Thursday, January 31, 2008

Quick Questions

Last night, my class got into a little discussion involving these questions, and I think it'd be good for the patrons to kick it around a bit:

If people "drifted" from church or don't go, what reasons do they tend to give?

If people are looking for a church, what factors affect their choice?

So, kick this around a bit, folks. It'll be a prelude to my next thoughts from Jeremiah entry.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

And, On The Lighter Side...

In the church cafe I overheard a couple of high school guys discussing which particular high school girl they intended to ask out for a date. They threw out a name an discussed the various pros and cons.

Two days later I was waiting for a table at a restaurant and overheard a couple of guys my age discussing which television starlet they would want to...well...to put it politely...ask out on a date. Actually, that isn't politely at all. It's an outright disguise of the actual conversation but they threw out names and discussed the various pros and cons.

So, my brain threw out a hybrid question: If you were back in high school, which television show high school girl would you try to ask out on a date? Knowing my proclivities for failure in this arena I decided to give myself the top-5 options.

Here they are, in order:

Honorable Mention: Denise Huckstable from The Cosby Show, although I don't think I could've put up with her flightiness for long. I would've liked to have hung out with her family a lot, however. Joe (Joanne) Polniaczek, from The Facts of Life. Sure, most guys had a thing for Blair, but I always liked the smarter, tougher private schooled girl.

5) Andrea Zuckerman, from Beverly Hills, 90210: Sure, most of the guys would've been drawn to bad-girl Brenda Walsh or the flashy Kelly Taylor...but there's no way I could've put up with Brenda's selfishness, and anybody that had dated the shallow Steve Sanders would've been crossed off my list. Nope. Give me the girl with glasses who lived outside the school district and snuck in because of the high-level education played by Gabrielle Carteris. She was editor of the school paper, too.

4) Angela Chase, from My So-Called Life: Claire Danes played the girl that Bryan Krakow had a crush on, but she was busy crushing the dangerous and mysterious Jordan Catalano (played by Jared Leto). I would've dug it that she dyed her hair fire engine red and wore her dad's flannel shirts and Doc Martens. The fact that she wrote in journals and was moody and aspired to be a writer would've been high on my list.

3) Joey (Josephine) Potter, from Dawson's Creek: She made great grades. She was above the high school social scene of the day. She worked after school at Dawson's parent's restaurant. She wanted to go to France to study poetry. And she sometimes rowed a boat down the creek to hang out with friends. She had great eyes and loved to watch movies with Dawson. She really weirded me out later in the show when she got involved in the Dawson/Pacey triangle (I still wish she'd wound up with Dawson instead of Pacey at the end of the series) and Katie Holmes has lost some of her luster with the whole marriage to Tom Cruise, but on the show she was pretty great.

2) Winnie (Winnifred) Cooper, from The Wonder Years: Danica McKeller played the truly All-American girl next-door. Kevin Arnold kissed her on the swing set in middle school and they carried out their relationship in an "on again/off again" fashion throughout the show. But she was the ideal, and I think every guy has their Winnie Cooper--the girl they dug but shouldn't marry. I mean, on the show, Kevin didn't--shouldn't & couldn't-marry her...but stayed friends with her. She had big dreams, wanted out of their small town, and was very smart. And cute, too. I also like it that Danica didn't have a "child star" freak out. She graduated from UCLA as a math major and even has a theorem named after her.

1) Marsha Brady, from The Brady Bunch: Ok. It's cliche...like saying the best "Track 1" on a CD is Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." But, like the song, there's a reason it's a cliche, man. I didn't catch the Brady Bunch on it's regular run, but more on cable in my formative years, but I had friends that would run home from school to catch the 3:30PM rerun. Entirely to watch Marsha. She went out for cheerleader. She was involved in everything at school. She had great hair. She beat Greg in the driving competition. She got that Monkee to play the school dance. Even when she got hit in the nose with the football Peter threw she still looked fabulous. Maureen McCormick played the ultimate...and I don't know if there will ever be one better.

Okay, so, guys...who would be on your list.

And, ladies...help me out with who you'd put on your list for television high school guys you'd have wanted to date.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hey, Everybody!

It's my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly's birthday today!

Let's all celebrate by:

...going with your eccentric but interesting uncle to fancy schmancy wine tastings.
...obsessing. Over what, you ask? Everything.
...using a label maker, and meaning it.
...continually profess your undying love for your dog, immediately followed by griping about the very same dog.
...cooking real, live meals and eating around a dinner table.
...having a five-year plan. For what, you ask? Everything.
...taking almost 16 years longer than it should to finish your undergraduate degree, but still hanging in there!
...thinking most everything our spouse does is either hysterically funny or incredibly wise and/or patient.
...getting an actual full-sized terra cotta warrior. From where you ask? Xian, China. Then put it in your dining room to protect those who are dining.
...having friends who live in all sorts of cool places doing all sorts of cool things and having all sorts of cool interests.
...being the mom of a higher-order life-living barnstorming progeny.

Happy birthday, Jilly! I love you...

...and hope you have a fantastic day!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Thought On The Movie-Going Experience

I enjoy movies.

I see a lot of them.

And, I think the reason I enjoy them so much is that I enjoy a tale well-told (which, is the reason I read a lot, too). Movies are works of art--some better than others--and I like to try to discover what the messages are. Rarely do I disengage my brain in the theatre. In fact, much of what I see is used in classroom settings to illustrate a point. It seems to be effective as a teaching tool because so many people make a connection because they've "seen that movie."

So, I mixed up my hobbies of reading and movie-going and I'm reading a book on how screenwriters work their craft. It's by Robert McKee, who has developed quite a resume as his students have gone on to write some of the most well-known films & television shows in the last 20 years...they've done everything from "Beauty and the Beast" to "Forrest Gump" to "Toy Story" to "Northern Exposure" to "Friends" to "Cheers."

Anyway, I came across this little nugget I thought we could kick around today:

"Never allow yourself the luxury of thinking 'It's just entertainment.' What, after all, is 'entertainment?' Entertainment is the ritual of sitting in the dark, staring at a screen, investing tremendous concentration and energy into what one hopes will be a satisfying, meaningful emotional experience. Any film that hooks, holds, and pays off the story ritual is entertainment...no story is innocent. All coherent tales express an idea veiled inside an emotional spell.

In fact, the persuasive power of a story is so great that we may believe its meaning even if we find it morally repellant. Storytellers, Plato insisted, are dangerous people. He was right.

Lastly, given story's power to influence, we need to look at the issue of an artist's social responsibility. I believe we have no responsibility to cure social ills or renew faith in humanity, to uplift the spirits of society or even express our inner being. We have only one responsibility: to tell the truth...for although the artist may, in his private life, lie to others, even to himself, when he creates he tells the truth; and in a world of lies and liars, an honest work of art is always an act of social responsibility."


Oh, man.

Have at it, kids.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

More Thoughts On Jeremiah

*note: Oddly, many patrons have been sending me e-mails. In the subject line the word "Jeremiah" shows up. In the body of the text, they mention pleasantries about how nice it is to have coffee while reading my ramblings about health club laughter, public transportation rants and poor poetry attempts...followed by a request for 'more thoughts on Jeremiah because you've only done one entry.' And, 'you said you would.' While it was never my desire to have this forum become a Bible study (many of my readers are not Christ followers) or a daily devotional, I do agree that many of my readers are Christ followers and enjoy those type of entries. So, I will be more diligent in those types of entries, even when I'm out of my groove. As always, we thank you for your consistent patronage--The Diner Management

From Jeremiah 1:

Jeremiah had distinct advantages from the get-go. His father was a priest (and maybe even the one that found the scrolls that began a national revival in Josiah's reign). They lived in a suburb of Jerusalem (3 miles away...most likely work-related). They were from the tribe of Benjamin--a small tribe, but one with a rich history (King Saul was a Benjamite) and a notable future (Saul, who would later become Paul). In all likelihood, Jeremiah was being schooled in the priesthood and would soon become a priest.

I think that...

...most times God steps into our lives it's when we're living our lives.
...there's never a convenient time for God to step into our lives.
...that all of our pasts are prologue. We have upbringings. We have experiences. We have talents. We have gifts. And I think God uses those to steer us into the work He has for us. All of us. I mean, I was a suburban kid living in a suburban life doing suburban things. It would make sense that my ministry is suburban. Sure, I can do lots of things in Haiti or Juarez or Holland (and I enjoy doing them, too) but I "get" suburbia. Warts and all. And I think our pasts are often signs for current ministry.
...in relation to God in our lives "knowing" us always came before our life.
...we're all consecrated (set apart) for something--even if God was speaking directly to Jeremiah and those promises don't directly apply to us. There's plenty of N.T. stuff to back that up.
...that we have trouble sometimes with that reality because what we think we're "set apart" for--if we even know what that is--isn't high-flying trapeze act worthy. Most ministries don't involve spotlights, even if Jeremiah's did. And as an aside, let me tell you that all ministry spotlights come with an accompanying harsh laser beam into your fishbowl of a life.
...we all make excuses about the ministry we've been "set apart" for--if we even know what that is--and the reasons why we aren't the person to do that ministry.
...that at least Jeremiah's excuses stopped at one. Moses kept rambling.

On Jeremiah, chapters 2--6:

I think that...

...there's a human tendency to lose that fervor we first had for God. Of course, this seems to happen across the board, from somebody who just quit smoking to marriage to new job to new car.
...we often glaze over the descriptions God gave of Israel's unfaithfulness when he describes it as adultery or harlotry. The pain and damage and scarring that occurs in those situations in real life should only serve to highlight how serious God takes sin. And should only highlight how our justifications and rationalizations and minimizations reflect how we don't take sin seriously. More often than not, we're sorry we got caught, or maybe even sorry we hurt someone else. Rarely do we think that the Father has emotions similar to that of a wife leaving.
...the sin stuff we chase after isn't really all that worthwhile. It might be "fun" (but not joyful) but that's about as far as it goes.
...sometimes, we're so good at sin, we can teach those that don't know Him a thing or two.

3:13 However, you must confess that you have done wrong, and that you have rebelled against the Lord your God.
You must confess that you have given yourself to foreign gods under every green tree, and have not obeyed my commands,’ says the Lord. 3:14 “Come back to me, my wayward sons,” says the Lord, “for I am your true master. If you do, I will take one of you from each town and two of you from each family group, and I will bring you back to Zion.


...that the "mathmatics" of grace never add up. In other words, even if we've been the harlot, the Father always takes us back. No matter how long the harlotry or how involved.
...that we don't like it when the mathmatics of grace don't add up in our favor. We become like Ferris Bueller's sister, "How come he gets to ditch when everyone else has to go?" We are often like the other brother in the parable of the prodigal son.
...that God is in the prodigal business. This irritates us.

4:3 Yes, the Lord has this to say to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:
“Like a farmer breaking up hard unplowed ground,
you must break your rebellious will and make a new beginning;
just as a farmer must clear away thorns lest the seed is wasted,
you must get rid of the sin that is ruining your lives.


...that a hard heart is an interesting beast.
...that if we think about areas of our own hard heartedness, we have to ask ourselves how we got there. We can have all the education and background and exciting early times with God and experience the fullness of His grace and mercy. And then we can choose sin. Willfully. Excitedly. Damning the torpedos. And if we start tracing those lines as to how we got there it will make us terribly uncomfortable.
...that clearing away the thorns to break our rebellion is the hardest first step I can think of. I have no idea why, but to me it's an awfully difficult part of the process. Particularly with that one persistent sin. It's easier to sit around with my feet up watching the ball game than to do that yardwork. And, for some reason, this yardwork always seems unmotivating. And I know better.
...you'll never regret doing that yardwork.

Oh, there's plenty more of this stuff, folks. Frankly, I was just getting warmed up. But, it was getting way to convicting so let's move on, shall we?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Foggy Drizzly Day, Bored, Stream of Consciousness

Podcast grist.
Reverse twist.
Missed.
By the masses.

Tables turned.
Guilt unearned.
Burned.
As time passes.

Cosmopolitan shaman.
Amen, Barnum.
Showman.
With fissures and gasses.

Powerpoint slick.
Inch thick.
Candlewick.
Disguises his harasses.

Podium thuds.
Milk Duds.
Methods.
Emotion checkmates synapses.

Dangerous game.
Olympic enflame.
Shame.
Caste system classes.

Efficacious Grace.
Free space
place.
You'll discover as time passes.

Re-invent.
Re-lent.
Re-pent.

Faster than molasses.

(*just so all of you know, this is not directed at any one person. These kind of came to me while I was looking on a Christian bookstore's website looking for something in particular, and this rambling just sort of popped into my head, okay?*)

Friday, January 25, 2008

I've Lost My Groove

Long story...

...but for the last two days, I've gotten out of my routine.

And, manalive...when I do that, I can't seem to get The Diner open on time. And I can't get the full menu cookin' either.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

It Doesn't Happen Often...

...but this morning, I'm wishing that I'd gone to see:



Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters last night here in Dallas.

I'm sorta bummed that I had to work.

And now I have jury duty.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Once Again, Far Afield From Mankind

Remember that Schoolhouse Rock cartoon entitled "Interjections?" You know, where they sang a catchy song about the exclamation point and words "yay" or "eek" or "rats" to describe emotions? And that one scene where a stadium full of people go "awww" and then one lone guy stands up and says, "Hurray! I'm for the other team!"

I've managed to spend a great deal of my life feeling like I think that guy felt: Pretty okay with who he is and what he's about but in a distinct minority when looking at the same thing everybody else is looking at. It's the same event, we just have different perceptions.

Case in point:

Last night. Cycling class.

The class is full of the demographic that advertisers covet. The type of folks that make it a priority to attend a health club cycling class at 6PM. Our middle-age spread shows. Our hairlines recede. Soccer moms chat about PTA meetings and the unfairness of select sports team selections. Advertisers know we'll want stuff to keep us from being those kinds of folks.

But we are those kinds of folks and we're generally okay with that.

So, our class instructor is one of us. The difference is her life is designed to be kind of like a drill sargeant and kind of like that cool teacher we all liked and kind of happy. While she's warming up and getting her microphone all situated she tells us how many meters she swam in the hour before she came to class. She encourages us while telling us to increase our tension and push through the threshold and feel the burn. All sorts of stuff like that...all while not really sweating like we are and chatting while we breathe hard. Mostly, the burn we feel is in our lungs, too.

Anyway, part of her encouragement during the hour session involved telling us to pedal to the music she brings to the class. It goes like this:

"Alright, class. Let's increase that tension just a touch, okay? WHO'S UP FOR SOME DURAN DURAN?!" She knows what music our demographic likes, apparently.

[all 24 others in the class "whoo hoo" in response and pedal faster to the hit "Wild Boys"]

"That's great, class! Good, steady climb there. Let's plateau a little bit and decrease the tension. Let's get some water, towel off a bit and slow the pace a bit before the big climb. WHO'S UP FOR SOME FOREIGNER?!" Once again, she shows a keen sense of what our demographic likes.

[all 24 others in the class "whoo hoo" again as "Hot Blooded" plays. They seem pretty excited to be plateauing, getting water, and toweling off as well as preparing for the big climb. I, on the other hand, counted off that they say the words "Hot Blooded" exactly 40 times in the exactly 4 minutes, 28 seconds of the song. I, on the other hand, am counting & timing to occupy my mind until I can get off the bike.]

"Now, class, since we've got one more big climb to go we're going to need a little more energy to finish strong, okay? We'll need something a little harder and faster to get us going, so WHO'S UP FOR SOME HOOBASTANK?!"

[I'm pretty excited because I'm up for some Hoobastank, so I give as much of a "Whoo hoo" and my lungs will allow. Their song "Out of Control" is just what I need to get me through the 2 minutes, 44 seconds of the big climb.]

Officially, no one else was up for some Hoobastank. They aren't in our demographic as their blank stares from lack of Hoobastank recognition all focused on me and my "Hooray, I'm for the other team" excitement about all this.

All I could say was, "I'm still up for some Hoobastank!" I "whoo hooed" again for good measure.

Everybody laughed and we finished the big climb.

I think I need a new demographic, though. I think I was in a different place musically than even my fellow man.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Public Transportation, Again

I wasn't going to blog about this.

Really.

I wasn't.

But the more I thought about it, the more I was disturbed.

"This" is an article by John Semmens on why fuel hikes won't spur public transit. And, to a certain extent, he's correct on the headline. I mean, if gas goes up $0.50 per gallon, we're not likely to go hopping on the busses for our morning commute.

Anyway, here's the wrap-up to his thinking:

"Why are Americans continuing to forgo public transportation? There are several reasons:

• Americans like the freedom to come and go as they please, on their own schedules.

• Americans also value their time. Public transportation is slow compared with auto travel. The typical trip takes twice as long as driving a car.

• Many Americans – even those with limited budgets – are making a conscious choice: They're willing to pay extra for the convenience and time savings associated with autos. They can cut back elsewhere.

The hope that rising gasoline prices or increased gasoline taxes will substantially increase public transportation use is unrealistic. Far from being disparaged as an "energy waster," the automobile should be hailed for its ability to save our most precious resource: time.
"

What I really enjoy is that this guy has a job that describes him as a "research fellow" at the Independent Institute. While I have no idea what he really does with his days, he might want to rub some elbows with normal folks and get out of the library.

So, let me clue you in, John, on why I'm not using public transportation:

Currently, where I live, the system hasn't arrived fully yet. Sure, I could take the "Red Line" from the Denton County Transportation Authority and then tie-in with DCTA Connect to get me to the downtown Dallas central station...but the nearest stop is almost 2 miles from my home, and service doesn't begin until 9:34AM and service stops at 5:34PM. So, if I were working downtown I couldn't get to work on time. Now, plans are to ramp up that transit service...but today it doesn't do too much for me. And, like we could use it to get our kids to practice/school/jobs/etc.?

Secondly, public transportation is slow compared to auto travel? Really? I have no idea what world you live in, John, but have you ever taken I-35E South after 3PM on a weekday, trying to maybe connect with I-20? Ever tried I-635 any direction, anytime after 3PM? Ever been on Central Expressway at peak times? These virtual parking lots that move approximately 15 m.p.h. on their best days aren't exactly speedy, my friend. And even busses use the HOV lanes so they are zipping right along. And if you've ever hopped on a train after a sporting event at a big arena you save worlds of time.

Which leads me to my third point: If you say that a car allows for us to save "our most precious resource" (and I'd propose water, air, fossil fuels, forests and several other resources are more valuable to us and future generations than "time")...again, how's sitting in the Mixmaster or High Five working out for you as valuable time? Even in the suburbs, how are those SUV soccer moms using that "precious" time? Granted, you might chat with your kids and they might use it for homework or the like, but you could do that on the bus. Besides, I see an awful lot of DVD players being used around town and cell phones being chatted into as well. Anything you could do in a car you could do on a bus or train...and it you've ever been to Europe you'd see that folks chat on the train platform with friends. They laugh. They read books. They use that added time for all sorts of things.

Finally, speaking of time, did you ever bother to factor in how much time we spend per year waiting in lines for our auto tags, or in the mechanic shop for the oil change, or the car wash place, or the vehicle inspection center? Or the cost savings if we did none of those things?

So, John Semmens, research fellow at the Independent Institute, before I get all excited and "hail the automobile for it's ability to save time"...why don't I bring up again that the main reason people don't avail themselves to public transportation has more to do with selfishness and lack of availability (or inability to deliver in a practical sense) than anything else.

And I'm not even a research fellow anywhere.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hey, Everybody! It's Shelby's 14th Birthday!

So, let's all celebrate Kid2's birthday by...

...watching a Disney movie with a princess in it. Which one, you ask? All of them.
...wearing pajama pants and a Luke's Diner (from Gilmore Girls) hoodie.
...prowling around YouTube looking for ballet variations to study.
...being fiercely independent.
...enjoying a good snuggle.
...and saying, "Dad, can we get one?" whenever you see an animal. What kind of animal, you ask? Any kind.

Happy 14th, Shelby! I love you very much...and I can't believe I'm old enough to have my youngest be 14.
My Admiration Grows Stronger With Each Opportunity To Remember



And, while we're at it, maybe we should take the time to read something the man wrote. How's this for starters?:

"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here...Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

It'd be appropriate to maybe read the entire Letter from a Birmingham Jail before we get on with our days, too.

You will NOT regret it.

I assure you...

...you will not regret it.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...another wedding last night & another group of clods taking flash photography & camera videos. This must stop, people. Pronto.
...that the DMN sportswriter listed the "10 Best Days in Sports" and included NFL Championship Sunday and had two golf finals, but left out the MLB home-opening day? You've got to be kidding me. Opening Day is everything that's good about sports.
...speaking of sports, Auburn fans should do everything they can to keep basketball coach Jeff Lebo. I don't know of any coach in the NCAA that gets so much out of so little.
...the poltical realm couldn't be more boring to me right now.
...that one of the dumbest laws I've ever heard is that it's illegal to make a backup copy of a DVD you purchased or put it into your computer or video iPod. I mean, it's legal to put a CD you purchased onto up to 5 different "machines" and make unlimited personal backup copies. How are music & movies different regarding this?
...I'm reading a lot more fiction these days and not very much "Christian Inspiration" (that's how Barnes & Noble categorizes them) and I think my life's a lot better for it.
...speaking of Barnes & Noble, they fixed the issue I mentioned about a book called "The Passion Test." It's a book for discovering your talents with help for what jobs use them, and I mentioned in an earlier blog that it was categorized incorrectly at our local bookseller (it was in whatever their "relationships & sex" section, presumably because of the title). It was in "self-help" this time, which is actually just one bookshelf over from relationships & sex, but they got it right this time.
...I really do enjoy when I recommend a movie that I know someone will enjoy, they take me up on it, and truly appreciate the recommendation.
...it finally feels like winter here in Texas as we've been in the 30's at night for like two straight days.
...that you realize you really don't want it to feel like winter in Texas as it exposes the reality that we should've re-caulked the windows--if not downright replaced them--over the summer.
...that I've got friends who are selling their homes right now and it kind of reminds you of the little nickel & dime kind of repairs/touch-ups that need to be done. They're spending a lot of their weekends & nights hustling to complete those little things that add up.
...that if the folks that nominate movies for Oscars don't include Into the Wild and Juno then this year's winner for Best Picture won't have gone up against the very best.
...that I wish I didn't have to work Wednesday night as the Foo Fighters are in town and I think that'd be a really good show by an underappreciated band.
...that buying replacement hubcaps is more expensive than I thought it was going to be...even at used hubcap places.
...that the view from the 42nd floor of Dallas' Cityplace--which looks at the skyline from a northeast perspective--at night doesn't suck.
...that watching your children become more independent mixes up about 15 different emotions, of which you experience that mix significantly at some point during your day--every day.
...that women have a skewed perspective on how many men view dancing at parties. Interestingly, they label those that don't enjoy it as "no fun" and have little trouble saying that aloud. Most every guy in the place last night either didn't do it, or only did it because their spouse dragged them to the dance floor.
,,,that I'll be glad when we get our summer schedule nailed down. We've got too many moving parts right now and can't seem to nail down some vacation time. This should wind up soon, though.
...that I've got a lot to do today even though there's plenty more rambling around in my brain, but I'd better get on with my day.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

You Could Do Worse...

...than going to see the movie The Great Debaters.

Just letting you know ahead of time, on this MLK weekend, that it'll make you uncomfortable. And I mean that in the best of ways.
I Think Non Sequitur Is On To Something

You remember a few days ago when Danae, a little girl in the Non Sequitur comic strip, started "shut up" zones to make for a better America? She's at it again...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Pet Pleases

Still struggling with stuff to write about...and, frankly, patrons, you weren't much help yesterday.

Don't get me wrong...there's plenty of stuff going on. I mean, I'm in a study of Jeremiah that's really fun/challenging/convicting and I'm reading through Proverbs, which always has plenty of stuff to mull over. There's lots going on at work. There's lots of busyness in my family. It just seems that I'd be treading over all sorts of ground we've already been through, and the last thing I want The Diner to become is constant Bible study chatter (although we could do worse, eh? This post comes immediately to mind.).

Anyway, on days like these I roll over to The Creativity Portal and click on the "Imagination Prompt Generator." It's supposed to give you all sorts of blog & writing prompts. A bunch of them. The one I liked was "My top-10 pet peeves are..." but then I realized that might be the most cliche thing in the entire Blogosphere.

Then I looked up what the antonym for "peeve" was. It said, "please."

So, for today, here are some of my pet pleases:

1. When in heavy traffic, you turn the blinker on and somebody makes a space for you and lets you change lanes easily.
2. When someone else picks up the tab for coffee or a light lunch. This is usually done by former students who have careers now.
3. When my laundry is done and all I have to do is put the folded clothes where they belong. This never gets old.
4. When the teenage child asks me to lunch or coffee, even though they NEVER pick up the tab. I've been told by empty-nesters they don't even pick up the tab once they're married, either...but they say it's still worth it.
5. When my wife gives a flirtatious display of affection such as a kiss on the end of the nose or a wink of the eye and it comes out of nowhere.
6. When I enter my home at the end of the day and Lloyd, Great Dog, jumps on arm the couch, brings me one of his toys as a gift and wags his tail like nobody's ever been home all day--even though he's rarely alone.
7. When anybody makes me what we used to call a "mix tape"...even though now they're usually an iPod playlist burned on to a CD and says, "These are some songs I put together that I really love. Give it a listen and tell me what you think." Even if I don't like the songs I feel like I've come away with a better relationship with that person.
8. When the weather changes dramatically--from anything TO anything. Like yesterday. We went from near-record highs to downright chilly pretty quickly. But I also like those moments when it's been rainy all week and gets sunny. Vice-versa. Any dramatic change.
9. When folks bring leftover snacks from their ministry event and leave them for the office staff. It's all over the map. Morning groups leave bagels and donuts. Lunch groups let us fix plates. Afternoon groups leave candy. Most anything is kind of nice, whether you want it or not. It's just a nice gesture.
10. When somebody reads a book and says, "You'd absolutely LOVE this book and must read it," and they turn out to be right.
11. When I see somebody wearing one of those stickers that has a big red check in a box with blue writing that says, "I Voted!" on election days.
12. When former students text message me with movie quotes from stupid movies we love, and when old college buddies text message me right after an Auburn win in a close game with the simple words "War Eagle!"
13. When somebody leaves a voice mail that says, "Hey, our company has season tickets to (insert Dallas area sports team here) and nobody's using them tonight. You want 'em?" Even if you can't go, the gesture is nice.
14. When somebody asks you to be their "friend" on social networking sites.
15. When a blog topic gets lots of conversation going. (Really, I'm not trying to solicit comments here. I just mean that when you post something and it winds up with 20 or 30 comments due to the hot button that got pushed.)

I could go on for a bit here, so I'll ask you, "What are your pet pleases?"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sorry, Folks

Today...

I got nuthin.'

I even waited until later in the day thinking that I might actually have somethin.' But, alas, I got nuthin.'

So, maybe it's time to ask the patrons what they want me to weigh in on.

What say you, faithful patronage?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My Favorite Year In School

I was chatting with a parent who was telling me about their child and what a tough year they're having at school. Lots of pressure in their sport. Lots of Advanced Placement classes. Lots of hours at work. And she said that this particular year would be the hardest, simply because the workload would decrease dramatically in time for their senior year.

And, I started thinking about what was my favorite year in school from kindergarten through high school. Truth be told, my favorite year in my education was probably my sophomore year in university. I mean, I'd gotten over my fear of failing out. I didn't have to be a pledge in the fraternity any more. I'd gotten over the newness of college life & figured out how to drop and add classes. Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale. Not really involved in my major (of course, that major would change four more times after that year, but hey). Mom paying the freight. But I'd decided to limit this discussion to K-12.

So, here's why my senior year was my favorite year in high school.

1) Since the required athletics period was last on our schedule, I had a teacher's aide, two study halls and a lunch period built right in. This meant a large part of my day was spent playing hacky sack on the Senior Patio or grabbing a nap on the high jump pit mats.
2) Mrs. Swindle. She was the first teacher that saw any academic potential underneath the "too cool for learning" image I put out there. She was tough on me in particular and constantly encouraged me to write, and told me that reading was okay...even noble. Plus, her quirky teaching methods endeared her to me.
3) Getting "booed" at every function including senior prom. I was president of my class, and ran largely on a dare. I won, in full disclosure because my friends cheered me like I was a rock star during the speeches and campaign (which lasted two days, and the other guy was easily more qualified). Just to keep my ego in check, as part of a "we made you, we can break you" poking fun, every time I was introduced at any function, they booed like I was a referee who blew a call. And my best friends would give me the finger by acting like they were scratching their eye any time I had to give a speech.
4) Monday nights at Campus Life and Thursday night Bible study. I was going to church, but the first time I ever heard the difference between being saved and growing in Christ was at those meetings. I didn't realize it at the time, but those two weekly occurrences were instrumental in so much of my personal and professional life it's downright scary.
5) Since I got an acceptance letter from Auburn before school let out my junior year...yeah, well, that's hardly an incentive to spend much time in the three classes I was taking. I'm not sure I did homework, and if I did, it was in study hall.
6) I was dating one of the all-time great high-school girlfriends. Later on at college, we (and by we, I mean she) figured out we weren't a "til death do us part" kind of couple and both married people we loved more. But we had nothing in common except each other and laughed a lot and my homecoming and senior prom were both fun.
7) In one of the all-time "I can't believe this went on and nobody stopped it" events, our entire senior class went to a hotel in Fort Walton Beach, Florida and stayed a week after graduation. Not a parent or teacher or chaperone was even in the state. 18 and 19 year olds released on their own recognizance is pretty surreal--in an era where 19 year olds could buy booze. In retrospect, not too good of an idea by our folks or the insurance company of the hotel industry...but we had a blast, man. It was wonderful chaos.
8) I had a job at the Hoover Square 6 movie theater. It was the best of all high school jobs. You got to wear nice clothes. All you had to do was tear tickets, tell people to keep their feet off the seats, sweep the lobby of loose popcorn and you got free movies and snacks and gameroom tokens the whole time! I got paid extra if I dressed up as Riff Raff for the Rocky Horror Picture Show on weekends, too. Plus, they put me in their management trainee program and I got paid double and learned how to thread projectors...and then all you had to do was spend about 15 minutes threading 6 projectors, push a button, sit around and watch movies and eat popcorn--even letting your friends and/or girlfriend hang out anytime--...repeat the process twice and hope no films broke. That only happened once and it was no big deal.
9) Hanging out at Starr Lake or Papa Joe's Pizza parking lot with Def Leppard or Van Halen playing on somebody's newly installed tape deck/power booster, throwing a football or frisbee and talking crap.
10) Being a part of a really good baseball program because our baseball coach spent a great deal of time being our friend, but not our buddy. It really was about way more than baseball. Baseball was just a reason he could teach us all those things good coaches are supposed to communicate to a team they coach.

And, I think that senior year was when I realized that I pretty much lead a charmed life. I mean, I knew others weren't having as good an experience and all that, but, mine was pretty good. Sure, some bad times are on the hard drive, but overall it was a really good year...unlike the year that would follow--

So, what was your best year in school and why?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Once More, This Time With Feeling: The System Is A Placebo, Folks, Not A Panacea

I really don't think this is a case of "Good Old Days' Syndrome."

When I was in high school, there were a couple of days in the spring when we got out of class and filled in bubbles on a Scan-Tron sheet. We didn't take it very seriously as I recall..."it" being something from some California college (Stanford, I think) and somehow supposed to measure our achievement in academia. A few weeks later we'd get some sheet of paper back that told us what percentile we landed in regarding our achievement in academia. This sheet was supposed to go to our parents. It usually took me a few days to remember that--not because it was something I wanted to hide from Mom, necessarily--it's just that paper was relegated to a level of unimportance. If you'd asked me what percentile I was in regarding any subject, I wouldn't have had any idea.

I've said several times here in The Diner that I had no idea of my class rank until the very day we graduated at rehearsal and they told the class who would be sitting on the stage, which went to either the top 10 or those in the top 10%, I forget which. I got to sit up there because I was class president and you're darn right I stood up when they asked the top 10% to stand and be recognized. I wasn't going to be the only guy on that stage sitting down, man. I felt pretty good about it when my best friends Hal and Smitty were in the class rows standing up, too. We gave each other the chin nod and waved and got recognized, too. I know this because all our parents were sitting together and yelling at us to sit down because we shouldn't be standing.

And, I do remember the spring day when ACT scores hit the counselor's office. Over the next few days we compared numbers as you ran into various folks...not because we cared about at 26 or a 23, but rather to make sure that those friends we were going to room with had covered some base line that guaranteed you a spot in a state university. We needed to know because if they didn't get the grade up after the next time they took it, we'd have to look elsewhere to cover that extra $40 a month for their share of the apartment rent...and if they were the guy that had the couch, then we'd be needing to find a guy who could get a couch.

There were only two or three people in our class that took enough advance placement classes and did well enough in them to get their GPA up over the 4.0 mark. They were battling it out for valedictorian and salutatorian. Most of the rest of us were hovering round that 3.5 and 3.25 area, thankful that P.E. and Chemistry carried the same weight in the grade scale.

With this as my experience, I caught myself yesterday in a strange place.

See, now all the kids in our area take something called the PSAT. I'm not even fully sure what all is on this thing...but the bottom line is that when you take it your junior year in high school, if you do well enough on it, you get on a series of important lists. The biggest one being something called a National Merit Scholar. Apparently, you can score well enough on this test, obtain this distinction, and money for college appears. It's like finding a magic lamp that gives you one wish when you rub it...and all parents wish for a full scholarship, hopefully with books, fees and room and board included.

And our kids have caught that, folks. Yesterday, these results got into the kids hands. There was a flurry of activity including text messages and lunchtable discussions and phone calls. They were comparing notes and asking questions.

I had to catch myself.

I, too, wanted to know what these numbers meant NOW. The junior year, apparently, is the one that matters. My daughter isn't there yet. I wanted to know where she stood in relation to her class.

Percentiles seemed to matter.

Class rank seemed to matter. In a world where nearly 15% of a class has OVER a 4.0, and nearly 30% has an "A" average (and yet, to hear administration tell it, we don't really have grade inflation. Hmmm.), I wanted to know what happened when you combined your percentile on the test with your GPA.

I wanted to know the average number of points a person jumped between their sophomore year and the junior year when it, apparently, matters.

I wanted to hear stories of kids who weren't in a certain percentile and then their scores jumped the next year in dramatic fashion, hearing about how parents who didn't expect to have a Commended Scholar wound up with one and got a full scholarship with books and fees and room and board included because their kid made an unexpected leap into a percentile when it mattered most...and then they texted their friends.

And I had to stop and remind myself...

...what is seen is temporary.
...what is unseen is eternal.
...thinking that getting a scholarship and class rank and all that will lead to a successful life (whatever that is) needs to be put in the proper perspective. Plenty of National Merit Scholars have flunked out of universities, and plenty of "D" students have graduate degrees, man. Really.
...that my child's walk with God is of infinite more importance than percentile.
...that integrity in the little things matters.
...that sometimes pride creeps into areas when we least expect it or never even thought we cared about.
...that maybe there's too much pressure on high school kids to fit certain molds or follow certain formulas for success that really aren't all that certain.
...that I have no idea how to stop the tide of thinking that the value of education is so your kid will be a success, when it should be an end to itself.
...that sometimes I think I'm too idealistic and naive and romantic.
...that I don't think those are bad things.

So, I made a decision to let it go, man.

And, while I'll make eggs the morning of the PSAT next year and make sure a good night's sleep is in order...

...I'll spend more time trusting God and making sure I'm raising my child in the way the Creator of the Universe has for her to go. Which may or may not be involve percentiles and scholarships and resumes and class ranks.

But, I'll trust.

Or at least I'll try to.
Is It A Bad Start To Your Day...

...when you wake up relating to today's Non Sequitur comic strip?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Faith And American Politics

Check out this op-ed piece in today's Dallas Morning News by highly respected Lutheran theologian Martin Marty.

Just to whet the appetite:

"Have you learned anything from the God-talk in the campaign so far?"

"Most candidates are genuinely religious – it goes with the American territory. The temptation in 2008's climate is that some may exploit religion – it's marketable now – and some flaunt it, evidently not having read the Sermon on the Mount's caution about practicing piety in public."

Very wise man, that Martin Marty. May his tribe increase.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My Bucket List

Surely you've seen the previews by now.

The new movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Where they're both terminally ill. Where they decide to pair up and complete a "bucket list"--the list of things you want to do before you "kick the bucket." Retrophisch and Mrs. Phisch, along with myself and the smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife decided to take it in after dinner together last night.

It was a nice ride of a movie and sparked some conversation over dessert about various spots on earth we'd like to see or maybe where we'd want our ashes scattered. The table was pretty sure that mine should be scattered between my recliner and hammock and Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.

And, sure, I know this movie will likely spur a thousand blog entries about "bucket lists."

And, sure, some of those entries will involve stuff about swimming with dolphins and scaling Everest and biking down a volcano in Hawaii and photo safaris and stuff like that. The movie's plot had Jack Nicholson as a billionaire so their "bucket list" could be pretty exotic.

And sure, my "bucket list" includes some travel, too. I'd like to do the Holy Land in a significant way. See where Jesus walked and preached and died and rose again and where David and Goliath barked at each other and where he hid from Saul. I'd really like to take a tour of the places Paul preached and visited like Athens and Rome and Corinth and all those places. But, by and large, I'm not much for travel just to see stuff. And I'm certainly not much for paying to travel just to see stuff. It's fair to say the Holy Land and Apostle Paul junkets are really only post-scripts to my bucket list.

But, frankly, you know what my "bucket list" consists of? Before I "kick the bucket," I'd like to...

...do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with my God. That Micah 6:8 part of my "bucket list" I already have tatooed on my left arm. But really, for me, that's true. I can't make much sense of this existence or live meaningfully and deeply outside of that reality. And, Paul was right, you know. If the dead aren't raised, let's just eat and drink for tomorrow we die. If the dead aren't raised, then we are most to be pitied. I really do want this on my list.

...I want to love my wife like Christ loved the church. I want to put her situations where her gifts and talents are being used for His glory. I want to encourage her walk with Him and allow Him to shape and mold her in His fashion. I want to rejoice in the wife of my youth and all that other Song of Solomon stuff.

...I want to avoid provoking my children to anger. I want to provide every opportunity for them to "go in the way they should go" even when my own presuppositions for what that looks like get smashed in the process. I want to encourage them to be strong women who do the Micah 6:8 thing. I want the girls God entrusted me with to be the kind of girls that, when I walk down an aisle and hand them over to some gorilla God provides (presuming He'll be doing that--if that isn't what they choose to do, so be it), that gorilla will be thankful that I took my stewardship of those young ladies very seriously.

...and, in light of that Micah 6:8 thing, I want to be using my gifts and talents to help the Body of Christ mature. I want to be part of a community of folks that are somewhere in the process of walking humbly with God. Warts and all. My warts and their warts. I want to love them and have that reality reciprocated.

And, you know what?

That's really my "bucket list."

I guess I'm more like Morgan Freeman's character in that I'm okay with not having it specific. I mean, I'm not too particular about where I'm doing those things or what I see along the journey. You can have your "kiss the prettiest woman in the world" items if you want (and, would it be sappy if I really believed I've done that? And, would it be even more sappy if I believed that I've covered Kid1, Kid2, Partner-In-Crime Neice1 and Higher-Order-Progeny Neice2?). And, yes, people will say I'm "no fun" because of that reality--much the same way that people tell me I'm no fun because I don't like to dance and find card-playing boring--but I really believe that if...

If I never see Everest up close and personal...
If I never see Old Faithful or climb down the Grand Canyon...
If I never go on safari...
If I never get to Athens or Engedi or Jerusalem...
If I never spit off a pyramid...
If I never drive in a stock car at 200 m.p.h....
If I never see a Super Bowl or prize fight...
If I never see U2 live or Led Zeppelin reunite and watch the show...

...I'm not sure it'll really bother me much.

I think my life will be complete and fulfilled if I do the Micah 6:8 thing.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

99 Luftballoons? Mickey? We Got The Beat?

I run in circles where Baby Boomers roam. I'm always intrigued by their perceptions of things from politics to corporate structure to church format and pretty much everything else. It's like I'm listening to people that are describing things I know about and have experienced but it's like they're telling me this in a foreign language. I imagine it'd be like hearing history from the perspective of the country that won the war than hearing that same history lesson from someone on the losing side of the war. The main facts are the same but the experience is different.

For example, in my mom's generation, a college degree pretty much guaranteed you a job. In fact, immediately after graduation, my mom's advice during my three months of unemployment was to "take my resume to the utility companies and banks and just get into the management trainee program." No matter how hard I tried to tell her that college degrees were a dime a dozen and those places were looking for a bit more specialization and that strategy was a huge time-waste, she never believed me. Her generation's view of the value of a university degree and mine were distinctly different. See what I mean?

But that's not really the example I want to talk about...the one I want to discuss today is music.

See, Boomers revel in the reality that they experienced some of the greatest popular music in American history. The requisite names are thrown out there: Beatles, Dylan, Stones, Zeppelin, Hendrix. There are several others, too. You get it. I don't need to list it as it's ingrained in the fabric of our culture. And, true, that incredible music was the soundtrack for their ages of 13--25, when you come into your music consciousness, right?

Usually, that chest-thumping is followed by statements like "no good music came out of the 80's." Granted, they usually concede the 90's has some good stuff...but the 80's are dismissed out-of-hand as a music wasteland.

So, today, I'm going to defend the 80's a little bit. See, I watched the movie Grosse Pointe Blank last night--one of the subplots involves John Cusack going to his high-school class of 1986 10-year reunion. At the reunion, they were playing the songs that cause folks to refer to the 80's as a music wasteland. One of the protagonists in the movie worked at a radio station and, as a protest, only played the music that wasn't on MTV but was critically acclaimed and got played on college radio.

This leads me to my list of bands that did have great music and were influential that came to rise in the 80's...

U2. Can't really argue with that. People will be listening to them decades from now, and a very obvious choice.
R.E.M. Like U2, they were original and influential and gave rise to the little college band that could.
The Police. Was there a bigger, better band in the late 80's?

Those are more or less the Beatles/Stones of the decade and, in my mind, a cut above...

...but here are the best of the rest:

The Clash. Really. They, at one time, were the only band that mattered and they're like a fine wine. As the years go by, people are starting to realize just how great they were. Some folks saw it then, but most joined the bandwagon much later.

The Pretenders. Started out punk and grew into a truly great band that was accessible for almost everybody.

The Talking Heads. I find it interesting that nobody has tried to imitate their sound since then. My best guess is that nobody can match David Byrne's genius to pull it off.

The Violent Femmes. Strip it all down to the bare minimum, and don't worry about singing in the right key...or even well. You know it's good when today's fraternity boys even talk about how incredible this band was, followed by the intense statement that punctuates just how good anything is, "Man, YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW!!!" As in, "Man, that song 'Blister in the Sun' is so great, YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW!!!"

Elvis Costello & The Attractions. You know they've made their mark when he's a dinner guest in a comedy like Talledega Nights. Almost every 80's movie has one song of his on the soundtrack, although it's usually the wrong one (Every Day I Write The Book, or [What's So Funny About] Peace, Love & Understanding? instead of Veronica).

And, I think that'd be the list.

Now, don't get me wrong...I think there were some bands, like The Replacements, Jason & The Nashville Scorchers, Lloyd Cole & The Commotion that never made a dent in the popular culture even though they should have, but I think the bands I listed could hold their own with the 60's & 70's music.

Your thoughts?

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Few Thoughts On Jeremiah

I asked Diner patrons if they'd want to walk along as I think through some things regarding my current study of the book of the Bible called Jeremiah. Those that responded said they'd actually like that...so here we go. I don't know that it's the goal of these installments to provide answers or insight as much as it is to "think out loud." So, maybe we can just pour the coffee and chat, okay?

Early on in the study it became apparent that one of the major themes is "sin" and the reality that God seems to take a serious view of it. A few thoughts:

"Sin" (Greek = hamartano)
1) to be without a share in
2) to miss the mark
3) to err, be mistaken
4) to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and
honour, to do or go wrong
5) to wander from the law of God, violate God's law, sin

"Sin" (Hebrew = chata')
1) to miss the mark
1c3) to bring into guilt or condemnation or punishment
1d1) to miss oneself, lose oneself, wander from the way

I think absolutes exist. In other words, if we "miss the mark," there's an implication that there's a mark to hit. A truth that is "right" and to wander away from that is, by implication, "wrong."

I think like the "1d1" definition regarding sin, that there's a "way" to go and to deviate from that--wander away-- is somehow tied to your identity as a human being. That we "miss" or "lose" our very selves. My guess is that we're created in the image of God Himself, and to wander away from that...or get lost...is actually a denial of who we are and what we're about.

I think that most followers of God have no idea who they are and what they're about.

I think that most followers of God, if they knew who they are and what they're about (and, in order to get that we would have to know God and what He's about) would take sin a great deal more seriously than we do. I mean, in an American context the idea of holiness is much like that scene in The Simpsons where Bart asked Homer what religion they were and he said, "You know that one with all the good ideas that don't work out in real life? What is that one? Oh, yeah, Christianity, that's it!" We have ideals and understandings of what a person of integrity is (particularly when it comes to the idea of a follower of Christ and pursuing holiness) and then it goes right out the window when the rubber meets the road.

I think that Christians tend to blur the line between what sin is and isn't. For example, drunkenness is sin. Consumption of alcohol isn't.

I think that few American Christians could "lovingly confront" another believer because there's a trend towards saying, "Don't judge me." Or, that "you don't have a right to judge me." Ahem. Well...ummm...yes we do. We should, in Francis Schaeffer's words, speak boldly and with authority where the Bible speaks boldly and with authority and shut up about the rest. Most times, we don't know what to actually shut up about and fight all these battles in what we generically lump into a "grey area" category. The good Dr. Schaeffer wouldn't say "shut up" so that's my own paraphrase. Then again, he might.

I think the idea of church discipline in American culture is nearly impossible to perform. Folks could simply go to the really good church 3 miles away and not have to sit in front of the elders of the church wanting to perform said discipline.

I think American Christians tend to want to apply "sin" to the general culture. So, for example, we might say that sexual activity outside marriage is sin...the Bible is actually pretty clear on that. But, for some reason, we're naive in thinking that this standard, and myriads like it, should apply to those outside our Tribe. It's not really fair to expect them to abide by realities that they aren't a part of.

I think I'm pretty good at spotting where others have wandered off the path. I think I'm pretty lousy at noticing when I do. Or, when I do, I have a pretty good explanation as to why I'm taking my own little field trip "over there."

I think that's enough for now.

Like I said, I'm just thinking out loud here, folks. Please understand that. I don't profess to be all that wise or observant...it's just that these are where my thoughts went today.

Have at it, patrons.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Shops At Highland Village Are Making Me Laugh Out Loud

I'm working on a theory that involves the newly opened shopping village in our community.

Exhibit A:

I'm at the large retail bookstore. Someone had recommended a book to me. One of those books for people trying to figure out what to do next. You know, like "What Color Is Your Parachute?" kind of books. This particular book is called "The Passion Test." The idea is that you go through it and it helps you figure out what you love and what jobs there are for what you love.

I looked in "self-help." I looked in "business." I looked at the "new releases." Couldn't locate it.

A clerk asks me if they can help me. Yep. Matter of fact, you can. I tell him the book title. He types it into his computer and tells me he's got lots of them and if I'll follow him he'll take me to the mother lode.

We start heading to a section of the store I generally don't browse in.

"Sir, here it is." Then he looks at me with sympathy because it's evident I need this book.

I'm trying to figure out what the look was for. My new look was confusion.

"I'll be happy to ring this up for you whenever you're ready," he said. Likely he said this to clear up the awkward silence caused by his look changing my look. He walked away quickly.

Then I realize the book has been put in the "Relationships & Sex" section, apparently because the title implies a bit more than business and career options. I'm now alone, apparently browsing in the "relationships and sex" section of the major retail bookstore. I just tighten my lips, nod up and down a few times, say "okay" under my breath, and mosey out of the store.

Not purchasing anything. Bewildered.

Exhibit B:

I'm making a purchase at another location in the shopping village right after work one day.

The clerk is looking very collegiate, and she's having a good day. She's engaging as I approach the register.

Over the small talk, her stomach growls. Loudly. And I mean loudly. So much so that I can hear it from about five feet away over the din of noise in the store.

She laughs at herself and says, "Oh, man, I'm so hungry because I haven't had a break since lunchtime and can't get to the restaurants here to grab a bite that'll get me through to to the end of my shift."

Having worked retail in a mall to put myself through seminary and been in plenty of similar situations, I thought I'd offer help from my experience: "I used to work retail, and we had sort of an agreement with the folks that worked at stores with food, and when we were rushed we could call them up and they'd just bring us something to snack on and we'd pay them later and maybe give 'em a tip or barter with a store discount."

She said, "Yeah. We do that here, too. And I tried calling [restaurant x] because those guys are always helping us out. But I got John Doe, who manages it so I had to hang up. John Doe and I used to date and then he cheated on me on New Year's Eve so that's pretty much over."

I tighten my lips and cut my eyes to the right, and then down at my shoes, I nod and kind of "hmpfh."

"I'm not even considering getting back together with him, either. I'd rather starve," she says. Handing me my receipt and my bag with stuff in it.

Okayyyyy...and I leave in silence.

Final Exhibit C:

Tuesday nights I have a quick dinner with Kid1. We slow down and catch up on what's going on in each other's lives. Sometimes it's deep and detailed. Other times it's light and surface-level. She picks the place. I pick up the tab. It works.

She picked a nice little restaurant at the shopping village, and the night's dinner conversation is a cross between deep & light. What I mean is that she was telling me about a situation in her life that was more or less routine, but she didn't realize that how she was handling it indicated to me that she's growing up. This was evidenced by her handling of it with grace and wit and charm and...well...compassion for the others involved. Like I said, it was a routine thing and she handled it in a way that seemed appropriate to her, but to me it was one of those moments you enjoy seeing as a parent.

It was toward the end of dinner and when she came to the end of the detailing, I said, "You know, Kid1, you are an amazing young lady. I'm so encouraged by what I'm seeing in you these days. You handled that situation with grace and wit and charm and...well...compassion for your friends. I'm so proud of you."

Her response: "Well, okay, Dad. That's kind of making me a little uncomfortable with you getting all of that out of a stupid lunchtable discussion with my friends." She laughed at/with me and finished with, "So, I'm going to just take my tray and dump my trash and head on up to the church, okay? You just hang out here for a minute so we don't leave together." She laughed some more and hugged me.

So, I'm trying to figure out how come I'm having all these awkward interactions...

...it absolutely cannot be that I'm socially awkward and the cause of these things, right?

Nope. My theory, since they all happened in a three block radius:

I'm blaming it on the bad karma of The Shops at Highland Village. I don't know what it did wrong in a past life, but that shopping center is paying for it now, man. Big time.

I'll need help proving this theory...so everybody...pay attention to your interactions at The Shops at Highland Village. Let me know if you see anything suspicious, okay?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Another Funded Study, This Time From Britain

Hmmm.

A British study from the University of Cambridge said that if you don't smoke...

...eat fruit & vegetables...

...exercise regularly...

...and drink alcohol in moderation...

that you'd likely live 14 more years than if you didn't do those things.

Who knew?
It'd Be Hysterical If It Weren't So True!

I realize that it's a punt to post YouTube videos on blogs. I mean, people tend to find them on their own and get the links--but my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly sent me one yesterday and she rarely sends stuff like this.

But, for those of you married with kids...



...this is 2 minutes of funny.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mom & Pop

I grew up seeing both sides of it.

My maternal grandfather worked his way up in a beast of a nationwide company. It started out as Tennessee Coal & Iron, and I don't even begin to understand all the details, but somehow he became a mildly important cog in the machine known as United States Steel...back when United States Steel was a major player in the business world. All I remember about that is that he had a magnificent retirement package and we could only drive cars made in the U.S.

My paternal grandfather owned his own business. Taxes. Sort of an H&R Block thing. I remember we'd go to his office building and my grandmother had artwork commissioned by me and my cousins framed and on her wall. We were serious about crayons and typing paper. He purchased tickets from the local minor league teams because he felt some civic pride/duty to do so and made sure to patronize the local restaurants around town. Me and my friends benefitted from that civic pride by spending a few nights in section NN, row 1, seats 1-4 of the old Rickwood Field before the minor league team went big time corporate.

Anyway, while I remember being as impressed as an 8-year-old can be by my maternal grandfather's name recognition (10 years later, I was able to drop his name long after he died and when people found out his grandson was waiting to get an insurance issue squared away--well, let's say that it was like knowing the secret password to Pee Wee's Playhouse and the doors opened right up. Problem solved.), I was always more impressed that my paternal grandfather could hang a "gone fishin'" sign on his door and do that very thing. Well, at least after tax season, which is when the fishin' was better. And, well, truth be told my grandmother (with only 4 functioning fingers total--a sheet metal incident, I think war-service related) could outfish him continually. And did. Eventually he took up puttering around the house and paying for the river cabin, and enjoyed us enjoying the fruits of his labor & river cabin.

I guess I'm telling you all this because I've always been a big fan of the entrepreneur. I'm drawn to the underdog...

...and I really enjoy it when you find that really good mom & pop kind of place where you know the owner and all that good stuff.

And I wanted to ask you your favorite mom & pop kind of places today.

For example, the story of Pete's Famous Hot Dogs in Birmingham, Alabama has been well-documented in this space. One guy & his wife (Gus & Kathy), one location, nearly 50 years. Best hot dog in the world.

Here in my little area we have a couple of places to eat that are "local" that I really like: The Texas Hamburger Factory and The Village Grill. I try to support both as frequently as possible.

There's also a dress boutique (I have daughters) called Bella Rosa that was started by a family in our church that seems to have a unique vibe to it and has been doing good stuff for a few years now.

So, today, in the spirit of the entrepreneur...

...what are your favorite "mom & pop" kind of places?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Once Again, From Our Good Friends At The Burnside Writer's Collective...

"While everyone in this country has a right to gather and discuss any topic they want, and participating in our national elections is certainly one that every citizen is encourage to do, I am becoming exhausted at listening to Christian “leaders” spend so much time and focus on kingdom of the United States instead of the Kingdom of God."

It's an article on the continuing trend of Focus on the Family, and other ministries like them, who've gotten away from their original ministry.

You should all check out Tim McGeary's article entitled "Please Keep Your Focus On The Family".
So, I'm Wondering...

...if I could use The Diner to vent a little bit of the stuff that I'm learning in my study of Jeremiah that I won't be able to use in my classroom time. Sort of a "thinking-out-loud" kind of thing. Not really much by way of conclusion of insight but more of a way to get some interaction going on those harder questions it's bringing up.

I mean, would you like that or would it just irritate you having your morning coffee interrupted by questions on the big scheme of the universe and your place in it that don't really have many satisfying answers?
Diner Football Picks, Championship Game Edition

Well, here at The Diner, we've gone 12-19 thus far in the bowl season...after a disappointing regular season of 55-64-3. All in all, in hasn't been good this year when it comes to football picks, but I'm on a small little run here with one more college game to go. TONIGHT'S big game!

L.S.U. vs. Ohio State (+4) in the BCS Championship Game: All things point to L.S.U. They're at the Superdome in New Orleans...a virtual home game. They're healthy for the first time since the 48-7 thrashing of BCS bowl team Virginia Tech. Overall, they have a better defense when they're "on" (and a couple of times this season they haven't been) and they've got more game breakers. All that said, my guess is the Ohio State will have a chip on their shoulder, that us-against-the-doubters mindset, and they'll play with plenty of emotion early. They'll have a lot of Big 10 pride on the line and a huge desire to make an impressive showing to get last year's 41-14 thrashing out the minds of the college football world. My guess is that they'll be in the game at the half and L.S.U. will pull away with depth to win the BCS championship. The only question I have is whether or not the Associated Press will vote U.S.C. or Georgia as a co-champion. Diner Prediction: L.S.U. 27, Ohio State 17

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Moratorium

Periodically, I'm asked to officiate wedding ceremonies. It comes with the gig.

And, doing so is a joy for me. For about a thousand different reasons. I performed a ceremony for a former student last night, in fact.

But can I ask a favor from all of you? I mean, I imagine we'll all go to a wedding or two over the coming year...and I think something needs to come to an end:

Pretty much 75% of the attendees taking digital flash photography from their seat. As well as the dancing, toasting and other festivities that go on during the reception.

I don't get it. I truly don't.

I'm standing up in front of two people who love each other and want to get married. It's enjoyable and serious and exciting and everything that goes into that life-moment. And electronic flashes are going off at an alarming rate. It really is distracting for me...and I'm pretty far away. I can't imagine how distracting it is for people sitting next to the folks taking the photo.

At a wedding over a year ago, I saw someone literally hold their hand straight above their head during the ceremony to take a flash photo.

At another wedding over two years ago, I saw someone jump out into the aisle--BLOCKING THE PAID PHOTOGRAPHER, NO LESS--to take a picture of the kiss.

I've seen people block the guest's view of all sorts of great moments like the couple's first dance, the cutting of the cake, the bride's dance with her dad, the throwing of the bouquet...the whole bit...in order to get a "great shot" with their personal camera.

But folks, please remember the following:

...the wedding ceremony itself is a worship service. No matter the venue, no matter the atmosphere, no matter what. You don't take photography of any kind, especially flash photography, during that time.
...they've paid a video company and a professional photographer to document the day for posterity. They don't need you to help them out. You're actually more in the way.
...getting photos up first on MySpace of Facebook isn't really that important.
...and I don't mind you getting your photo made with the bride or groom or other family members or friends--take all of those you want--while you're there at the reception. Those are what you want to take, anyway. Do that until your heart's content.
...all of life's moments DO NOT have to be preserved on video or in digital formats. Sometimes we should all just sit back and enjoy them. Just having the memories on your inner hard-drive should be enough.

So, The Diner has officially posted this moratorium which will serve until Emily Post makes such social rules official.
Diner Football Picks, Bowl Edition, Part XII

I'm still having a tough time with non-BCS bowl games being played once the big ones get rolling. Of course, I'm still having trouble with college football going past New Year's Day and the reality that my picks are 11-19 with two games left to play...so what do I know?

Anyway, tonight we have this little beauty:

Tulsa vs. Bowling Green (+4.5) in the GMAC Bowl: Oh, man. The two teams in this game have combined for over 7,000 yards passing this season so it should look a lot like an intramural flag football game. I think the biggest difference is that Tulsa has a higher completion percentage...which really only mean they throw it more efficiently. Bowling Green did their damage in the MAC, while Tulsa did theirs in Conference USA. I'll take Tulsa, even though it's pretty much coming down to who has the ball last and whether or not they score when they have that last possession. Diner Prediction: Tulsa 35, Bowling Green 28

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Some Things Are Easy To Kick Around:

Many of you know that I was big into punk rock in my younger days. Well, as much as a middle-class suburban kid can be into punk rock in their younger days. One of the main reasons I was into punk rock was that it was actually about something. While most of my friends were bouncing around to whatever was on the radio, like Prince, Tommy Tutone, Pat Benetar, Bon Jovi, Molly Hatchett, Def Leppard, Nina, Men at Work, etc., I never got into them. Sure, their tunes were catchy and somewhat likeable (I mean, c'mon...who doesn't love a good 80's compilation every now and then?) but the music had kind of lost passion. Or spirit. Like much of the 1980's in America, it was about dancing and having a good time.

But punk was about something. You may or may not have agreed with what they were about or the talent level of the musicians or the garage sound, but it got in your face and made you think. Well, except the Ramones. They were more about having a good time and playing catchy, hook-driven punk (which is why they lasted much longer than the other bands). But Black Flag could make you think about whatever they were singing about. Didn't matter if they were singing about how stupid fraternity guys were or jocks or the government or abortion...

...the bands came at it with full-force and angst.

And, punk music was easy to kick around. The fashions. The sound. The fury. And most people didn't like it and did kick it around. So, those of us into it had our music, and by extension, our identity, attacked. We responded by elevating our own importance and acting superior to those who "didn't get it, man."

The problem with the punk movement (which I still believe was wonderful in that it got any 15-year-old really believing they could start a band because they'd listen and say, "I could do that.") is that it attacked anything and everything that was pretty easy to attack and didn't offer much by way of solution. I mean, if "anarchy" is all you're bringing to the table then your "movement" is only going to last so long.

And, the reason it's only going to last so long is that anger gets tired. Anger can only go so long. That fatigue is where depression sets in. So...Hellooooooo, Grunge!.

So, I thought today, I'd kind of show some love and hugs to things that are easy to kick around...some have even been Diner targets:

First, suburbia. Yep. It's easy to take shots at our cozy, homogenous & material life. But, ya know something? It's a biblical concept to enjoy the fruits of your labor and folks here are hard-working folks. We've got nice houses. Low crime. Good schools loaded with excellent teachers. We pay taxes. We have amazing opportunities for us and our families. We have resources we use to help others who don't have it so good. We have a wide variety of experiences and opportunity available to us and our kids. So, kudos to a suburban lifestyle.

Second, my church. No church is perfect, and ours has been through an awful lot in the last few years (moving into a large facility, staff turnover, etc.). But my church really has that "family" feel and we have a group of folks that really do love and care about each other. We are made up of people who tend to want to dig deeper into what it means to walk with God. We have pastors who care and try and work lots of hours to help people do that. We have committed volunteers who help our infants, children, teenagers, and adults all the way up to senior citizens. We do what we can to serve others all over the world and in our own backyard. It's easy to complain about a music style that isn't your preference or a program you didn't like, but, I belong to an extended family that I enjoy doing life together with. I can't imagine picking a church for shallow reasons like a pastor's personality (or passion, whatever the heck that means) or a good program or a music style. Those things can be nice, but hardly worth choosing a church over). So, kudos to CBC! And, while I'm at it, kudos to the many good churches in our area. There are several!

Third, Britney Spears. I know. Her behavior of late makes her an easy target for late night comics and such. But, you know something? She's a mom with kids who seems to have surrounded herself with folks that aren't really looking out for her best interests. She's very young, and I believe that fame and fortune can have downsides that are just as awful as anonymity and poverty. And she doesn't seem to be dealing with it very well. I wonder how she'd respond if somebody who really cared about her and her well-being decided to walk alongside her and help her think in ways that would help her instead of just trying to squeeze the last bit of blood out of the turnip. It's sad, really. Think about what you'd want to do if this were your sister who isn't famous and rich and she were in the same straits. So, kudos to that somebody out there who can help this young woman get it together (and hoping she'll want their help)!

Fourth, politics and picking a president. No matter how you slice it our little representative democracy is the best thing going. The reality is that we get what we deserve, but the inherent system isn't at fault. We are. But I don't worry at night about folks arresting me and doing horrible things to my family because of my religious beliefs. I am glad we have that free speech thing. I like the fact that we have elections that don't involve guns and, in worst-case scenarios are settled in a court of law with a gavel. And, so what if all we get as candidates are politicians and not statesmen? The lesser of our evils aren't really all that evil...they're just slick. So, kudos to the good old U.S. of A.!

Finally, that lady who lied to Club Libby Lu to get her kid a trip to see Hannah Montana. Yes, she had a lawyer and a psychologist beside her when she went on the Today Show (and I'd say your life isn't what you thought it would become if you EVER wind up on the Today Show sitting beside a lawyer and a psychologist) to apologize. But the bottom line is that she said she was sorry to our soldiers and sorry that she did it. And, you know what? I'm not too sure that we shouldn't just accept her apology and move on and let her get back to her life. So, kudos to that lady for the apology!

Anything you nice folks would like to add?
Diner Football Picks, Bowl Edition, Part XI

Once again, I thought I had a pick nailed. Since when did Kansas play the kind of defense they showed two nights ago? Just goes to show you there's a reason the ACC teams played everybody close this year and lost. Of course, the ACC is kinda like The Diner in their sub-par showing during bowl season. I'm 10-19. Ugh.

Anyway, in a weird bit of scheduling, we get this game before Monday night's matchup:

Rutgers vs. Ball State (+10.5) in the International Bowl: Man, they need a sponsor. Just when I was getting used to some company's name in front of the actual bowl's name, I get this. Anyway, Rutgers has a running back named Ray Rice who gets about 150 yards a game rushing in the Big East Conference. Ball State, playing in their first bowl game in a decade and they've only been to 5 total in their history, is giving up nearly 200 yards per game rushing in the MAC. I think Rutgers, who has a mean pass defense to add to the mix, cruises. Diner Prediction: Rutgers 34, Ball State 17.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Is It Possible To Have A Case Of The Mondays On Friday?

I'll try to describe it as best I can:

Everything seems to be going right. Nothing seems to be going right.
All the puzzle pieces fit together. All the edge pieces must've fallen between the couch cushions and I can't even get started.
I'm hard-charging and energized. I'm bored and lazy.
World events, political and social, are worth caring about and seem to matter a great deal. I couldn't care less about what's going on even in my own town, and certainly not what's going on in Iowa.
I'm moving around the board and the game seems to be fun. I can't seem to find the dice...they weren't in the box.
I seem to be focused. I can't keep a linear thought.
I'm well-rested from my vacation time. I'm tired and have no energy.
I'm trying to be kind. I'm trying not to be their kind.
I've got too much to do. I've got a lot of time on my hands.
I'm laughing all the time lately. I feel like I'm getting a cold and don't want to be around anyone and just want to be quiet.
I'm surrounded by friends. I'm feeling like an outsider.

I could go on.

But what it comes down to is that my days are a lot like this.

Back and forth.

2008 is weird thus far.

Just weird.

It's hard to explain.

So, I'll stop trying.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

For Bob

Since The Diner strives to keep our customers happy, one of the patrons requested a football pick for tonight's Orange Bowl. I've got to admit I'm a little gun shy on making football picks as my bowl picks alone are 10-18 and I have no idea why I'm missing them. They seem so logical to me and then I see the scores and the thought that pops into my brain is, "What the heck happened there? I thought that was solid, man."

Oklahoma last night is a perfect example. How does a program in complete dissaray beat a talented Sooner team? Nuts. Just nuts. My only theory is that Stoops underestimates his opponents and the players expect teams without as much history to just play dead. Other than that, I got nothin.'

Anyway, for Bob:

Virginia Tech vs. Kansas (+3) in the FedEx Orange Bowl: It's been an emotional season for the Hokies, while Kansas has had an off-century in college football. The Jayhawks were a controversial pick to even be in Miami (Mizzou certainly deserved it over them) and the question becomes, "Is the third-best team in the Big 12 as good as the best team from the ACC?" After watching Clemson, Virginia, Boston College, all have good showings in their bowls (even in the losses), my guess is that Kansas magical run comes to an end. And they'll likely fade from the college football upper echelon for another 100 years. Diner Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, Kansas 16.
So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that I'm doing too much "big picture" thinking these days, wondering about the condition of the universe and my place in it.
...that Kendra won Blogger of the Year in the 2007 Awards and I don't think she read it.
...that when you're in your 40's, playing a series of basketball games leaves you more sore than you thought it was going to, and you thought it would leave you pretty sore.
...that the lady who helped her kid write the fake letter to win the Hannah Montana concert prize from Club Libby Lu is taking a pounding in the press, and I wonder what long-term lessons she'll be learning.
...that I read a column on the opinion page of the Dallas Morning News (wasn't online this morning) where the columnist used a series of examples of interacting with her kids on media and pop culture and asking the question, "So, what's the main lesson we learn from this?" I thought it was good behavior to imitate.
...that I got a new flavor of coffee creamer and it isn't as good and my favorite one (French Vanilla, fat free) but I bought the biggest size because it was on sale. Now I know why it was on sale and I'm committed to it for about two weeks. Dangit.
...that I'm not doing football picks anymore because I've learned that: 1) it's time consuming. 2) The Diner readership doesn't really get into it. 3) I stink at them.
...that last night Kid2 made some pajama pants with a drawstring using on-sale fabric and her new sewing machine and they look really funny/good (the reason the fabric was on-sale was that it was covered with multi/bright colored troll dolls), but she did a great jobon the craftsmanship. I thought this was very cool.
...that there's still something intriguing about finding that really good new band and sharing that information with friends.
...that, for some reason, the Wii has an intergenerational appeal that most video game systems in the past haven't had. I don't know if it's the game choices or what, but senior citizens can play it and enjoy it with their grandkids (I saw it on the news that retirement complexes are using them for precisely that)--which is a stroke of genius.
...that the health club is always more crowded in January. Which I think is good...but it's annoying just the same.
...that I decided to read more fiction this year, and it's interesting how many good writers are out there undiscovered on a big scale.
...that our home is kind of unpredictable when it comes to a particular grocery store purchase. Sometimes, we buy a bunch of bananas and they go in like two days. Other times, the entire bunch turns black on the little banana bunch holder we have. Weird. It also seems to happen with apples.
...that when former students are back in town from college there doesn't seem to be enough time to meet with all of them.
...that every time I try to go to the computer for my calendar and daily to-do lists, it never really works out for me. I wind up going back to the little spiral notebook with big boxes to write in, with an undersized legal pad to cross of what needs to get done.
...that I've got an iTunes gift card and I'm trying to come up with good music to get. Any suggestions? I mean, I've only got room for 35,000 more songs.
...that I don't know why we have a land line anymore. The only calls we get are from telemarketers or people who can't get in touch with us on our cell phones.
...that I'm in the first stages of catching a cold (I can sense it somehow) so I need to get some Cold-eze. For some reason, that stuff always knocks it right out.
...that if you haven't listened to Pastor Nathan's sermon (it was one of his first ones in "big church") you should catch it on iTunes or get it from CBC's website. It was very good...not that I'm surprised.
...that I need to get on with my day.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Few Photos From Paris

Just a few photos Tracy took in Paris. I pulled a few of the ones I thought were nice off her hard drive for a quick post. Maybe she'd make different choices, but she said that the two of them had to make the choice to enjoy the trip/sightseeing or focus on their artistic endeavors...and she didn't take her camera to every place. Anyway, here are some I liked:





As you can see, Kid1 did take a little time to sketch. She's sketching this, I think:





Diner Football Predictions, Bowl Edition, Post-New-Year's Edition

Having a week's worth of games after the January 1 bunch is tough to get used to. So are failing in predictions, I was 3-3 on the New Year's Day slate, making my record 10-17 with 5 left to play.

And today's game:

Oklahoma vs. West Virginia (+7) in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: On the surface, this one looks easy to call. The Sooners seem to be on a mission to erase all the talk about how poorly they play in BCS games--which is true. Which is why they're on a mission. West Virginia could not have more distractions, either. Their coach taking the staff to Michigan and then the school suing the coach because he's not paying the $4-million buy-out of his contract. Not to mention that OU finished the season playing very well and the Mountaineers came apart. It'd be a better game if everything was stable at WVU, but it isn't. And it likely won't be a very good game. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 31, West Virginia 13