Wednesday, April 30, 2008

DALLAS!!! (*bomp bomp*) STARS!!! (*bomp bomp*) DALLAS!!! (*bomp bomp*) STARS!!! (*bomp bomp*)(*heavy metal barre chords follow, by the band Pantera*)

Text message at 2:26PM. Author: Retrophisch. "Feel like going to the Stars game tonight?"

I thought long and hard about any and all responsibilities I had going. Lemme see...soup and sandwich at home and watching on TV or getting to Game 3? Elapsed time: 0.357 seconds. Replied affirmatively.

Text message at 2:57PM. Retrophisch again. "I'll let you know the final outcome re: tickets in a bit."

Popped off to office hockey fan Sharon that tickets to Game 3 of round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs might find their way into my hands while gathering necessary materials for my meeting at 3PM.

Text message at 2:59PM. Retrophisch: "Currently we don't know how many tix we're going to end up with...either 2 or 4."

I attended the meeting at 3PM. I was distracted somewhat ("Mr. Burgandy, are you paying attention?" "No." "Well, this pertains to everyone." "Okay.") because I didn't know if Mrs. Diner would be going or Kid1 would be the beneficiary. It became moot as it wound up being 2 tickets, and Mrs. Phisch had Little Phisch duties involving martial arts lessons.

Text message at 3:26PM. Retrophisch: "Game's at 6:30. No parking pass this time.(Mrs. Phisch) thinks we need to leave about 4:30. Too early?"

I replied that was fine with me. In fact, gave me an excuse to kick out of that awkward time-frame when the meeting's over but nobody's left yet.

Discussed with Retrophisch whether or not to participate in the "blackout" where the fans where black clothes to support the team. Didn't think I had anything. Turns out I did.

Got parked and too the arena just in time. Turns out 4:30 was just about right. Parking was a zoo, and I joked with the Phisch that next time that to procure a parking pass before taking free tickets...but it turns out that we accidentally got a good spot for exiting to the interstate after the game, anyway.

Got towels to wave around from pretty girls handing them out when we walked in. They have a Stanley Cup on them and say that we're supposed to "believe." I mentally agreed to believe...guessing they meant we should believe our team can win the Cup. In fact, got two by having one under a jacket and another pretty girl handed me another. The Phisch did the same thing.

Got to the seats...and they were pretty good, man. Felt the necessity to text photos to lots of hockey fans I know while waiting. There's a lot of hullaballoo when a hockey team skates out:

Sharks get a late 1st period goal.

In between periods, American Airlines gives away plane tickets to anywhere in the world. The last time we went with the Phisch family, Kid1 actually won them. This time, Phisch said that if I won tonight, he was going to punch me. I'm glad it never came to that. Actually, I'm not. It would've been HYSTERICAL to me if it had.

No scoring in the 2nd.

We get a power-play goal early in the 3rd to tie it up. Building gets LOUD and stays that way for half an hour or so.

Lots of hitting and skating. Lots of great shots & close calls. Lots of booing and cheering. Lots of standing and sitting. Lots of tense moments as the game went to overtime. This was especially tense as a Stars goal would give us a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. A goal by the Sharks makes the series all "game on."

Phisch and I need sustenance, thinking we might be here a while the way this was going. They play until somebody scores, so Phisch and I make a pact to stay no matter how late. Even 3AM...which would translate to roughly 14 overtime periods. We chose pizza, which we got. Fun fact to know: They stop serving beer with 5 minutes to go in the 3rd. I agree with the policy, but could see the pizza-selling guy turning away customers knowing overtime was afoot also knowing he was turning away $6 a potential bottle. There were lots of potential bottles.

Well, we got the goal! I actually saw it go in even though it was at the other end of the rink...from our angle you could even see the open net & positioning of their defense.

On the way out, I picked up towels other fans left to give as a gifts to folks I harassed earlier in the day. I felt like a little kid hopping down aisles to pick up more gifts, but they were appreciated by those I harassed earlier in the day.

Our earlier traffic situation payed off as we got out in GREAT time (even though I made the kinda awkward move of rolling down the passenger window and motioning to a driver that we needed over because we were a lane too far over...and this always more or less guilts that guy into doing it. To top that off, the guilted party missed the light and had to wait while we zipped along Woodall-Rogers right onto I-35)...even getting to see the news show the game-winner from a better angle.

If there's a better sports-intensive way to spend a Tuesday evening than attending a home playoff game on the road to the Stanley Cup (with the possible exception of making a run to the concession stand with SIX minutes to go in the third period), I'm not sure what that might be...

And, tonight, I'll be by the channel hoping for the sweep, man. I already have the towel on my door at work:

Thanks, Phisch! Really good times, man. Really good.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blast From The Past

Back in 2000, our student ministry did a couple of things that were pretty much cutting-edge for our church: First, we took a group to Holland for a completely evangelism focused mission trip. You know, wake up, pray, find somebody to build a relationship with a present the message of God's grace. Second, we had our own web page of photos and blogs that we updated daily. It was so much fun to have everybody write and folks back home send back their comments. We read them over dinner each night...and people said they lost about an hour's worth of work each day checking up on us. Back then, blogging was such a new thing...the last two trips haven't been as well-surfed.

Anyway, my friend Joshua was in charge of our website and would put a photo that kind of described the day on the entry page of our site. Well, after 15 or 16 photos, many photos were starting to look similar. So, we decided to stage one that might get folks curious. I guess Joshua was clearing out some files and sent me this one:

Dutch police really don't look all that menacing, and I was sportin' the hairstyle that caused Liz to say, "Brent, please don't put another youth group through the awkward 'growing-out' phase. Either keep it long or short, but this is hard on all of us."
And This Stuff Is Free, Man!

Podcasts are the best thing ever for a sermon connoisseur such as myself.

I listen to about four per week, more if I have extensive driving or yardwork to do. My children and wife have lovingly mocked me for this behavior. I tend to get excited and say things like, "Got that new podcast from Grand Rapids today, just in time for the big mow!" They look off in different directions so as to be polite when it's pretty obvious they are aware of how out of lock-step with the majority of humans I truly am.

Anyway, it's stuff like this that I can't believe don't cost nuthin':

"The issue is that God did not die on a cross and rise from the dead so that you could be moral people. He died on the cross and rose again so you could be worshipping children of God, which is radically different from behavior modification. It's getting to the root of the sin that says "He is God and I am not" and I'm going to worship Him. And when I fail to do that, then I am on the road to sin, and it will show up somehow and in some way. Sin always has a ripple always hurts people. For starters, it hurts God because you've moved from a relationship of a worshipper to a competitor."--Rick McKinley, from a sermon given at Imago Dei Community, Portland, Oregon, on Sunday, 4/27/08.

Take your pick, patrons.

Good morality.
Behavior modification.
On the road to sin (which I think is a magnificent description, btw).
Sin's ripple effect.
Worshipper to competitor (another great description, btw).

*tips cap to colleague Rick McKinley, for packing two hours' worth of conversation into a minute and a half of sermon time*

Have at it...

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

Bob Hebert, in the April 22 New York Times, wrote one of those articles that highlights what Americans don't know. Kind of like when Jay Leno does those "Jay-Walking" bits where he asks basic questions about something like American history and then edits the footage to make us laugh.

Well, Hebert brings up the latest stats on stuff that America knows (like how many high schoolers don't know that the Civil War took place between 1850 & 1900, or that 20% didn't know the U.S. fought in WWII...stuff like that) or doesn't know.

He rounds up the usual suspects to make quotes. Bill Gates is "terrified" of the workforce of tomorrow. He's traveled. He's seen what's going on in schools in Europe. He's a hyperbillionaire.

He rounds up educational experts, too. Our 4th graders match up well with math & science compared to the rest of the world. So do our 8th graders. But, our 12th graders seem to drop off the radar...supposedly near the bottom of the barrel, comparing us to "third-world" nations.

I'm sure there's something to all of this.

And, there's always room to improve our educational standards. And there's always room to debate the best & most effective ways to do this. There are plenty of ways to skin that particular cat. And, there are plenty of bureaucrats waiting in line to design and implement many of those skinned cats. My suspicion is most of this will result in failed government initiatives and lots of kids trained to jump through standardized testing hoops with raised standards so we'll climb above those third-world nations to middling with the Europeans.

Then we'll complain that we've got to out-do the Japanese or whoever else is at the top of the heap.

But you know what I see that's more disturbing than any of that?

That we've become a group of people that doesn't like to think. We like to be told what to think.

We watch the news and believe what we're told.
We read books and recommend them without considering major themes and how they affect us. Same for television and music.
We watch movies and miss the message because we were moved by the story.
We listen to sermons and just assume the message is "true."
We allow our educational system to do things to (under the guise of being "for") our children and puff our chests out when we dominate the standardized testing sessions.
We believe that education is a panacea when it's not even a placebo.
We come to conclusions that are set in stone, never to revisit them on the off-chance we might've missed something.
We prefer entertainment over engagement.

I could go on.

But it seems to me if we taught people how to think, with all the inherent risks and realities that brings...

...we wouldn't have to worry one iota about being terrified by tomorrow's workforce, or "obsolete" high schools, or "seismic" changes in "globalization."

Maybe I just have a soft spot for the philosophers among us.

I don't know.

But I don't think the sky is falling, Bob. We just need somebody to lead who says, "Here's the vision, Americans: No use of foreign oil by 2020. Failure is not an option." Name your vision. I just picked an easy one.

And, guess what, Bob?

Americans would get it done. And all those side issues would be erased. It's how we operate.

So, today, my small agenda is to provide for the rise of the philosopher-leaders...

...and allow your thinking brains to get that done. I'll expect society to be changed by just after lunchtime tomorrow, okay?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Teacher Evaluations

We all had our favorite teachers, right?

In elementary school, my favorite teacher was Mrs. O'Donnell. I think she was a newlywed and my reasons for her being my favorite involved being pretty.

In middle school, it was Mrs. Brooks. She was the cool teacher who didn't condescend to us when she probably should've, and she liked Rush "2112" as her favorite album. She and her husband took me to an Auburn football game after my dad died.

In high school, mine was a quirky A.A.R.P. candidate with horn-rimmed glasses on a chain that sat on the end of her nose, referred to everyone by putting "Scholar" in front of our last names, and kept the room freezing cold on the theory that we wouldn't sleep.

In college, it was an English professor who would come in and bow (think of Muslims on rugs facing Mecca) to the football stadium (which just had a multi-million dollar addition of suites and such), worked for the people that made Garbage Pail Kid trading cards as a consultant, and threw an eraser at you any time you said the word "just" because he felt that word was horrible misused.

At seminary, it was Dr. Zuck. He learned all our names before class started by looking at the seminary facebook and his knowledge and passion for teaching us was evident. It was impossible not to admire his creativity and love for what he did.

And yesterday, my 2nd favorite teacher from seminary spoke at my church for our men's conference. His name is Glen Kreider, and he came to the seminary at a time when many of the revered professors were training the next generation of classroom leaders. Dr. Kreider had that ability to work within the system to change the system where it needs to be changed. And enhance what doesn't need to be changed. So, I liked his style. He did things differently and was a mild maverick of sorts (to the degree you can when working for a seminary) but his approach to the classroom was right where I was. Still am. Use lots of multimedia to make points. Get discussion going. Take the opposite position of what you believe to get people to think outside the box. Of course, he ruffled feathers...both those seated in front of him and those in offices above him. Enough to effectively teach his students, lovingly irritate the establishment, but not enough to get fired.

He used his "formula" in our church...played a Nickelback song ("Rockstar") to get discussion going on pride & ambition and a Derek Webb song ("I Repent") that gets people to think. I thought it was pretty cool when someone who goes to our church approached me at a break and asked if I'd had classes under him because he noticed "a lot of similarities in style and approach and how you illustrate the text." I asked him if this was a good thing I said, he can irritate and get under your skin in the best of ways. He laughed and said it was a very good thing. I was relieved.

Anyway, I tell you all this because today's the last day I'm teaching my class on Jeremiah.

And, like I usually do, and like most institutions usually do, I hand out a teacher evaluation form. I don't think I can get better at my craft without those little anonymous reminders of what those learning observe.

And, like I usually do, I begin to have all those petty doubts and insecurities rear their ugly heads...

...and wonder if I've effectively taught my students.

Because I've been entrusted with communicating the greatest Truth known to mankind. It's quite a responsibility. That responsibility weighs on me more than I let on.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


I was downtown last night on (Proud Dad Alert upcoming) dad duty as Kid1 was inducted into the National Honor Society at her school.

We got to tour the 55-million dollar Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts...and I was staggered by the windows that allowed for views of the downtown skyline.

I can fully understand why that visual is inspirational, too. I mean, I know mountains do it for some people. Large bodies of water for others. But for me, downtown skylines, man. Almost any downtown skyline.

And I was thankful my kid gets her education in such an inspirational place. I can't give them much that requires money, but I'm glad we make the sacrifices we do so she can have that.

I was sports intensive last night, flipping through three channels...

...Mavericks (I don't really care about NBA but I was interested in score updates) win by 10.
...Rangers danced around like they'd won the World Series after their 10-inning win against the Twins, snapping a 7-game losing streak (you gotta celebrate what you can, I guess). As an added bonus, I got a photo of the Rudd family children texted to me from a San Francisco Giants game!
...and the Stars beat San Jose in Game 1 of round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs--an overtime goal in a game where we were badly outplayed. Not to mention that it didn't wind up being one of those several overtime west coast games that keeps you up until two in the morning.

There was joy in Mudville, and I'm in an exceptionally good mood today.

Friday, April 25, 2008


My issues with the "e"merging church have been well chronicled here at The Diner. I mean, I understand why the younger generation bolts (more on that in a second)...but that doesn't mean I like it or, in many cases, agree with them.

A great deal of my professional thoughts as of late have been in response to feedback we got at our church's "family matters" meeting two weeks ago. One major theme in the feedback involves the appearance that we're missing young couples and young adults--that an important demographic of our future doesn't seem to be visible, active or present all around our congregation. This is open to debate, of course, but there seemed to be plenty of questions about it so there has to be something to it.

Anyway, it's also been well-chronicled here at The Diner that management has been interested in promoting a "convergent congregation." You know, a healthy blend of the younger generation and older generation mixing and mingling and interacting against the current trends of having a great ministry program for "age/life-station." This might look like minichurch groups with all age ranges rather than say, an "empty nesters" minichurch. Or it might be having two sets of grandparents teaching an early childhood parenting class. Or maybe a retired guy discipling a teenager by working on cars together. Stuff like that.

Of course, this is where the idea of working on a doctorate comes into play. Seems like whenever I start talking like this, I get a nice smile from seminary professors or a polite phrase from elders or deacons or other staff that implies, "Well, it's nice to dream and it paints a lovely picture, but it's not likely to happen."

I'm fine with that.

Really. I am. This is why I'd like to pursue it and study it. They might all be right.

But you know what I find interesting?

The resistance comes from the older generation. I would've expected it to come from the "e"mergents wanting to break out and do their own thing and all that. It's what every generation tends to do in church circles. A lot of what you see as "industry standards" in today's churches were yesterday's battles faught by younger folks to do their own thing. But, nope. This comes from the old guard.

In the four years I've been bouncing this around, whenever I've brought it up to older generations I've gotten responses like:

"Look, you can do all that after we're dead, okay? (room laughs, but she was serious) We've put a lot of time and energy and money into this place over the years and it's just the way we like it. I don't want my retirement years at my church ruined by making a lot of changes."


"That's just not going to happen. It paints a pretty picture, but people get set in their ways. Older folks have raised their kids. We don't want to start raising others that aren't even ours. That's why we pay you, isn't it? Isn't it best we pay somebody who is gifted and talented to do that and do it well rather than busting our butts again?"


"We designed this ministry. We were the ones that implemented great, healthy programs when there was nothing here. This is my ministry, and now you want me to just step aside and let younger folks mess with something that doesn't need to be fixed? Listen, I'm not ready to be put out to pasture yet. They can wait their turn."


I've had all those in one form or another.

And I just don't get it. I have to be honest, right?

We're in agreement, folks. What you've done for our church in every way has been appreciated more than you know. And, yes, we've seen your spiritual fact, truth be known, we aspire to many of your characteristics. We've paid attention not only to what you've said but how you've lived, and there isn't a lot of gap between the two. We've modeled our marriages and parenting and lifestyles after yours. There's much to love about not only your behavior, but also about you personally.

And how did you arrive at this life station?

You served using your gifts and talents and finances. And we were small enough then to NEED you all of that.
You worked hard at raising your kids and making your family your first ministry. And we were small enough then that the church was right there doing all that together.
You designed ministries based on needs of our church family. And since there wasn't anything, you got to be innovative and creative and take chances and everything else that's exciting about any type of startup.

And, you wonder why the "e"mergents seem to be missing from our midst? It's because all of those things that you were a part of don't seem to have room for the very things that cause spiritual growth and excitement and innovation. We have tried-and-true programs that we plug-and-play folks into when they walk into the door. The worship we like doesn't seem to have room for our younger membership. And, often, we don't have issues that drive us to our knees anymore. Like lack of funds. Or lack of servants. Or whatever it is.

And, I wonder what it's going to take to make us willing to change. Yes, "I" am part of the "us"--the generation that is currently middle-aged.

And that wonder is what I think the book might be made of.

But you can't write a book on the theoretical. You actually have to do it. Which is what excites me on about 100 levels.

Because I think it can be done. And done well. Which gives the "us" among us another chance to be innovative and creative and use our gifts and talents and money for the long-term future of our church.

I love our church.

I love what it's done for me and my family.

And I want the next generation to have the same blessings.

Oh, man. I can't wait to get to work today.
Proud Dad Alert

I warned all of you earlier. Someone gave us some pictures they took of Kid2...and often, Kid2 gets slighted here at The Diner because her art involves a great deal of movement and grace that doesn't show up well in this medium. It's even hard to YouTube her stuff because many of her performances don't allow video to be taken. I really like the reality that there's a full-blown ballerina in my home:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'm Crawling Out Of My Skin, I Hope I Get Under Yours

It's a Stavesacre, morning, man.

See, I got through teaching Lamentations last night as part of my Jeremiah class. Verse by verse, for the most part. We only had two weeks for the five chapters so it wasn't full-blown all-verse thorough, but we got deeper than the gist of it. And a nice lady in my class made this comment about halfway through the class last night, "Wow, I can see why nobody teaches through this book in churches."

We all laughed. I mean, society has hit a low point when the prophet has to point out that moms boiling their babies for food during a siege is a bad thing...which is where we were when she made the comment.

But the book, and the three weeks of study on it, have made me a little chippy. I noticed my brain going in all sorts of different directions during the class and on the drive home...and here are a few snippets:

I wonder if I would teach this book at all if I weren't in an American context. I mean, it's easy to judge the actions of those with no food anywhere when you kind of whined about eating peanut-butter & jelly sandwiches for dinner.

I wonder how a pastor in a war-torn, strife-filled area would teach the book. Like Darfur. Or Afghanistan. Sierra Leone. Name it. I bet that pastor would have a different take than mine.

When it's all thunder and lightning and rainy outside the window of the classroom you're in, it really highlights the atmosphere.

I don't think I have a view of the cause/effect of sin that I should have. In other words, I'm not so sure I take sin all that seriously.

Too often, we pray that God would "act" in our circumstances (usually meaning that He "fix" the problem), when it seems that the message is that we would call on Him to comfort us in our circumstances. In other words, sometimes the best thing for us isn't fixing the problems.

Americans think our government doesn't work well? Man, compared to what it could be...

Jeremiah had a tough gig, and he wasn't above the fray. In other words, he didn't announce judgement and then go back to his luxury condo and live high on the hog. Nope. He lost weight and got sick like the rest of the folks.

When your spiritual life feels like you're trying to pick up sand, the only thing to do is fall back on what you know about God and pray those things. When Jeremiah said he couldn't even remember what it was like to be happy and that he lost his endurance to the point he lost hope, the very next recorded words were "Remember." He falls back on what he knows to be true about God, namely His lovingkindness and compassion. They renew his hope, even if the situation never changes.

It's good to sit in silence while under discipline from the Lord. In our culture, grumbling and complaining seem to rule the day in churches...and individual's lives, too.

Also, I learned that coming home and wanting to decompress by catching up on the local baseball team's game isn't necessarily good. See, I left them up 5-0 in the second inning. After my class, when I got home, they were down 19-6. Really. I was bummed.

So, it's a Stavesacre morning...

...I'll just roll with it, Lamentations and all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I'm Not Even The Gifted Child

I have no idea what started this.

I mean, I listen to former students chat away about finals and papers and study plans and just feel the tension rising in my shoulders listening to them talk about it.

It's been a decade since I've been in that arena.

My wife says I have to write a book, any book, before I get into it.

But I'm giving serious thought to working on getting one of these.

I wouldn't start until 2009.

But really...

Who am I becoming and why would this appeal to someone who actually hooked up Bunsen Burners to the water fountain because they enjoyed their own experiments more than the ones the teacher suggested? Or to someone who put Icy Hot on all the typewriter keys in his class (except his own, which immediately fingered the guilty party) before class?

Maybe it's the Texas heat getting to me. We can already feel it coming with yesterday's 87 degrees.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dumpster Dive

I took down the swing set on Saturday. Rust set in. A hacksaw was involved.

It was effectively destroyed. The three A-frame pipes hacksawed off where they connected to the center pipe. All that was left was the see-saw and the bucket glider, which I left attached, but their plastic seats were broken and faded.

Today is the bulk trash day. So, a little after 1PM yesterday I hauled the following to the street and left it all in a pile.

Six useless pipes.
One crossbar pipe.
Attached to the pipe were four strands of chain for two swings that no longer existed. A "trapeze" bar with chains. The see-saw. The bucket glider. The latter two were significantly bent in the deconstruction.

Since it was bulk trash day, I added some old wood the previous owners left behind. It was the kind of wood that was neatly stacked and didn't need to be moved when we moved in, but after a decade any projects I might've been thinking about using it for hadn't happened...and it was starting to decay. So, off to the pile. In fact, placed on top of the pile.

I added some brush I'd cleared, too. This is a really impressive pile. So impressive that I started thinking that any neighbors who viewed said pile might just be wondering what the heck is going on in my backyard that I can have that impressive of a pile on a random weekday cleanup.

Anyway, I get a text message from the smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife that says:

"Swing set was gone by 5PM."

I texted back that it was useless and destroyed.

She replied, "Yep. They took every bit of it."

When I got home the rotting wood was in a nice pile next to the brush, and they'd taken every bit of it.

A few things came to mind about all this:

Surely the most likely thing that can be going on is that somebody collects scrap metal to sell.
Or an artist saw some possibility in the junk?
Or maybe an enterprising dad could restore it to the intended purpose with a drill and rustoleum?
I live on a side street somewhat removed from any main routes someone would drive. It's a lazy street, man. How the heck could someone scout this out so quickly that it was GONE less than four hours after it was put out there? Is there bigger money in selling scrap metal/art/restoration than I know?

I mean, I heard of some guys that would haul away sections of replaced privacy fencing and scoured neighborhoods. But they took the wood and made these cool benches out of them. Sold them at Canton's First Monday Trade Days at $50 bucks per.

But the used swing set?

So, what I'm asking is if anyone knows the going rate for selling scrap metal (I wouldn't even know where to go to do that), or if you're aware of any cool modern art being shown, or you see some kids playing on a five-foot (rather than six-foot) swing set, fill me in, okay? Now I'm kind of curious...

Monday, April 21, 2008


So, this morning, Kid1 became a commuter.

As in...she commutes. She had to make sure she had enough gasoline for the trip. She has a parking place waiting for her in a downtown lot.

For me to go to work, I drive about 4 miles. It takes 10 minutes.

For her to go to school, she has to get on take I-35E South to the Woodall-Rogers Freeway and then exit in the Dallas Arts District. It should take 45 minutes (longer if there are wrecks). She'll repeat the process on the return trip. She'll be sitting in traffic daily both ways (but she will have a friend ride with her soon so she can take advantage of the HOV lanes, which will help)...which I don't envy.

But she said her first class today has a view of buildings downtown. That I kinda wish I had. The view...not the class.

It all seems so the roles are reversed.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that Judd Aptow might be the most overrated comedy filmmaker in America. I have no idea why he not only gets big box office numbers but also critical acclaim. Crass visuals & tension-creating conversation is distinctly different than comedy, folks.
...that Kid1's high school is moving into their $55 million facility starting Monday and it will be cool to go see it on Friday. I have to miss the tour that takes place today.
...that tearing down the swing set went a lot faster than I thought it would. And with less emotional investment than I'd planned.
...that my prediction for the Rangers winning 75 games (tops) might've been a bit ambitious.
...that the Starts need to win their playoff game at home tonight and not fool around with a potential game 7 in Anaheim.
...sometimes the best way to spend an afternoon is lounging around with Kid2. She's a really cool person that I think I'd hang out with if she wasn't my daughter. I don't know if she feels the same way about me, though. I'll take what I can get, even if it's boredom hang-outs.'ll be interesting to see my daughters two different personalities highlighted as Kid2's driving instruction (well, pre-instruction. You know, tooling around the church parking lot.) will start soon. From what I can gather, this one will have an entirely different approach to driving a car than my first-born--who generally plays into first-born stereotypes.
...that I'd love to have someone come to our church and write an article about us from the "outsider's" perspective. I reviewed a book on that once and Rolling Stone had an article in the new edition that did that at a conference for a higher-profile ministry than ours. I wonder what an outsider would say about my church and what we'd change or keep the same based on what they observed.
...that the smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife and I chatted a little last night about the way things are run at our community's local high schools. You know, that parents are virtually held hostage by incredible volunteer commitments and time demands and money for the bigger, better deal in (insert sport, band, drama, journalism, dance team, etc., here). It's weird. Everybody agrees about one thing: That there's nothing you can do about it, and that any organized resistance will fail. They also realize that their kids are the ones that will get punished by the gestapo-esque tactics of the leaders of these deals. I wonder what it would take to stop the madness.
...speaking of stopping the madness, I wonder when the economy of planning weddings will self-correct and head back to how it was when punch, cookies and cake ruled the day at receptions.
...except for the baseball-sized hail on a couple of occasions, the weather here has been beautiful.
...that whenever I have lunch with my friend Bailey, it's a unique blend of conversation about the deepest truths in life combined with laughter about the silliest things. She's also going to Auburn after she graduates, but I don't think that has anything to do with the enjoyable lunches.
...I'm planning on teaching a film & theology course this summer and teaching exegetically through 1, 2 & 3 John next fall. I'm excited about both the creativity factor as well as the intellectual challenges that show up.
...that, with some of the stuff I've been dealing with lately internally, there's a stark reality: living well is the best revenge. Not that revenge needs to be taken, but sometimes the lack of chaos presented by certain choices in lifestyle are their very own reward.
...seriously, I think our Men's Conference at our church next weekend is going to be very good. One of my favorite theology professors, Glen Kreider, is the keynote speaker. I'm kinda bummed I'll have to miss Friday night's session--well, not really, because I'm going to see Kid1 get inducted into NHS--but Saturday should be cool.
...that I need to get to work. I'm teaching Lamentations for the first time ever for the next two weeks...and I have a lot of stuff to write on the whiteboard.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Open Note To Local Organizations

Can we please stop demeaning our teenagers by having them wash cars in parking lots and stand on the street medians waving posters to entice me to give to their cause?

Listen, if your trip or event or equipment needs funding, it should be self-supporting. In other words, parents, pony up. Or kids, get a job and pony up. Or school district, budget for it and pony up.

Or design a fundraiser that allows all the above to pony up. Like hopping cars at Sonic. Or put on a show using their talents. Or set up a series of meetings with local business big-wigs, make a presentation and let them pony up. Or even let them sell coupon books. Send letters to those who might align with your cause. Sell flowers in the spring time. All of those are service-driven and don't demean the kids promoting the fundraiser. Whatever. There's a lot of ways to skin that cat.

But why in the world do was ask teenagers to stand on the street waving posters to bring me to a car wash that will only result in a poorly washed car? I'd rather just hand you five bucks than see teenagers encouraged to do what I've never seen a parent do.

Just letting you know.
Answering the Questions, Part 4

"Late Comer" arrived at The Diner yesterday with a few questions, and on this lazy Saturday morning business seems to be slow enough to sit down and, these are from those comments yesterday:

"If you are "saved" at a young age and then turn your back on religion, are you really always saved? How is this just? It seems to me at issue is whether or not you'd been "saved." Believe & confess (Romans 10: 9-10). It seems pretty clear to me (although not all followers of Christ believe this) that once you've "been sealed" your behavior is irrelevant to that process...even if that process is denied by the individual. God is faithful to his process whether we are or not. Many conservative Christians actually have a pithy saying that sums it up: "Once saved, always saved."

Interesting that you asked is this "just." According the the Bible, the only "just" thing that could happen to a human is eternal separation from God. The deal is that a sinful human and a holy God are incompatible. Hence, since all humans sin, we're all condemned. The GOOD NEWS is that God, through the sacrifice of His Son (long story) as a propitiation (long definition) for sin, provided a way to reunite Himself with humanity. And humans don't deserve it. Therefore, God is gracious to mankind because of love.

So, Late Comer, the true beauty of the Christian faith is that justice isn't the issue at all. Grace is. So, even if people fail, God is faithful.

"What makes you so sure that you are right just because you grew up a Christian? I grew up a Buddhist and am equally sure I am correct." It's presumptive to think that I'm a follower of Christ because of my upbringing. Granted, I grew up in an area where the Christian faith is predominant (if not a "default" religion). However, my area of study at university was World Religions. During my early adulthood I was encouraged to destroy my faith and actually spent the better part of three years in exploration. In other words, I've been able to not only academically "re-think" my entire position but also experientially analyze my faith in that process.

It seems to me that any thinking person can take a look at the one event central to the Christian faith: The bodily resurrection of the dead prophet Jesus Christ. If this event happened, then the Christian faith is true and, by definition all others are false. If this event didn't happen, then we, as a Tribe are most to be pitied. Early church fathers even said as much.

For a myriad of reasons too long to invest in here, I believe the resurrection to have occurred. Everything in my life flows from that belief, which has significant intellectual reasons to hold to it. If that didn't happen, I'd certainly be on a continuing search for truth, but frankly, my guess is that we'd all be "food for worms" and my lifestyle would involve a lot more "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

One of us is "wrong." That's for sure.

"Is it really plausible to say that Christianity is relevant purely based on what Holy texts say, even though those living out the Christian faith are failing at it? Can it really be truth if it can't be lived?" As a pastor of a church, I'm likely privy to much more awful behavior than you see in Christians. Many thinkers have used the same line of questioning as you have...can it be truth if it isn't lived out?

Again, at issue isn't philosophical outworking of the faith, it's the necessity of the resurrection that makes it "true" or not. Scripture is clear that a follower of Christ can, at any given moment, be "in the flesh" or "Spirit-led." (see Galatians 5) Hence, our "holy text" is actually saying that individuals will often, by omission or commission, NOT live it out at various times. Failure is actually defined, rebuked, corrected and given instruction toward holy living in our text. It's a matter of choices, actually, in any given situation to live abundantly, joyfully and/or peacefully, or have those realities stolen, killed & destroyed. But it's our choice.

That being said, it's nearly impossible to say that the majority of followers choose abundance over slavery. My guesses as to why this is so are legion.

So, thanks, Late Comer, for the addition to the discussion! You're always welcome, although for this session you will be given a tardy slip and two more of these will result in a detention.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Diner Bulletin Board

"Complete set of Wilson Advantage-Plus Golf Clubs."

8/10 on the criagslist scale of golf club 'grading.'
Irons 3--9, pitching & sand, plus "driving" iron. (mixed irons 1-3, off-brand, included).
Metal 'woods' 1-3,5 & 7 (fairway) & additional "hammer" driver included.
Putter & "chipping iron."
Payne Stewart model bag.

Barely used.

$300 OBO.

Inquire within.
Answering the Questions, Part 3

Here's the rest of the questions:

First of all, to Kendra: I'll go back and re-read the section on Tony Jones' book (I've lent it to a friend), but my recollection is that, as he "embraces" paradox, he fails to give credence to the possible explanations that make sense. In other words, in my way of thinking, he fails to take strong stands in areas where strong stands can be taken. But, again, I'm not looking at his work contextually at present so I'll have to get back to you when my book comes back.

Regarding Lori's question about the best book I've read this year: I haven't read many good books this year. The best one is the one I'm reading right now by N.T. Wright called "Surprised by Hope."

Regarding Kris' questions: Moby's new CD is reminiscent of his early work. So, if you like his early stuff (pre-"Play") then you'll like the CD. I like his earlier stuff. And regarding the movie "Smart People": If you liked "Juno" and you liked "Little Miss Sunshine," welcome to Hollywood's ability to try to cash in on appearing "indie" without being "indie." It's no "Little Miss Sunshine," (and a very big drop from Juno) but it was enjoyable enough. A few laughs and good story.

Regarding JH in FM's questions: " The elect or the chosen, if we choose Him are we then considered part of the elect? What does this all mean when we know that some will not choose to follow Christ? Refrences to dig into please, I have never received a full honest explanation on this one. Or maybe I just did not understand." Really? They haven't settled this in roughly 400 years and better minds than me have written volumes on it. I'm flattered you think I could deliver an "full, honest" explanation you could understand, but the reality is that I'd only significantly muddy the water. I'll say that I find most of the answers to this type of question will involve the matter of other words, from God's perspective and man's perspective on the same things.

What makes me toss and turn and keep me up at night? Nothing these days. When my head hits the pillow, I'm out, man. I'm in a pretty happy, joyful, peaceful place these days...and when you combine that with a warp-speed job right now, I'm pretty much comatose from 10:30PM to 5AM.

My worst habit: I guess that'd depend on who you ask. I bite my nails. I ignore people when I read. I often lack compassion. If you ask me, I'd say it's my tendency to dismiss diet and exercise first to clear up time in my day.

Texas Roast vs. Starbucks: Neither. I prefer a normal cup of joe at my house (usually Chock Full O' Nuts or Folgers Breakfast Blend). The only way I'd pay $4 for a coffee is to use the space they provide to hang out with people. I'm terribly blue collar in this when I go to those places it isn't for the coffee.

My favorite gadget: The iPod. It's simply the greatest gadget ever.

And lastly, to the two movie quotes at the end:

"African or European?"
"No, but I have been in a turkish prison."
Answering the Questions, Part 2

After opening up the floor for questions, frequent patron Bob had a list that I'll try to tackle today. So, here we go:

"Why are Christians less willing to be doers of Word than studiers/speakers of the word?" Well, the reality is that people in any congregation are going to be "all over the map" when it comes to spiritual growth. I mean, sometimes you have a single mom who came to Christ last week in MOPS and the guy who's been seminary educated and in ministry for 40 years. Not to mention every place in-between. What I've found is that there are those who are spiritually mature who tend to be "doers" of the Word...and there are plenty of people who aren't so far along in their walks. Interestingly, at Bible churches in particular, the clandestine message that has been sent is that the more you study and "dig deep" and "get fed" the more of a disciple you are. Jesus had a far greater measuring stick that classes attended and knowledge gained: Love.

"Why are Christians unwilling to see ministering at home as a family as an important ministry?" Again, I see plenty of people in my community who do. There are plenty of gifted and talented and educated women who've chosen to walk away from lucrative careers to minister to their family. Mostly, I see this as a function of our culture that practically demands two incomes, and a pushing of young kids to excellence in all sorts of activities that keeps us on the go continually to the point that dinner around a table is a lost art. Believe me, our schools/coaches/teachers, etc. don't help. In some cases, neither do our youth groups or church schedules.

"Why does the Americanized version of “ministry” seem to compel Christians to believe they need to be in a pulpit type position or on a mission field outside of the U.S.?" I think it's because we trust specialists. So, there's now a need for specialists in ministry as well. Churches tend to follow societal trends, and this is one. I'm glad there seems to be a lot more teaching these days on discovery or what God created you to be and to do that with excellence where you're "planted." So, we can have more Christian mechanics/plumbers/accountants/etc. who are just great at what they do and do so in a way that's glorifying to God.

"As Christians, shouldn’t we be Christians 24/7 regardless of whether it is at home, work, church, etc?" This has been going on for a while...that idea that you can be pious at church and a snake in the world for 6 days. But the answer is "yes."

"Does it matter if an individual accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior based on what they have learned in a denominational Church, non-denomination Church or on their own? Why? Why are Christians so decisive when it comes to denominations?" I'm not sure what these questions are getting at. But to answer the first ones, I think it's important that if you accepted Christ "on your own" and maybe you want to join a denominational church, then you'd want to submit to their doctrines and beliefs. For example, I was baptized in a Southern Baptist Church after being baptized as an infant (consistent with my Episcopalian parents' beliefs) and again at a Bible church (but I wasn't immersed). So, I joyfully submitted to that requirement so I could minister to teens.

And as the 2nd part, well, to be honest, I think denominations are actually a unifying thing. For example, I have certain beliefs regarding the role of women in pastoral positions. However, I have former students who believe differently. We worship in congregations that align with our respective beliefs. This is a good thing. Same for my "pentecostal" brothers and sisters, my "covenant/reformed" brothers and sisters, my "emergent" brothers and sisters. We can show greater love this way. So, I'm glad the various "flavors" of our Tribe exist. This way we can love each other without constant bickering.

"Why is admonishment (done by speaking the truth in love) seem to be a thing of the past?" Because, by and large, if you're about to go under church discipline, you can simply visit the church down the street and not have to deal with it. I think it happens in small group environments a good deal, particularly among the younger members. They take sharpening each other pretty seriously.

"If the Church is not the building, but made up of the people in the building - Is not the gov’t in the U.S. the same - not the institution, but made up of the people elected or appointed by elected people - people created by God?" No. The church is headed by Christ. The government are simply people we elect to help us live peacefully, and sometimes they don't do that well. They are two different entities, headed by two different leaders, with two different functions.

"If a Christian is elected or appointed by an elected official to a gov’t position, why wouldn’t they want a Christian symbol or scripture in the building they work? Why as Christians wouldn’t we want this? Aren’t those symbols or scriptures directing our focus back to God?" Well, I wouldn't want them because I'm a staunch supporter of the separation of church and state. Symbols mean things. Just think of the American flag and burn one and then tell me symbols don't matter. They do. And for every person "directing their focus back to God" there's at least one (and likely more) who are put off about God because of their presuppositions they bring to the table about that symbol. I mean, who hasn't been ripped off by the businessman with an ichthus fish on their business card?

"Why do we keeping inventing first names for Christians (ie: Authentic Christians, Real Christians, Transparent Christians or Born Again Christians)? Why can’t we just be Christians?" Because it helps us a bit. I mean, the Kingdom is big and broad. So, I'm not too sure I want to be lumped in together with certain TV preachers or stadium teachers or even some pierced & tattooed angry folks. And I don't know if they'd want to be aligned with me. So, it helps us. Kind of like being an American. It may be stereotyping, but it gives you an idea if someone says, "I'm a Texan" against "I'm a New Yorker" against "I'm a San Franciscan" etc. So, I don't really have a problem with any of that.

"Why do some professed Christians abhor abortion yet support the death penalty; and then some professed Christians support abortion yet abhor the death penalty? As Christians wouldn’t both be abhorred-why or why not?" Surely you see the difference. Abortion deals with an unborn who cannot speak for themselves. Death penalties deal with a person who made choices and given due process found guilty of a crime--to wit they are subject to punishment. And, if you talk to any rabbi regarding interpretation of the verses that many pro-life proponents use to "prove" that life begins at conception, not one will tell you that those verses can legitimately be used to support that deduction. So, I think there's plenty of legitimate reasons to "mix and match" within the labels you set forth.

So, Bob, there you go!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Answering the Questions, Part 1

Well, the 24-hour deadline has passed...and I'll begin answering the questions I was asked over the next couple of entries.

The first one was from Hollywood: "What are your top three ministry experiences ever?"

You remember that scene from the movie "Bull Durham" where Nuke Lalouche (the rookie) had just had a pitching success and the wiley veteran catcher, Crash Davis, began to lecture him on how to get better? And Nuke asked, "Why can't I just enjoy the moment?" To which the catcher responded, "The moment's over."

My personality is a lot like Crash's. I tend to focus on what's next when it comes to my professional life. Whatever "successes" or "failures" come along, well, they are what they are and we're on to the next thing. Sure, we should evaluate here and there and learn and grow, but that's a relatively short time frame. (Interestingly, one area where I'm not that way is when it comes to my wife and children. I enjoy flipping through pictures and watching videos and all that).

So, thinking through the "top three" was fun and gave me a reason the think about some of those past moments, and I decided on three representative events (one from each major ministry I was a part of) that, to me, highlighted the best parts of the ministries.

First, when I was with Greater Birmingham Youth for Christ (Campus Life): A Hewitt-Trussville vs. Huffman basketball game at Huffman High School. It was a rivalry game, with the "suburban" HT Huskies against the "inner city" Vikings. It was funny to me that both schools viewed themselves that way because they couldn't have been 5 miles apart geographically...however, they were eons apart when it came to educational experience.

Anyway, Tracy and I found out we were pregnant with Kid1 earlier in the week and decided the best way to tell all our students at once would be the highly attended Friday night game. And, we knew there was one kid who always asked Tracy if she was pregnant yet every time they saw each other, which was weekly for nearly two years. So, we took our seats, waited for the kid to ask--which actually took longer than it usually did--and so, students and parents from both sides of the gym came to offer congratulations and shared excitement (it was in between the JV and varsity games and warm-ups hadn't even started yet).

Those kids in that first ministry grew up with us. We loved those kids and they loved us.
The parents loved and cared about us.
We were a meaningful part of that community in a highly visible way (the principal at one school even referred to me as the 12th man of his faculty).

And, now that I think about it, that night at the basketball game, sharing joyful news with people we loved and that loved us back, was symbolic of the very best things about relational youth ministry.

Second, when I was working with students at Trinity Life Baptist Church: The experience of watching a group of teenagers yell at an ocean and telling it that they were NOT OF THIS WORLD.

The ministry there was just getting interesting. It had gone from five disinterested teens to about 35 somewhat excited teens and we were going on a trip to Gulf Shores over spring break. The idea was that we'd finish up the teaching we'd been doing on a booklet called "The Mind of Christ."

The details of the trip were so nuts that people don't believe me when I tell it. They think I'm exaggerating or using poetic license. But really...there are tales to tell of a tire that stayed inflated with no reason to stay inflated. There were free tires given by a guy in Mississippi that happened to not only know Jerry, but also was studying the same book we were. A "guy" that changed the tire that came out of nowhere and went away to, apparently, nowhere. Two and a half hours elapsed. Two and a half hours, give or take 5 mintues, down the road was a significant car crash...that we'd have been close to being a part of if we hadn't had the two and a half hour delay.

At that point, literally, I threw my final notes out the window. It was obvious this trip wasn't going to be finishing up a workbook.

So, we spent time discussing the spiritual life. At one point, we had all of the kids on the beach yelling at the ocean and reading Scripture.

And that moment was significant as a high point because I'm not so sure that wasn't the very best example of how youth ministry should be done. Just be open to what Christ has for the kids and not your own agenda, let the Holy Spirit work, and serve the kids. The fruit from that year and a half of ministry (which seems like it was so much longer) still goes on, with pastors and youth ministers and ministry wives...that time was quite a "bang for the buck." Those TLC kids will always have a terribly special place in my heart.

Third, at Crossroads Bible Church: Senior speech night for the class of 2002.

See, I gave the graduating seniors in my group five minutes to say whatever they wanted to the assembled student ministry. It was more or less my final exam with my see what stood out to them and what they were taking away from our four (or 7, or 2, or whatever, depending on when they started coming around) years in our ministry.

And that class of 2002 was the "perfect storm" of student ministry. Teens that were growing at exponential rates. They'd come from all over the map, too. Pastor's kids who never knew any other church to kids that got saved 6 months ago. Everything in-between, too. The kids not only "got fed," but served all over our church body. Parents were all highly involved in serving the student ministry and ministering to their kids. It was really unbelievable. So much so that I actually made the conscious decision to simply enjoy being around that group for the last two months.

The fruit that was evident in that particular class to such a degree that I had an elder pull me aside and tell me that everybody saw that class and that they'd never put expectations on me to have another class like that, because it was a "once in a lifetime" class. A blind guy with one eye could see, it, too.

And watching that class give their senior speeches, listening to their hearts about their walk with Christ through high school, was a night I'll never forget...

...and watching what God has done in and through that bunch to this day...seminary students, folks gearing for missions work, ministry throughout college and into the business world being "salt & light"...

...still friends with most of their parents...
...still being friends with most of them & officiating their weddings...'s the very best of youth ministry. And that night resulted in all sorts of gifts/trinkets that adorn my bookshelves form various members of that class. Interestingly, I think our church will have more than "one" of those "lifetime" classes. We've been close a couple of times since then.

So, Hollywood, if you had to pin me down and pick three...those would be the ones.

And, tomorrow, I'll tackle as many of Bob's questions as I can!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's That Time Of Year!

Okay, it's presumptuous.

But, each spring I open up The Diner and allow the patronage to ask questions of the management.

In the past, it's been stuff about me or my experiences, my church, my theology, my family, parenting, Rangers/Stars/Cowboys/Auburn, favorite movies, book recommendations, etc.

So, without further adieu, you have 24 hours to ask away...

...and I'll start answering tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just Giving You All A 'Heads-Up'

An open note to those that give me suggestions about how to fix things at our church:

You know, I see that very same thing.

Yes. We're in agreement that it's something that needs to be tweaked/fixed/erased/started/repackaged/refocused/etc.

Yes. We're on the same page.

And, I'm truly thankful you came to me with a proposed solution.

And, I'm truly thankful that you came to me with an understanding that that proposed solution will likely be tweaked/fixed/erased/started/repackaged/refocused/etc.

Yes. I'm glad we're close enough where you can speak freely with me on this, that and other things.

I just need to let you know one thing:

*motions to draw you closer*
*cuts eyes this way and that to make sure that no one else can hear*
*lowers voice to a whisper*

The solution to that is going to mean that we're going to have to make some changes.
Some very minor...barely even noticeable to the naked eye.
Some moderate.
Some drastic.

But most of those changes are going to be made to our presuppositions and our mindsets. We're going to have to think differently about what we thought we knew and look into some things a little deeper than we have in the past.

So, just know up front, okay?

And be careful what you wish for, okay? Because you're right. And because you're right, you just might get that very thing.

Just be prepared to serve.
Be prepared to love.

And how those things flesh out might be harder to act upon than you think.

Simply letting you know...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Little Things That Make Me Happy

...when the new technology you purchased works precisely as it's supposed to work immediately after taking it out of the box.
...when you buy new music and it's better than you hoped or expected.
...when somebody comes up and tells me that the sermon I gave months ago affected their life in a positive way.
...when you decide you just gotta have a banana split from Braum's Ice Cream, hurry to the store because you think it's about to close, only to discover that not only is it open later than you thought but the particular employee makes an excellent banana split.
...when you just got finished with yard work and somebody says, "Hey, your yard is looking really good."
...when Tracy gets around her best friends and they get carried away with laughter.
...when I look at pictures of the girls from about 10 or 12 years ago after not doing that for about six months.
...when I watch old videos we made of family or friends or events. Doesn't matter of what or who.
...when my car starts and the air conditioner works, because it hasn't been that long ago that my vehicles didn't do either predictably.
...when my former students contact me out of the blue, more or less just to say "hello."
...when the movie you go to see turns out to be better than you thought it was going to be.
...hearing other couples talk about how they met and first impressions of each other.
...when Auburn wins, in anything.
...a quiet house with my Bible and my chair and my dog, with coffee.
...when the senior citizens of our church leave church holding hands with their spouse of 40 years and laughing about something.
...when you get a really good idea out of nowhere. Doesn't matter what the idea is, you just know it's good. tickets. Giving or getting. Both are fun.
...having your tax return done a week ago and having electronic filing and direct deposit for your REFUND!
...when you see a great teacher be that great teacher--in whatever form it takes.
...watching your teenage daughters with their friends get excited about whatever it is they're excited about.
...the NHL playoffs. The best one in all of sports.
...a church meeting where you don't have any huge revelations or changes. For our church, it's been a while.
...the sound that plate makes with the fajitas on it coming towards your table.
...when somebody else tells you about the cool new vacation they're going on.
...when you get a gift that you'd never purchase for yourself in a million years but you really want it. Price is irrelevant.

I dunno.

I couldn't think of much else to write about today and I'm in a good mood.

So, what little thing makes you happy?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Don't Judge

My wife and I wind up with a gift subscription to Reader's Digest every Christmas. It tags along with another year of Inside the Auburn Tigers (which contains 12 weekly updates during football season).

I understand. RD isn't hip and/or with-it. It's pretty much only read in waiting rooms or some other time when you have unaccounted for minutes. The advertisements seem to be for people much older than me--I'm not even sure what osteoporosis is and I'm pretty sure I'm a couple of decades away from a "walk-in bathtub." But for some reason, I like the magazine.

I like the "ways to enrich your word power" each month. I dominate, too. I haven't finished below 15 in years...but multiple choice helps. I like "humor in uniform" and "all in a day's work," too. Although they've recently renamed those to try to be more hip & with-it. Now they're titled, "word power," "off base" and "@work." My advice: Be who you are, RD. No need to mess with the titles. That's what we're calling them, anyway.

But my favorite section is "Quotes." (What used to be "Quotable Quotes.")

And this month, they were all on the them of "America." Here's some I liked:

"America is not just a country. It's an idea."--Bono

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."--Jacques Barzan

"America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy."--John Updike

The good ol' U.S. of A. getting props in RD?. Who knew?! :)

I mean, c'mon. It's easy to give props to my subscription to Rolling Stone. You can carry that around with a certain degree of confidence (even if it's moved from anti-establishment to establishment-trying-to-act-anti-establishment). There's a bunch of magazines you can do that with.

But for me, no longer will I be a closet reader of Reader's Digest.

It feels like the weight of the world is off my shoulders.

*gives out a "cleansing breath," and encourages any and all Diner patrons to proudly browse RD whenever and wherever they have the opportunity*

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I've lived in the same house for almost 10 years now. It's the longest I've lived in one spot since my childhood home. I lived there for 13 years, 17 if you count the time I kept my stuff there while I went to college.

And we knew all the neighbors. Next door were the Whitlocks. The entire time. Other side: The Hines' & later the McLeans. Across the street were the Graingers and later the Lawyers. The Stokes' were two doors down and the Key's lived across from them. Mr. Key would get bent out of shape if you hit a tennis ball with an aluminum bat and it surprisingly carried the 75 yards from home plate (between our house and the Hines') to his roof. He was by far and away the only neighbor that didn't appreciate a punt from street football that landed in his bushes or flower beds.

But we knew all sorts of stuff like that. We knew the Stokes had a daughter who was a cheerleader for the professional football team in our city--which is all the information about the Stokes' a 12-year-old wants/needs. We knew the Whitlock's kids and their grandkids because they came for lunch on the weekends a lot. Mr. Lawyer actually became a lawyer, which we thought was funny. Dr. McLean liked Kentucky basketball and took us to sports events and his wife was from Cincinnati (none of us had ever heard somebody with such a funny accent). Mr. Hines was always a contender for yard of the month. Mr. Joe lived on the corner across from the Whitlocks and didn't care if we cut through his yard on our way to the Ponds' who lived a block over. Or maybe the Wilson's, who'd moved from England and tried to teach us soccer. This always turned into American football with a soccer ball. I was also a source of pride that Katie Ensey, local high school knockout, lived just down from Stacy Ponds (who we almost killed when me and her brother Scott found a bullet and smacked it with a hammer and it hit the aluminum storm door where she was standing).

We knew our neighbors.

As long as we've lived here, we still don't know our neighbors. Now, I do know Sam across the street. He's retired. He golfs. Whenever we cross paths, like when he checks the mail and I'm doing yard work, we chat. News. Sports. Weather. We chat. He had kids but I'm not sure where they live. The next-door neighbors appear newly married and I know the guy's first name because I made the association with Jason Bourne because we were on our way to see that movie when he introduced himself. I don't know his wife (maybe--they could be living together...I didn't notice a band, but he was doing yardwork, so...) at all. I've seen her a couple of times. We wave at the couple across the street every day but I couldn't tell you their names. Our next door neighbors have cute little girls who we wave to and we chat about once a month. He drives a truck, so we don't see him as much. The family on the corner has a bunch of boys who I only know their names because the parents are always yelling at them to come home or get out of the tree or whatever. A Catholic priest lives across the street, too. Never see him. Our backdoor neighbor is only heard from when it comes time to split cost on a fence or he wants me to trim my Crepe Myrtles so his pool stays clean. Well, that and when he yells at his kids we can hear him. The other folks we share a fence with have a yellow Lab. That's all I've got on them. Oh, yeah. I once chatted with one of their kids in a BB gun incident, but it was all cool.

We just don't know our neighbors. And I was wondering why.

Maybe we're at a busier time of life than all our neighbors? But they're busy, too.
Maybe we all work longer than our parents who all seemed to be home no later than 6PM?
Maybe schools all let out at 3PM and we had more down time?
Maybe we all had chain-link fences that were 4 feet tall and now we all have 6 foot privacy fences?
Maybe we don't let our kids play outside as much so there's less interaction?
Maybe our suburb is more transient in that people move more than they did in Alabama?
Maybe it's architectural in that we have garages on the fronts of our houses rather than porches? I mean, you can enter your home from the garage and there's no place to hang out in front.
Maybe we prefer cacooning when we get home?
Maybe we just don't prioritize knowing them?

I dunno.

What I do know is that I'm much more likely to know more people in the events/causes/schools/churches we're involved with than the 6 people who live around me.

It just seems strange.

It seems different, somehow, than when I was a kid. Even if i

Friday, April 11, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that it was pretty fun having three local professional sports teams all at exciting points in their respective games last night (Stars scoring an important 2nd goal at Anaheim in the playoffs, Rangers scoring in the bottom of the 8th to win game 2 of a double header, and Dirk knocking down a game-winning 3-point shot to ensure a playoff birth for the Mavs) and catching most of the excitement via remote control.
...that seeing my daughter in her prom dress a couple of nights ago caused the following thoughts: Her date is very lucky; she looks so grown up; and that it was easier being the dad of daughters when they'd be wearing an oversized t-shirt, sucking their thumb in your lap while you read Dr. Suess to them.
...that I need to get more informed about what's going on in Tibet. Really. I mean that.
...that even churches can get a corporate mentality (which isn't meant in a negative way) because we've had three meetings to get ready for ONE meeting on Sunday night. They might be necessary meetings and I'm "in the loop," but it still seems like a lot of meetings for a one-hour meeting.
...that I need to do something about my yard. You know, like develop a plan for an overall landscaping job. We've lost trees, got some drainage issues, we could use a deck, we need some shrubs and rocks and stuff. But then we get into time/money/priority thing. I mean, I keep it mowed and orderly but I could use less to mow and maybe work out some shaded areas. I think on the deck I'd like one of those half-covered & screened, half-outside deals.
...I'm glad The Office had a new episode last night.
...Yes, I see the irony of eating Pringles while watching that show "The Biggest Loser." reading has gone from warp-speed to nil in the last few weeks. I think it's a combination of lots of studying for teaching and my book choices are some heady fare lately. I'm just too tired to stay focused on the pages lately.
...speaking of reading, I judged a book by it's cover yesterday: How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. Immediately, I thought it'd be a book I'd enjoy reading. I have no idea why, but the title would cause an impulse buy if I'd seen it in the store.
...this blog needs layout makeover. I'm thinking about getting an layout-for-Dummies thing and having at it. There has to be one, right?
...speaking of this blog: Is it a bad thing if somebody asks you what your hobbies are and the thought pops into your brain, "Managing The Diner."? Is it bad if I didn't say it, but it was kind of true?
...of course, the real answers to that question involve Auburn football, major league baseball and the JFK assassination. Maybe I should answer with "managing The Diner." Seems less weird than the others.
...I've got a slew of weddings coming up, both officiating and just attending. I like this, but not for Wedding Crasher reasons. I just like weddings.
...I'm finally coming around on the idea of having a small dog. I used to like saying that I had a "black lab" because most of the things I enjoy in life don't have the ring of things men traditionally like and I could always say I had a "black lab" and garner guy points. So, getting a Shih Tzu was one more blow to my male ego. But now, I kind of bow up when people snicker when I say that. Kinda like saying, "Make fun if you want, but that dog is so awesome, (college frat boy overexcitement voice and overblown gesture for emphasis) YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW!"
...that you have to be careful as you type Shih Tzu, and even more careful in the proofreading.
...that Kid2 is on the front end of taking her shot at her dream. It's very surreal as a parent knowing that there's an "all-in" reality as it's happening. High-risk. High-reward. Oddly, I'm more concerned about the pitfalls of the high-reward than the downside of risk. The trappings of success always seem more dangerous to me than picking up the pieces. Is that wrong?
...that I should scan and post some photos of Kid2 for a proud dad alert soon.
...that I am teaching Lamentations in my Sunday School class for two weeks. It's the first time I've taught it publicly. Is it weird that I'm kind of excited about teaching Lamentations, of all things?
...that I need to get on with my day, man.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It...

Many of us have been there, man: Kid music.

You know, those shows you watch or CD's you listen to that are written for kids? Those catchy little songs become a brain virus that, at best, you can only temporarily quarantine? In our world, it was that "I love you, you love me..." bit from Barney, the "Honker-Duckie-Dinger Jamboree" by the Sesame Street gang, and "A Whole New World" from Aladdin. In my experience, every parent has their own poison.

And, my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly expressed this reality yesterday and was asking for some suggestions that were "kid friendly but not kid-oriented" like maybe some Beatles and Rolling Stones. Stuff like that.

In effect, that'd be pretty easy when it comes right down to it. But I got to thinking about the setting they'd be used in. You know...because the "when" and "where" matter. Like you don't want late-evening winding down to be caffeinated by The Ramones. You don't want the sunny day stroll to the park ruined by Ice-T singing "Cop Killer." Good stuff, but music's gotta have a setting, so I've come up with some kid-friendly music for stuff in the background at various times.

The first mix I've titled the Late-Morning Groove. This is for those times when you've just finished breakfast and while you're getting ready for the day, maybe while the kid is in the walker and you're doing dishes and maybe half-paying attention to the kid and half-picking up around the place. It also works during & after bath time. You can sing along and keep an upbeat mood going the whole time.

"Love Shack" by the B-52's
"Let's Dance" by David Bowie
"And She Was" by Talking Heads
"I Will Dare" by The Replacements
"The Lovecats" by The Cure
"Workin' in a Coal Mine" by Devo
"Waiting for the Bus" by The Violent Femmes
"Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop & The Stooges
"We Got The Beat" by The Go-Go's
"Middle of the Road" by The Pretenders
"If Money Talks (I Wish It'd Speak To Me) by Jason & The Nashville Scorchers
"Should I Stay or Should I Go?" by The Clash
"It's The End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" by R.E.M.

Then there's the Decent Folks Over Playlist. This one is the one that you wouldn't mind others seeing the CD's on your bookshelf...and the kind of music that you could have on while the kids are having their playdate and the parents are sitting and chatting. It has some requisite recognizable standards, but also enough off-the-beaten-path stuff that you'll get cool points from the listeners. It might even be a small conversation replacement when you hit a lull...and it winds down slowly by the end so everybody leaves calm. Important when you're loading up toddler gear and loading the car.

"Every Day I Write The Book" by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
"Day Tripper" by the Beatles
"I'm A Believer" by The Monkees
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by The Police
"I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick
"When Love Comes To Town" by U2
"Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Mrs. Robinson" by The Lemonheads
"Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" by Led Zeppelin
"Perfect Skin" by Lloyd Cole & The Commotions
"Praise You" by Fatboy Slim
"We Are All Made of Stars" by Moby
"Penguins" by Lyle Lovett
"Swingin'" by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
"The Late Greats" by Wilco
"Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In a Small Town" by Pearl Jam
"Shady Lane" by Pavement

Finally, and this is where I'll need your help. There's some music that every kid just needs to be listening to, man. It's part of our role as parents to let them have the Standard Americana Soundtrack...

"Beginning to See the Light" by The Velvet Underground. (I'm asking for some leeway here, patrons. You have to have some VU in the mix. It's just how it is. Granted, very few people listened to the Velvets, but what's the old saying? Everybody who did formed a great band?)
"Twist and Shout" by The Beatles.
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones. (Yes, I know they're British, but this particular song is a must)
"Bad to the Bone" by George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
"Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.
"Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan.
"I Got You (I Feel Good)" by James Brown.
"Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seeger.
"Brick House" by the Commodores.

And this is where I leave it to you guys to finish it up. What else goes on our Standard Americana Soundtrack? You get one song...and one song only. The only criteria is that it has to be a song every kid in America needs to have heard. Have at it!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Big Gap

According to the folks who track such things, of those who purchase music digitally (on line) breaks down this way:

Those 13-17 account for 15% of digital purchases.
Those 18-25 account for 21% of digital purchases.
Those 26-35 account for 27% of digital purchases.
Those 36-50 account for 32% of digital purchases.
Those 51 or older account for 5% of digital purchases.

I'd be very interested to see what else breaks down into Internet usage and what they use it for.

The reason I'd be very interested is because my guess is that the older generation, particularly in churches, need to understand that folks coming into leadership roles have very different views about the Internet. I've used this example before, those in the older generation tend to use web for informative purposes. You know, like what time a service starts or a map to get there, or maybe a list of classes offered or a doctrinal statement.

Those younger tend to use it for active engagement purposes and/or view it as a community. For example, they want to sign up and pay for events on-line. Also, they want to interact with others in forums or chats or reading blogs/comments.

And, I think this study more or less supports that idea. I'm wondering what churches can do to keep both groups attuned to the information they want and the community/ease they desire. I mean, I know some churches that allow families to give financially on-line. I've seen baptisms of friends "live" when it happened across the country. I've heard sermons hours after they've been given. I know pastors who come into forums or set up chats to discuss the sermon or teaching. I've seen elders do the same thing.

For whatever reason, I think this is important to discuss... have at it, patrons!
Images From Opening Day

Got to the ball park early to get good parking and get the feel for the day...and had a few minutes to spare and I took a stroll to see how the Cowboys stadium was coming along...suffice to say that this is from about 3/4 of a mile away and this photo won't do it justice. It's HUGE:

Then Kelsey and I took in both teams taking batting practice...and manalive did our new center fielder, Josh Hamilton, put on a show! Very cool to watch a pro hit a baseball that far that often. The only two people I've ever seen do what he did in BP were Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. Seeing that made my day.

The pomp and circumstance of Opening Day still kinda does it for me. Introduction of all the players, old and new, color guards from each branch of the service, the ceremonial first pitch...

A flyover by a B1 bomber is excellent...

Then they played some baseball. 9 innings in relatively glorious weather...and it was 9 poor innings by the home team. Poor starting pitching. Errors in the field. A baserunning blunder that really mattered. Hitting into double plays when we had a chance to do some damage. Everything that this team can't afford to do. But, hey, it was baseball, from this view:

And, no matter what, even losing 8-1 beats the heck out of a day at work:

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Playing Hooky...Even If You Have Plenty of Comp Days

Stuart Carlson, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

The daily paper gave 20 reasons to "Forget Work, It's Time To Play Ball."

I'll see their 20 and raise them many, many more.

The 19th & 20th reasons were, "If the Rangers really aren't so awful, you'll be able to say you were behind them from the beginning. And if they are, well, a bad day at the ballpark still beats a good day at the office."

So, true for the home opener, anyway. Even if you love your job.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Brain Dead

It's funny. I usually use that made-up excuse of "taking a mental health day" when I go to the Texas Rangers home-opener (which is tomorrow).

But, for some strange reason, I'm mentally exhausted right now. You know, that kind of experience where you have several good books you'd like to read but you read the page and can't remember what you just read? I can't keep a line of thought for more than about six minutes. It's the kind of day perfect for a diet of sports-talk radio & magazine reading...or kind of watching/not watching television. Catnapping.

I think I might not be kidding when I take my mental health day tomorrow.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Days Are Long, But The Years Are Short: Thoughts On Preparing To Launch

Yes. Those of us who are parents are well aware that the saying in the title is true. Doesn't matter if you have a kid who is only 1 or if you're an empty-nester. If your kid is 1, well, there were some long days and nights, but the year flew by. If you're an empty-nester, you remember walking your kid to school and now they're arranging flights for their family to come see you for the holidays. In both cases, it seems like you blinked and your parenting role changed.

And, not that I haven't enjoyed every stage of it thus far. I somehow enjoyed those late-night feedings when I could turn on SportsCenter (sound off) and give a bottle, listening to nothing but those soft grunts while they inhaled Infamil...looking into their eyes and rocking them, glancing every now and then at the sports updates. I loved playing legos and Candyland. I enjoyed putting the dog on the leash and walking with them to school. I enjoyed the ins-and-outs of elementary school years. Even middle school was relatively enjoyable in my world. High school, thus far, has been a pleasant surprise. I've learned that teens don't have to rebel and actually will rise to meet most reasonable expectations and will respond pretty well to any and all attempts to develop a relationship and will be pretty quick to forgive.

And, yes, I've always been pretty clear with my kids that my expectation is that they will leave. I'm okay with that. Parenting, as I see it, is about helping them become relatively well-adjusted adults who are doing what God wired them to do and then letting them do that. It's a season of life. So, in that regard, I'm well-aware that both of my teens are in process of independence. It's a delicate dance of trust & teaching, these high school years. Balance of space and oversight. It takes more effort and involvement (why many parents disengage at this point is beyond me) and at the same time knowing when to keep a distance. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That's what makes it a great game.

What sparked all this reflection, you might be asking?

Well, I've noticed that these thoughts come without warning. When you least expect them. Usually in the normal goings-on of life.

Yesterday couldn't have been more normal. Kid1 off shopping for a prom dress with friends. Kid2 and the Smokin' Hot Shutterbug Trophy Wife off at dance. Yard work for me.

Lawn mowed.
Remnants of storms swept and bagged.
Weeds eated.
And some extra time as no one else is around, the weather is nice and I decide to put in those extra couple of hours you have to do early in the springtime.

In this case, a sledge hammer was involved. I cut the small ropes that held the lattice work in place. I carefully knocked wood apart and hammered the rusty nails flat for safety reasons. I put the lattice out by the street in nice piles. The wood came apart easier than I thought it would but I still payed a lot more attention to what I was doing because let's face it: I'm not getting any younger. In my younger days it would've been all-sledge, brut force. Yesterday was calm and meticulous.

This is in large part because, when you're taking apart the little "garden playhouse" you put together a decade ago & it hasn't been used in about half a decade...

...and Kid1 has come in, with the perfect prom dress, and is now Mapquesting directions to a downtown Dallas restaurant where she'll be meeting friends later. In that delicate balance, you remind her of a few parking rules and single-girl-downtown safety precautions on your water break...

...well, maybe I took the tedious approach to dismantling the garden playhouse because it felt like I was sledge-hammering away that childhood phase.

It was too nice an afternoon.

It was too nice to see the kids doing their teenage things.

It was too nice to savor those memories.

It was too nice a moment to hurry or muscle.

And after the slower-than-necessary work was completed, I left the swing set standing. Don't get me wrong, folks. It'll come down, too. Likely Monday. But sometimes you have to go slower...

...because you remember how you kinda went into debt for that swing set.
...and how you wanted to put it together for your girls even though you're not good at that sort of thing.
...and because you felt that strongly about it you barked at your wife when she came out to help you because she is good at that sort of thing but you were spending so much time with textbooks you felt guilty and like you "owed" your girls this.
...and how it went from something they played with their friends on to the place where the took the phone to have some privacy while they talked to their friends to know where it's rusted and just gets in the way when you're trying to mow.

...these things take time, folks.

And, while I'm blinking and the years are passing, maybe...

...just maybe...

...I want to savor those memories and smell these roses.