm not sure they are), I'm not alone in thinking that.
...we'll see how easy the cassette-to-CD editing process is today. I'm slow to learn technology, but getting the music into the software is a piece of cake. I'd imagine, like anything else, tinkering with the editing software is going to be a must.
...I shouldn't have started getting into the DVD's of The Office. I did it with Arrested Development and got hooked. I did it with How I Met Your Mother and got hooked. The first two episodes, which I watched yesterday, were VERY funny. Still not getting Lost and have no time for doing so.
...I'm always amused by the blog topics that I think are going to get lots of comments and don't, and then throwaways that top the 20 comment plateau. There's no reason to it at all.
...I'm not paying a million bucks for Britney's hair, even if I had it.
...that I'm thinking of shutting The Diner down for Lent observance--you know, where you give up something in order to focus on the person and work of Christ?--but I'm not sure that's what I should do. I mean, 40 days without you people? Call me sick and twisted, but I'd miss our little on-line java stops and banter.
...that Bose pretty much has figured out sound technology on every level. I got some ear-buds for my iPod as a gift from my family and they make a pretty incredible difference.
...Auburn's football schedule is completed, finally. It looks like another good year for the Tigers--I'm guessing 9-3, with losses to LSU (on the road), Florida (on the road) and one other upset, like Arkansas on the road.
...that I'd love to take my daughter to the Houston Museaum of Art since they got the Met's traveling exhibit of oil-on-canvas stuff while the Met redecorates that wing. How'd freakin' Houston get that instead of Dallas? Time & distance and--get this--availability of tickets seem to be a big reason we can't go.
...for some reason, I'm not crazy about Daylight Savings time moving back into mid-March this year. I'm not sure why I care.
...the AMC movie plan to show all 5 movies up for Best Picture one after the other on Saturday for $30 (including unlimited soft-drink and popcorn refills) is a pretty good idea. Whoever came up with that promotion should get a promotion.
...that I have to go take Kid1 to school.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Now I've Got Something To Do For Six Months

Thanks to the birthday gift from the higher-order life-liver sister Jilly and Barnstorming brother-in-law Shane...

...well, let me first tell you what it is: A box that attaches to your cassette player (or album turntable) which, in turn, connects to your computer. It magically takes whatever comes out of the tape deck and converts it to either a CD or Mp3, which can easily be transferred to your iTunes library.

Now, since they've put a man on the moon and all that, this little piece of information may not have a "wow" factor to you...

...but to me, well, let's just say that I've got two realities:

First, about 300 cassettes of music that I won't really buy again and didn't know what to do with because, well, I like the songs and didn't want to just give them away or trade them in.

And second, I'm going to analyzing the space available on the iPod. This cassette-to-iPod conversion should fill it up.
Proof #15,094 That Fame & Wealth Aren't All They're Cracked Up To Be


Will the people closest to Britney Spears get her some help? These look like serious warning signs.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

And, Today, The Universe Is Full Of Hope

"The umpire says 'Play Ball!' not 'Work Ball!"--Willie Stargell, hall of fame 1st baseman.


...pitchers and catchers reported to spring training for Major League Baseball. Position players report a few days later.

But, it starts today.

The Great Game.

It's One Tiny Little Pleasure In Life. No Big Deal, Really...

...but This clever little piece is the reason I'm a big fan of the folks at Burnside Writer's Collective.

I wonder if I could write for them.

Or better yet, maybe me and a few others should get together and see if we could be just as good.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Creative Tension

"If people never misunderstand you, and if they do everything the way you tell them to, they're just transmitters of your ideas and you get bored with that. But when you work with people who misunderstand you, instead of getting transmissions you get transmutations, and that's much more interesting in the long run."--Andy Warhol

I don't know about you, but I think I work better when my ideas are challenged. It seems to ingite some adrenal wick which runs up my spinal column leading to some sort of flash-bang synapse explosion deep within my skull.

As I see it, the key to that is to surround yourself with people that genuinely care about you and the thing you're having ideas about who are creative and innovative, too. And, since I work for a church, sometimes people have a view that we sit around in prayer and a bell sounds, calling the monks to vespers, then we mystically achieve unity on whatever we're planning. That's hardly the case.

Watching a beloved idea that you think should have a "wow-factor" attached be misunderstood and blistered by other creative folks who care about you can sometimes be the impetus to a transmutation that the team can call their own and frankly, will be more effective and rewarding than the original.

I'd get bored with that. In short order.

But being misunderstood can have much more interesting results if it's worked and massaged and kneaded and tossed around and pounded again. I like the malleability of chaos sometimes. And it's even better if you allow for the reality that "spirituality" and "polite" aren't necessarily one in the same.

And, I think today will be one of those days, man.

I can just feel it.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

It's A Time-Honored Tradition

For quite some time here at The Diner we've been celebrating birthdays of various stars, icons and patrons by a simple little exercise of saying, "HEY EVERYBODY, IT'S _____________'s BIRTHDAY TODAY. Let's all celebrate by..." and then we add-in little bits and pieces of things they do, say or have done or said or maybe even will do or say. So, for example, we might wear safety pins if we're celebrating Sid Vicious' birthday, or write a children's book if it's Dr. Suess' or invent an end-zone dance if we're celebrating Terrell Owens' day or whatever. You get the idea if you're new...and older readers already know the drill.

Secondly, it used to be terribly easy to keep this a secret. I'm not prone to enjoy having any type of fuss made over me...but the blogosphere has rendered that useless, and I know I can't keep it under wraps...if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.



*playfully sits in the corner, just waiting for patrons to rip that softball I just tossed*

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day, Everybody!

In honor of cupid's visit today (he always comes to our house in the morning and leaves stuff on the kitchen table--it's like Santa who only brings stocking stuffers and heavy on the candy), let's make an iPod playlist of LOVE SONGS we really do like deep down--no matter how hokey or cheesy.

I'll start: Sea of Love, by the Honeydrippers.


Stuff They Didn't Teach Me In Seminary, Part 3

(this is the last entry in a series that started on Monday)

That Depravity of Man Thing: Yeah, We Meant That, Too. Sure, at seminary they taught us those Bible verses we know that support the reality that humans are innately evil. You'll see behaviors that will surprise you at first, from people that will surprise you at first. When people come to church or some other gathering of Christians they usually put on their best face. We do clean up nice, too. But the reality of it is, any one is capable of any sin at any time. There will be days that this will be crystal clear to you, too.

There's Not One Person On The Planet That Isn't Affected By Someone Else's Stupid Decisions. That's really a maxim that could go in any office, but sometimes we have polyanna visions of what ministry in a church truly is. At the bottom line, it's a job, and the things that go on in any office will go on in your office, too. Just becuase they follow Christ doesn't mean that they won't bring up some hokey idea and you disagree behind closed doors, but then have to give public support to that idea. Or, it could be some new change in policy that doesn't work or some new machine that's supposed to increase productivity but takes three weeks of training to learn how to run it or whatever. Just watch "Office Space" or "The Office" and laugh your way through it, because this just means you're normal.

God Is Bigger Than The Muck. There are times when that depravity of man thing will overwhelm you because you're associated with it. The bigger ones tend to involve financial mismanagement or sexual immorality--but they could be any public sin...and you might work for organizations that have leaders fall to those temptations. There will be a lot of collatoral damage in any public failure of a leader and the ripples can go on for a while and you never really know when or where they'll hit. But, God loves His church, will protect it and do what's best for it...and you'll do well to learn to trust God through the dark times. The unfortunate reality is that you might just have to go through it more than once.

You're Not Really That Big Of A Deal. You might graduate from a highly respected seminary that gets "oohs" and "ahhs" from those that are aware of it (but even then, TONS of people have never heard of it), but don't get too carried away by their opinions. Because, on graduation day, the seminary will *ahem* humbly stick their chests out and tell you that you're now equipped to do the work of ministry, but you're not really. Folks will leave the business world and go into ministry or teaching or coaching or the like and people will rise up and call them noble for "walking away from so much" (never really thinking that those of us who walked away from it in our early 20's never had the chance to get the golden parachute--and I really think if I applied myself I could've been a success--but I'm digressing) so pretty much God equips whoever He needs at that time--seminary education or not. Every minute of every day requires you walking with your God and being Spirit-led or you'll do great things for all the wrong reasons. The first part of your job description is to walk authentically with your God...and since He has a past of using things like sticks of wood or jawbones of an ass to do His work, well, that's pretty much a good analogy.

Youth Ministry Is NOT That Much Fun For You. There have been a lot of youth ministry programs that look like so much fun! I mean, you get to go on ski trips and go to camps and play WhirlyBall and have lock-ins and go on mission trips and this and that and that other thing. And you get PAID! What a job, right? Ever tried to get 76 teenagers to wake up, eat breakfast, get to the bus stop ON TIME with their boots/poles/lift-tickets/bibs/hats/gloves/and oh yeah skis, show them the lunch meeting place, get the rookies to lessons, and one last thing, if you can wear the medic-alert beeper in case one of your teens goes to the infirmary, do you really think that's either easy or fun? How about 140 people camping out for a week in Mexico building houses, arranging for travel teams, tools, vans, trailers, drivers, busses, hotel roooms in various amounts over a 4 day period, and don't even get me started on the various allergies and what kids need what medicines and how the heck do you get all that water across the border so it'll be safe to drink. Notice what I didn't mention? Yeah, the kids working 8 hours a day in 105 degree heat. Ever try to run a lock-in at the end of a 50 hour work week and then work through the staying up all night bit? Yeah, it's all fun and games.

Teenagers Say Thank You In The Best Ways. Forget what everybody says about how awful teenagers are. They're incredible, and they do find ways to tell you how much they love and appreciate you. It might be rolling your yard with crepe paper to celebrate your anniversary at the church or they might make a big fuss over your birthday even though you didn't tell anybody, or they might make a photo of themselves and frame it and put all sorts of inside jokes on it, or they might invite you to come see their play or game or read the article they just got published in the school paper or sit with them while they walk you through the yearbook that just came out that they edited the "life" section...and don't even get me started on Senior Speech night or graduation day. You can have your golden parachutes, man. There's no amount of money in the world that can balance out when a teenager, during their senior speech says, "Thank you. For everything." Except maybe when they ask you to perform their wedding ceremony years later. That one's really good, too.

You'll Be Guilty By Association. The world will lump you in with all those cartoon images of Christians. You'll be accused of being like those TV preachers who only want money or one of those kooks who's against (insert political group here) or like that pastor of the megachurch or one of those nuts with a fish on their car or even (ACK!) Republicans. It's nothing personal--and it helps if you'll remember that God's Kingdom is certainly big enough for TV preachers and stem-cell research opponents and megachurch pastors/members and soccer moms with not only a big fish but a little fish for each of their kids and Republicans and well, even YOU with all your quirks and warts and smells and bad attitudes. We'll all be rubbing shoulders for eternity so you might want to remember that just because they're not YOUR kind doesn't mean they aren't His kind.

And that seems like a pretty good one to end on...were there any I left out?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Stuff They Didn't Teach Me In Seminary, Part 2

(continued from yesterday's entry)

Your Family Will Sacrifice. Sure, when you were in school, the family was used to you being in the house without being really there, reading books or thinking about what else had to be done for the paper for that important class. But, because of the public nature of your work, people will criticize...and they won't feel particularly obligated to keep it out of earshot of your wife and/or children. Your children will have expectations heaped on them, and your parenting is under a microscope. Your home will be under seige from the "emergencies" (real or loosely-defined) that will wake you up, take you away from dinner, rob you of the night out, etc. In youth ministry, to do it well, the teens HAVE to come over, too...and you've got to go to their stuff an awful lot. Just know this is a reality, much like firemen, doctors, policemen, traveling businessfolk and others--so no pity-parties allowed. This comes with the gig and there's no more nobility in what you have to do than any other profession, and if you're thinking it'll all be spotlights--well, it's really more like a fishbowl. And your wife and kids are in it with you.

Spiritual Formation Is A Slow Business. Eugene Peterson said that and applying that small phrase might just keep you in ministry over the long haul. People are coming from all over the place in their spiritual journey and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some folks stroll in from supportive families and others from AA/NA meetings and others from early salvations and others from salvation at get the drift. When I was younger in ministry, I would live and die with a teen who came to Christ out of the drug world and the ups and downs of his post-salvation experience. Then I realized he'd string together a good week/relapse, good month/relapse, good 6 months/relapse, good year/no relapse, marriage/good decade. It takes time for growth, so patience is crucial. And you'll have teenagers that are further ahead than 45 year-olds, and teenagers who know better blow it consistently and 45-year-olds who turn on a dime and save their marriages. You just choose to love people where they are, teach them as they'll let you, and trust the Holy Spirit to grow them up. You really don't have much to do with that process when it comes right down to just plant and water and let God produce the miracles.

For Youth Pastors: Parents Will Listen To Their Teens As If They've Never Told A Lie. All sorts of teenagers will leave your youth ministry, and they'll give their parents all sorts of high-minded reasons for wanting to go to Really Great Church Across Town. "I'm not learning anything." "I don't have any friends here." "The youth minister only has time for the cool kids." "My boss only schedules me Wednesdays and Sundays." For every one of those, there will be a teen who says he doesn't understand the lessons or they need to go where nobody knows them to start over or the youth minister only has time for the fringe kids. You can't win because the parents never bother to check with you on it, either. They'll actually believe their teen instead of asking you directly, "My teenager says he isn't learning anything. I can't imagine you're playing foosball for an hour every Sunday or you'd get fired, so what are you teaching, how are you teaching it and how can we help my teen have a better experience?" Listen, teens will tell their parents how much they LOVE the Sunday night Sunday school and leave the house only to meet their friends at WingStop--and you'll find this out when that parent tells you how happy they are since their kid is enjoying church, and you haven't seen him in six months. Parents won't really change so just accept it as an occupational hazard and move on...and remember, you've got a lot of kids who lied to their parents, too.

America Has A Consumer Mentality, And It Affects The Church. People will leave your church for all sorts of reasons. Rarely, if ever, will they tell you the real reason. Most of the time, it has something to do with a percieved need they they want a bigger youth group, or a smaller one. They want deeper teaching, or more applicational. They want a "better worship experience" but yet they'll sacrifice solid teaching or fail to even consider the doctrinal bent of the new place they land. They want a better (insert age-group here) class. Yet, the reality of this is that they were unhappy long before they left and never bothered to say anything because "they didn't want to cause division." Well, toughen up, Buttercup. That's on them. You'll never make everybody happy across the board, so just be who you are and let your church be what it is...and then be thankful that those people have pretty darn good churches to land in, with a myriad of options where they can grow and be a part of community. Yours doesn't have to be all things to all folks, so if the church down the road has a good Christian school, don't feel the need to compete. Be supportive. If the megachurch up the street wants to have the indoor playground and that's what somebody wants, don't try to compete. Be supportive. You get the idea. Besides, in a lot of cases, you'll get new members who showed up because you've got a better mouse trap.

Rarely Does A Church Act Regarding The Future. People that make up the major demographic in any church (and usually have the money and the leadership positions) like to keep doing the things that "work." Unfortunately, the things that "work" often are in the wheelhouse of those that make the decisions and have the money...which, by reality, the younger ones aren't drawn to as readily. Usually, this is dealt with by designing great facilities and having excellent programs for everybody that doesn't fit the major demographic. This isn't all bad, but do everything in your power to get generations to mix. The teens need to learn from the senior citizens why the great hymns of the faith are the great hymns of the faith (and that you don't have to play them with power chords to make them "fresh") and the major demographic needs to keep the main things the main things, and just smile and be glad the kids are a part of the service and put themselves aside for a week instead of writing truly nasty letters. It isn't about me...and it isn't about you. It's about "us" and the more you can get all of "us" together, the more we'll all grow.

(I've probably got one more of these in me for tomorrow, and then I'll let it rest)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Stuff They Didn't Teach Me In Seminary, Part 1

Surely, somebody's written this book already but I didn't feel like looking online to check, and if they had, I don't want my entry to be influenced by their thoughts anyway. So, here's a few things that I wish I'd gotten the memo about from my seminary studies (in no particular order)--and I can't imagine that it'll stay at one entry:

Not Everyone Is Fascinated By Theology. I've found that the study of theology gave me a firm foundation by which to interpret Scripture and, as accurately as possible, communicate those truths to be applicable to people's day-in, day-out lives. But that's about as far as it goes. People will turn off their attentiveness receptors when they hear words like "redaction criticism" or "progressive dispensationalism" or "transubstantiation" just like when anyone starts throwing out the nuances of their work.

Pastors Are An Enigma. When I'm in social settings meeting new people and we're doing the "What-Do-You-Do?" thing, saying "Pastor" can draw the funniest looks from people. It starts this way: "Hi, Jim, what line of work are you in?" "I'm in pharmaceutical sales. I really enjoy it. What do you do?" "I'm a pastor at CBC on 407. I like my job, too." They'll say something like, "That's nice," and then say, "if you'll excuse me, I need to check on my wife's snacks." It's like they don't know we can talk about the Cowboys or the latest movies or current events or laughing about the latest practical joke we played on a co-worker. It makes me wonder what the general public thinks we do to step outside the human race.

Youth Pastors Over 40 Are An Enigma. When you're 25, just married, and doing youth ministry, people think that's really exciting...for you and for the people you serve. When you're 30, people are glad you're "still doing it" and glad you've given stability to that section of ministry. At around 35, people start asking when you're planning on "doing something else" or maybe "becoming a real pastor." When you're 40, people just figure it's an acute case of Peter Pan Syndrome--and they seem somewhat amazed and entertained and happy that you're "still doing it" and enjoying it.

If You Teach Grace, You'll Take Heat From Within. The seminary I learned in taught "grace-based theology" but it always seemed so academic in approach. The church I landed in has been teaching this in a very practical sense long before I landed in it. I can't figure out why something so clear in Scripture causes so much friction and in-house debate. But it does. And, quite frankly, I don't mind it at all. But I've been blistered by parents, students, other pastors, people that don't even go to my church, and the like more often than I can count. At this point, I know where and why the attacks are coming so it doesn't sting as much--it's almost too predictable now.

That Servanthood Thing: We're Serious About That. My seminary has a large statue of Jesus washing Peter's feet in the middle of campus. The symbolism is obvious. And I'm glad I have that visual reminder, because people have that level of expectation--and rightfully so. Discipleship without serving leads to pride and being puffed up with knowledge, and there's a tendency in our work to gain knowledge. It's always a good thing to stack chairs or move tables or lead groups to work in kitchens or give blood (even platelets!) or mow or trim or paint or fix a flat tire or whatever.

Teaching Takes It Out Of You (or Guard Your Days Off With Your Life, Or You Won't Have Long To Live). Most people have no idea the amount of labor it takes to prepare a sermon. The good ones will spend between 18--22 hours a week to deliver a 35-minute message. That includes study, prayer, thought, practicing for time, writing, re-writing, etc. Keep in mind that most of that is on the heels of seminary education and maybe even having taught it once or twice previously. Depending on the time of the year, I'm preparing a Tuesday night lesson in our adult C.E. department, a Wednesday night lesson for my high school guys, a Sunday morning 10:45AM class, a Thursday morning group meeting, and a Sunday night Sunday School class. Then teaching those classes and trying to be innovative and fresh, all the while understanding that you're striving to be Spirit-led, with the reality that you've been entrusted with the highest truths of mankind and doing so "as unto the Lord." Suffice to say, the Monday off is vital to refreshment.

Love People. People are not an intrusion into your life, they are your life. Yes, you've got a lot to prepare for and classes to teach and trips to plan and meetings to go to. But the best way you can spend your time is to actually love people. Enjoy being with them. So, if they want to share the college acceptance letter by busting into your office while you're preparing that lesson on Joel (that you skipped seminary class the day that taught that one, to boot), the best thing you can do it celebrate with them. When a mom sits in your office crying because she feels like a failure (even though she isn't) as a mom, it's okay to be late to the policies and procedures meeting. When the ladies group wants to pick your brain on parenting, you can laugh with them and empathize with their concerns. When another ministry is gearing up for their big event, you can share your co-worker's enthusiasm. Why? Because you love the people you serve...and in our gig, people should always come before paperwork.

(more on this tomorrow...we'll see how it goes.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Things That Always Look Beautiful To Me:

My wife, all the time, but especially in jeans and a sweatshirt.
The white beaches of Alabama and North Florida--even if littered by hotels.
The 12,000-foot mountain peaks in Colorado.
The canals & architecture of Amsterdam.
Manhattan, at night, on an inbound airplane (it isn't as good outbound).
My students, on graduation day, huddling up for pictures.
The U.S. border entry station--coming from anywhere else.
My dog asleep on the couch.
Any Van Gogh when you're standing three feet from it.
The Dallas skyline from the south (meaning Reunion Tower will be on your left).
Auburn's football stadium seconds before opening kick-off, Toomer's Corner, and the landmark Samford Hall at night.
My daughters, laughing together.
The front door of my home after a long day at work.
A fire in the fireplace (real wood only).
The night sky visible in Chambellan, Haiti.
The dark-to-light moment your favorite band hits the stage.
Dana Point, California.
Half-Moon Bay, California.
The view of the Golden Gate from Jilly & Shane's plane.
The library shelf of the books you didn't take to Half-Price Books.

What's beautiful to you?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Somebody asked me what I was planning to do before I became a pastor. You know, "So, when you were going to college, what did you want to be?"

Well, it all started out as a professional baseball player. As with all athletics and artistic pursuits, that decision is usually left to what God gave you and the predjudices of others. Either God didn't give me enough or others were REALLY predjudiced. Smart money's on the former.

I went to Auburn and my first major was engineering. Oddly enough, finishing in the bottom 3% in the country on the math section of the American College Test wasn't a clue that wasn't the place for me. I changed major & schedule within two class periods of my first week at college.

To business. The plan was that I might just major in accounting and take over my grandfather's tax business upon graduation. One quarter later, I was a liberal arts major. Two factors contributed to that: I wasn't wired like the rest of the people in the business classes...they all seemed like type-A go-getters who wanted to take the world by the tail and shake the money out of it's pockets. And, I was really enjoying my Bible study as well as volunteering with a student ministry.

Turns out that there's a job that lets you do both.

And ever since my sophomore year of university I was geared towards being a youth minister. Sure, I bounced around five more majors in the liberal arts department (you could substitute philosophy classes for math requirements and you didn't lose hours, you just shuffled electives around). I graduated early and headed off to seminary (the first time--but that's another blog entry). I was in youth ministry eight months later.

And I've been there ever since.

But I've thought about what I'd have done if I wasn't planning on going to grad school to train for youth ministry, and as best I can discern, if I'd been remotely thinking and had advisors/disciplers telling me to follow what I'd enjoy doing and have a passion for I think I'd have done one or two things:

First, I think I'd have tried to get into the Auburn football broadcast thing. My fantasy dream job would be to have been play-by-play radio announcer for football and basketball...and I bet if I'd really gotten into the communications department I could've done something with Auburn radio/video/communications.

More likely, I would've majored in education, minored in English & physical education, and likely been teaching senior English, creative writing, and coaching baseball at public high school. If a private high school, I probably would teach a Bible class or two. Really, I think that would've been my path.

What would yours have been?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Recommendations Galore

I've got a ton to do.

We've been swamped and short-staffed at work.

It's a "good" busy, though. Warp speed, but we're having fun. The energy level is up and things are getting done.

And I caught myself griping yesterday. Not out loud, mind you, just enough to where I went back and counted how many references I was being asked to fill out and send in. The e-mails all come from former teens off at college who are getting ready for working at summer camps or going on mission trips or planning on entering seminary in the fall. At least they've made it easy, though, as each mail has a blue underlined link that takes me to a web page where I at least can click/type/send and knock it out quickly instead of stacking them in my inbox/xeroxing for back-up/stamping/mailing.

[all of what follows is what went on in my brain]

"Another one? What the heck?"

[goes back and checks MS office e-mail inbox to see how many requests have come in the last week]

"one...two...three/four/five/.................... six/seven... eight.............................. nine/ten/eleven...


"That's twelve in one freakin' week. Figure 10-15 minutes per rec, do the math, carry the two, divide by 60...

(wait for it)

That's about two-and-a-half to three hours just spent on typing in recommendations for these kids. Manalive, I really needed three hours, too. This is getting ridiculous. I'm wondering if I need some sort of assistant to do that kind of stuff...but I don't get how that'd help because the assistant wouldn't know enough to recommend the kid. I guess I'm stuck with the freakin' three hours."

(wait for it)

[different voice in my brain than my own]

"There'll be some middle schooler at camp who doesn't know Christ and that particular college kid has the gifts and talents and passions to build a relationship with that camper and will most likely lead them to the Lord. You might just read a book by that little camper at some point in the future who mentions that defining moment as to why she is now leading some huge ministry."

"That particular teen on that particular mission trip will benefit not only the group they intend to minister to, but he'll carry the team through those tough moments in a different culture because of his personality and joyful countenance."

"Seminary is just what that former student needs to have foundations for a lifetime of ministry. It's the one thing he lacks at the moment, and the two-year parenthesis will yeild a harvest for the Kingdom."

(this happens nine more times in similar fashion)

[my own brain-voice returns]

"Yeah. I get it. Those are three freakin' stuck hours. Those might be the best three hours on a bang-for-the-buck investment you might make this particular week."

[out loud, but under my breath]

"Sorry, Lord. The Kingdom's about people. I was about paperwork, organizational puzzles and this, that and other things. Let your thoughts be my thoughts a bit more often, and get me the hell out of the way of Your work. I really don't want to hinder the work you're doing on the planet right now."


...I hit "send" with a joyful attitude that God is at work in this world right now, in and through dear friends of mine (who happen to be former students) who are being obedient to what God is asking of them for this summer. Thankful that I'm surrounded by friends/former students who think this way and are gifted/talented/passionate that make it easy for me to honestly recommend them for the roles they want to undertake.

And kicked myself a little bit for being so selfishly ambitious.

Live and learn.

And, hopefully...


Thursday, February 08, 2007


My daughter came in a few weeks ago and knew her class ranking. Her classmates have been discussing where they sit against one semester of high school. This information is idle chat now, but will become vital information around 2010.

My senior guys' Bible study prayers mention either praise for the college they got accepted to or petitions that God would show them where they need to be for the next four years of their lives.

My first discussion with two juniors last night involved their senior year class schedule and discussions of where they were headed once they graduate. They were all over the map.

I don't recall too much discussion of colleges and/or universities when I was in high school. Maybe because it was pretty much the default position of everybody I knew--we were all figuring on going to college, with a few guys headed to the military and one or two planning on opening their own businesses or working for their fathers mixed in. But, by-and-large, we were headed to college.

And, in Alabama, there were two major choices: Auburn or Alabama. Loyalties had more to do with football than with which college was stronger in which area (Auburn was dominant in engineering and veterinary sciences, Alabama bigger on business and law school). If you were planning on knocking out some prerequisites at a local community college and save money by living at home, U.A.B. was a big player (big on medicine/pharmacology). A few friends went to some neighboring colleges, like Samford (excellent liberal arts school & pricey, but strong Southern Baptist ties for the khaki/bow-head crowd) or Montevallo (good for teachers). If you were really adventurous, there was South Alabama, which offered no Friday classes and a 20-minute ride to the beach, as well as Mardi Gras days off.

I only knew of two or three folks in my class that went "off" to school: Ron went to Georgia, and Julie went to Tulane.

Anyway, it all started by taking the ACT in the spring of your junior year. Once the results came back you could then begin charting a plan. Either you did well enough to get into AU or UA and got your automatic acceptance letter (which I got mine in May of my junior year, nullifying any and all motivation for learning for my 1983-1984 school year) from the school you wanted, or you began making the alternate plans.

It seemed so easy at the time. I only considered Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi and Troy State (now Troy) in addition to Auburn. The only real reason they hit the radar was that you got to send your ACT score to three schools and after Auburn, I penciled in those two for reasons that I can best describe as cool football helmet logos. Troy State got a "send" (at $10 extra) after their college day presentation at my school in which they gave us a slew of bumper stickers and a hot girl told me and my friends how great the school was.

But I never thought outside the box on that.

I never even really considered the other schools, although they apparently thought sending ACT scores indicated more interest because they actually called my house several times to "see if I had any questions before deciding." But when people asked me where I was considering, I listed all four. They'd respond by asking why I was going so far away to school. Keep in mind it was about 4 hours away to Hattiesburg. 3 to Starkville. Maybe. Troy was an hour. Auburn 2.

And that's what I like about where these teens are in the Dallas area. Alabama was definitely more parochial. You stayed close. But when I listen to area kids discuss colleges, man, the world is their oyster. Last night I heard discussions of service acadamies, schools on the west coast, New England schools, parent alma maters in various states...

...and I thought it was a very good thing.

I mean, here in Dallas, there are some quality schools in the area--but almost every school is 3 to 5 hours away. From Birmingham, you could get to Clemson, South Carolina in 5 hours...but it felt further because you were in three states during travel. Where we live, you could drive 9 hours west and never leave the state, or 12 south. So, staying close to home could mean Lubbock (4.5 hours).

So, I like the fact they have more options.

I like the fact they take it seriously enough to pray for God's will and are open to wherever He might lead them. I also like that they ask questions about how to discern God's will.

I like the fact that they are worried about what their parents will say when they talk about "U-Dub" (Washington) or Pepperdine or West Point or an arts school in New York.

Even if there's a little pressure of being overwhelmed at times.

They think more freely.

They think "bigger" than I did. Maybe because they're smarter than I am and have those kinds of options.

They don't have the apprehensions about going far away and starting their own lives.

They get to dream.

And I get to live vicariously through them.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


My days, like most everyone's I know, start early and end late.

Granted, I enjoy my people-oriented job and I enjoy the folks I work with so that's nice--I'm fully aware that many others don't have the luxury of doing what they enjoy. They work for varieties of reasons and can do what they love later--which most people call "hobbies." But I like what I do.

Yet, I can work myself into a frenzy like anybody else.

It can start with a quick meeting...say to discuss what we need to do to get that video shot for the middle school group that night. Then the phone rings to check on the meeting time for coffee. I've got to get that two hours' worth of studying done for the class I'm teaching that night. The assistant needs me to sign off on the check request for the bus payment. A distressed mom "just wants a minute" to talk about a situation with her teen while she's at the church anyway. Now, I'm behind on studying, but the weekly staff meeting starts, followed by checking e-mail during the 10 minute break before the pastor's meeting, which goes until lunch. Lunch with a colleague is nice, but I've GOT to get back and study. Two quick things from the assistant need my attention. Tracy calls and we work out an alternate plan for child pick-up because I'm not going to be able to break away and still be on time to teach my class. Two e-mails for references for former teens have GOT to be done because today's the deadline. Finally, get the study completed and notes typed before the 6:00PM deadline when admin asisstants go home and turn them in for binding. Consider going to grab a quick bite before my class...but don't. Teach the class. Pick up kid immediately afterward. Talk about the day. Make a quick dinner at home.

The day wasn't bad at all. Some of it was downright enjoyable.

Sure, some of it was mundane. Some of it was deadline induced but I said I'd do it.

Some of it was helpful.

And, like I said, I enjoy what I do, so it was all-in-all a pretty average/nice day.

But I get to recalibrate on know, get "centered" and reminded who I am and who He is. I can pray before, during and after meetings--that kind of behavior is encouraged, in fact. I can focus on Him when the mom is sees growth in her teen. I can sense His presence when I study His living and active word. I can be aware of Him when I fellowship and enjoy the students in my class. The ability to re-calibrate is hard-wired into my day at various points. I could tell my boss that I'm taking a walk to spend some time alone with God and I'd get at least mild understanding, if not a full-blown "good for you."

I have no idea how other folks do that. The teacher. The lawyer. The homemaker/family manager. The business owner. The barber. The minimum wage waiter bringing my lunch. The salesperson.

So, I'm curious as to how the person who has a job that isn't working for God re-calibrates. When? How? It's something I've never really thought through before...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sympathy Sickness?

I've been preparing to teach a 12-week class (which begins tonight) on the "minor" prophets of the Old Testament.

And this morning, I'm feeling very far afield from the rest of humanity.

In the best of ways.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Little Things That Make Me Happy...

I was just thinking about things I like. Here's some:

Malbec from southeastern Austrailia.
Sunday newspaper sales flyers.
Free weekends from cable suppliers to preview movie channels.
Previews at movie theatres.
The Apple retail store.
IKEA furniture.
Fires with real wood in the fireplace with chili for dinner.
Snow skiing.
Manhattan's existence--just thinking about it.
My eclectic collection of coffee mugs--none match but they all have a story.
The coat Tracy got me the Christmas we got engaged that I still wear.
The stupid movies and shows I have on DVD.
The sense of community that blogging helps create.
Being asked to perform wedding ceremonies.
My iPod.
Clever commercials.
A really good pizza place.
Rain and/or sleet & snow.
My wife sitting in her chair with the blanket over the space heater to make a little heat tent playing Snood on her laptop.
Laughing with the student ministry staff over brainstorming ideas.
The passion of teenagers--even when it misfires or goes haywire (that's usually when it's most enjoyable).
A round of disc golf (of which I may take in this afternoon after lawnmowing. Yes, lawnmowing, in February).
The sports radio station in DFW called The Ticket (very funny stuff).
Just knowing (and I used that word measuredly) that my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly might be at the apex of the life-happiness index very soon if she isn't there already.
Getting new music.
Hearing a really good sermon.
Keeping in touch with friends from high school and college.
Having a good set-up with Tracy's family.
My Birkenstocks--even with the holes in them (or should I say "especially" with the holes in them?).

And that's just "stream of consciousness" for a few minutes. You know, I really am in a "good place" these days.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Wake Up Call

From Mark Yaconelli (yes...Mike's son) in his book "Contemplative Youth Ministry" (forward by Anne Lamott--how cool is that? If I ever write a book, I want a forward by her or Donald Miller):

"Sadly, most adults are unable to see the truth--that drug use and sexual promiscuity among youth have continually decreased over the past 20 years. So much so that Bill Strauss, co-author with Neil Howe of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation claims, 'Never before has there been a generation that is less violent, less vulgar, less sexually charged than the culture being offered them.' We fail to recognize it's the adult culture that's far more 'at-risk' than the youth culture. Strauss claims, 'We need a youth committee on adult drug abuse, not the other way around.' But many of us believe the story the media and culture tell us about youth. We don't take the time to get to know our youth as they really are. Instead, we view them through the media lens. We see them not as children, or even as people; we see them as a dangerous tribe, a marauding cluster of 'at-risk' statistics evoking fear and aprehension."

Another, this time on the reality that adults really just want a safe place for their kids and want them to have good morals, rather than truly following Christ:

"Sometimes it's difficult for us to admit that Jesus came to offer us another way of life--one that involves more than being good citizens, obeying the law, recycling your garbage and attending church on Sunday. Although many adults try to ignore Jesus' life of passionate freedom and relationship, youth are drawn to it."

*laughing to himself, knowing that these two grenades should explode about the time the patrons arrive.*

*brews coffee*

*waits with anticipation*

Saturday, February 03, 2007

It Started Out Innocently Enough...

A church youth ministry in Indianapolis was going to host a Super Bowl party. Nothing really big about that. My church's student ministry has hosted one every year since we moved into our new building. No biggie, just order a 10-yard Subway sandwich, turn on the video games and turn on the game and we're off! I'm aware of at least 3 other youth groups in our area that do the same thing.

Turns out this particular ministry in Indianapolis gets a "cease and desist" from the National Football League.

Seems they were going to charge admission and use the extra cash to fund a mission trip somewhere. Again, not all that odd.

However, turns out that the NFL cares a great deal about it's copyrighted broadcast and decided to get serious about that. You know that little thing they read at any time during a major league sporting event that starts uses the phrase, "without the express written consent" of the league you can't use any "transmission of the broadcast?" Yeah, they mean that.

And, they should.

I've got no beef with the NFL on this one. The church should've known better than to charge admission and/or use the Super Bowl logo on advertising and all that jazz. I'm sure the church meant well, but I understand the league's stance: YOU can't make money off their property, no matter how worthy the cause, unless you get their permission to use it for said purposes.

I certainly get that you can't use their logo on flyers and such as that would imply endorsement of the ministry or their causes that they may or may not agree with. Again, kudos to the NFL for protecting their logo & identity.

And, since you can't enforce this copyright infringement without looking bad (I mean, here's a billion-plus-dollar league going after a party that was expecting 100 people), they had their spokespeople put some spin out there and even listed on their website the qualifications for showing the game without infringement. Again, good for them, and thanks to them for communication so quickly.

But here's the one I don't get: Apparently, you can't show the game to a mass audience on a screen larger than 55" unless your business shows sports on television as part of it's "business operation." So, that means any restaurant that has a bar can do it without impunity. Yet, a church can't because we don't show televised sports as part of our operation.

So, our church has 4 televisions in our lobby, and we could put all 300 people that will be likely to attend our "Big Game" party (no kidding, now, anyway) in that lobby and watch the game, but we can't put all 300 people in the main hall and watch the game on our big screen? What difference would it make it they were all sitting in a clump against whether or not there were 75 people around each TV?

I know the answer already: Money. See, Neilson television ratings are the basis for advertising dollars. Restaurants and sports bars and the like are "counted" in the Neilson ratings that will tell the networks how many people actually watched the game. This tells them how much they can charge per 30 seconds of advertising.

So, NFL, we've been having get-togethers at various times to watch your product at Roads Coffee House (located on our church property) as well as other sports, too. Hence, it's part of the operation of that particular we'll dutifully take our watchers down to Roads and show it on our screen there (it's actually a tad larger than 55", but we'll use our projector to shrink it to that size, just so we'll be in compliance) and thankfully, it'll hold the same number of people we anticipate.

We've done it for years and had a ball.

We've never charged a nickel.

We've never used your logo--although all our announcement sheets used the phrase "Super Bowl Party" over the years--sorry about that one. Didn't know that little phrase was trademarked. That one's on my bad.

And we'll joyfully comply with your ruling on screen size.

And, we'll all have a good time as a church family anyway.

But, I can assure you that Roads Coffee House will have a little 5' B&W screen on to some sport every day, and next year we'll have a lawyer tell us if we comply NOW. And I wonder if we can show Monday Night Football down there legally again. Or if we can watch a Cowboys game for 20 minutes before class starts again.

That third qualifier seems like a silly rule to me, though, given the state and size of large screen HDTV's coming out. Maybe you should re-think it...

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Letter To The 12-Year-Old Me

*It's only the first draft, okay? Any and all constructive criticism is appreciated...and I got the idea from book I read on the left entitled "Here's to Hindsight," so thanks to the author for the idea*

You've been having a pretty memorable childhood, kid. It's the stuff of movies when you think about it: Parents who love you and love each other, extended family holiday get-togethers, friends your own age all over the neighborhood, good teachers and schools, upper-middle class. Happy.

But things are going to change for you in the biggest of ways next fall. See, you dad is going to die. You'll find yourself walking around with mental shoelaces untied and nobody can teach you how to tie them, kid...and that'll be okay because it will actually be the journey of a lifetime trying to figure out how to do so.

It will start when well-meaning people try to tie those mental shoelaces for you. They'll say things like, "God has a plan." And you'll agree, but you won't like his plan. So, you'll make a deal with Him: You stay on your side of the universe and I'll stay on mine. When you're older, make sure to be thankful that he didn't hold up His end of that particular deal.

Reminders of your losing your dad are stealth and use guerilla tactics. They'll attack when you least expect it, too. It could be after winning a big game and you go home alone to an empty house; during your wedding rehearsal and no one sits next to your mom; watching your father-in-law hold your first child; watching Auburn beat Alabama in 1982--the first time in your 16-year-old life you can remember that happening; any time the most basic home or car repair is needed and you fail miserably and feel like you're letting your family down; even watching the movie Field of Dreams (which you will own on something called a DVD and might be the best movie you ever saw). I could go on. But it's okay. You'll deal. Just know the reminders are lurking.

You're going to have a great time in high school, though. Full of laughs and friends and doing enough of what it takes to get into a state-school football-factory. There's no crime in that, either...but when you're 40 people will tell you that approach to high school lacks ambition. Don't care.

You'll have a girlfriend for two years. You'll talk marriage and mean it, too. Just remember that when you work with teenagers later that a high schooler can be in love and what it means to take their trials and tribulations seriously. I can assure you they'll be serious to the high-school you.

There's going to be an English teacher named Mrs. Swindle and a baseball coach at your school--Coach Gino, who also taught English--that will tell you that it's okay to like to read a lot and write in journals and be affected by the arts. You won't be able to thank them enough at the class reunions, but make the effort, no matter how awkward it seems.

And you'll be introduced to a couple of guys who will affect you profoundly. See, part of that "deal" you made with God involved staying out of His house. You'll stick to it for 3 years, too...but a guy named David Waid will let you into his small group Bible study. He'll teach you that God's Word means something. That it's real, active, alive and able to change your life if you'll let it. Pay strict attention to Big Dave.

You'll also meet a guy named Duffy Chase. For whatever reason, he's going to see extraordinary possibilities in a very ordinary you. He'll call you. He'll take you to breakfast. He'll have you over to his home. He'll be your friend in the very truest sense of that word. But the most valuable things you'll get from Him are the reality that the abundant life mentioned in the Gospel is best shared life-on-life and that seeing potential in teenagers is crucial. He'll also give you your first youth-ministry gig when you had no idea what you were getting into.

You'll go to Auburn, just like your dad. You won't seriously consider any other college because it always felt like home to you. That won't ever change, BTW.

You'll meet some friends there. Great friends. And you'll make a series of unwise choices. Maybe they won't be to the degree of your great friends who never professed to know God and maybe they won't be as consistent as theirs, but they'll be there. You'll blow it enough to make you realize you can't really fight temptation on your own. But don't be too hard on yourself about that because it'll teach you an awful lot about God's mercy and grace and forgiveness...and a big fat dose of humility. They'll also teach you to value relationships and friendships outside the church because it'll provide a backdrop against which you can see the works of Christ in your own life...and to get to know people and try to understand love everybody, whether or not their theology lines up with yours.

You'll get involved in an informal Bible study led by Charles Garland. He'll teach you an awful lot about God's mercy and grace and forgiveness, too, because he'll listen during your confession times and give Biblical insight and pray with you and love you anyway while you're figuring it out. Chuck will also introduce you to the intellectual side of walking with Christ and you'll study Francis Schaeffer together. These two men will ultimately help you find your own groove. Enjoy the ride.

You'll meet the girl you'll marry because you'll date her roommate. But there's something about Tracy's beauty and joy of living that you'll never get over. She'll walk into a room and capture your attention like no other girl on the planet. She'll always be your girl, too, and will teach you more about Christ and who you are in Him because she defines a gentle and quiet spirit that Scripture talks about. You'll admire her...but make sure to be a student of her, too. Because she's going to change and grow during your life together in ways that you'll be truly astounded by. Enjoy that process as it's happening.

And don't even get me started on your daughters. They'll light up your life on a daily basis. I won't bother to try to explain it...that's futile. But rest assured the words "Daddy's home!" when you hit the door will erase an entire day's worth of frustration.

You'll experience the two biggest and baddest things that can happen to a ministry: Failures of others in the area of money and sexual morality. Two different organizations, two different failures. Neither will be as devastating as they seem at the time. You'll learn God's got the wheel, so make sure to make that extra effort to draw close during those times. Fear will pop up. Be not afraid. 'Nuff said.

Those are the big-picture things, but before I close, let me machine-gun a few things at you:

Learn to cook stuff on the grill.
Travel away from Alabama as often as you can. It's nice, but there's more to the world than folks there will lead on.
Realize that camping and outdoor stuff just isn't you. Just because your dad liked fishing and hunting doesn't mean you have to--Manhattan, San Francisco and Amsterdam are all more your speed.
Don't worry: Hal and Smitty will be your friends, even when you're 40.
Don't get your picture taken much in the late 80's--you'll thank me for this, and don't believe anyone who that the mullet is a good look.
Your love affair with baseball will only appreciate with age.
Stick by your guns on the punk rock thing. It'll prove to be critically acclaimed long after your friends have berated you for listening to it--and the heavy metal thing was just a phase.
When you buy a house, show it love. It'll return the favor.
A "C" student in high school can get a Master's degree with honors--so don't fret too terribly much when people tell you about your potential and how you don't reach it. You'll get there, academically, anyway.

Well, Brent, that's about it. I can't really guide you through many of the specifics, but the big events and people are all in there. They will help you figure out who you are in light of who Christ wants you to be by exposing the cracks in your character and showing you how decietfully wicked your heart is...and then Christ will spackle them and make them better than new. Just know that you aren't in a position to make deals with the God of the Universe. He calls all the shots, kid.

And the shoelaces will still be least at 40.

Your Friend,
The 40-Year-Old You

Thursday, February 01, 2007

So, Today I'm Thinking

...that if you remember when I said I was going to try and give more "professional" writing of essays and poems and stuff like that at The Diner you'll notice that I haven't followed through with that. That should change with tomorrow's entry. Just remember that first drafts of anything are just that, intended to elicit constructive criticism (or I'd just keep it in my journal), so feel free to comment.
...that talking to the Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers meeting at our church yesterday was the first time that anyone's asked me to continue the talk instead of going to their small groups. I don't know how I feel about that.
...that times are actually pretty exciting at our church these days. It's a "good busy" for those of us on staff.
...that the Rangers signing of Sammy Sosa to a minor-league contract is good business in that it is low-risk, but extremely high reward and upside if he can make the big-league team.
...the reaction to our 5 O'Clock Worship has generally been very positive, and the "negatives" have been truly constructive in nature. People seem to "get" that its not going to be the same every week and there's something for everybody. This week's should be good, too, and I think it'd be fun for our church family to watch the Super Bowl together afterward, too. But what do I know?
...some people have no idea of the hurt they've caused others.
...I like having friends all over the country. One of the perks of working with teens in the DFW area as most tend to go away to college or military stuff. Growing up in Alabama is much more parochial.
...that watching teenagers grow and learn humility is encouraging, even if you're bummed they made unwise choices. David made unwise choices, and I'd imagine if he'd had a youth pastor who read Psalm 51 after he wrote it, well, his youth pastor would've been encouraged by that.
...I've got friends who are off to Africa today. Apparently, this involves 18 hours of flight time (maybe more) and they've got coach-class seats. The most I've ever spent in the air is around 9 hours and that flight was getting REAL old by that time.
...I still think it's funny when people who play World of Warcraft set up times to meet their friends on-line to play and get mad when you refer to that as them setting up "play dates."
...Auburn's basketball team is leading the SEC West. It won't last, but even if they lost all their remaining games, they'd already have that program pionting in the right direction.
...that it's February already?
...those folks who say that they don't think I could do the long stretches of bad weather in the PacNW haven't seen me thrive in the recent stretch of cold, drizzly DFW climate.
...I've got nothing tonight once I get off work, so I'm all about the fireplace. long has it been since I told everybody how much I enjoy watching the fruit of the minisry of Pine Cove Christian Camps? It's nice to know that once they leave my ministry, the teens are in good hands for building on the foundation they got through our church.
...that if you haven't seen the Pierced & Tattooed Kristen's blogs lately, you're missing a very good example of creativity in blogging. Just click on the photo to access the library and make comments. She's very talented and I'm glad I know her.
...Lloyd achieves new levels of "Great Dog" status like black-belts get higher degrees. Just when you think he can't get better, he ratchets up.
...when your teens want something badly (not material things, mind you), you find yourself pulling for them as people, not as your children.
...that I went January soda-free. I don't think I've gone a month without a soda in over 30 years. I've also got a weigh-in as I've been watching my diet more, too. Sleeping better. Next up: Fitness regime! Joyce: Little help?
...that I need to get to work.