Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ran Downstairs. Looked Under The Tree. And Santa Left Me A Big Box Of Student Ministry!

So, today, I've got a full slate of activity.

Student ministry activity on Sunday...

...which is warp-speed, man.

You gotta go to the Dungeon (affectionate nickname for the student ministry room, which is far from an apt description. If you've seen this room, well, it's more like a 4,000 square feet of youth ministry goodness) and get the chairs & stuff set up. You gotta get the music going. You gotta turn on the video games. You gotta get the whiteboards loaded with area high school football scores. Then you gotta find a minute to slow down, pray and re-focus on what all that room prep is about.

Between services, you'll do the pastoral thing and visit with your church family. Then, you have a lot of appointments. We've got baptisms tonight after the service. Funny, but paperwork is involved.

Then, you gotta review the notes for the high school Sunday School class. We're studying Romans. No easy feat, either...because you want to use the time tonight to encourage the students as well as let them know how much they mean to you. It's important because it's your first time back in front of the high schoolers. They don't know it yet, but in a lot of ways they'll need what you bring to the table. You do know it already, that you'll need what they bring to the table.

It's how my Sundays went for the better part of 18.5 years. High adrenaline. Highly addicted to the rush.

And then there was a parenthetical break to help out our overall Christian Education program. Still kind of cool. Just a different kind of cool. Where deep thoughts and planning intersect. Where the benefits of structure are actually helpful. Certainly more linear in approach and supporting the teachers in the classrooms has benefits that are neat to see as well.

But I woke up at 4:30AM this morning like a kid at Christmas.

A student ministry Sunday is at hand. My first since the announcement that I was assuming the role & after two Sundays of vacation.

High adrenaline.

Addicted to the rush.

Ready to let it rip.

Game on.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Inspiration. Wait a minute. That's it. Inspiration you guys. Don't you see? Our band should play Christian rock. Think about it. It's the easiest, crappiest music in the world, right? If we play songs about how much we love Jesus, all the Christians will buy our crap. You just start that way, Stan, and then you cross over. It's genius! It worked for Creed."--Eric Cartman, South Park character

Nathan knew it would set me off. So he sent this in an e-mail entitled "A sign of the Apocalypse."

This does exist, available in September:

https://store.digitalpraise.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=135

From the site:

"Grab the guitar and play along with top Christian bands! Shred those riffs or blast the bass…you add a unique sound to the solid Christian rock. But watch out: if you can't keep up, the artists will take a break and stop the music. Crank it up and try again - you'll soon be rockin' with the best while praising the Lord!"

Could somebody please explain to me how the Christian subculture stays in business?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Football Picks, Week #1

Well, even after a sub-.500 season against the line last college season, and a bowl season that left a lot to be desired The Diner is undeterred. Pressing on, we'll get after it again this season. Without further adieu, here are the picks from the first week of the NCAA season...with a lot of yawners to choose from.

Auburn vs. Louisiana-Monroe (+26): This game has a little intrigue for Auburn fans for several reasons. First, the Auburn nation wants to get a real look at the spread offense and new defense, both under new coordinators. Second, there are lots of new faces on both sides of the ball. Third, the Warhawks beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last season. I think this one will be close at the half, but Auburn's too deep and will win. However, I think Auburn will be a little sluggish. Diner Prediction: Auburn 31, Louisiana-Monroe 13

Alabama (+4.5) vs. Clemson in Atlanta: I've gone back and forth on this one. Earlier in the week, I thought Clemson was hungrier after 9 years of being just above average and loaded with talent. Then they popped off in the media. Then I thought Saban might be downplaying the Crimson Tide a bit as he's been uncharacteristically quiet. The Bama faithful are whispering about this being there year, too (so, what's new?). I see it as a toss up...with Bama's defense being just a little better. I think Bama will win outright. Diner Prediction: Alabama 23, Clemson 20.

Memphis (+7.5) at Ole Miss: For some reason, Houston Nutt hasn't made much noise in Oxford. And, Memphis might be an upper tier team in their conference. But I think there's been a little talent left from Orgeron's disaster of a tenure in Mississippi. He could recruit but he couldn't coach. Nutt can get a lot out of a little, like he did at Arkansas. The Rebels are at home, and I'm a little scared about giving more than a TD because Nutt's teams weren't ever an offensive powerhouse until McFadden & Jones showed up. But I'll give the points and take Ole Miss. Diner Prediction: Ole Miss 27, Memphis 17.

Oklahoma State vs. Washington State in Seattle (+7): This is one of those games where I think you have to look at the overall programs. Money, from T. Boone Pickens, is flowing into Stillwater like nobody's business. While the Cougs have a nice program, OSU is getting serious and they're hungry. Good head coach. Good quarterback, too. I think the Big 12 prevails here. Diner Prediction: Okahoma State 30, Wazzu 20.

U.S.C. at Virginia (+19.5): U.S.C. is going to be much more sharp than Virginia early in the season. While the Cavaliers are an improving team in the ACC, the Trojans have stockpiled talent just waiting to get into the games. This one will be men among boys, and if you saw another middling team from the ACC get throttled by five TD's by a middling SEC team last night, you'll see what the best in the PAC10 will do to a middling ACC team. Diner Prediction: U.S.C. 45, Virginia 13.

Missouri vs. Illinois (+9) in St. Louis: While Illinois has improved significantly under Ron Zook, the Missouri Tigers have become a serious threat to compete for the Big 12 conference championship (of course, it helps with them being in the North division). Mizzou has a quarterback than can play with the best of 'em and has been on the big stage before. Last year, Illinois was throwing into the end zone on the last play of the game to tie, it won't happen this year. Mizzou is going to be really good. Diner Prediction: Missouri 34, Illinois 21

Michigan State (+5) at California: The biggest problem in Berkeley right now is that there are hippies sitting in trees to prevent the athletic department from building a football weight room & such next to the stadium. But the problem isn't their football team. The Golden Bears don't have the muscle the Spartans have, but as the Big 10 always learns the hard way, speed kills. And the Bears have speed and athleticism and home field. Diner Prediction: Cal 27, Michigan State 21.

On Sunday:

Colorado vs. Colorado State (+11) in Denver: The Buffs have been constantly improving the last few years while the Colorado State has been in steady decline. It's a rivalry game, but it's too early for the Rams to know what kind of team they have, while the Buffs know they'll be improved. The only question in my mind is whether or not Colorado covers, but they'll win. Diner Prediction: Colorado 28, Colorado State 14.

Kentucky (+3.5) at Louisville: Another rivalry game early in the season. Last year, Kentucky won on a miracle pass from Woodson in the last minute at home. I'm of the opinion that you don't lose a player like Woodson and then go on the road and beat a team that's about as good as you are. While I'd like to think an SEC team getting points is great, I think it's not enough in this case in what should be pretty high scoring. Diner Prediction: Louisville 31, Kentucky 24.

On Monday:

Tennessee at U.C.L.A. (+7.5): All eyes are on the Gators and Dawgs in the SEC east. Nobody's talking about the Vols. Nobody. But Phil Fulmer can coach, and he might just have more than folks think in Knoxville. If there's a sleeper team in the SEC, it's the Vols. I mean, was anyone else paying attention when UT throttled Georgia (everybody's darling pick to win it all this year) by three TD's. They've got plenty of talent. And I think they're going to make a statement in Los Angeles in a big way. Diner Prediction: Tennessee 35, U.C.L.A. 20.

So, the first football picks are in, patrons. What do you think?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Heart's Not In It

I was going to talk about parenting today.
I'd like to chat about some new music I've been enjoying lately.
I'd like to tell you about some stuff I'm learning from 1 Timothy (I'm studying for my men's group for our fall discussions).
I want to talk about some uniquely suburban American views about church and how it's done.
I'm feeling like I should talk about ideas bouncing around in my head regarding the kick-off of student ministry.
I want to tell you about the tattoo I want to get next week.
I was going to give props to a new organization I found to donate my hair to this time.
I want to give some insights about some television shows I've seen lately.

But...

...it all just feels kinda "blah."

So, I'll save 'em for another day...

...unless you've got some better ideas.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sometimes, You Gotta Laugh At Yourselves

I walked into our church on my first day back from vacation and saw this by the stairs:



I wondered if anyone else caught the irony that it costs $3 to be "Free."
I Think They've Got Me Right Where They Want Me

My little gas pump icon came on last night on my way home from church and I pulled into the closest gas station. I went through all the button-pushing process: "yes" button to enter my 10-digit phone number for savings. Then enter the 10-digit phone number and hit "enter." It processed. I was told to insert my payment card. Enter 4-digit PIN number and hit enter. It processed again. Told me savings per gallon. Then I was told to select the grade of gasoline I wanted and to pick up the nozzle.

The gas pumped. I leave the door open so I can listen to music and let the handle do all the work. Regina Spektor's "Poor Little Rich Boy" was entertaining me while I waited. I didn't feel like squeegee-inig the windows.

The handle clicked. I rounded up to get an even $35.50, desperately trying to avoid the oversqueeze of $35.51.

The machine asked me if I wanted a receipt. I did, and made the mental note that it took me 19 pushes of a button to complete the transaction. I remembered when I was a kid you just sat there and popped the hood while the attendant checked the oil and washed the windows. Usually, when he was finished we got glass with an NFL helmet logo (we completed over half the teams before they changed the promotion and you got a steak knife with every fill-up) I got my receipt and paid attention to the cost per gallon.

It was $3.12 per gallon.

And I was happy.

Yeah.

The gas companies have me right where they want me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that I think it's funny that, yesterday, no less than 3 people asked me if The Diner would be doing the football picks as college football season opens this week.
...that David Sedaris is one of the funniest writers I've read. His new book caused me to laugh out loud in Starbucks while I was by myself.
...that I'm pretty happy for my friend Retrophisch and Mrs. Phisch and Little Phisch (although that moniker may have to change as there are now two little phisches). It was pretty cool to call him last night and have him talking in low-volume because he was holding his new son.
...I don't know if it's the reality that I was on vacation or what, but all I'll remember from these Olympics are Michael Phelps and wondering why beach volleyball & synchronized diving are recognized sports.
...that somebody should tell Sheryl Crow that just because you can play a guitar doesn't mean that you sound at all like you know what you're talking about when it comes to political matters. She sounds like a college kid throwing out regurgitated ideas she heard from her professor.
...speaking of politics: I heard about three minutes from the national convention going on for the Democratic Party last night. I couldn't hit "mute" fast enough. Keep in mind this had nothing to do with any affiliation on my part, but rather it came across as marketing and advertising. For two hours. Each night. I'll do the same when it comes to the Republicans. Don't worry.
...the baseball coach at my high school noted that you could tell the true nature of a Major League baseball team by how they do in the "dog days" of August. Well, the locals are 4-13 thus far in those dog days.
...that I had a good experience teaching Kid1 to drive a car, and Kid2 drove in our church parking lot yesterday. Thus far it appears I'll have another positive experience. I wonder if that task is more difficult with boys.
...that, yes, I'll be getting around to the parenting topic from the book I finished. Very soon. I need to get the book back to my friend!
...that listening to former students tell stories of spending their first week at college reminded me of how that process is wildly different for each kid. Some are taking to it like a duck to water and others are just trying to get their minds around all the changes.
...that the new school calendar in our community is okay by me, but I've heard lots of parents say it's awful because even though the state mandated later start dates, the governing body for extracurricular activities didn't and their summers were really just an excuse for their band leaders/coaches/etc. to work the kids harder.
...that, when you're in public and talking on your cell phone, don't act surprised when others are listening in on your conversation. And, if I happen to write what you say down on a napkin because I found it amusing/stupid/incredible, well, talk more privately. Sure, you can glare at me, but I'll shrug my shoulders as if to say, "You said it in a public place loudly enough for everyone to hear it, ma'am."
...when my wife goes to Sam's Club we have lots of oversized boxes of cereal on top of our fridge and on counters and garage. It looks like we're getting ready to have a gathering for hungry/thirsty people who'll need a lot of paper towels.
...we got those energy saving light bulbs that're supposed to last a long time. I thought I heard somewhere that you have to dispose of them differently than regular light bulbs, but I'm not sure. They reminded me of curly fries made of glass.
...that it's time for me to get back to work. I'm actually WAY behind, which reminded me that you always work twice as hard the week before you leave for vacation as well as the week you return from vacation.

Monday, August 25, 2008

You Can Take The Girl Out Of The South, But You Can't Take The Southern Out Of The Girl

For those of you that know my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly, you know that she is an excellent hostess. To those of us who don't use dishes to avoid using the dishwasher and eat right off a tray, well, we just don't think about the things true hostesses pick up on.

So, after they'd flown their one-year-old daughter on a four-hour small plane flight, gotten in at midnight the night before and come in from a couple weeks' vacation (and all that entails upon arrival home), here's the note that Jilly left us when we rolled in from Tom Petty. We had a 5:30AM go-time for our flight Sunday morning to get back to Big D.

Keep in mind this is VERBATIM and unedited:

"WELCOME BACK! Hope the concert was great...Someone named "Beck" called for Kelsey but Shane told him she had a boyfriend and told him to beat it.

The downstairs is set up for Brent & my laptop is on Shane's desk if you need it. Brent's alarm is set for 5AM, there is an 'alarm/on off' button at the top that turns it off. Kelsey's is set for 4:45 and there is an 'on/off' button on the back.

The coffee maker is set up to go on automatically at 4:45am, and there are commuter mugs out in case you'll want to keep your coffee for the drive, or regular mugs in the cabinet. Kelsey's special milk is in the fridge for coffee and/or cereal. There are bagels and cereal next to the toaster, adn cream cheese and fruit is in the fridge. Help yourself in the morning. One of us will get up at around 5:20am to take you to the airport. Whichever one doesn't get up says, 'have a great trip, it was great seeing you, etc., etc.'

If you can, just be super quiet when you come in tonight and tomorrow when you're showering (Kelsey, this will be easier for you). Margaux isn't a super-light sleeper, so it should be fine.

See you in the morning!"


Seriously.

See, I don't have that gift, man. I'm all, "My house is your house. Help yourself to whatever you can find and the sleeping bags are in the garage and just grab whatever pillow you can find."

And I don't think that has to do with teenagers, either. I think you're either born hospitable or you aren't. Sure, some folks (particularly those from below the Mason-Dixon Line) can go through some hospitable motions...but very few can pull stuff like this off so genuinely.

One more reason I think my sister is uber cool.
Clearing Out The Notebook (or in this case, a napkin) Three Signs I Forgot To Mention From Idaho

I thought these were funny:

"Hippies Use Side Entrance" (it had an arrow pointing to the only entrance--and the restaurant catered to the tie-dyed set)

"You're In Idaho. CALM DOWN." (if you're ever been to Idaho, you GET it. Very laid back)

"Welcome to Idaho. Don't Move Here!" (when you've got a great secret, you don't want folks coming in and wrecking it, do you?)
Last Ones. Promise.

Clearing out the photo library from the phone and various other cameras from vacation...

This is an accurate approximation of how close we were to Beck & his band as well as the Cold War Kids...





Just a little design for the festival letting you know you were in a new stage area (there were 6, I think)...and how they funded this little festival in the background...



Me & Kid1 in front of the plane Barnstorming Brother-in-Law & Higher-Order Life-Liver sister Jilly picked us up in to take us from Spokane to Sandpoint, Idaho.



It was actually easier to see Tom Petty than to look at the screen...



This is where I was happy to set up camp and see the show, which is where we were about an hour before showtime...



But Kid1 used cuteness and tenaciousness to get us about this close:



Regina Spektor doing what she does best:



For some reason, windmills were a big player in the logo of the festival...



Alas, the planes were on time and we landed in DFW. Vacation over & back to the warps 'n woofs of daily life. At least the patrons can rest easy knowing that you won't have to look at my vacation slides anymore. This is pretty much all of 'em.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

She Was An American Girl, Raised On Promises...

(today's photos are all courtesy of Joshua Rudd...Kelsey's camera ran out of juice and my cell phone cord is back in Big D)

Before I move on to Day 2 (and our final day at San Francisco's Outside Lands Festival as Barnstorming Brother-in-Law Shane will be my proxy for a lineup that looks like Broken Social Scene, Andrew Bird & Wilco), let me show you why my review of Radiohead might've been skewed...we were quite a distance away:



Well, Kid1 and I enjoyed our night's stay at the Rudd's (as an added bonus, we got to play with their kids while they went to some meeting) and then rolled on to the festival. We grabbed lunch, reasonably priced and GOOD (one of the deals was that they wanted good food at this concert series and didn't want folks to pay through the nose, so kudos to the organizers!), we threw baseballs at the speed gun, rolled through some exhibits/interactive stuff (which mostly involved playing Guitar Hero or posting your photos onto the site that would scroll them on the big screens between acts), got our fortunes told and listened to a couple of local acts that were on early. Just a couple of songs each...Then we listened to Portland's band M. Ward, largely because he was on the stage before...





Regina Spektor.

Oh.

My.

Gosh.

This is why live music makes a difference. Yes. I've heard her couple of hits on the radio. Yes. My daughter and her art school friends are into her big-time. So, Joshua and I thought we might do Kid1 a solid and go see her. All I can say is, "WOW!" She was everything an artist should be, man. Just her and a piano (one song had a guitar). Uber talented. Enjoyed herself and interacted with the crowd in a genuine manner. Such a pleasant surprise to me that her 40-minute set went by WAY too quickly and I could've done another 45 or so. Kid1 went with high expectations and Ms. Spektor exceeded those. Joshua's rave reviews made it a clean sweep.

Joshua stuck around to see Cake, while Kelsey and I rolled with Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals. Our mission was really just to avoid the distance at Radiohead...but Ben Harper had a good set and was certainly enjoyable, to the degree it could be as I was chasing Kid1 on a mission to get as close as we could to Mr. Petty.

And, let's just say that teenagers (especially cute girl teenagers) are able to zip past all sorts of folks. We actually got to the 6th Freakin' Row for the night's headliner, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Joshua actually did some fine zipping himself using lessons we learned the night before to get to the front row, but down the side (as you can see from his photos). We were just to the left of center stage, but close enough that when anyone played a guitar to our side we could see the expressions on their faces. Here's Joshua's photo of when Steve Winwood joined in for a couple of songs. I'll try to upload some from my poor phone camera once I get back to the cord.



And, this gives you a good idea of how much zipping we all did. About 40,000 strong...and we were ahead of about 39,500 of 'em.



For me, if there's a better way to end my vacation as well as end the summer, I can't think of what it might be...

Oh, man.

What a great night.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Noise Response Applause And Hand Claps...Floodgates Open To The Sound Of The Rainbow

Friday started with a trip to Noah's New York Bagels. Kid1 and I enjoyed the cool morning weather in Oakland. I read the paper and all that jazz.

Then it was off to Cal Berkeley. Kid1 wanted another look at the place...this time with purpose. We stopped by the admissions office for the requisite stuff admissions offices at every college give out to students who show interest in their college. I have to say that Cal is a beautiful campus, man. And I'd be all for it if Kid1 got in.

We crossed the Bay Bridge, drove through downtown to our good friend's place. Get this: The Rudd's live on 30th Avenue in San Francisco. You know how most folks have pictures of their kid learning to ride their bike and in the background of the photos you'll see the neighbor's houses and cars? Yeah. In the Rudd's photos of their kid learning to ride their bike and the freakin' Golden Gate Bridge is in the background. Anyway, the entrance to the concert is at the end of 30th. We can see it from their driveway.

After a nice visit with the Rudd's, we were off to the show. Joshua's gift from his wife for his birthday was a ticket to the concert, so we were all off to the show.

Kid1 highly recommended we take in a band called the Cold War Kids. Kid1's recommendation was not overhype at all. I gotta say they were very, very good. They may not look like rock stars, but it'll be a shame if they don't become rock stars some day. They must be well on their way if they kicked off a festival like this one.



The three of us walked in at a leisurely pace and took a look at the main stage and took in the park a bit on the way to the Cold War Kids...we were about 20 minutes in front of the downbeat time. It was pretty strange to walk from the back of the crowd to pretty much the front row with no real break in stride. But we did it. Oddly, after about 10 minutes, we turned around and realized we'd beaten about 7,500 folks to that:



Like I said, the Cold War Kids put on a great show, and there was only 20 minutes between sets and Beck was on the same stage after them. Needless to say, we stayed put.

And then the magic happened. I own all of Beck's CD's but had never seen him live. Manalive was he good, too.







In what would later prove to be a poor choice, we decided to move to the back of the crowd to hear the last few songs of Beck's set. Our rationale was that we could beat the majority of the crowd and get some halfway decent view of the night's headliners, Radiohead.

This proved to be a poor choice because, first, we missed the end of Beck's set, and second, because about 20,000 people ignored everybody but Radiohead (you can buy one-day passes) and by the time we got to that stage area...let's just say that there was a football field between me and Radiohead. Now, we could hear them very well and even see a giant screen. And, I'm sure if you think Radiohead is pure genius, well, you might be right. They are brilliant on CD. But live? Well, I like their early stuff and they played mostly their later stuff, so I could take it or leave it. Especially from a football field away. But, if you like In Rainbows and smoke a lot of pot or happened to pay $100 for the ticket to see it, you'd feel obligated to tell everybody how incredible it was.

Interestingly enough, Kid1 and I left about an hour and 10 minutes into the set and we could hear it pretty well from the Rudd's.

Tomorrow we'll take some time to explore the grounds & people-watch, so I'll have more observations for you on that front. But, I'm off to bed with Beck's "Modern Guilt" rambling in my brain...

Friday, August 22, 2008

It's Friday, August 22. It's 5PM. Do You Know Where Your Pastor Is?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Own Private Idaho Comes To A Close

The house where we stayed:



Kid2 & me caught having a chat in my natural habitat:



I really like this picture. The barnstorming brother-in-law, in this case boat-driving brother-in-law, and the stunning Margaux on the morning coffee cruise:



The higher-order life-liver sister Jilly in her natural habitat (the afternoon cocktail cruise):



The girls getting those last-minute reminders about how far they can go and staying together:



Margaux loved playing in her little pool in the afternoons when it warmed up:



The girls getting ready to jet ski:



Me, returning to the dock to let somebody else have a turn on the jet ski:



The higher-order life-living at it's finest:



Uncle Brent & the stunning Margaux:



Finally, you remember me telling you about the sunset cruise. If you catch it just right, you get this:

photo courtesy: Chris Sentz

Idaho.

Let me tell you right up front, this might be the most underrated state in the union.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Own Private Idaho, Day 4

It was the kind of day folks who live outside the Pacific Northwest think of when they think of the Pacific Northwest: A touch of grey. Chilly, but not cold. A little drizzly for short bursts but never rainy. And it was beautiful to me. I tell people all the time I think I that's my weather preference and that I could really get used to that. They tell me they don't think it's all that great once it happens for 45 straight days. I still think it's better than 45 straight days of 100 degrees.

And we did what folks do on that kind of day. We took a coffee cruise between showers. We read. We hot tubbed. We ate. We took the afternoon cocktail cruise. We read. We hot tubbed. We ate. We chatted. We went to bed. So there isn't much to discuss.

Except for Bear's.

Not "bears" like the animal.

"Bear" like a guy's nickname. He runs a restaurant called the Ice House. Here's how Sanpoint.Com's dining tab describes it:

Old Ice House Pizzeria & Bakery

You want atmosphere? Check Hope's historic old ice house only 20 minutes from Sandpoint. Enjoy Bear's signature New York-style, thin-crust pizza made from the freshest natural ingredients. Smoothies and juices, too. Great menu, laidback funktitude, and live music several times a week. And baklava, if you're lucky! Typical entrée cost: $ = Under $10. Amenities: Live Music, Outdoor Dining

Well, I wanted atmosphere...and I got it. We parked & started to walk into the place, which only had a few tables available. There was a sign by the door with an arrow on it that said "Hippies Use Side Entrance." It pointed to the only entrance. There was a sign touting free wi-fi. There was a totem pole in the parking lot. You walked into the room and there's only a large bucket of ice filled with beers, some t-shirts, and enough room to pay for your pizza. There was a sign, printed by a computer that said, "Due to the recent economic downturn, we've been forced to cut back our staff's hours. Please remember it may take a little longer to get your pizza but we think it'll be well worth your wait." We'd called ahead so it wasn't an issue either way.

And I've had New York pizza in New York and this was definitely New York-style and it was made with the freshest natural ingredients. Good pizza.

While we weren't staying for the live music, the evening's band had parked their tour bus right outside. It was an old yellow school bus with the words "Grateful Blues" in stencil/spray paint on the side. Inside the bus you could see a bar to hang clothes, a bamboo blind for some privacy, music gear & a bunch of guys wearing tie-dyed shirts. The license plate frame read, "Have a Grateful Day." Guess what their playlist was heavy on?

On the wall of the stairwell there were two things: Newspaper articles about his restaurant that had been laminated and thumb-tacked for the world to see, and posters from blues festivals that I'm guessing Bear had been to. There were several from the Russian River Blues Festival. I looked it up and they had some really nice artists every year. The photos made it look like a place hippies would enjoy.

Upstairs had a nice deck with a lake view and a foosball table. What more could you possibly want?

All in all, I really dug the local flavor even in Bear wasn't in (I kinda wanted to get my picture made with him because all the photos in the laminated newspaper articles showed you why he was called Bear...he had a serious Jerry Garcia thing going if Jerry Garcia was heavier). It's about the size & vibe of how I picture The Diner.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Own Private Idaho, Day 3

Just some observations...

Just to let everyone know, Hope, Idaho (population 200), is about 15 minutes from Montana, 40 minutes from Canada. There's some landowners in an unincorported area outside the town borders that gets a kick out of calling themselves "Beyond Hope." They have signs & named their restaurant that.

The view from the deck provides an audience for the three or four guys who use sea planes to take off for work each morning. Obviously, we get to see them return in the afternoon. Yesterday, the Barnstorming Brother-In-Law Shane got to take part in an "emergency" take off as a storm was brewing involving hail & the next door neighbor could get them to the Sandpoint Airport (where he parks their plane...in this case outside) in 6 minutes. This would allow them to put the planes in hangars. No matter how many times you see a sea plane take off & land, it's worth stopping to watch.

It's about a quarter-mile walk to get the newspaper from the mailbox bin. No problem in the summer, but my guess is that in the winter it just ain't worth it.

When riding one of those boat toys that people call an "inner tube" (which is really one not at all like an inner tube, but replaces the function. It's about 15 feet wide and 8 feet long with handles & such.) everyone gets a look on their face that makes them look like their five years old. The Higher-Order Life-Liver sister Jilly pointed this out and it's true. What's really cool is to watch your Smokin' Hot Shutterbug Trophy Wife get that look because we didn't grow up together and haven't ever really gone out and done a lot of stuff like that.

Those ballet lessons paid off in spades as Kid2 could ride the "inner tube" no matter the speed or twists & turns. Apparently, balance has a lot to do with being successful at that. Also, leg strength matters when you're kicking your sister off.

Jilly & The Can't Help It Hostess Jean got some recipe from what they referred to as "the greatest recipe web site ever." For those recipe fans out there it's Epicurious.Com. We had this.

The Sentz family has a cocktail cruise pretty much every afternoon at sunset. Last night, our captain was the Reluctant Retiree Jay. He's owned property up here since 1979 and when you're in a town of 200, you know stuff about everybody. He was a GREAT tour guide. Dick Rowland makes the drinks too strong. Harrison Ford was rumored to be interested in the purchase of an island with an $11 million price tag, but won't buy it because it was once used as a burial ground for the Native Americans who populated this area (the logic was that if you ever decided to build on it, the lawsuits would start making the land "undesirable at any price."). He knew the name of the lady who donated the land for the state park. He told us about the guy from Germany who built quarters for his tennis pro and has part of the Berlin Wall as part of his driveway gate. This RV park is better than that RV park because of a jetty for boat parking, group beach access...the drawback is no restaurant. One was the "Beyond Hope RV Park."

A local radio station used the phrase "Rocking Spokane to Sandpoint and everything in-between." From what I've observed, that would be fields, mountains and lakes. Apparently, nature likes to rock up here.

Once you hit 10PM and are just a little bit tired, it becomes too much of a hassle to go hot tubbing (how's THAT for vacation mindset?). You have to get that action in motion by 9:30PM or it's just not gonna happen.

When you read a book about paratroopers in WWII who went all the way from Normandy to drinking Hitler's champagne, and think about what you were doing at age 20, well, let's just say that I'm not real sure that experiencing the best & worst war can throw at you and building an Easter Island looking tiki for the fraternity luau are even in the same universe.

I promise we'll get back into the parenting book...I'm further into it and you will NOT want to miss that series, man. It's pretty provocative.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Own Private Idaho, Day 2

I woke up.
I Bibled, coffeed, on-lined newpapers, blogged.
I breakfasted with Margaux. Well, I watched her wolf fruit down like nobody's business in her high chair. She wasted half the day by sleeping til 6:30AM.
I breakfasted by eating bacon with no plate right off the tray.
Then, I jet skied. First time ever. Timid at first and then figuring out 40 m.p.h. was the right mix of speed & potential danger without really risking increased chiropractic visits. I feel old writing that.
Then, I got in the Sentz plane and went to Spokane to pick up Kid2 and the smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife.
Then, I got back in the Sentz plane and returned. Mission accomplished.
While in said plane I texted friends photos of what was up.
Then, my nuclear family was in one place for the first time in 6 weeks. Even though they were tired, this made me happy beyond words.
I ate dinner with them. Outside. No heat. No bugs. You've seen the view.
I conversed.
I hot tubbed. It's adjacent to where we ate. Only heat was from the water temp. Still no bugs. Same view with different senses.
I read outside in the quiet. Bugs started to come out. So then I read in quiet inside.

I think I'm getting pretty good at this vacation thing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On Travel

I don't like to travel, but I like to get there.

I mean, I'm not one of those folks who thinks that the vacation begins once we roll the suitcases out the door and the journey is half the fun. To me, the journey is a means. I don't care, if we're driving, what is on either side of the interstate between where I started or where I'm headed unless it benefits me in some way. You know, like if I have to eat. Or if me and the fam need to stretch our legs or whatever and there happens to be a lake or dormant volcano at about that time. Fine. We'll stop. And even enjoy it. But, as it stands, the vacation starts when we "get there."

And, with air travel, let's just say that I'm used to traveling with large groups of teenagers. You know, like making sure I've got 74 signed release forms and 74 passports and 15 adult leaders all in charge of their group to get from the arrival gate on the train to baggage claim without losing any of the little dogies or passports or signed release forms. I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it.

But yesterday, it was just Kelsey and I. So, there was time to chat and read and all that. There was even an open seat on the plane from Portland to here. But, airports are airports no matter how many shops or restaurants or if there's a guy playing the pan flute & hawking his CD's. And, what do you do in airports? Kill time, mostly.

As Kid1 noted, our airplanes kept getting smaller until the barnstorming brother-in-law Shane and higher-order life-liver sister Jilly transported us to his parent's lake house on Lake Pend Orielle in Idaho. A grocery store run (you do that when it's 20 minutes "to town" so anyone out & about gets that chore, and the lists are large) and touching base with an apprehensive Margaux (she's age one now, so she's got a little more apprehension about Uncle Brent this time around...but she's already let me hold her some. We ate watermelon together. No worries.)...we finished off the day with a nice dinner with this view from the table where we sat...



...and took a sunset bout ride on this..



I still didn't like travel, but it was stress-free (no snafu's on luggage or delays or bad turbulence), the time-killing was nice as Kid1 and I get along and I got to read some...

...but it was still, to me, about getting there.

And, as you can see, this particular there doesn't suck.



P.S. I'm typing from this view and it's in the low 60's, suckas. And, sorry about the photo quality...I took it with Photo Booth. The smokin' hot trophy wife arrives today so expect greatness from photo ops in later entries. I don't mind raising the expectation bar knowing her ability.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wake Up In FloMo, Go To Bed In Idaho

Kid1 and I are off to our own private Idaho.

Well, it's not really our own. I mean, the state has nearly 1.5 million residents.

And, it's not really private, either. I mean, we'll be outside and people can see us & stuff. Plus, I'm pretty sure I can keep The Diner open while I'm there. And this is anything but private.

But it will be Idaho.

And that's a really cool B-52's song to have in your head...and I do wonder if locals respond to that song the way Alabamians perk up when the first notes of "Sweet Home Alabama" are played.
Update On D.I.S.D.

Well, ummm, there's more on that policy I brought up yesterday about cutting these kids some slack on their schoolwork.

The head of the D.I.S.D. spoke out. The headline reads "Grading changes defended."

"Dallas school superintendent Michael Hinojosa and two trustees defended new classroom grading rules Friday, and urged teachers and parents to learn more about the requirements before dismissing them as misguided...But Dr. Hinojosa asked teachers and parents to consider that in the long run the rules will help more students succeed. 'We want to make sure that students are mastering the content [of their classes] and not just failing busy work,' he said. 'We want students to get it right, and we want to make sure that they do get it right."

My guess is that when you head up stuff like this you have to say stuff like this.
Missing Her

So, I haven't seen Kid2 in almost 6 weeks and I know I'll see her tomorrow evening, but the smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife sent me this picture and I'm so thrilled.

Anyway, Kid2 is standing with Suzanne Farrell, called the "Elusive Muse" as she's one of the most noted ballerinas of our lifetime. Shelby studied under her the last few weeks...



One more day.

I'm pretty excited about it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Slouching Toward Idiocracy

There was a nominee for the United States Supreme Court named Robert Bork. In effect, he didn't get appointed because of his percieved conservative leanings as he is a proponent of interpeting the U.S. Constitution asking about "original intent" of the authors. It was in all the papers.

He wrote a book titled "Slouching Toward Gomorrah." The idea was that the United States was redefining what individual rights truly were and moving towars a state in which everybody needs to be equal. You can make money writing books if you were once in all the papers.

Well, the Dallas Independent School District just announced some "grading standards" that are used by all schools within said district. I live in an area within the boundary of the Lewisville Independent School District...so, ordinarily, this would just be a headline in today's paper that I might skip over.

However, I have a daughter that attends a school within the jurisdiction of the D.I.S.D.

Here's the deal:

The district's chief academic officer and staff got together to create some academic guidelines to help make grading "uniform" across the district. In other words, some schools/teachers might grade harder than others (or more lenient than others), and it would be good to ensure that every student has the same academic chance. Not a bad goal, really.

As usual, it comes down to how you want to implement structure to achieve that goal.

So, the brainiacs on that staff came up with such jewels as:

*A teacher will be required to accept work submitted after a deadline with NO PENALTY given to the student.

*Homework grades that will lower the grade of any student must be thrown out.

*Before a student can be given a zero on any assignment or test, the teacher must conctact the student's parents, and then must offer re-tests or give extensions.

Seriously.

These are part of the guidelines.

Now, this won't really affect my child. She's certainly a dedicated & motivated student so all of this won't really come into play for us. If it does, there will be a series of meetings with Kid1. Serious meetings. But it won't. Thankfully, the rank & file teachers are livid. I imagine this will all change.

And, the academic officer actually said this: "The purpose behind it is to ensure fair and credible evaluation of learning – from grade to grade and school to school," said Denise Collier, the district's chief academic officer."

Well, Denise, I think it's fair to say that if you keep dumbing down the education process, you won't have to worry about students getting their name in the paper because they weren't nominated for the Supreme Court.

They'll get their names in the paper for other, less impressive, reasons.

And they won't write books because they've never read one...and you'll give them a diploma that's based on "participation" rather than "fulfillment of requirements."

Get it together, D.I.S.D. Seriously.
Last Rites

Last night: Boston Red Sox 10, Texas Rangers 0.

The hometown Rangers are now 10 games out of the wildcard playoff spot (when, with a good road trip, they could've been 5 out).

The starting pitching Earned Run Average is around 5.80. This would make it one of the ten WORST in the HISTORY of major league baseball.

They gave up 37 runs in the last 3 games. In those games, at various points, they were down 10, 9 & 8 runs.

IF...

...Frankie Francisco could've held the lead in the 8th inning and the Rangers won that ballgame they lost on Monday 19-17...

...it could've made September interesting.

As it turns out, it will be the night that the season fell apart for them.

That sound you heard at 9:44 PM last night was the bell toll for the Texas Rangers 2008 season.

Dangit.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

If The Introduction Starts Off Like This...

My friend Michelle read a book for a class titled, "A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting," and blogged about it. For those of you that know me know I'd immediately have to borrow the book. I had a few minutes yesterday between some meetings and read the introduction.

Here's a sample:

"As I explain in the pages ahead, it starts with the hothouse conditions in which so many middle-class and upper-middle-class children are now being raised and the obsessiveness with which parents engineer their children's lives. That's because social standing, once something kids inherited from their parents, has become something parents now take from the achievements of their children. But the cost of turning tots into trophies is high: the developmental needs of the young are subordinated to the psychological needs of adults; perfectionism is born from the pressure and emerges as an ultimately self-defeating standard."--author Hara Estroff Marano.

There were some bullet-pointed observations that the author will develop in the coming chapters with stuff like...

...depriving kids of opportunities to discover themselves (because we overschedule and overmonitor--a unique separation, I thought), parents also keep them from eventually having their own shot at happiness.
...(on just letting kids play). "It's the only activity that directly prepares people for dealing with life's unpredictability. Delay play and you delay adulthood."
..."Overparenting isn't just bad for kids--it has terrible effects on adults." The author lists things "disproportionate investment of emotions, finances and time" which can "erode marital bonds." She also lists the damage done to teachers in "educational discourse" as well as mentioning other areas affected by "the destructive culture of parenting."

Oh, man. I know that several pastors, youth pastors and professional educators read this blog consistently.

Ready for some serious discussion on parenting, patrons?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

That Did Take Long

It was like rubbernecking at the scene of a car wreck.

The Texas Rangers baseball team got my full attention last night (see previous entry). Three-up, three-down in the top of the first.

Then our pitcher gave up 10 runs in the bottom half against Boston. That's right. 10 runs. Two 3-run homers to the same guy...IN ONE INNING.

As most Texas Rangers fans know, you often go to the game hoping to see something you've never seen before. You don't go to see the team trying to inch their way into the playoffs or anything like that. You pay attention because something fascinating might happen.

So, I decided to see if the Rangers had any heart. They had 8 more at-bats...maybe they could chip away at this thing.

Sure enough, they got 2 the next inning...but, true to form, gave the two runs right back.

Then it happened. An 8-run 5th inning cut the lead to 12-10...which they promptly gave two runs back.

Then a 5-run inning gave them the lead!

Then they added a run to it...and promptly gave that one back. It's 16-15.

In the bottom of the 8th, Boston tied it up. 2-on, 2-out...and our pitcher gives up a 3-run homer over the famed Green Monster.

In the top of the 9th, we get a run and then the tying run comes to the plate, only to pop out meekly to 2nd base.

Turns out we have heart.

We just don't have pitching.

And, after 4 hours of emotional ups & downs, I got to see a team score 17 runs and then lose that game.

Ugh.
That Didn't Take Long

Well, I think I'm officially Olympic'd out.

A steady diet of swim races where Phelps beats the green line to the wall to win another gold.
Overblown sports like synchronized diving, badminton, beach volleyball and 15-year-old cupie dolls tottering on a 4-inch beam just ain't doin' it for me. And it only took 3 days.

NBC leaving out stuff like basketball & soccer.

Sheesh.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why Chuck Klosterman Gets My Brain Going

I remember tolerating classrooms & classwork, but getting it done.
I remember Gameday & how college football could consume an entire weekend.
I remember arranging my life so I could go to Tracy's apartment for Must See TV.
I remember Friday afternoons and how the energy level would increase by the hour.
I remember going to the free movie.
I remember parties with the sorority girls and/or little sisters.
I remember packing in cars and going somewhere/anywhere with the guys.
I remember the mile and a half walk home from the library, almost daily once my junior year started.
I remember how conversations ranged from Shakespeare to Buggs Bunny.
I remember the amount of energy put into chasing skirts.
I remember the talks about our futures.
I remember the talks about our present.
I remember the talks about the past.

I could go on. In fact, most of the particulars of those generalities were chronicled in real time. I still have the notebooks. And, truth be told, I had an incredibly positive university experience...lots of good friends, bad beer, good times, decent education. Many of which remain on my hard drive very vividly.

And, in retrospect, this is how I view those things:

"There are so many things that will never happen to me again, and I never even noticed when those things stopped occuring. And this does not mean I wish I had my old life back, because I like my new life better; I was just shocked to discover how much of what used to be central to my existence doesn't even matter to me anymore...but that used to be my life all the time. That used to be normalcy, and now that normalcy is completely over. Things like that will never happen to me again, even if I want them to. And I did not choose to stop living that life, nor did I try to continue living that life. I just didn't notice when it stopped."

This is why it takes a tremendous amount of courage to come to the blank page and want to write a book: It's so intimidating when writers hit those nerves and make you think and feel. And you can't do it as well as he does. And there are 100's of writers out there that can do it better on their worst day than you could on your best. A simple observation that encapsulates everything I've already observed about that same situation. But I didn't write it like that. I didn't even think it like that.

I feel very small this morning.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Thoughts

Like everybody else, I was pretty much wowed by those drummers and all the technology used in the opening ceremonies. Normally, I completely blow off those as I'm not much for the pageantry of it all...but I was into these. Well, until all the athletes started walking in.

I think there's a problem if you have to tell children & teens beating on drums with glow sticks to smile so they won't be intimidating to a world audience. They should be having so much stinking fun just doing it you'd have to have plastic surgery to get the smile off their faces.

I like to get into sports you don't normally ever see on television. In the Winter Games, I got into curling the last time around. This time I like water polo. I especially like it when the person gets a foul and has to swim to the penalty area. Although, I think a more appropriate penalty would be that they have to shamefully sit out on the edge of the pool like we did for either roughhousing or running in the pool deck area. Their friends could then mock them as an added punishment.

I don't like sports where the judging is primarily subjective. You know. Like gymnastics. I'm watching and thinking everything's going well and the announcers then tell me that some bobble I didn't see will likely eliminate the poor child from any medal contention. And don't get me started on diving. That moves so fast all you can do is look at the splash (or lack thereof) and still have no idea. And don't get me started on synchronized diving.

I truly believe that the women's beach volleyball attire is worn to maintain television ratings so when someone on the Olympic Committee wakes up and says, "Seriously, why is this an Olympic sport?" they can say, "Well, television ratings dominate everything else." What I think is funny is that there are only two women on the beach/court but they have numbers. I'm surprised they put the number on the back of the bra instead of on their butts.

I generally like for the Americans to win gold and pull for them, but every now and then I like the upset to happen. Except for basketball. We need to throttle the rest of the world just to say, "Calling Allen Iverson our best player and sending a bunch of NBA second teamers to the last couple of Olympics was wrong and now we're sending our best again, so go back to your corner, sit down and shut up. We're still the best in the world at this game. It was always thus. And always thus will be."

I'm not much to get excited and cheer at the television screen (unless it's Auburn football, but in that instance, I happen to be trying to help Coach Tuberville and hoping he'll zone in on my telepathic help...doesn't he realize I've won 6 consecutive national championships on NCAA 2009 video game?), but when the favored French swimming relay team said they were going to smash the Americans...well...I'm not sure how I got so fired up about all that but I was yelling for Lezak to hit the wall first. Everybody in my den got into it, big time. I was still yelling taunts at the French team when our national anthem was being played. It was America's biggest win over the French since Ricky Bobby dove over the line to beat Jean-Gerrard.

For some reason, I'm hoping Michael Phelps pulls off winning 8 golds in one Games. Generally, I'm a champion for the underdog, but Lance Armstrong cured me of that in cycling. Phelps has done the same in swimming.

And, speaking of swimming, is it me, or can you still win a medal without breaking an Olympic or World record? It seems like each race lowers the record in that particular event. I do like having that green line tell me if the swimmers are ahead of world-record pace or not, too.

The summer games are better than the winter games, if you ask me. And we haven't even gotten to track & field yet.
If There Are No Other Questions...

"The Diner Interview" has pretty much covered the major questions folks have been asking about our church's transition and my response within that. If there's something you still want answered, feel free to ask!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Diner Interview, Part 3

NOTE: Since my return from vacation, people have been e-mailing, calling, or dropping by to ask me questions about my "return" to student ministry. The questions tend to be very similar, so I thought I'd just compile them and ask them to myself in the form of an interview. So, until I get tired of this bit, I'll do my best to answer the questions over our daily cup o' joe.

Okay...now we're getting to hard-hitting journalism! Yesterday, anonymous writes in (and, yes, this is why I allow anonymous comments at The Diner. Often, I've heard criticism that folks who write anonymously are cowardly or whatever else, but I've found that anonymity will provide the opportunity to get substance. So, with all sincerity to this particular anonymous writer in yesterday's comments, thanks for asking the real stuff!) the 2nd comment:

The Diner (question from the audience): "Who needs a theory? It’s quite evident that something is wrong. Why is it that a great portion of the CBC staff over the last few years have felt, “called by God to go somewhere else?” Isn’t it kind of a coincidence? Those answers to me always seemed like a very hokey spiritual cop-out phrase that really just means, “None of your business” or “It’s just too painful to talk about.” So what’s really going on???"

Me: First of all, previous to the portion of the question on which I'll focus the majority of my response, you mentioned that among my diatribes on pop culture, pseudopolitical hype, and other items that hit my brain on nearly 2,500 entries...that many might find it peculiar that there is little if anything said when a loyal friend steps down. Now, I can see where you might wonder about that.

If you'll notice, when my friend D.S. announced that he was heading off to the mission field, no entry. I could go back among my 12 year tenure at CBC and list a number of pastors and directors as well as assistants who no longer work at Crossroads and there were no entries. All friends. No entries.

My rationale is simple: I don't want my feelings about their departure to in any way detract from folks appreciating the work they did and the the relationships they had with those people. Hence, I don't use The Diner for that purpose. That doesn't make it right, necessarily, and maybe I should (I mean, Pastor Mike writes a little blurb when it happens and I assume most who read my blog also read his), but it simply seemed that my feelings and/or insights on our relationship might make my friend uncomfortable (rather than appreciative) to have those aired in a public forum. In one case, it could've jeopordized one of our agents in the field!

Now, keep in mind that I've been used to transition more than most as folks leaving student ministry service has been a regular occurrence over the years. Bryce. Lindsey. Wes (who is still with MercyMe). Lizzie. Joshua. Jude. Steve-O. Katherine. Heather. Kristy. There were others. When you hire good talent consistently, others notice and a couple got great gigs in other ministries. Sometimes they left for educational opportunities. Or other careers. Or because they got married. But each and every one of them was (and still happen to be) true friends and were a joy to work with. They were a part of building something I care about tremendously. So, I wouldn't be human if it didn't sting a little bit when they leave.

But...

...they're usually going TO something else. Which eases that sting a bit.

Which leads me to your next point, anonymous. That one about "because God called them somewhere else." I have to admit that you caught me on that one as, normally, I'm the one that calls others on. You know. That kind of spiritually hokey phrase (and many others) that does indeed sound like a cop-out. I plead no-contest.

You are correct in your assumption that there are usually reasons behind WHY someone would leave any church. In my experience the reason somebody goes somewhere else has a lot of ingredients in the soup. For example, when I left my first ministry in Birmingham the ministry was bursting at the seams with attendance. When I left the ministry in Garland, same thing. In Birmingham, it was the reality that my gifts were in discipleship and not evangelism, so I needed to be working in a church rather than an outreach organization. It was also at a time when my girls were young enough to move with little impact on them (other than not seeing both sets of grandparents every weekend).

In Garland, it was as simple as the senior pastor telling me that he wanted to bring me on full-time when I graduated seminary, and then not having that ability to do so when the time came. Plus, my girls were 5 and 3 then and moving before they started school was pretty important to us at that time.

Now, don't get me wrong. There were some negatives at those places, too. They weren't perfect places of harmony. There were personality conflicts along the way. Questionable leadership decisions at both of those places. Lack of money & budget politics were afoot. However, what I've found is that there isn't a person on the planet who isn't affected by someone else's dumb decision, and that won't change with a move. In business or ministry, there are plusses and minuses in any work environment.

And, at the end of the day, when Tim Stevenson said I should resign my job at the church in Garland, and there was nothing in writing that they'd give me the job at CBC, I did it. Why? Not because I was miserable at my other church. I wasn't. Sure, there were some difficulties, but some of those teenagers have grown up and planted churches and lead children's ministries and are great fathers & providers and one's a youth minister and one's a youth minister's wife! Great stuff was going on there. Folks said it was foolish to leave with all that going on. Ultimately my reason was because I sincerely felt God moving us to Crossroads.

Now, it would be foolish to speak on someone else's behalf as to what ingredients were in their soup as to why they might feel like God was moving them. So, I won't. But take a look at the life-station of each person (not just pastors, but also directors and support staff) who has moved on in the last decade. Some left to pursue seminary. Some because a job opened up at their husband's place of employ. Some had a baby. Some got married. Some were empty nesters with more options. Some because their dream job opened up. Others because of a snazzy business opportunity. Others moved to be closer to their new grandchildren. I could go on, but that should make my point:

My point is that they were going TO something else. Not necessarily AWAY from us.

And, I firmly believe that's the case most recently.

A couple of other points. It might be helpful to take a look around at other congregations and check out their staff retention rates. At one time, both Nathan and I had been the longest tenured student ministers in the FlowerPlex. I was #1. He was 2nd. How many pastors stay at churches 13, 16, 8 or 7 years? Or me with 12? I'm pretty sure most long-time CBC folks could put names next to all those time frames (and give me a little wiggle on those totals, okay? I could be off a year or two). There's a REASON people stay as long as they do at CBC, man. There's a reason.

Second, go back and check Ockham's Razor again. I don't think all this adds up to some sort of conspiracy theory. Crossroads has always had a desire to have a global impact for the message of God's grace as not only the method of salvation but also the motivation for the true spiritual life. Now, we've got folks heading out and doing that very thing. And not just our CBC staff, but also members who get transferred or go off to college or get married & move, and a bunch have just hauled off and gone to the mission field full-time: Germany, Argentina, Moscow, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Haiti...I kind of like the idea of Crossroads as a "launching pad" rather than a "landing spot."

And, yes, there are some "none of your business" items afoot. There are in any situation. Don't believe me? Ask an airline pilot about some close calls or bad landing issue. You were on the plane, right? Did you get all the details? Should you? Nope. Again, no job is perfect and we're all affected by the dumb decisions of others. But, actually, my guess is that happens at CBC a lot less than in other churches and I'm almost positive it happens less than in most businesses.

And, yes, there are some "hurts," too. I mean, I'll miss Jessica's coming into my office all chatty and Kim's wonderful cynicism and Nathan shooting nerf darts at Connie and endless movie quotes. And, I could list similar things about the others and their families that I'll personally miss. And, don't even get me started on their professionalism. It's cool to work with people that are great at what they do. And, again, I think I've been blessed by that more than most are in their jobs. But the reason I don't talk about them in The Diner is NOT because they're too painful to talk about. I don't bring them up here because the people I deal with are much more likely to be embarrassed than appreciative. They're too humble for that type of recognition.

So, to wrap up about "what's really going on?" In all sincerity, if anyone feels that there is something "really" going on, my encouragement to you is to pursue those in our church that are elders and chat with them about your concerns. No big deal. Just an honest chat over coffee or whatever. Or an e-mail. Or a phone call. It's pretty easy to find those folks. It's what anyone should do, because if anyone at my church feels that something conspiratorial is happening those are the folks that need to hear what you're thinking. First, that's biblical. Second, I feel pretty confident they want to hear from you and will give you a fair hearing and genuine response. Third, silence equals agreement--at least in a practical sense.

But also take a look around at CBC as ask yourself why it might be that there are still pastors there with 12, 10, 6 and a director with 8 and another with 6 years (again, please allow me some wiggle with the math here). There might be a conspiracy afoot if you look hard enough. :)

Seriously, anonymous, I hope I gave your question the fair treatment it deserves. It was a good question and I truly appreciate the chance to respond...and apologize for any trite comment that sounded hokey and led to more questions.

(cont'd tomorrow, and feel free to interview me yourself through the comment section and I'll see what I can do to answer them!)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Diner Interview, Part 2

NOTE: Since my return from vacation, people have been e-mailing, calling, or dropping by to ask me questions about my "return" to student ministry. The questions tend to be very similar, so I thought I'd just compile them and ask them to myself in the form of an interview. So, until I get tired of this bit, I'll do my best to answer the questions over our daily cup o' joe.

The Diner: Are we still going to hire a middle school director?

Me:Yes. The process is continuing and ongoing. CBC made the position available through the normal channels--in-house as well as through student ministry websites, announcements at seminaries, etc.--and we accepted resumes for a three month period. Informal chats with several candidates have taken place and we'll trust God to make it clear to us who He wants in that position. It's safe to say that there are some highly qualified & gifted applicants...some are former CBCers and others applied via those external announcements.

The Diner: What help do you need?

Me: Well, that's difficult to nail down at present, especially at the middle school level. See, for the last three years I've only been nominally involved with the midschoolers even when I was the pastor of students. Nathan, assisted by Heather, ran that program and I'd only substitute teach and ham it up in videos for them. And one major change we made was offering a Wednesday night program for those middle schoolers who can't make it on Tuesdays...and I've NEVER EVEN ATTENDED that one. So, what I do know is that I'll need a couple of volunteers willing to head that one up. I'll need some help with assistants willing to be trained to teach in various capacities...for backups and all that. Other than that, I'll be compiling a more specific list.

At the high school level right now I know I'll need three women & men to assist the high school small groups. A couple of folks who want to be trained to teach the high school Sunday School class (of which I'll be their primary teacher).

Generally, I'll need some sound/av help. I know I'll need some video assistance (filming/editing/etc.). I know I'll need some worship help. Some general behind the scenes accounting and document keeping. We always are looking for folks who want to build relationships with teenagers as greeters for Sunday School or going to help out with things like Whirly Ball & movie nights. I'll need some folks willing to cook for the monthly senior dinner I'm wanting to start up. Stuff like that...and some of those pieces were in place last year and I just need to touch base to see if they want to continue. But, the bottom line is that we always need folks being developed in those areas for back-ups and fill-ins.

I want to have that list finalized by the end of the week that I return from Idaho/San Francisco. But, frankly, I'd really like to ramp up the volunteer ministry and have it swarming with people using their gifts & talents helping our teens mature. There's always room for more!

The Diner: What changes do you plan on making?

Me: As few as possible. For whatever reason, folks around CBC are a little gun-shy about change right now (at least that's my perception). I'm not geared that way when it comes to ministry. If something doesn't "work" or needs to be added or needs to be tweaked...I'm all for it, and the sooner the better. But, the reality is that most folks don't come as quickly to those changes as I might. So, I'd like to spend the next year with the plans/programs already in place and make adjustments only after I've observed them first-hand. I think going slow benefits everyone in this instance. Me. The students. The parents. The church.

(cont'd tomorrow, and feel free to interview me yourself through the comment section and I'll see what I can do to answer them!)

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Diner Interview, Part 1

NOTE: Since my return from vacation, people have been e-mailing, calling, or dropping by to ask me questions about my "return" to student ministry. The questions tend to be very similar, so I thought I'd just compile them and ask them to myself in the form of an interview. So, until I get tired of this bit, I'll do my best to answer the questions over our daily cup o' joe.

The Diner: So, what's the real story behind Nathan leaving?

Me: Well, to quote Nathan's blog, "It’s cliché but true to say that the decision was not easy, however, as far back as the months prior to our wedding, Kim and I discussed whether God wanted us to stay at Crossroads. We knew that, at least for that time, CBC was where we needed to be. The question was brought up again in December of last year and this spring we took steps to see if God opened a way for us and presented a ministry opportunity. We received several inquiries from churches around the U.S. but the position at South Hills was unique among the ones we considered. The church is positioned in an area that is greatly lacking in solid, biblical teaching and ministry. South Hills stands to do great things there. It is a mission field in many ways and we are excited about a new chapter in ministry for us."

So, while it's always fun to develop conspiracy theories, it's best to apply Ockham's Razor ("Ockham's Razor is the principle proposed by William of Ockham in the fourteenth century: ``Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate'', which translates as ``entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily''.) to this situation. Sometimes it's as simple as praying and following what you believe to be God's will.

Besides, as with most conspiracy theories, they're really just idle talk. Oswald acted alone. End of story. But it's awfully hard to make an interesting movie about that.

The Diner: So, are you excited to be coming back to student ministry?

Me: In the sense you're asking the question that answer is unequivocally "yes." But, see, the question presupposes that I actually "left" student ministry...and I'm not sure that's how I view it. You have to remember the context of my transition a little over 18 months ago. Our church was in the midst of reorganization as we were without a teaching pastor and our current staff was sharing the Sunday pulpit load.

This reality required shifts of responsibility in all sorts of day-to-day operations, and at that time, I was functioning as the high-school director and had a 3/4 time assistant, Nathan was running middle school, and we each had hourly-wage assistants. One area we were fully staffed was our student ministry.

That staff was already planning some changes in student ministry to make us more effective as a ministry, and part of that would involve me working in a more formal manner with parents. This was based on my observations that if we really believed that parents were the primary disciplers of their teens, then we'd better design our ministry in that light.

So, I was the obvious choice to assume that role within student ministry. My desire was to focus on adult ministry in such a way that we were creating a "youth group for grownups." You know...basically run a ministry for grownups that allowed them the same opportunities for students. Time in the word together. Praying with & for each other. Fellowship opportunities. Using your gifts & talents to serve and help the church mature. Mission trips. All that stuff, man. And all within a more "family friendly" context (which, as an added bonus, would align our student ministry better with the commitment to the family as espoused in our "values & beliefs" document at CBC)...which would give us a better chance to more effectively disciple teens.

And that's where we were headed with our discipleship ministry at CBC, too. We did a lot of good things with our adult Christian education department over the last 16 months and placing me under that umbrella allowed me to work in other areas that CBC needed assistance with in addition to the focus on parents.

Well, over time, our church has been through some other staff transitions and with Nathan's move I'm simply going to be diving into students' lives again and continuing the plans that Nathan and our staff were developing all along. While over the next year or so I'll be focusing on developing deep relationships with the teens in our ministry, I still believe that ministry with parents if vital and still want to give them their "youth group experience." Early on, though, my focus has to be direct contact with students and serving them full-throttle.

So, I went a long way to say that, in my mind, I never really left student ministry. I was discovering and designing new ways to do it more effectively.

The Diner: Is this move an "interim" type move for you?

Me: Again, since I didn't really view my situation as leaving student ministry, it's hard for me to understand those type questions. But, in the sense you're asking it, the answer is "no." See, this year's senior class of students has had an interesting journey, with their senior pastor stepping down, then their youth pastor being less accessible with his new responsibilities, and now their current youth pastor being called to the Pittsburgh area. That's a lot of transition for a church that's only had 3 youth pastors in their ENTIRE 20-YEAR+ HISTORY. It may not be much transition compared to other churches, but they've weathered it all well.

I say that to let you know that it would be the least loving thing I could do to accept the role with an "interim" tag on it. I guess that means I will eventually go to a high school football game having to use a walker with little cut-open tennis balls on the side that doesn't have wheels on it.

The Diner: When do you start?

Nathan's last day is August 15. So, I'll be on the clock then. The weird thing is that I scheduled my vacation plans around an adult C.E. calendar which has a nice break in August...when a student ministry calendar is starting to ramp up (a student ministry calendar has nice breaks in October, December and July) attention. So, I have vacation from the 15th until the 24th. But we can get up to speed pretty quickly from where we are.

(cont'd tomorrow, and feel free to interview me yourself through the comment section and I'll see what I can do to answer them!)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...Favre? A Jet?
...Pudge? A Yankee?
...that this morning I just needed some new music. Ever felt that way?
...that this is going to be a big year for everybody in the McKinney family. A lot of our long-term questions will be answered and options will be clarified by this time next year.
...my friend Bailey is headed off for Auburn University today. Just chatting with her about her getting her ID and schedule and football tickets and her wondering about sorority rush brought back a flood of memories.
...I'm about ready for Kid2 to come back home. Sure, she's having fun in D.C. as a guest artist at Kennedy Center, seeing the Lion King live and touring museums and getting incredible ballet instruction, but I'd like to lay eyes on that kid. Remember when all you did in the summer was play in the sprinkler?
...listening to my friend Bonnye's day yesterday (props to our spontaneous movie buddies!) about going to her college advisors to double check her class credits to make sure she's on schedule to graduate brought back a flood of memories.
...scheduling two week-long vacations four weeks apart can really force you to focus to stay motivated for the 10 office days you'll be having between them.
...Just like I like the biker rally guys, I really like the spirit/attitude of the guys at Skatopia. They open their park to skateboarders who only have to work at the place for an hour or two and let it rip. No cost. Just let it rip. It's like the Sturgess Burning Man of the skateboard world. There's going to be a movie made about it.
...if you're not on Facebook, you're really missing out on a lot of "community." I'm getting back in touch with all sorts of former students that were in my ministry nearly 20 years ago. Not to mention keeping up with people I run into every day. I like it.
...and that's good to see especially when you see that fruit of your labor so vividly developed over that time. Especially on a day when you wonder if what you do does any good at all.
...that one of the best things in the world is when your daughter drops by your office and wants to go to lunch and then she fills you in on pretty much everything going on in her world & gives you all sorts of good, honest insights.
...that I don't think my neighbors pay any attention at all to our town's watering restrictions. This makes me go in and double check the website thinking that I'm the one that has it goofed up.
...that nobody leaves phone messages any more. They just hang up when they hear the voice mail. Well, except salespeople or mass marketers. And, the only reason we have a land line anymore is because it's in the package with other stuff we use and the only people that call that are telemarketers.
...it was funny last night at the movies watching most every teenage girl in our community contribute to the selling out of "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2." We were eating on an outside patio & there were no couples heading to the theatre, only females.
...resolved: Diet & exercise start when we get back from vacation 2. Seems pretty pointless to start before that.
...that my e-team (a group of guys that get together every two weeks to just read the Bible & talk about what it says and how we can apply it) had one of the best discussions yesterday. Real. Transparent. And Titus 3, where it talks about how Christians should interact with "the world," was the fuel. Practical stuff. And, we have room for 2 or 3 more guys. The only membership requirements are that you should have the personality trait that others might describe as "riff raff," and that you can meet at IHOP at 6AM every other week--ending sharply at 7. Unless, of course, like yesterday, you decide to keep talking about stuff.
...that tomorrow I'll start a series of entries about the transition taking place at my church that involves my professional life.
...that today I need to get on with it. Manalive am I ever having trouble with the get-up-and-go.