Friday, October 31, 2008

Pandora's Box...In More Ways Than One!

Every now and again we clean out closets and storage in the youth room at our church. We came across a box that apparently Steve-O had put a lot of photographs in when he redesigned a cork board wall we have. See, at one time we'd asked out students to bring photos and put them on the cork board wall (which, no kidding, is easily 60 feet long and four feet high). So, as you can imagine, there were LOTS of photos on that wall some years ago.

So, this box gets opened and I was floored by how many Diner patrons were subject of various photos!

Hence, I felt the need to scan them (complete with original thumbtack holes) and put them on our own little Diner corkboard down memory lane...and, yes, I realize what I've started.

Here's a group shot at the Loaf 'N Jug in Colorado. Ski trip'll see Daniel, Steve-O, Joshua, Amy and Katherine as Diner patrons represented at the corner gas station/food place a block or so from the lodge.

Here's kids on the floor, with patrons Rachel, Kate, Amanda, Kayla and Katie...

Here's the lovely & graceful patron Pam after a little slip (staged?) at Main Event...

Steve-O's junior year yearbook photo. I think his parents made him re-take it...they didn't think it was nearly as funny as his peers and/or youth pastors.

The Warren sisters...who've since become patrons with different last names, Kendra Thompson & Caroline Tomlin:

A CBC reunion photo at Horn Creek summer camp. You'll see patron Brad in a dress (who knows why?), and Michael and Katie Alpert in photo foreshadowing. Katie was Stevenson then, and I don't think they were an item in this photo. If they were, the deal was just starting...

Here's an action photo of patrons Lindsey & Wes. As you can tell they decided to get all school spirity for North Texas, which no one does. They went to school together, and Lindsey married Aaron and Wes married Lizzie. The one on the left teaches school. The one on the right is a dad. Be afraid, Be very afraid.

Here's a group photo of Team Holland 2000 about to depart for CBC's first official mission trip to Europe. Here you'll see Liz, Tara, Brad, Joshua, Laura, Sharon, Robyn (now in Germany, for which I take nominal responsibility for) & me. Oh, man. Lots of patrons here...largely because it's the first mission trip where we used individual daily blogs to communicate with the folks back home!

Patrons Ali & Meredith at my house modeling their dresses mandatory for women to wear in Haiti. They both check in from time to time...

I don't know where this was or what was going on, but I found patrons Kristy and Heather & Cristina (top & bottom). The others, Kelsey, Stacy & Tasha, I keep in touch with via Facebook...but I don't think they touch base here.

Patron Daniel checks in and comments. Here, he saved us some work because we forgot to hammer the mission organization plate above the door (which will let others know who to contact to get a free house). We had already loaded up the ladders and such, and Daniel saved us the hassle by being 6' 7".

Patron Tommy sawing a board for a house in Mexico. My guess is that this is him as an underclassman in high school working with Tim. Tommy teaches English at OU these days...and comments frequently here.

Patron Amy in Olympia smack in the middle, between Tiffany (who just had a baby) and Erica. I mentioned the three of them in a wedding blog from a nice event this summer. I think this is their senior year...and obviously, props to the photo company for the usage of the picture:

In one of the great youth ministry stories of all time, the patrons Dan & Donna Riskey knew the owner of a Weinerschnitzel franchise in El Paso. Phone calls were made, and the owner picked our entire group up in a bus after we'd completed building houses. If I remember correctly, he used that store at that time to train staff at another store how to handle a rush of church kids on a bus. We were supposed to order exactly what we wanted and be ourselves and he would pick up the tab. I think we ran up over $600 in the hour the 40 of us were there...and the owner thanked us! Classic.

Saving the best for last. Patrons Keila and Bailey (who, by the way, has been delivering some of the best blogs I've read lately. College is being very good for her spiritually. Read it. You'll see the same thing), back when they were in middle school at our annual Christmas banquet. They dress up nice for the event and it's always a photo frenzy because of that. They're here with Kirsten, who I touch base with periodically on MySpace or when she made my Philly Cheesesteaks before the place closed.

And, just so all of you out there know...there are many more boxes and many more photos. So, this might become a regular feature. That also goes for those of you who didn't get mentioned in this round (Jessica Zetzman, anyone? anyone?)...if you'd like me to find an old photo of you, well, it shouldn't be a problem (Hollywood? Jilly? Anyone? Anyone?)!
Friday Football Picks, Week #8

Whew! After awful performances in weeks 5 & 6 (going 6-14) I was able to get back on the winning track last week going 6-4. Not spectacular, but I pulled things out of the ditch for the time being, moving my season record against the point spread to 39-30-1. Let's see if I can keep moving forward this week...

Auburn (+6) at Ole Miss: Auburn has been ahead at halftime in every game. The problem is depth due to injuries on defense, and complete chaos on offense. Houston Nutt has had Ole Miss playing very well this season and it looks like the Rebels might be a year or two away from becoming a real factor in the SEC West again. The deal here is that the weaknesses on both teams are in the secondaries, and Jevon Snead is much more capable of taking advantage of that than Kodi Burns. Not to mention the special teams for Ole Miss are outstanding and Auburn's are struggling. I don't see any way Auburn can keep it under 6 on the road as banged up at they are. Diner Prediction: Ole Miss 24, Auburn 13

Georgia (+5.5) vs. Florida at Jacksonville: Ever since the Gators lost to Ole Miss they've played like a team possessed. Georgia has been inconsistent at best, struggling one week against Bama and then laying the wood to L.S.U. At issue is the reality that Georgia has choked this season with the spotlight on them, while the Gators seem to thrive on it. All eyes will be on this game this weekend for pretty much the championship game of the SEC East. I think the Gators have plenty of firepower and will win this track meet that will look a lot more like a Big 12 game than an SEC defensive struggle. Diner Prediction: Florida 38, Georgia 31.

Texas at Texas Tech (+4): This is the end of the line for the Longhorns. They've been having to ratchet their game up for the last few weeks facing highly ranked teams. Meanwhile, Texas Tech has been lighting up scoreboards, with their most impressive win last weekend on the road against Kansas. Kansas is no slouch on offense and the Red Raiders held them to 21. Texas scored 28 on a better-than-Tech defense. So, with College Gameday making their first appearance ever in Lubbock, I really think that pressure will actually work against Tech. They'd have a better shot on the road trying to prove is, I think the more experienced team will win the day. Diner Prediction: Texas 37, Texas Tech 31.

Nebraska (+22) at Oklahoma: Remember when this game mattered? Remember when Nebraska was even a factor in college football? They have been humbled repeatedly in the last decade while OU has been rolling along whipping the Big 12 ever since Stoops showed up. The game's at OU. The Big Red is a far cry from the days of the Blackshirts and will struggle again Saturday. Nebraska fans keep waiting for a return to Big 8 glory, which they're still two years from thinking seriously about that. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 45, Nebraska 21.

Pittsburgh (+4.5) at Notre Dame: Notre Dame looked good last week against the worst team in college football last week, which is what you're supposed to do. The deal is that Notre Dame should've been better against that team than they showed. Pitt looked like they'd turned things around until Rutgers took them to the woodshed last week for 54. The Irish are playing better this year and their losses have been to pretty good teams. Pitt's losses are less respectable. As much as I like getting points with Pitt unbeaten on the road, I think Notre Dame's on the way back and will cover (barely) at home. Diner Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Pittsburgh 19.

Oregon (+3) at California: This game features two wide-open offenses. And both of these teams match up well defense to offense. Cal needed 24 fourth quarter points to beat UCLA handily, while Oregon won against them with solid play. It's one where, Cal's home field advantage is among the best in the Pac-10, and I think that really is going to make the difference in this one. They've had a little better success against better competition, and the Ducks have failed to answer the bell in games against good teams. Diner Prediction: California 35, Oregon 31.

Florida State (+2.5) at Georgia Tech: FSU is on a roll, man. They've won four straight, including a hard-fought win last week. They're unbeaten on the road, too. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, has struggled against Gardner-Webb and a weak Clemson team. Grant Field is a good home field, too...but the Seminoles have historically been a great road team. They used to pride themselves on it. Interestingly, they started out as the favorite and the line shifted an entire field goal. Maybe the Vegas folks know something I don't, because I think the 'Noles will win outright. Diner Prediction: Florida State 26, Georgia Tech 17.

Michigan (+2) at Purdue: So, Purdue's lost five in a row. Michigan's lost four in a row. Purdue is 0-4 against ranked teams, while Michigan is 1-1 against them. Both teams average about 20 points a game on offense. Purdue is giving up about 22 per game, while Michigan about 28. I attribute that to Michigan's tougher schedule thus far. So, in short, I think Michigan's a better team between two really bad football teams. So, I get points and the better team? As good a logic as any, I suppose. Diner Prediction: Michigan 27, Purdue 24.

Miami (+2.5) at Virginia: Miami's wins haven't been all that impressive and this is the week they're starting the meat of their schedule. Virginia, on the other hand, has been steadily getting better week in and week out with a schedule that could've taken them out of contention early. The Cavaliers have pulled together and have become a team, and I think the Hurricanes will fight them hard, I like the Cavs at home in Charlottesville. Diner Prediction: Virginia 17, Miami 13.

Wisconsin (+4.5) at Michigan State: Both of these teams have been blown out by the upper tier of the Big 10. The Spartans were throttled in their only game against a ranked team this season, but other than that, the've held their own against teams they should've beaten. Their only blemish other than that is against an offensive-minded Cal team. Wisconsin took Ohio State to the wire and beat a good Fresno State team...and played better against the same teams on the schedule. It's tough to go against Michigan State at home, and when Wisconsin hasn't won on the road this year, I'll take the home points even if the team isn't as strong. Diner Prediction: Michigan State 21, Wisconsin 16.

Well, there you have it, sports fans! What do you think'll happen this week?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

10 Things I'd Like To Do Today...

...hit a baseball like 1987's Bo Jackson or throw a fastball like 1973's Nolan Ryan, and hear the crack of the bat or the pop of the mitt.
...experience what Douglas Coupland did when he got his first copy of Generation X from the publisher. there for the original screening of a movie as innovative as The Matrix and look at the other filmmakers and just know you've got brilliance.
...set the guitar in the stand after I just played the guitar like any-year Eddie Van Halen. what feelings you have coming home from a show where you KNEW you were in on the ground floor of a scene like 1976 CBGB's, or 1988 Seattle.
...know what it's like to leave a public venue after listening, in person, to a great orator, like Martin Luther King, Jr. on the team of writers of a truly genius television show like Arrested Development and wonder what goes through your brain on your way to work every day.
...stand on the top of a mountain that I just climbed. Not necessarily Everest or anything like that. Just a relatively demanding kind of day hike & overnight camp.
...experience what a master chef does when the restaurant's open and waiting lists are six months long, knowing that you've created a menu that actually makes people's lives a bit more enjoyable. a part of an upstart business that hits it big and toast the champagne with your close friends who started it all the night after the big boys bought you out and everybody's hard work pays off in spades.


...I'll probably just go to work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Update of the Update's Update

Yesterday, Keith had surgery on his sinuses as it was believed that an infection had caused buildup which, in turn, created pressure. This pressure was believed to have caused the seizure.

Surgeons did what surgeons do on sinuses.

Keith is out of bed, sitting in a chair, eating, recognizing loved ones, asking questions about what happened.

All this is viewed to be good news...and rumor has it he'll be moving out of I.C.U. and into a room soon.

Slow but (hopefully) sure recovery is expected.

God is matter what.

And, today, I'm glad that His goodness manifested itself in this way.
Update of the Update

You can read Barie's (Keith's wife) update from yesterday right here.

As of last night at 11PM, I'd only heard that one of the possible causes of my friend Keith's seizure was an infection deep in his sinus cavity that had spread far enough to do that. He was going into surgery yesterday afternoon and was in for two hours to correct that and haven't heard anything yet.

I'll make sure to update as I get info.

Thanks again, for praying, patrons. Your words of care & support to me have been encouraging, too. Thanks so much.
The Music Industry Is Under Massive Reconstruction

So, I got this e-mailed from friends who said they thought I'd like the music. Oh, yeah. It's free. All you have to do is send a few e-mails or post it on your blog and you can have it! Consider this my payment in full.

The same thing goes on at NoiseTrade where you can get some free Derek Webb & other artists for nothing more than spreading the word!

That sound you heard was the middleman's job being eliminated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Don't Do This Often...

...but I'm especially close to this one.

See, I met Keith and Barie almost 15 years ago. Actually, I met Barie. She went to the church that had just hired me and didn't come to any of the classes. See, she was a normal band kid. The students that were in those classes were the type of kids who sat in the back of the room because their parents made them attend. So, since there were 5 disinterested peers, she just went to church service...see, she wanted to grow.

So, like any good youth pastor, I told her that I was her youth pastor regardless of whether or not she came to my stuff and asked her how I could help with her growth. Ultimately, she suggested I teach a small group Bible study with a few of her friends. The only time we had that worked was 6AM on Fridays.

We called it The Breakfast Club...which grew to about 75 kids in about 6 months. Even the 5 disinterested peers became interested and found their niche.

Well, Barie was dating Keith. Keith had a servant's heart and used his gifts & talents to serve that ministry. Joined our church, too. Served in the big church service, too. That ministry grew because kids bought into the idea that living as a response to God's grace, the exchanging of your life for Christ's, and being a part of the Body right now (against being "the church of the future") were all important things.

So, Keith goes to college. Makes wise choices to grow spiritually and develops some ministry gifts.

So, Keith graduates college and marries Barie. I got to be part of the ceremony...the first time I ever accepted some True Love Waits rings to make room for their new rings. Very cool.

So, Keith gets a job in youth ministry while he attends seminary. Not just any seminary. MY seminary. Really cool. Barie puts him through seminary via accounting.

So, Keith graduates seminary. They become a part of a church-planting ministry in Austin, Texas.

So, I pray for them regularly. They're on my list. I get e-mail updates. I check their blogs. We have a history. We have a now. We have a future. It's all very cool.

And I get a blog comment from a former student yesterday who is a mutual friend. She was an integral part of The Breakfast Club, too.

Keith had a seizure Saturday night.

A seizure...of all things.

He's in intensive care with all the things that are a part of intensive care.

They don't know what's wrong yet. But, thankfully, many "major" things that could've caused this seizure have been eliminated from the discussion of diagnosis.

But they still don't know what's wrong. And there are some things that seem scary to me.

So, can I ask all of you to pray for the doctors around my friend Keith?
So, can I ask all of you to pray that Keith would become consistently alert & responsive?
So, can I ask all of you to pray for Barie, not to mention the 4 children under 5 years of age?

Yes. They're surrounded by a loving church family as well as their family that's keeping the detail work under control with meals and child care and all that.

Yes. The "major" things have been eliminated as causes, even if it seems to me that whatever might be causing this has become "major" in my way of thinking.

No. I can't think of anything else to do.

But I love those two.

A lot. Even if from a distance.

And I want to fix it.

But I can't.

So, I'll just pray for now. And, while I certainly don't want to be an imposition, could I ask all of you to as well?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Brent's Finite Playlist

I've always been a mix-tape maker.

You know what I'm talking about, right? A stack of albums, a couple or three hours, a turntable/cassette combo, and an idea. Like "driving fast & windows down" (kicked off with AC/DC's "Highway to Hell"--obvious & cliche, to be sure, but I maintain that still holds up). Or "make-out songs" (weirdly, I included Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Weirdly, at the time of the compilation, I had no car to make out in or girl to make out with). I even made my future wife a five-volume set of "Fundamental Tunes" (which I'd have zero reservation of putting INXS in with a prominent local band called "Mr. Resistor & The Incapacitators) as I had access to a fraternity full of albums, cassettes, turntable/cassette--AND cassette to cassette--combos, hours to burn and ideas. The joy of the 90-minute TDK noise reducing cassette, man. You have no idea.

iTunes has streamlined this process. You can just simply create a new playlist, drag & drop from your library, and it takes about 20 minutes. 23 if you burn it to CD for car playing (my hoopty doesn't have Mp3 capability and that little transmitter has trouble in the city) options. The hardest trick it to keep it to 80 minutes for the burn capacity.

And, today I'm in this weird mood that needs a playlist. All at once I'm bummed out, yet hopeful. I'm tired, but jittery. Creative, but predictably so. Excited, but bored. Restless, but peaceful. Alert, but unfocused. All sorts of competing emotions & thoughts that contradict.

Those of us who are musically centered know that this is precisely the mood that demands a playlist. It's the only antidote.

So, here's my Emotional Joust Playlist: (*note to the reader: I know many of you will have no idea of some of these songs, so listen to the blips at the iTunes store for full effect*)

"Something Is Not Right With Me"--the Cold War Kids
"Summer Babe (Winter Version)"--Pavement
"It's a Shame About Ray"--the Lemonheads
"Offend in Every Way"--the White Stripes
"True"--Concrete Blonde
"Far Behind"--Eddie Vedder
"Trail of Tears"--Guadalcanal Diary
"Friend, You've Got to Fall"--Husker Du
"Miss Narco"--Mr. Resistor & the Incapacitators
"Four Flights Up"--Lloyd Cole & the Commotions
"Beginning to See the Light"--the Velvet Underground
"Grey in L.A."--Loudon Wainwright III
"Circadian Rhythm"--Son Volt
"Baby Shambles"--Love as Laughter
"Ghost of Corporate Future"--Regina Spektor
"Whole Wide World"--Wreckless Eric


That should do it.

18 songs & 58 minutes of mood agreeing goodness.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

If I Focused On The Negative...

...well, let's just say I better not right now. Personally. Professionally. Sports teams. You name it.

How 'bout this nice stretch of weather we're havin'?
We Live In An Age Where Common Sense Is Cutting Edge

"You don't play Guitar Hero if you are a guitar hero."--Billy Corgan, of the band Smashing Pumpkins, when asked if he played the game that released their new single.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Maybe it's revisionist.

But I don't remember being stressed out as much as my teenage students seem to be. I mean, when I was in high school, there were these things called "D's" that allowed you to pass a class with a 60. Sure, they brought your GPA down but you could easily balance that out with the "A" in Athletics or Art you knew was coming. Sports had seasons that began/ended with a week off or so in between those seasons. Oh, and you played the sports because they were fun. You didn't play on a "select" team to get into tournaments to get seen by scouts. If you weren't in a club, you got to stay in homeroom for club period, which was twice per month (which, me & Molly Martin managed to create "Homeroom Club" for four consecutive years). There were two kids in my graduating class that had better than a 4.0 GPA because they took some advanced placement classes. We had time to get part-time jobs--in fact, in my circle of friends it was expected by our parents. Getting into college was expected in my circle, too. But there wasn't an emphasis on GREAT schools. You just took the ACT, let the numbers narrow your options or open other doors, and made decisions accordingly.

And our parents weren't stressed out by our teenage years, either. They didn't live vicariously through us. My mom barked at the D in biology (seemingly ignorant of the A in Athletics) but signed the report card anyway. She might've said something like, "Well, they're your grades and if you want to go through life digging ditches, that's your business." And she NEVER knew what grades were coming home until the six weeks grading period ended. They only started sending fail notices home at the 3-week mark after I graduated. Our parents showed up at our games and a few dads helped out with practices and such, but private coaches? Our private coaching lessons were home run derby games with tennis balls & aluminum bats. We were in clubs because the topic interested us or the teacher asked us. Or we weren't. We had jobs when we got old enough because our parents weren't going to let us sit around all weekend and do nothing. Nobody in our class knew what their class rank was until the last six weeks when they announced the top 10 and all that. Everybody I knew got into college. Some went. Some didn't. But parents didn't even know whether or not we'd even signed up to take the ACT, much less when the date was or sign us up for some classes to do better on it. My mom didn't know I'd gotten my automatic acceptance letter to Auburn except for the fact that I left it on the table and she was about to throw away the trash and read it first (this was three days after I'd opened it and already told all my friends).

This isn't to say that we didn't have age-appropriate stress. Sure, there were some tests we knew we needed to buckle down on our we would fail the class and not be eligible for sports. There were dating issues and break-ups and all the drama that goes with that. There were hassles with parents and bosses. Cars broke down and you had to pay that running the stop sign ticket and insurance was due and you had to grab some more hours. There was the new Bible study you were going to that added to your "to do" list. Sometimes you overcommitted to help with the homecoming float and forgot you had to work and forgot you told your parents you'd help out with driving your sister's friends to the movie (and get them tickets since you worked at the theatre and could get them free & some free popcorn). There were big games won and lost. There were band competitions where they did better or worse than expected. There were college options you couldn't afford but desperately wanted to attend so you started figuring out ways to make that happen. It wasn't all roses in suburban Birmingham, Alabama. But it was, overall, pretty comfy.

But what I see these days, highlighted by last night, is that everybody's stressed.

Teens are stressed because of overcommitment to everything to get their future squared away. In fact, in the last two months I've been working with teenagers again full-time, I've seen four that have been to doctors thinking that they might have food allergies or vitamin deficiencies only to discover the cause of their physical issues was stress-related.

Parents are stressed because they are managing their kids schedules and grade--they check them on-line daily--and driving and repeating the process with one or two other kids. Then they contribute to the kid's stress by reminding them of how important the "now" is to their future happiness. I mean, don't you know that if you don't do well on the PSAT you won't get early acceptance to college and you'll have to wait a year for the SAT and all the good spots will get taken by the top 10% of the class and then you won't get a good job and live in the suburbs, so you better buckle down and move up 23 spots in class rank so you can get into the top-10 and just in case you better join two more clubs that don't interest you but will look good on your resume?

And teachers don't help with trying to convince kids that making the robot work is more important than anything else you've ever done in your life and the competition is this weekend. Coaches don't help with "voluntary" summer workouts that last 9 weeks. Band directors skirt the "8 hour extracurricular rule" by exploiting a loophole and have kids in parking lots until they lose daylight. Yearbooks are such high quality they require nearly 40 hour work-weeks by 40 people for 25 weeks. School newspapers are awesome...looking like Rolling Stone magazine...which takes hours of work.

But last night, my daughter got home from her 7PM ending meeting, my wife got home from her 7PM ending job, my other daughter got home from her 7PM ending dance class, and I got home from my job responsibilities that ended close to 7PM.

All of us.

In one room.

At the same time.

And all anybody wanted to do was decompress. We did it in various ways. Spent some time together. Laughed some. But then some read. Some got on line. Some got caught up on DVR'd shows. Some went to bed.

What scares me is that Friday nights used to be a time when you wanted a break from the hum-drum routines of life and wanted to go out and do something special.

And it hit me that what we were doing was precisely that.

And it hit me that I don't have any solutions, either.

Resolved: Work on some.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Curious About A Trend

My Sundays in elementary school were spent at the Episcopal Church. It was pretty routine, too. Sunday School right off the bat. Sometimes my mom taught. Sometimes a friend of my mom. But mostly it was me & some friends lumped together by age groups with a standardized curriculum and a system of rewards. What rewards you ask? Pins. For attendance, if I remember correctly. Then a pin that fit around the first pin. Later, for various church-going accomplishments such as attendance, memorizing verses and saying them to the teacher, or being a part of some service project, you'd get a bar that attached to the pins. Sunday School had it's own special hour. I remember being tired a lot.

Then came the church service hour. There was half an hour between Sunday School hour and church hour. Every other week or so I was an acolyte, or altar boy. This was perfect for me at that station in life because I stayed busy during those services. Maybe it was moving the big, heavy Bible from one side of the altar to the other (and bowing every time you crossed the middle--folks noticed stuff like that), or refilling the common cup with wine for the priest, or carrying a flag down the aisle during processional or (when older) swinging the incense. Sitting in the crowd on the off-weeks was spent watching the other acolytes to see if they were doing it right.

Then came the pot-luck lunch. Every Sunday.

But that's what it was: Sunday. Until like 1PM. Then we all went home.

Then I started attending a Bible church once I was older. I went to the Sunday morning service. Sometimes I went to Sunday School if I got up early enough. There were no altar boys and a LOT less formality, which was both good and bad. I was learning the Bible which was good. I had to sit there and listen, which was bad. I got to wear jeans to church, which was good. We didn't have any incense or stained glass or cool gold & silver stuff to have communion (we had plastic cups & grape juice) or real wine, which was kinda bad.

Then, we came back on Sunday night. The service & sermon were different. More guitars and stuff at night (piano in the mornings) and a different study series from the pastor. The big draw was that after that we'd head out as a youth group & do stuff together.

This was not much different than my friends. We all did Sunday morning something and Sunday night something when it came to church stuff. Most denominations handled business this way. Same for when I worked for a Southern Baptist church, too.

Anyway, the first time I saw anything different was my first college roommate, Michael. He was Catholic & in the springtime he would attend his services at like 5PM on Saturday afternoons. He was taking his faith seriously, praying the Rosary and going to confession and all that and I asked him why he didn't do Sundays. He liked sleeping in. He liked having the entire day to do what he wanted. He liked the fact that so many college students went to Mass at that time. There was a younger priest. There were a lot of reasons he liked that particular service, mostly having to do with convenience, as best I could discern.

Saturday afternoon church? Hmmm.

My current congregation outgrew our building and like most growing churches outgrowing their building, you add services. When I arrived at CBC, we had two morning services. Which worked great for Sunday School, too. Then we went to three morning services. Then we added a Saturday night service, which did well for a time and then faded out. Then we went to a stand-alone high school Sunday School class on Sunday nights.

Then we went to two identical services in the morning with the exact same services done again at night, so we had four services, two in the morning, two at night...again, great for Sunday School.

Now, we still do two in the morning and have one at night (same format as the morning, more or less, but sometimes they do communion more formally or have a little more time for individuals to share their stories publicly, sometimes a different worship leader, etc.) with a Sunday School hour behind that. This is great for my family because they like to sleep in and have their Sunday School classes that night and all that. Then the high schoolers are off with their friends to hang out.

But I've noticed something a little different in our community these days: When I drive somewhere on a Saturday night, I drive past two or three churches who have a 5PM service, or maybe two on Saturday night...with a 7PM, too. I can't tell for sure.

And, then, when I drive back to work on Sunday afternoon at 4PM, those same parking lots are empty...and they've been empty when I go back home at 8PM. My guess is that they don't have Sunday evening services anymore.

What I'm wondering is if there's something more attractive about a Saturday evening service. Or if Sunday nights in a suburban warp-speed culture have become a "decompression" night where you want to come home after lunch and have those hours to spend as a family on the lake or at the soccer game or just spend time with mom and/or dad before the Monday routine starts up.

It's hard for me to see because I've been going to church on Sunday nights for almost 25 years...some as a participant, some as an it's no big whoop for me.

So, how about a little help, patrons? Am I right in my observations that the trend seems to be going to Saturday's early evening in lieu of Sunday evening? Why or why not? What's the advantages and disadvantages of both Sunday evening or Saturday evening? Like I said, I might be a little too ingrained and close to it for objectivity...

Have at it, folks!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm An Outsider, Outside Of Everything, Everything You Know, It Disturbs Me So

First of all, 22 cool points for whoever can name THAT song.

Often, I feel far afield from my fellow man.

Today is one of those days, man.

But, in the words of Winston Churchill, I will defend my island.

Whatever the cost may be.
Little Help?

Hey, patrons! I've got some friends in the San Antonio area looking for a good church family to be a part of. Anybody out there know of anything that might work?
Special Thursday Edition of Friday Football Picks, Week #7

With my beloved Auburn Tigers playing the weekly Thursday Night ESPN game, we'll be going a day early so as to get all the football done in one entry...seeing as how, interestingly, this feature is actually the most polarizing of Diner regular entries. This year's total against the point spread is 33-26-1. Not too shabby unless you remember that I'm 6-14 in the last two weeks. So, here's hoping to break the two-week losing streak!

Auburn (+3) at West Virginia: There's really no reason to think Auburn can win. Other than Tommy Tuberville being at his best when his back's against the wall. And, brother is it ever. He's on the hot seat in East Alabama...but he's simplified the playbook. The players are talking confidently about execution. They're on the road against the world. And their defensive coordinator shut down WVA when they were much better last year. WVA's disappointing season is on the line, too. But something tells me the AU chip on their shoulder will be enough. Diner Prediction: Auburn 16, West Virginia 13.

Texas Tech at Kansas (+2.5): Kansas actually started out as a favorite at home and the Vegas line went 3 entire points the other way. Tech's Graham Harrell is more valuable to his team than any other player in the country. Sure, Crabtree & company are nicked up with ankles and hamstrings and all that, but when there isn't a defense in the Big 12 that is in the top 30 nationally to slow 'em down, well, I think the better team will score enough to win on the road. And I don't think the Red Raiders are looking ahead, either. Diner Prediction: Texas Tech 44, Kansas 38.

Oklahoma State (+12.5) at Texas: Oklahoma State played Missouri tough at home. Texas demolished Missouri at home. I think that Texas is focused and actually using this murderer's row portion of their schedule to keep adrenaline going. They won't have as easy a time as they did against Missouri, but I think they've got enough on defense to wear out OSU. My biggest problem is that I keep thinking the Cowboys' bubble is going to burst every week and it doesn't. Well, I think it'll be this week, with the Longhorns pulling away late. Diner Prediction: Texas 38, Oklahoma State 24.

Georgia (+2.5) at L.S.U.: Georgia hasn't been what folks thought they were at the beginning of the season. L.S.U. has done well except for one awful night in Gainesville. In games like this, defense, special teams and home-field advantage usually win the day. And I think the Fighting Tigers are a hair better in the first two, and the home-field would be better if they played it at night (as all games in Baton Rouge should be, especially if you give those Cajuns an extra six hours to drink), it'll be enough even with a 2:30PM kick off. Diner Prediction: L.S.U. 21, Georgia 17.

Alabama at Tennessee (+6.5): There's no question that Bama is a front-running team. They get out front and take you out of your game plan and then seem to relax. Bama has passed every test thus far: Clemson on the road. Georgia on the road. Fulmer's on the hot seat and Saban definitely has his number, man. It's interesting that the line is less than a touchdown, because while Tennessee is much improved since Auburn, I don't see how they can stop Bama's running game. Home field isn't enough here, even if strange things happen in this series, I don't see Bama stumbling this week. Diner Prediction: Alabama 27, Tennessee 13.

Penn State at Ohio State (+2.5): This one likely decides the Big 10 title. Ohio State seems to have rebounded nicely since they got throttled by U.S.C., while Penn State has been whipping folks with their version of the spread. I think that Ohio State's season is on the line and they're at home. Paterno's team faced adversity last week with Michigan and came out like gangbusters in the 2nd half. I think the Nittany Lions smell blood and will be able to win, even on the road. Diner Prediction: Penn State 23, Ohio State 16.

Virginia Tech (+4.5) at Florida State: They're winning again at Tallahassee with a strong running game. Va Tech is coming off a loss to Boston College. After a loss to Wake Forest where they turned the ball over 6 times, Florida State is scoring more than 30 points a game. Of course, it hasn't been against the cream of the ACC crop. Virginia Tech has played a tougher schedule thus far and blew them out last year...which is why I think F.S.U. has a little extra motivation. This one has the makings of a great game, but I think the Seminoles pull it out late. Diner Prediction: Florida State 27, Virginia Tech 20.

Oklahoma at Kansas State (+19): Please. What we're learning about the Big 12 this season is just how large the gap is between the haves and the have-nots. Oklahoma is a have. Kansas State is a have-not. Oklahoma has competed with the haves and done well. K-State couldn't score many points against Tech's defense--which isn't exactly noted as intimidating. Oklahoma should score early and often. The band certainly won't need their sheet music for Boomer Sooner after this weekend. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 48, Kansas State 20.

Kentucky (+24.5) at Florida: It's been 21 years since Kentucky has beaten Florida. If this game weren't the early SEC game and the Gators weren't looking ahead to Georgia and the big rivalry game, it'd be a no brainer. Even with the line where it is. But I think the Gators will start slow and Kentucky will stay close for a half, but even as they pull away, I think they will give up a few points and fail to cover. Diner Prediction: Florida 41, Kentucky 17.

Baylor (+11) at Nebraska: I'm rapidly becoming a fan of Robert Griffin, Baylor's freshman quarterback. He's given them the ability to beat weaker sisters with conviction (something Baylor never really has done since entering the Big 12) and now he gives them a chance against the weaker teams in their conference. Nebraska is improving every week and they certainly are better than Baylor. With them being at home and the freshman QB having to face that particular road crowd--which he hasn't had to face yet--I don't think he'll do well this time around. Diner Prediction: Nebraska 30, Baylor 17 .

Well, there you have it. Maybe I can stop this two-week losing streak, man. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Shoe On The Other Foot

According to an article in yesterday's Washington Post, the humanists and secularists in Britain are buying ad space on the side of their famous mode of public transportation: the bus.

It's a simple poster. It reads, "There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

And when I read it, my first thought was what would likely happen if, say, that happened in Dallas. The local Christian radio station would be up-in-arms on their talk radio--likely playing excerpts from a nationally-known radio figure denouncing the act and telling us that the Godless in our society have plans to corrupt our children. Some preacher in Fort Worth would get time on local newscasts to give the Christian side of things. A whole bunch of moms-in-touch groups will be informed and mobilized. The rank-and-file will talk over coffee or in the break room about how things ain't like the good old days. Eventually, televangelists will get in on the act and use the event in their fundraising.

But let's try this from another angle, shall we?

Let's say that you have a particular belief system that denies the existence of God or maybe just says that you can't really know if God exists.

Let's say that you are a hard-working guy that likes his job and is happily married with a couple of kids.

Let's say that most of your days involve the hours at work, a quick meal with the missus, coaching little league, and reading a bedtime story to your daughter. Maybe poker night on Friday, or a date. You grab a round of golf with your buds on Saturday when you can. On Sundays, you leisurely read the paper over a cup of joe before loading up the family truckster for the latest round of soccer games.

You're just a guy living life as it comes at you.

And you roll down the interstate on the way to an across-town soccer tournament and you see a bloody arm with a railroad spike sticking out of it with a cross in the background with the words, "This blood's for you." It also has the name and address of a local church.

Or maybe one of those clever signs that reads, "Read The Book. There will be a test.--God" is across the street from the soccer fields.

Ever wondered how Joe Guy feels when he reads those kinds of things?

Maybe before we get all agog about how the atheists and agnostics are responsible for the moral decay of our society and are strategically having underground conferences to control the hearts and minds of our children...

...maybe we should think about how that's just likely a response to how our penchant for handing out tracts and putting up billboards and trying to reduce the greatest truths ever known to mankind down to a bumper sticker or metal fish on our bumpers...

...and maybe instead of the jokes and snide remarks and radio fodder...

...we'll think about how the attack on another person's belief system--the unloving, unrelational (re: lazy) approach--can be perceived.

And, we'll spend more time walking with Christ, living the exchanged life as a thankful response to His grace, love and mercy, instead of demeaning generally nice people & neighbors with bumper stickers and sound bytes.

Because, as I've said before, I firmly believe the days of presuppositional apologetics (re: crafting & winning debates with the idea of "proving" that the Christian faith is "right," rendering all others "false") are no longer effective. The arguments have been ping-ponged back and forth to the point that it's all pretty much a soup of white noise now. But you can't argue with a life well-lived.

So, let's get out there and live what we believe today, kids.

And no need to get all Chicken Little about the British bus system, okay?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Student Interview Of Me!

I have a former student who is taking a lot of student ministry courses at her Bible college, and she sent me a few questions to answer for an assignment. I gave myself 30 minutes to answer them and wanted to answer from the heart without overthinking it or saying what I think she needed for the assignment. I think that would wreck it, you know? So, this is off the cuff from 21 years of student ministry, with only punctuation edits...

1. What are your highest priorities in ministry?

The first one is that I need to pay close attention to myself and to my teaching. I kinda get that one from 1 Timothy 4:16. I take that to mean that I have a responsibility to maintain my personal walk with Christ. That I'm abiding in Him. That I'm abiding in His Word. Frankly, if I'm not doing those things I have no business in ministry.

Another part of that involves paying close attention to myself is physically...which is often harder for me. Sleeping right. Eating right. Exercise. If I keep up with that part I've found that is significant in how I handle the first part.

Which leads to the 2nd part. If I'm in tune spiritually and physically, it helps me to pay close attention to my teaching. I take this to mean that I'm continually learning, growing and developing in my understanding of the Word and my abilities to communicate what God's doing in my life or had done in my life or even will do in my life.

Another is to remember that the goal of my instruction is love, from a pure heart, a sincere faith and a good conscience. If my students learn a lot of facts and information about Jesus but don't love their God with their whole heart or their neighbor as theirselves, well, I've failed them. I try to keep love at the forefront of the endgame.

2. How do I deal with broken people?

I think the question is how do you deal with people. I mean, if I'm reading scripture correctly we're all broken, so I'm not even sure what that means. I will say that I try not to focus on whatever's broken.

I try to focus on the transformational power of the Gospel message. I stole that from Romans 1: 16-17. See, a trend I've noticed in Christian publishing lately is a focus on the mess, or the unresolved nature of jazz, or the mercies needed for traveling. While I enjoy these books, I wish the focus was on the "treasure," and not the jar of clay. A thorough reading of 2 Corinthians 4: 7--16 shows the focus is on the work Christ in the life of the believer to transform them from "brokenness." So, while I never want to dismiss the brokenness out of hand, I don't want to focus on it, but rather give guidance to how Christ transforms lives...from ax murderers to suburban toddlers and everybody in-between and around.

Maybe the next books from those authors (well, obviously not Yaconelli) will focus on that.

3. How do you measure success?

I don't. I see little in Scripture about success.

I try to perform my ministry for an Unseen Audience of One. I guess I'd be successful if I did that.

This isn't to say that there aren't things I like to see in my students. So, in the spirit of answering the question, I feel like our ministry is successful if we are serving those gifted, talented and passionate about student ministry to use their gift to help our body mature. Not professionals doing it, but very Ephesians 4 about our approach.

We'd be a success if our students were showing evidence of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. I think you can tell if students are predictably loving, joyful, peaceful, etc.

Finally, I think we'd be a success if our students were abiding in Him and abiding in the Word. And praying without ceasing. Funny. But I think you can measure those things, you know?

4. What drives you in reaching that success?

Nothing. I don't consider myself a driven person.

Again, in the spirit of answering the questions. I want people to experience the changed life that I've experienced...that dead to life kind of thing. I want them to enjoy a walk with Christ based on a loving & thankful response to His grace like He was gracious to me.

And, it's more a calling than a drive, if you ask me. I mean, I have no idea why I have a love for the teenagers and their American subculture. I have no idea why God has me where He has me. I have no idea why He's given me the gifts & opportunity He has. I simply want to be obedient to Him as He's provided in His holiness. I don't think that's a drive, per se. I think that's an obedience to His calling me.

5. How does Jesus influence my leadership style?

Again, I'm not sure a view myself as a leader. I'm actually a follower with some responsibilties within the big picture. It's what we disiciples should do. So, first, I follow my Father.

Second, I strive to love Him and my neighbor. That doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with my God thing I have tattoed on my left arm is there for a reason. This love, thing, too, isn't a feeling. Love is a choice. When we make that choice, the feelings will follow, but I make a choice to love Him and love my neighbors, even when I don't FEEL like doing either...which is more often than I care to admit.

Third, I want to emulate my King by serving others. The problem with being a servant is that you're going to wind up being treated like one, which makes the gig hard sometimes. But His model of servanthood is certainly an influence.

Lastly, I'd say that I see the importance of deep & meaningful relationships. It seems like Jesus always had time to develop a relationship with the people he ministered to. Little children. Prostitutes. The infirm. Disciples. He loved people and that meant being in their lives to some degree--which varies depending on the situation. But He loved people...especially His disciples.

Well, have at it, folks...what'd I miss? What'd I hit?

Monday, October 20, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that sports talk radio is infinitely more fun with the Cowboys & Stars tanking. I have no idea why schadenfreude happens.
...AC/DC is having their new CD released as a Wal-Mart exclusive? Suffice to say that AC/DC's public perception is decidedly different than when I was a teen.
...what I wouldn't give to get out from under everything that owning cars brings. 7's in baseball are so great for fans.
...sometimes I think that people give lip-service to the Bible being the final authority in their lives and have no idea how their lives would revolutionize if they understood what they were saying.
...I realize I have a peculiar sense of humor, but I can't stop laughing at Andy Samburg's "Mark Wahlberg Talks To Animals.
...ever notice how often doing the most loving thing is often the most difficult thing? seems like I'm close to several people going to doctors and then having to wait on results. Waiting on results is the worst, even if things aren't life-threatening or potentially life-threatening. If they are, it's worse than the worst.
...I need to change out all the photos & bric-a-brak under my glass desktop.'s kind of sad watching the children deal with neighbor Sam's house. Sam had to move to a nursing home and there's a lot of activity that you can tell has peculiar undertones.
...why do I bother to write things down on my calendar, but then trust my memory enough to keep from reading that calendar? Don't tell me that an iPhone would fix it. I've ignored plenty of stuff like that in various electronic forms. was a very pleasant surprise having the pierced & tattooed Kristen drop in on Friday. It was even funnier because I was chatting in another office and one of our staff jokingly informed me, "Brent, you're needed in your office. There's a hippie in your chair." I didn't bother to inform them that the correct term is "neo-hippie." family has figured out a nice warp & woof of activities & responsibilities. Now, if we could just figure out how to coordinate calendars in such a way that we're in the same spot together more often. Of course, if I wrote it on my calendar, I wouldn't check it, anyway.
...our church is having a missions conference and they printed up these "prayer maps" to help us better pray for the missionaries we support. I know a good idea when I see one, and that one is a good idea.
...I'm in process of cleaning out our youth ministry storage closet and it's fun to give away old t-shirts and stuff like that. One man's junk is another man's treasure, judging from the response of our students last night.
...just when you think your dog couldn't get any more spoiled & lazy, he proves you wrong. The funny thing is that it's his very understanding that he's trying to prove you wrong that makes him so endearing.
...that everybody telling me (and, not a day goes by that at least two people don't make a reference to it) to take part in NaNoWriMo needs to understand that I'm not a fiction writer. I don't fancy myself as much of a writer, anyway. What I do is more like literary projectile vomiting.
...that I've never told anybody about the advice I got from a seminary professor once that involved keeping a "blue file" in your office. A file full of encouraging notes people have written to you. Just save them. The advice was that whenever you begin to have feelings of doubt (or "feeling blue") about your effectiveness in ministry, just pull out a note or two or three until you're reminded that you are. Yesterday, I picked up my file--which, after 20 years of ministry has become a blue box that weighs about 5 pounds--and just that action erased my melancholy. Nice.
...that I can't think of a presidential election in which Stavesacre's lyrics have never been more true, "The lesser, of two evils, does such a creature still exist?"
...that I'm off to enjoy my day off since my Saturday of leisure turned out to be 180-degrees different than what I wrote on Saturday.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

You Know...

...sometimes the very best blogs are the ones you can't write.

That you shouldn't write.

That you won't write.

Because I had conversations yesterday and events transpire that I believe would provoke and/or entertain and/or enlighten all The Diner patronage. But the reality is that none of them are bloggable...for a myriad of reasons.

I should've worn that shirt that says, "I'm Blogging All Of This" yesterday everywhere I went. That way the folks I encountered would've had warning and that's that.

But instead, I wore my Social Distortion concert shirt.

Now, you guys'll have to deal with the blog entries that never were and never can be. And, in the blogosphere, there's not much worse than blogging about the mundane or trivial when you'd rather be blogging about somethin' else.

So, you can mosey along. Keep it moving, folks. There's nothing to see here. That's right. Just keep in moving. Nothing to see here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


A couple of new books waiting to be read.

Some good football game options on television.

Weather nice enough to do two things: Prevent the grass from needing to be mowed weekly (and now I'm on the off week, too). Let me hang out in the hammock without profuse sweating.

Wife & kids all have varying Saturday things I can't help with or be a part of.

Of course, there's plenty of things I SHOULD do.

But, today, I like all my non-SHOULD-DO options, that's for sure. The odds are good I'll pick at least one of them, and maybe all three.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Baseball Update

I've only had a passing interest in the MLB playoffs underway these days...been busy, so mostly keeping up with it via SportsCenter or news highlights.

But last night during a break in a meeting somebody said the Red Sox were down 5-0 early.

So, when I got home from the meeting, it was tied in the 9th at 7. I watched the last inning and after watching baseball my whole life, when I saw Evan Longoria make that error that started the rally...

...when it happened...

...I thought, "You can't give a playoff savvy team that kind of chance because they'll make you pay." They did, in a very exciting finish.

My next thought: That throwing error might just've been the thing that cost them the series. That's right. The series. Even ahead 3-1, those are the kinds of mistakes that haunt an upstart team like the Rays. Even down 3 games to 2 in the best of 7 series, the momentum belongs to the Red Sox who came back to win 8-7 after being down 7-0.

But, man, what an exciting finish. A team playing all summer fighting to stay alive in their last at-bat? High drama. And anyone that says baseball is dull has no idea of what they're talking about.
Time Travel

Yeah. I've got one more entry on the Punk Rock & Church thing that should happen tomorrow.

Then, I'm going to talk about the stress level of today's teens vs. what it was in my day.

Any thoughts you could give me on either would be appreciated & welcomed.
Friday Football Picks, Week 6

Well, it was simply a matter of time, wasn't it? A horrible showing by the Diner in last week's picks, with 2 wins against 8 losses. No matter how strong a season you're having there's a reason folks in Vegas make money hand-over-fist...and all those half-point losses are still losses. That makes the season record 29-20-1 against the point spread. But, 2-8? Ouch. Well, you gotta take your lumps & suck it up & get back on the horse. So, on to this week's games:

Ole Miss (+13) at Alabama: Much is being made about Houston Nutt's ability to get his undermanned teams up for ranked opponents. He's 5-7 when unranked against ranked teams. Not bad. Not bad at all. And much is being made about the Rebels winning at Florida. Here's the difference: Florida isn't a physical running team. Bama is...and your defense is last in the SEC against the run. Nobody seems to mention that this Ole Miss lost to Wake Forest & Vanderbilt when they're bringing up that Florida win. This is a different Bama team than the last 5 or so years. Diner Prediction: Alabama 31, Ole Miss 13.

Missouri (+5.5) at Texas: Okay. I admit that I got all underdog happy about Mizzou. I love the underdog and I thought the Tigers were going to be the Cinderella this year in the Big 12. Turns out it's Oklahoma State. And Texas showed a lot of fight in the rivalry game last week against OU, coming from behind on three occasions. I think it's good for the Horns to have a big game after such a big game. Colt McCoy is now being mentioned for Heisman. They give up less than a touchdown at home and their biggest worry is playing with the #1 target on their back. Mizzou's coming in fragile & won't be able to knock them off in what should be a good game. Diner Prediction: Texas 34, Missouri 24.

Texas Tech at Texas A&M (+20.5): Going to Kyle Field isn't what it used to be, and this game usually has a nasty side to it. Unfortunately, the Aggies just don't have the juice this year. They are not a good team on offense and not a good team on defense. They struggle in special teams, too. And the Red Raiders got more than they bargained for against Nebraska last week. But they still score points in bunches and I don't think the Aggies can keep up the pace. Diner Prediction: Texas Tech 45, Texas A&M 21.

Virginia Tech at Boston College (+3): Two years ago this would've been a marquee game. You know how far the ACC has fallen in the last two years? Embarrassing. And there's a real tendency to think about these teams in terms of two years ago. But they aren't. In close games on the road, you go with special teams. Traditionally, the Hokies have had excellent special teams. I think they'll be the difference on the road. Diner Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Boston College 21.

Vanderbilt (+15) at Georgia: Nobody in the SEC is making fun of Vandy anymore. They play tough and they hang around in games. Georgia is banged up, too. The Dawgs are at home and still trying to erase memories of their hide-tanning by Bama while looking ahead to the game against Florida. It's a tough week for the Dawgs, but they'll wear Vandy out late. Diner Prediction: Georgia 27, Vanderbilt 17.

L.S.U. at South Carolina (+3): Well, we learned that the defending national champs can lose by 4-TD's last week, didn't we? The Tigers stacked up wins that, now that the season has gone on, aren't as impressive as they looked at the time. South Carolina has struggled all season, but are quietly getting better. They still won't have enough at home against a team that might not be in the nation's elite this year, but is still loaded. Diner Prediction: L.S.U. 30, South Carolina 21.

Stanford at U.C.L.A. (pick): Did anyone else notice that in the ESPN ranking of their weekly "Bottom 10" teams in college football that the Pac-10 had 4? What an awful football conference, but for some reason I felt obligated to keep this thing on a national perspective. So this game will represent the West Coast in a league where the rivalry Apple Cup game might feature 1-10 Washington against 0-11 Wazzu. Who cares? But The Diner keeps it fair if nothing else.Diner Prediction: Stanford 28, U.C.L.A. 24.

Kansas (+20) at Oklahoma: Really? You wanna face OU after they got torched for 45? You wanna see them at home after they lost the one game that could give them a free ride to the Big 12 championship game? No. No you don't, even if your coach could eat their coach. Stoops will go all out this week and OU's too good not to bounce back in a big way. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 48, Kansas 27.

Michigan (+23.5) at Penn State: Who would've ever thought this game would have this big of a point spread? Paterno has something special happening up in Happy Valley. And Michigan just isn't a good football us Auburn fans are learning, running the spread offense without spread offense athletes is a painful process. Really. It's painful. And the only thing that would raise an eyebrow about this one is that Michigan beat Wisconsin. The thing that lowers that eyebrow is that Penn State manhandled Wisconsin. Penn State has tougher games ahead, but they'll take care of business tomorrow. Diner Prediction: Penn State 41, Michigan 17.

Ohio State (+3) at Michigan State: Michigan State has been very quietly (at least on a national scale) putting together a good season. They play hard-nosed, disciplined football. Ohio State has struggled to find an identity. The reality is that the Buckeyes have better talent. While every thought I have tells me that disciplined teams can override a better team's talent level I can't seem to really believe in the Spartans. I've been back and forth on this one, but I think Ohio State will find a way to win and while the game will be close, they'll win by more than 3. Diner Prediction: Ohio State 21, Michigan State 17.

Well, sports fans, here's hoping for better than 2-8. Sheesh.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lessons Punk Rock Can Teach The Church, Part 6

*Obviously, if this is part six, there are five preceding entries. You can scroll and check them out, but keep in mind some have fallen off the main page and are archived--which you can access by clicking on the link to the left on the October link. Anyway, I've got one more of these after today, so thanks for humoring me as I ramble.

"The one thing that used to piss me most most about the Sex Pistols was our audience all turning up in identically cloned punk outfits. That really defeated the point. There was no way I was going to give them a good time for that, because it showed no sense of individuality or understanding of what we were doing. We weren't about uniformity."--John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) in his autobiography "Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs."

The punk movement in Britain grew from a working-class frustration amidst an economic downturn. Highlighting this reality was that garbage was piling up in the streets amidst a garbage worker's strike. John Lydon's band The Sex Pistols pulled a stunt that has made folks who know how to do it make a bundle of cash (re: Rush Limbaugh): "Illustrate the absurd by being absurd." His absurdity was to only wear clothes that he pulled out of the trash piles that were on the street at the time. He felt that would make a statement. He understood that carrying protest signs down a street might make others aware, it's better to make a statement.

And there was an honesty in his statements. They flowed out of who he was...and is. He's still as cantankerous as ever. He's still as in-your-face as ever. Even as he's re-recording his songs for use in video game systems, he's telling everybody how much cash he's making and how much his son's friends think it's cool so he's doing it for his family. Love him or hate him. Get him or misunderstand him. Overrate him or underrate him. He knows who he is and stays true to that.

Which underscores how I almost wound up in a brawl at the mall.


Let me explain.

I was going into a mall because there's this specialty store that carries a specific type of perfume my wife wears and some gift-giving occasion was coming up. Between the entrance and the store I needed to get to is a store called "Hot Topic." Teenagers primarily shop there and they market all sorts of alternative teen trends past & present. You can get replica buttons from the 1980's for your bookbag or heavy metal spiked leather wrist bands or Nirvana t-shirts. That kind of stuff.

Anyway, these two guys come out of that store as I'm on my way to the perfume store. One says to the other, "Seriously, man. I think this Green Day t-shirt is awesome. It totally flies in the face of authority. Check out the grenade on it!" The other guy responds, "Man, punk rock rules!"

I laughed out loud.

The Green Day Grenade guy turns and barks, "Something funny, old fart?"

So, I stop. I turn around and say, "Yep. Something's funny. It's funny that you don't see the irony in all this."

Punk Rock Rules guy chimes in, "All what?"

To which I go on a tiny little soapbox rant. It went something like, "Well, first of all, Green Day's good and I like them but I'm not too sure that they're what those of us who were around the early punk rock days [I didn't feel the need to go into the reality that I got into it 2nd hand myself, being from Alabama and all--but I was on a roll so I went with it] would call 'punk rock.' It's a touch too corporate. But that's not what's ironic. What's ironic is that you guys drove Daddy's Lexus to the freaking MALL and purchased something that you think is anti-authority. You're just wannabe's. I just don't want you two walking around believing you're punk rock when you have no idea what it was about."

Green Day Grenade Guy and Punk Rock Guy walk toward me, kind of threatening like.

For some reason, it must've been one of those days where I'm all hepped up on my principles and there's no way I'm going to let these posers scare me, I decide to use my best weapon: My appearance. See, I might not be physically imposing and actually I'm a softie but I've been told with my long hair and tattoos that I often have to overcome the first impressions of others. So, I start to roll my sleeves up, revealing the tattoos and standing my ground. Oh, and as fate would have it, I'm wearing the Doc Martens that I purchased at that same mall.

Well, they take notice of the tats [failing to take note that one's a ballet shoe and the other is a paintbrush with my daughters' names] and that I'm not retreating. So, then I ask, "Really?" trying to sound tough while still rolling up my sleeves. Punk Rock Guy points his finger in my face and tells me how lucky I am there's security guards are around and that he doesn't want to go to jail for beating me up. Frankly, he's right on both. This guy would've made short work of me.

I just smirk at the finger in my face and walk away because I realize I did provoke the guy for no real reason so I'm gonna save face by just walking to the perfume store. When I turn around and get about 10 yards away he yells, "Yeah. That's what I thought you'd do."

I say over my shoulder, "Tell all the punk rockers in Southlake I said hi."

Now, aside from the irony on about 100 levels of my own behavior, did you catch what it was that got me amped?

They were POSERS.

They weren't being themselves, really. They were being what they thought was punk rock. They were no different than the guys showing up at Sex Pistols shows with leather jackets and torn clothes and safety pins on them and all that.

Johnny Rotten was just being himself. He put the sleeves back on a sweater with safety pins because he was salvaging the clothes and wearing the garbage to make a statement about what he thought was a bad situation. He spit on stage not because he was angry with the fans but because he has a chronic sinus problem. He exposed one of Britain's beloved television hosts as a drunk [getting him fired a week after the Pistols appearance on his show] because instead of talking about the band's message he kept talking about how the girls he provoked the drunk and the guy lost his cool on the show. He disliked the British Royal family and rented a boat and sang outside the palace.

He was authentic and true to himself. Still is.

And most punks were. From Exene of X to Lee Ving of Fear to Henry Rollins of Black Flag...

...I could go on.

But even as they are now "aging punk rockers" they're still being authentic.

And I think the individuals in the church in America need to be true to ourselves.

All too often we've reduced the wonder of a relationship with Christ to a series of moral codes of conduct and political agendas/alignments and activities and uniformity to patterns and...


...we lose who Scripture says we are.

And who we're supposed to become.

And who we are becoming in light of who we used to be.

Grace is dangerous, man.

In all it's messy reality and transforming power. We should have little tolerance for those who are buying their Christian life at the various malls of Christian subculture. It ain't about showing up at the show dressed in all the right clothes and singing all the right songs and being polite at the right times and voting the right way and reading the right books and staying in the right protective bubble holy huddle and keeping our kids safely following that "well worn path to successful mediocrity." [not my phrase]

It's about following Christ for real.
And experiencing His transforming grace.
About moving from what we were, leaving it happily in our wake and living out who we're becoming.
It's about living for an Unseen Audience of One.
It's about dying to self.
It's about offering ourselves as a living sacrifice as a spiritual service of worship.

But heaven help us all if we're posers.

Zero tolerance.
Because the stakes are way too high.

We can't fake THIS...of all things.

We have to understand fully what we're doing, man. And if we do, it's not nearly as polite, and miles more threatening, as my little exchange in the mall.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Proud Uncle Alert

Just letting you all get updated on my niece on my sister-in-law's side & partner-in-crime Katelyn (my smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife took this one).

Oh, and Aunt Jodie, any photo you've got on my nephew in a football uniform...yeah...that'd be great.

As well as my niece on my sister's side, the higher-order barnstorming Margaux, who is now walking, folks.

Oh, yeah. And in another turn of events, I'm proud to let all of you know that my higher order life-liver sister Jilly and barnstorming brother-in-law Shane are expecting another member of the Proud Uncle Alert club...likely in late April of 2009:

I thought the patrons might like this one to start the day rather than my bleak attempts at linking the punk rock movement and the current state of the American church...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lessons Punk Rock Can Teach The Church, Part 5

*I started this little series a few days ago with sporadic entries on this little topic...and you can scroll down and "read upward" if you want to get them in order. I think it'll go a couple of more entries, at least. Anyway, thanks for putting up with it.

On a trip to Holland in 2000 (my first trip anywhere in Europe) I got to spend three weeks kicking around with Dutch students. One night they decided to show our teenagers what Dutch students do when they go out. Basically, they went to a club, had a few drinks and danced. I don't think Dutch students were much different than anyone else in the world when it came right down to it. Name your country, and I think this is what students pretty much do.

What struck me was the loud, repetitive, never-ending dance music. Afterward, I commented to one of the Dutch teens how much I thought that TECHNO was loud, repetitive, never-ending dance music. I should've known better...given my own musical tastes.

Immediately I was told that what we heard wasn't by any stretch "techno." It was "trance." And, in fact, it was "alternative trance." I spent the next 30 minutes getting a lecture on the nuances between techno and trance and the varieties of categories each one had as well as other categories that existed that I was unaware of.

Similarly, I found that "punk" is applied to a variety of bands.

The Ramones.
Iggy Pop & the Stooges.
The Talking Heads.
Black Flag.
Social Distortion.
The Pretenders.
The Clash.
The Sex Pistols.
The Germs.

All very different bands. And you could do the same as my Dutch friend and break them down into categories and sub-categories...

See, the Ramones were coming out of the New York scene with their leather jackets, blue jeans and white t-shirts.
Iggy was a pioneer and really more of a performance artist who used music to enhance his stage show.
The Talking Heads were rolling through David Byrne's eclectic genius.
Blondie took a street phenomenon and gave it pop sensibilities.
R.E.M. practically invented the genre of college radio.
Black Flag took an aggressive, urgent attack on society at-large and ripped across the country in a van in all their vegan angst spreading their message.
Social Distortion gave rise to the first generation of kids who heard all the other music, started a band in their garage and spoke to the suburban kid who couldn't put their finger on exactly what was wrong, but knew something was askew.
The Pretenders brought their midwestern sensibilities to the CBGB sounds and they were influenced and well as influential.
The Clash were the first punk band with really talented members who evolved into a truly great band and not just a really good punk band.
The Sex Pistols took anarchy and made it urgent in a late-70's British economic downturn.
X brought a serious female lead singer with a touch of Los Angeles glamour with a punk ethos.
Fear would attack their own fans for being posers (more on that tomorrow).
The Germs brought synthesizers and made them punk.

It's like any other genre of music, really. If you like that genre there are groupings and categories and sub-groups and sub-categories and all that. When you think about it, labeling music can be difficult because those that like certain types are aware of the differences and it's rarely as simply as "techno" or "trance" or "country" or "classical."

But "punk" had a true appreciation for what everybody else was doing. Sure, there were little spats between the Ramones and the Clash as to who really "invented" punk, but they played shows together.

CBGB's club in the Bowry in New York run by Hilly Kristal (which is now an upscale housing area, but they at least left an original wall of the club and keep it behind plexiglass, and you can buy t-shirts to say you were there) was a perfect example of how the bands supported each other. On one night, you might catch Blondie opening, Television supporting and the Ramones headlining. The next night you might have Television opening, the Talking Heads supporting and the Ramones headlining. On the weekend, the Ramones might open, Blondie on next, followed by the Pretenders and the Talking Heads headlining.

Can you imagine paying the cover and getting four unique styles of music on the same bill? And having the band members share their instruments/equipment and sticking around to listen to the other bands? Helping each other clean up afterward? Drinking beers together and hitting the town once you're done cleaning up?

Or the idea of X and Social Distortion on the West Coast. Together. An artsy glamour girl and her band singing about relationships and the beauty of her city teaming together with a bunch of hard-drinking garage band teenagers with all the anti-prom-queen-high-school-socialite angst they can muster.

Same for R.E.M. and Black Flag. They played a number of gigs together. Shared van rides. Found places to stay for each other. Sure, they kept some timing distance between sets because the Black Flag crowd would be a tad aggressive after the show and the college frat boys coming to see their indie band didn't necessarily mix well...but that reality alone highlighted that the bands were different and knew it, but found common ground to work together.

If you read interviews around the time, they all had an appreciation for what the other guys were doing. As much as Johnny Ramone disliked Richard Hell & Television (Johnny's military-like approach had trouble figuring out the drug using, laid back, whatever-man life the other bands lived), he liked that they were doing their own thing and said so. Blondie, to this day, talks about how great the Ramones were. The Sex Pistols make every list of important albums ever made and all the other bands are happy about it. The Talking Heads went and entirely different direction, as did the Pretenders, and the worst you'll hear from the Clash members (well, the ones still alive, anyway) is that they don't like their later stuff as much as the early stuff. They all shake their heads at Iggy but all tip their caps at how much he influenced them.

And you know what?

I think the Church in America has lost a lot of that...if it ever had it.

See, we have our own little subgroups and categories, don't we?

We've got Free Gracers and Lordshippers.
We've got the emergent (which has about 14 different sub-groups and categories as they all fight to stay out of sub-groups and categories) and the megachurch.
We've got Southern Baptists and Pentecostals and Independents and Methodists and the entire spectrum of denominations.
We've got churches meeting in pubs and churches meeting in sports arenas.
We've got militant home-schoolers and militant public school proponents.
We've got television evangelists and radio folks and Derek Webb.
We've got stadium rallies and house churches.
We've got Hell House alternatives to Halloween and folks staying home to meet their neighbors.

I could go on.

You get it.

But we seem to have lost that appreciation for what others are doing. There's a lot of things that aren't my cups of tea. Like, I fail to see how the church should have one political part to align with...but I've got brothers and sisters committed to that reality. I don't get how scaring the hell out of teenagers and then presenting the Gospel message to them is a good way to do business...but I know full-well there'll be teenagers in the Kingdom because of their work. I don't understand how a church can mobilize resources to pray over every seat in a football stadium and call that evangelism, but who am I to question what God's asking them to do? I don't dig a banjo in worship, or a choir...but people are ministered to through both. I love the idea of a church meeting in a pub...but I know that some need the high polish of a great band and lots of technology and accessible preaching. I've used all sorts of educational opportunities to help my kids get their education, and had others tell me how the one I wasn't using at the time was more Biblical and that as a pastor I needed to follow the Bible.

In other words, like there was room at CBGB's for all sort and types and ideas and art...

...there should be room in the church for all kinds.

We should appreciate and support the diversity in our midst.

Instead of pigeonholing and stereotyping and accusing and all that jazz...and, lately it seems, if it isn't our way, then it isn't the right way.

And if my friends in Lost and Found are correct (and I think they are), then these words seem to fit:

(chorus) "The Kingdom's big enough for you.
And you were made to be here, too.
The Kingdom's big enough for you.
Where you are.
As you are.

So many people pushed away
Ones that are loved told they can't stay
The question is what would Jesus say?


(repeat chorus)

God's own people close the door
The loud and the angry take the floor
We know what you fear
But what are you for?

Furthermore . . .

(repeat chorus)"

And, I think we've lost that work-together mindset.
I think we've lost that appreciation for the different and new.
I think we've tried to make following Christ look a certain way...

...instead of appreciating the Ephesians 2:10 people that our Father is busy creating.

New creatures.
A collection of masterpiece works.

Which we try to edit and critique.

Who do we think we are?

Well, have at it, kids.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Natural Habitat

It's the end of a long work week.

And still more to go. In fact, the most difficult work of this particular week. You'll have to get nearly 100 people from the church parking lot to Pine Cove and back again. Over 80 of these people will be between the ages of 11 & 14.

These 11 to 14 year-olds, some of whom are staying away from home for a weekend for the time, will be responsible for their own luggage & taking medicines and learning how to respond when they don't get to sit on the same bus with their VBFF. Some of the adults who are taking their own cars and some college student help will be meeting us at the camp because they live in the town where the camp is located.

You, on the other hand, are taking the high school work crew, pictured here, given the instruction to pose like rock stars for an album cover:

There is a lot of detail work in this, too. Check-ins with nervous moms asking 100 questions that are already written down, finding the appropriate DVD's for the bus ride, making sure we've got cash for the tip for the bus driver, that we've got two legible lists for which kid is on which bus, last-minute payments to process, work crew luggage with tags on them because they've got to go separate. There's a lot more than these...but that gives you a taste.

At the end of a long work week it's hard to focus on details, but, in my friend Katherine's words, "You gotta rally, man."

Finally, the buses roll (on time this year! Way to go, parents!) and the high-school van is loaded with the teenagers' infinite playlists being played for the two-and-a-half hour van ride. Laughs galore.

Check in with the camp staff. Ever had to get, say 46 middle school girls who all want to room with their VBFF (of which, they have 4 VBFF's) when all the rooms have 8 bunks, but one has to be for an adult? Ever seen, say 37 middle school boys who've been on a bus eating Pixie Sticks for two-and-a-half hours, have a camp setting with a lake who want to explore the darkness with their flashlights, try to get them to any room with a bunk with their luggage? The high schoolers check in with the kitchen staff and get right to work to serve these middle schoolers a snack in half an hour.

I go check in with the leaders after their orientation meeting. Thank them and encourage them. Back to check on the high schoolers.

The next day it's up an hour earlier than the rest of camp with the high schoolers getting breakfast ready to serve to 200 campers from area churches. Middle schoolers who've barely been to bed show up and the day begins. Club meetings where they have Bible study. Meals. Small group breakout sessions. Free time. Horseback riding. Canoes. Zip lines. Tether ball (tether ball?). War ball. Running like a banshee. 8th grade girls flirting with the oblivious 8th grade guys who determine to trounce the girl in tether ball. More meals. Food dares. More club meetings. More breakout sessions. Frisbee. More tether ball (more tether ball?). Meetings with grownups. Back to check on the high schoolers. Commando. Stories about Commando. Bed time.

Repeat process Sunday, but only for half a day.

Then repeat the process of the detail work for the bus ride home, with students who've been to the snack shop and gotten more Pixie Sticks and washing them down with 3 Dr. Peppers.

The details.

Always "being on."

The attempt to be compassionate when a middle schooler is experiencing drama that's very real to them and trying to serve them as they work through it.

The lack of time to yourself, especially when you're a person that kind of needs a lot of time to yourself.

And then a mom who agreed to go to camp with you because she knew you needed help walks up to you and starts her sentence with, "I'd like you to meet you new sister in Christ." And then a college student you discipled walks up a few hours later and says something similar.

And then you chuckle to yourself because you lost sight of the big picture amidst all the details.

And then you chuckle to yourself because you have the best job in the world.

And then you look forward to yet another couple of teenagers who will be in our baptismal pool and say these words into the microphone after being asked about when they really believed the idea that Christ rose from the dead and all they simply accepted His free gift:

"This one weekend at Pine Cove after the speaker talked about what the Bible said, I was talking to Mrs. Amy after my small group leader on the work crew said I should, and..."

And then you chuckle to yourself because God is at work in the lives of people you know and you sometimes forget that when you're bogged down in some details.