Saturday, January 31, 2009

Since You Had So Much Fun...

...playing the game where you find your exotic dancer name (name of the 1st pet you remember and your mom's maiden name) and soap opera name (mom's/dad's middle name and the name of a street you lived on) the other day you guys seemed to have so much fun.

So, here's how to find your Star Wars character name: 1st 3 letters of your last name + 1st 2 letters of your 1st name, THEN 1st 3 letters of your mom's maiden name + 1st 3 letters of the city you were born in.

My Star Wars name: McKbr Chifai...which would sound like Mick-bur Chih-Fay. Not too shabby...Can you tell that an occupational hazard of mine is that you spend a lot of time on vans playing games like this?

Have at it, kids.
I'm Not In One, But I've Heard Stories


I've heard folks chat about these things...

Thanks to the strip Mother Goose & Grimm.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Past Is Prologue

It started with a phone call.

"Brent, are you going to be home tonight? I need to talk."

We were. She did.

And the tale was lurid, man. But you patrons will need some context, so let me fill you in.

It was 1988. I'd been in youth ministry all of about 8 minutes.

She was the All-American girl-next-door. A blue-eyed blonde that would take Doris Day back in a time machine. A wicked sense of humor and a laugh that let you know the party was just now getting good. Sharp wit. Great mind. The kind of girl high school guys all want to date but figure they have no shot with. A bow-headed cheerleader that forgot arrogance was supposed to be part of that package. Oh, yeah. She genuinely walked with Christ and was active not only in her church youth group, but also in our outreach ministry to her high school campus. And she was just a freshman.

We clicked her freshman year, too. She was in a small group Bible study I was leading. She invited me to everything she was cheering at: Freshman football games. Freshman basketball games. Cheerleading competitions. Youth group skits she was in. She came by the house with her friends often to just hang out. Our house was among her first stops for whatever fundraiser they were selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts for. Somehow she wrangled me into leading a devotional Bible study for the freshman cheerleaders. Somehow she wrangled my wife into having a spend-the-night party for her cheerleading squad. Like I said, we clicked.

And, in the spring she started seeing a guy on the football team. I knew his reputation because I led a devotional Bible study for the football team for a few years and this particular guy was likeable...but he didn't have a lot of the spiritual advantages other kids have. That's minimizing. But you get it, right?

She started wearing his letterman's jacket during basketball season.

She started drifting a bit. Pulling away from friends, being too busy for the youth group skits, showing up late or missing small group, skipping our house for the fundraiser, missing the Friday morning devotional, not chatting with my wife between the freshman & junior varsity games.

And, I started asking the right questions.

"Hey kiddo, you doing okay spiritually? I mean, I'm seeing a couple of red flags since you started dating him."

"Brent, things are going really well. I think I'm helping him grow spiritually and we talk a lot about Jesus and stuff."

"Okay, dear. Just checkin.'"

By prom in late spring, I wasn't seeing much of her.

Then the aforementioned phone call. And, in my den, in front of Tracy and I, we got the lurid details.

I won't give you all of them...but there was a lot of skipping school and heading to his parent's house. That's minimizing. you get it, right? And in this particular situation...

...drum roll please...


She wanted to break up. He had, shall we say, leverage. In Poloroid form.

"Brent, please help me."

So, I did.

And it was painful for everybody, man. That's minimizing. You get it, right?

I believed the only way to shift the leverage was to get the truth out there. This involved parents. Imagine being 15 and having to tell your parents this little piece of information. But it was the start.

The next part was to arrange for the "leverage" to get swiped. Funny how youth ministers can get stuff like that done. It happened...and to this day I'm not exactly sure who destroyed them, but I remember they were.

And, for the next three weeks it was chaos. Meetings with parents. Threats from the kid who no longer had leverage. The high-school grapevine worked flawlessly with just enough truth to make the embellishments sound forthright. There were friends taking sides. There were brothers in the mix. This kid was low, man.

But it was her start of making her faith her very own.

For the next three years she grew in her understanding of God's grace (I'm kinda big on that) and His ability to transform lives (I'm big on that, too). That's minimizing. You get it, right?

We'd talk a lot. By her senior year she'd be telling me about God's grace and goodness to her. She told me that it was like talking about a person she didn't it was telling the story of a character she'd read about in a book. That's how I knew God was really at work in her life. Friends and family noticed, too. The All-American girl came back and in retrospect, her friends and family chalked that 6-month stretch of her life up to youthful indiscretion. That's minimizing. You get it, right?

She went off to college and kept in touch somewhat.

She married a solid Christian man who loves her and adores her. They lead a Sunday School class at their church.

She's got a couple of children. We chatted a few years ago at a Starbucks and got all caught up. Two daughters (they're 8 and 6 now) who would make Doris Day wish she had a time machine.

And I'd ask her periodically to share the story of how God transformed her life. She'd politely decline, saying, "Brent, that's a part of my past and I don't even know that girl any more. Thanks for asking, though." I stopped asking.

We got reconnected via Facebook.

And a couple of days ago her status update read simply, "It is time." Followed by a message in my Facebook inbox asking for my phone number. Except she asked for my "digits."

Turns out some women at her church wanted her to speak to their women's conference...and in some sort of pre-meeting the leadership discovered the lurid tale for the first time. After hearing about how she wanted to talk about God's grace and ability to transform lives, one of the leaders asked her if she'd ever told me "thank you." The organizer said something like, "In your 15 minute testimony you mentioned him by full name three times. And you've never thanked him?"

It ended with a phone call.

You can have your salaries with three digits before the comma and expense accounts and use of the country club membership and season tickets and whatever other perks you want to throw in.

Because, I got a phone call...

...from a wonderful sister in Christ...

...who will stand up in front of 150 or so women at a resort in Guntersville, Alabama tonight...

...and talk about God's unmerited favor...

...and talk about God's divine enablement...

...and talk about the transformed life...

...and give glory to Jesus Christ for what He has done, is doing, and will do in her life...

...and she said, simply, "thank you for loving me when I was unlovable."

...and she said, simply, "yes, I'll come talk to your group. I have no idea why, for the last 20 years I didn't want to tell other people what Christ has done for me. Seems kinda stupid now that I think about it."

It is, indeed, time, dear. That's not minimizing. You get it, right?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

There's Really Only One Thing To Talk About Today

It's the higher-order life-liver sister Jilly's birthday today! Whoo Hooo!

And, yes, we could do the normal "let's all celebrate by" and say things like finish your college degree after 17 years of trying or sportin' the bump or using a label maker on everything or drinking great wine or selling your airplane or being a great hostess or even listening to Adam Ant while using Anbesol in a Camaro Berlinetta. But, let's be honest. After no less than four entries over the years here at The Diner and, well, we've covered them all.

So, today, I dug into the archives and pulled out some old photographs for a retrospective entitled, "Higher Order Life Living: The Development of a Lifestyle."

Jilly, with Bisty in 1979. This officially makes her exotic dancer name "Bisty Childress." Ever played that game?

Jilly & me, with Mama Jeannie in the background, circa 1977. Notice the spice rack rockin' in our kitchen:

Jilly and my cousin Sherry Lynn in Panama City Beach in 1976.

My 9th birthday in 1975. I have no idea why my cousins Scott & Sherry Lynn were a part of us trying to look like some sort of rock band getting on our album cover:

Easter, 1974. Apparently, my mother had issues with framing the subjects. However, you can check out the view from our den. Notice the sweet paneling and the extra long phone cord so we could talk on the phone in three different rooms. You can also check out the refrigerator color, which, incidentally, Tracy and I had a fridge with the same color until 2 years ago.

Jilly at Navarre Beach in 1973. My grandfather used to rent a beach house for me and all my aunts, uncles, and cousins. She was 2 and a half:

Easter, 1972. Notice the sweet Buick LaSabre my parents rocked back in the day:

Same day, with my dad. Notice the sweet brick house in Fairfield, Alabama:

Thanksgiving Day, 1971. Jilly 10 months old. Notice the sweet chair and me, as usual, rockin' the football jersey.

Happy Birthday, Jilly!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some Snippets From "Revolutionary Road"

Yeah. I've read better writing.
Yeah. I've heard better tales.
Yeah. I've related to some fiction on a deeper level.

But Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road is a surprisingly good read. The bottom line of the story is there's this couple in the suburbs that believes they've settled for what life gives them rather than living a life of adventure and passion. The couple decides to chuck it all and just go to Paris. There's a semblance of a plan, but beyond that, just live the adventure.

And, there's some dialogue that I found provocative...and the writing's pretty good, too. For example, April threw Frank a birthday party and his present was to announce her "plan"...

"Don't you see? Don't you see that's the whole idea? You'll be doing what you should've been allowed to do seven years ago. You'll be finding yourself. You'll be reading and studying and taking long walks and thinking. You'll have *time*. For the first time in your life you'll have time to find out what it is that you want to do, and when you find it you'll have the time and freedom to start doing it."

What suburban person wouldn't want THAT?

Well, her husband Frank is grateful for the gift, he mentions that it just isn't realistic. April's response:

"In order to agree with that, I'd have to have a very strange and very low opinion of reality. Because you see I happen to think *this* is unrealistic. I think it's unrealistic for a man with a fine mind to go working like a dog year after year at a job he can't stand, coming home to a house he can't stand in a place he can't stand, either, to a wife who's equally unable to stand the same things..."

Granted, they're an extreme case, but isn't there some sort of ability to relate to this on some level if you're living the suburban lifestyle?

One last one, then I'll let you have at it. This one is when Frank's response involved that he didn't much see himself as an artist or writer. April says,:

"Oh, Frank. Can you really think artists and writers are the only people entitled to lives of their own? Listen, I don't care if it takes you five years of doing nothing at all. I don't care if you decide after five years that what you really want is to be a bricklayer or a mechanic or a merchant seaman. Don't you see what I'm saying? It's got nothing to do with definite, measurable talents--it's your very *essence* that's being stifled here. It's what you *are* that's being denied and denied and denied in this kind of life."


Lots of ways to take these by way of response and I guess I could steer it somewhat.

But I'd prefer to let the patrons grab their coffee on this snow day and take the conversation wherever they want...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

25 Things

It's been going around of Facebook, and I've been tagged a couple of times. It's pretty simple...just list 25 random things about yourself. Here goes:

1. I used to collect baseball cards. I don't mean buy a pack and look at 'em. I mean track and hunt meaningful and valuable cards at card shows and all that. My collection had a book value of over $8,000 in 1985.
2. I was a member of the Amateur Putters Association. In other words, I played Putt-Putt golf competitively, once finishing third at an invitational nationwide tournament in Memphis. I once shot a 20 in a tournament round (that's 16 holes-in-one, and two 2's).
3. I was president of my senior class in high school, and won the local Lion's Club leadership award in 1984.
4. I chose my university entirely on fond memories of attending football and basketball games with my father. It was the only place I ever seriously considered.
5. I think being the dad of two daughters is about the greatest thing a guy could ask for. When Tracy and I would discuss whether or not we wanted to try for a boy, I really only wanted another girl. My friend Mike has 4 girls, and always thought that he is supremely blessed.
6. I don't like travel at all. Oddly, I love going to the places that involve travel. In other words, I like to go skiing in Colorado, I just can't stand the airport nonsense. I love Amsterdam, New York City, etc. I like going home to Birmingham and visiting the beaches at Gulf Shores. I just loathe the travel.
7. Despite general consensus to the contrary, I really do think that great music came from the 1980's. It was all on college radio, (which I thought was the greatest thing ever) which means nobody heard it.
8. I can switch hit in baseball. What's funny is that, when I play golf, I hit woods lefty, irons righty and putt lefty. Of course, the last time I played golf was in the early '90's...and I'm looking to sell a great set of clubs for $100 if anybody's interested.
9. I once sold several complete sets of baseball cards and my vinyl LP collection to get back financially to zero. The early years of youth ministry were awful financially (I should write some experiences down), but God provided and I look back on those years fondly.
10. While I'm often at odds with the value system I see in suburbia and I feel freedom to challenge those vociferously at every turn, I'm generally happy about living in them and certainly enjoy the relationships here and the benefits they provide (like great educational opportunities and such).
11. I don't understand how you can have a dog and not spoil it rotten. I'm a firm believer in this.
12. Funny, I don't remember trying to get approval from my parents...I always valued my sister's opinion more than theirs. Still do.
13. Some of the happiest memories I have are of attending minor league hockey games and minor league baseball games with Hal, Jimmy, Frankie, Ron and Rush. It seems like I remember every moment of every one of those nights...and there were many.
14. I've enjoyed every life station from high school to college to early marriage to raising infants, toddlers, kids, middle schoolers and teenagers. Even when times were tough, I still was generally happy, even in the seminary years with 3 jobs and two kids under 4. I even had a very happy childhood.
15. I go through most of my life wondering why such a great person like Tracy would stay with an oaf like me. I seriously wonder about that. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad she stuck around. And I feel certain she will stick around. I simply don't understand "why."
16. I wonder the same thing about my current church. Almost to the same degree.
17. The consistent chink in my spiritual armor ever since I can remember is that I struggle with anger a lot. This may explain my inherent love for early punk and late grunge music. I totally get those.
18. The most recent chink in my spiritual armor has become gluttony. Seriously? I mean, when you ate a lot as a kid, you chalked it up to growing or being a teenager. But recently I've just lost any semblance of discipline or willpower in that area and I'm not even sure why.
19. My favorite authors are Kurt Vonnegut, Dr. Suess and Douglas Coupland. In that order. No joke.
20. I seriously romanticize at least two things: living downtown in a loft and living in the Pacific Northwest. I've never even been to the Pacific Northwest but once and that trip was interrupted. But for some reason, those two things have an appeal that I can't explain, but manalive I think I'd enjoy them both.
21. If it were up to me to design hell on earth, it would include includes: cats, country music (except Johnny Cash), hunting, fishing, reality shows, mobile phones, and DVD's in cars for short trips.
22. When I die, I want to be cremated (I don't understand all the cash spent on funerals), my organs donated, and I want a version of an Irish wake rather than what we call a "memorial service." I want the shot glasses lined up, my iPod funeral playlist (which Kid1 & 2 will put together) playing in the background, and any speakers who want to talk to tell my wife and kids stuff about me that they might've liked or appreciated about me. I have little use for the formality of the current protestant milieu. Then they all go out for spaghetti somewhere.
23. I'm extremely callous about death. I think I come by that honestly. The flip side is that I'm extremely sensitive to the children involved and have an intuitive read on how to deal with them. I come by that honestly, too.
24. I have had a love affair with movies ever since I got my 2nd job at a movie theatre. I can't watch them without remembering funny/memorable lines or having my brain calibrate the messages against what the Bible says. I easily see 50 a year or more.
25. While it's no big surprise, I am terribly fascinated by teenagers. Everything about that tribe and their culture. I still have moments when I see them where the thought pops into my brain, "Who is ministering to that kid?"

There you have it. Any thoughts?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Morning Update

The week upcoming: It should be a somewhat normal week. I mean, the regular slate of meetings and Bible studies. Our church does have our winter Bible conference coming up, too, but all I have to do for that is show up. So that's a diversion but doesn't require much extra work for me. Also, our student ministry will be having a gathering for the Super Bowl at a teen's house, which is always fun because they cheer or boo the commercials as they see fit. It's very funny.

Where I am at the moment: Settling into a groove. The slow start out of the blocks of the new year seems to have given way to normalcy...especially since our big to-do for Pine Cove is behind us. My weeks now hit a normal stride. Meetings on Tuesday, with mid-school Tuesday night. Bible study on Wednesday night. No meeting this Thursday or Friday. Normal chores of driving the ballerinas and stuff. I function well in the groove.

On my to-do list this week: Hockey game Tuesday night! Bible conference this weekend.

Procrastinating about: Getting going on the home workout system I ordered with some Christmas money. Go time is next Monday and I haven't even read the material to see about the diet system and extra stuff I'll need to pick up.

Book I’m in the midst of: I'm actually in the middle of two. Revolutionary Road by Yates and God in the Dock by Lewis. I can read two books at a time if one's fiction and one's along the lines of my work. I can't read two at a time if they're of the same two fiction or two work related. For some reason that just doesn't work for me.

Music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: I got this new free ringtone maker and have been listening to songs that remind me of friends so the songs are all over the map. Hip-hop for most of my teenage students, glam rock for others, UB40, Ramones, Stones, Velvet Underground. It's really eclectic this week.

Next trip: Vegas with my smokin' hot trophy wife in three weeks.

How I’m feeling about this week: I've mentioned before about the undertoad. It's a reference that author John Irving used in The World According to Garp. See, Garp, as a child, misunderstood his parents on a trip to the ocean when they warned him not to go in the water because of the undertow. He thought they said "Undertoad" and had a visual of a frog underneath the water that would grab him. He kept that phrase as an adult to describe when he had a sense of apprehension even though things looked calm on the surface. Well things look calm on the surface to me, but my internal radar has issued an Undertoad Warning.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Home Remedies & Near Death Experiences

Last night, my smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife and I had dinner with friends. One of those deals where we'd been meaning to get together for months with this particular couple and weekends never balanced out. The planets finally aligned and I'm glad we did it.

Anyway, we're chatting after dinner and two topics wound up bringing the most laughter...

...first, we started discussing how our parents handled sick or injured children. Several home remedies came to the forefront. I couldn't think of any my mom or dad had except some sort of bleach/water concoction my dad knew about for athletes foot, but that went by the wayside with some sort of spray we bought. I'd heard my paternal grandmother mention some whiskey & honey thing for coughs she'd heat up on the stove, but I never experienced that one and it might just be legend for all I know.

However, there were stories of various cooking aids heated and put in ears for ear infections and letting coughs/colds run their course...

...which then led to the uses of Bactine and Aspergum. Two primary treatment medications of our childhood that we were keenly aware of but didn't think anybody used anymore.

And the mention of Bactine got us guys going on when our parents used it on us and the ladies were listening to stories of skateboards down hills too big for 11-year-olds, ramping bicycles (to imitate Fonzie jumping the 13 barrels at Arnold's) with plywood propped on a picnic table and the neighborhood trash cans, and rooftop ignition of G.I. Joe's hair (back when it was kinda hair, not molded plastic) to simulate parachuting out of shot-down aircraft. The all important Polish Canon was brought up, invovling tennis balls, lighter fluid and tennis ball cans electrical taped together. The ladies mentioned that their playing was a bit more relationally oriented.

...I made the comment that I firmly believe that any guy can rattle off at least five near-death experiences from childhood.

So, here's where you fit in today, patrons.

First, what, if any, home remedies did your family use--or at least talk about?
Second, is anyone still using Bactine and Aspergum?
Finally, got any near-death experiences you'd like to share?

Have at it, patrons!

Saturday, January 24, 2009


There's a cold/flu bug going around Big little burg is affected. Lots of kids in my student ministry are sick and fighting through it. Southern Methodist University downtown is taking measures as so many of their students have it. So, it's out there.

And, I'm wondering if the 40 degree temperature swings we've had this year have anything to do with that.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Few Things On The Agenda Today

I can't believe The Curious Case of Benjamin Button got ONE nomination for the Oscars, much less the 13 it garnered. It was fundamentally flawed. Too long. And Brad Pitt was average. The only thing I can figure is that Hollywood felt the need to go with anything that could be labeled "epic" and this was the only film last year that could be remotely called that. I really thought it's the worst movie to get that many was that bad. Slumdog Millionaire was my favorite of the nominations, but I still have to see 3 of them. Sheesh. I'm kinda behind on my best picture nominees. And Anne Hathaway won't win for best actress against Meryl Streep & Angelina Jolie on that list, but she should.

AC/DC is at the big arena downtown tonight. $90 per ticket to go? That's prohibitive. However, it would be one of the most fun "people watching" things to check out. You know...check out the fashions, the demographics, the antics. It'd be a good subject for a video blog post.

In the paper today there was a headline that read "Parents get permission to say no." Naturally I had to stop down & read that. The story was about a speaker who came to a high-tone Dallas neighborhood named Highland Park to talk about parenting. This guy is a Harvard professor, mind you. He talked about a kind of "peer pressure" among parents to spoil their children and offered help. Fair enough...but the help he offered was noting that factors that contribute to problems in teenagers include divorce, lack of family time and parents who don't set limits. Things that help prevent behavioral problems include enjoying meals together, consistent parenting and getting involved in community service. Once again, common sense is cutting edge.

I haven't said anything about the No Agenda retreat our high school student ministry went on last weekend...but I should've. I mean, you get 70 teenagers in 65 degree sunny weather, allow the Pine Cove staff to provide frisbees, meals, gym hockey equipment, a big field for soccer & football and the magic happens. Here's one of those moments the seniors are starting to have, where "it's our last Pine Cove." There'll be a lot of lasts, and we're missing Natalie & Hannah (who had college trips & an allergic reaction, respectively), but finding a photo of all the seniors together is difficult to do:

Oh, yeah. I've been going back to basketball games and lunches with teens to just hang out and all that jazz. I really feel back in the saddle of youth ministry these days. I like that.

Margaux Update:

And, I'm thinking of scanning old photos. A bunch of 'em. And posting 'em. And posting them on Facebook. If we're not friends on FB, you'll miss out. Just sayin'.

Well, lots to do today and I'm sorry it's so scattered...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Love Technology. But Not As Much As You, You See. But I Still Love Technology

*special thanks to Pierced & Tattooed Kristen for pointing this one out*

So, our new President goes to his office for the first time yesterday. Keep in mind that this is the president who ran a campaign that took full advantage of technology (and got the young involved because of it) and is widely known for his liberal (*snicker*) use of a Blackberry.

A Washington Post article points out that the new staff discovered that the White House is woefully behind regarding technology. A snippet:

"One member of the White House new-media team came to work on Tuesday, right after the swearing-in ceremony, only to discover that it was impossible to know which programs could be updated, or even which computers could be used for which purposes. The team members, accustomed to working on Macintoshes, found computers outfitted with six-year-old versions of Microsoft software."

Okay. Here's what went off in my brain when I read the article.

I've discovered that people making decisions for many organizations have little idea of the reality that technology and the use of it is important. Even in the well-read book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins he made comments like these:

“Good-to-great organizations avoid technology fads and bandwagons, yet they become pioneers in the application of carefully selected technologies.”


"The good-to-great companies used technology as an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it. None of the good-to-great companies began their transformations with pioneering technology, yet they all became pioneers in the application of technology once they grasped how it fit with their three circles and after they hit breakthrough."

So, what he's saying is that you don't use technology just to use technology. But once you figure out how existing technology can enhance what you're already doing well, you become aggressive in the use of that technology. Interestingly, what I've found is that not only is our White House deficient (which I'd expect a government agency to be as they're notorious for being, well, not great) but many churches ho-hum the use of technology, too.

See, the people that make decisions in churches tend to be those who've shown over longer periods of time they're qualified to serve. Hence, they tend to be more mature. Older. Wiser. But, they also tend to view technology as a necessary reality. No need to be aggressive in the use of it, just do enough to avoid "being left behind." I mean, most everyone knows a church needs a web page with service times & location & ministries offered & sermons & maybe even doctrinal positions or staff. Nobody argues that kind of stuff. It keeps up with the Jonses.

But, they often don't realize that it's not just about bells & whistles. I've said this before, but the older generation views the Internet as a way to get information. The younger generation views it as an enhancement to their personal relationships (yes, I disagree with those who claim it replaces their personal relationships).

So, for example, we figure we've done our job by having a basic web site with all the aforementioned categories. And, my church is working to improve that. And many think this is fine.

This is where being aggressive with technology can help. I've heard from some younger-demographic church leaders that they're finding that nearly 75% of first-time visitors have been to the website, checked out the church and listened to at least 1 sermon. So, before they hit the door, they've already made judgments about the church based on what they've discovered. They don't just show up for a visit to get a feel for the place. They've already made judgments about the church from their on-line presentation of themselves. In other words, the web page has replaced the "first time visitor."

I mean, you can tell a lot about a church that has posted lots of data...and a lot about a church that has an open forum chat room discussion with the pastor on Monday nights about the previous day's sermon. You can tell a lot about a church that has photos of the youth retreat...and a lot about a church that has video archives of the Sunday School class discussion. You can tell a lot about a church that has maps & times...and a lot about a church that will send a text message to your mobile phone inviting those interested to a discussion session about Sunday's upcoming sermon at a local restaurant.

See the difference?

They're both good and helpful, but one enhances community and one gives information.

Some churches have it where you can give on-line. Others have RSS feeds of blogs to your iPhone. Others have forums to discuss sermons or where Sunday School classes can meet on-line to talk about the next series they want to study or whatever else they want to discuss. Facebook & other social networking sites allow for churches to enhance relationships with a simple feature like "birthday updates" or posting up-to-the-minute status updates. I could go on, but you get the point.

What went on at the White House yesterday only highlights the reality that technology is viewed differently by the young. We ignore it at our peril.

And, yes. I wrote this on a Mac. And if I can get anything else with an "i" in front of it, I likely will. You should, too. If it's good enough for the President...
What Kind Harbinger Is This?

The alarm went off.

The song in my head was "Love is Strong" by the Rolling Stones.

I have no idea what kind of day I have in store for me when a more obscure Stones song is the default brain soundtrack.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hey Everybody, It's Kid2's Birthday Today!

Let's all celebrate by... our lives in sweat pants. Every day.
...watching John & Kate Plus 8 each and every time it's on.
...being the "snuggle" child.
...practicing ballet moves while you're talking to someone, or standing in line at the store, or sitting in a chair.
...setting the TV/VCR on "timer" and falling asleep to it.
...wanting to practice driving before you got your permit.
...bugging your parents for an iPhone. Offering to pay for the phone and presenting a business plan for the increase in monthly payments must be part of that process.
...making really close friendships rather than having a social network.
...loving all sorts of animals.

Happy 15th Birthday, Shelby.

You also share a birthday with Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwan, Wolfman Jack, Jack Nicklaus, Benny Hill, Placido Domingo, Stonewall Jackson and the awesome Geena Davis!

And I can't tell you how happy I am that this was on the cover of Rolling Stone the week you were born:

Now, to find that newspaper we saved from the day you were born...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Update On Emergent

Many of you know that I've read TONS on the "E"mergent movement (and the "e"mergent movement--if you want, you can use the search feature to read past posts for the difference). It's been over a decade since stuff has been published about this stuff, and now some of the prominent speakers/authors on the topic have chimed in on where things stand at the end of that 10-year slice.

The e-zine Next Wave: Church and Culture has a lengthy, but good, article entitled Ten Years Out: A Retrospective on the Emerging Church in North America.

If you've got some time, check it out.

To whet your appetite:

"Dan Kimball comments, “Initially in the USA, the emerging church conversation was primarily evangelical suburban churches asking the question of ‘where are the 18-35 year olds?’ … As it was rightfully realized that what was going on around us was far more than just a generational and style issue – the conversation then broadened.”

Bob Hyatt says, "I'm more often than not now answering a question about what we aren't than what we are about- and that saddens me. I do have some deep concerns about some of the things I see in the movement as a whole- and to be honest, though I once spent a lot of time defending the emerging church, I want to be about the Gospel.”

Have at this one, too, patrons!
Why I Enjoy Reading

I usually try to read a work of fiction per month. Like you, I've got my favorite authors and I'll grab their paperbacks ASAP when I see them. And, like you, every now and then I'll read a book because I know I want to see the movie. Maybe like you, every now and again, I'll take a chance on the "our staff recommends" shelf.

This time, I went with the movie variety...the movie "Revolutionary Road" goes into wide release Friday and I wanted to read the story before I caught the flick. I'd heard it's all about marriage relationships and involves the tension between settling for what life gives you rather than living your dreams.

I learned that the the book was actually written in 1961. It won awards.

Anyway, Richard Yates wrote this that I thought was provocative. It' describes the husband's reaction to his wife's community theatre play that failed:

"It [the play's failure] simply wasn't worth feeling bad about. Intelligent, thinking people could take things like this in their stride, just as they took the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstance might force you to live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing, always, was to remember who you were."

Some people look forward to 24. Stuff like this is the reason I'm looking forward to the next chapters.
In Case You Were Wondering...

I have a former student, Andy Jones, who currently serves as the senior pastor at Peace Presbyterian Church in Cary, North Carolina. While I'm terribly tempted to offer a series of stories regarding his antics as a teenager to his congregation free of charge, I'm also very happy to see that he's pastoring a church and in his fourth year there.

Well, you can do the math. If I'm in my early 40's and he was one of my students in Birmingham some 15 years ago...well, that puts you in the age ballpark.

Anyway, he had a post on Facebook after his recent mission trip to Singapore regarding how interested the locals were in his political views. While he's not an Obama voter, he offered the following as insight into why many in his generation were excited about our new president.

So, in the interest of helping those of my generation and older see with younger eyes, here's his essay. Reprinted with his permission as well my enthusiasm for his effort to help others understand, here's "Obama as a Symbol" by Andy Jones.

"In the English-speaking city-state of Singapore, my American citizenship prompted numerous inquiries as to what I thought of our nation’s newly elected president. Since the election, it was a question never asked of me stateside. Having to answer a question for which I was unprepared made me do some quick but worthwhile reflecting. My response to the curious is that Barak Obama is not only a president but a symbol. He was not elected primarily because of past achievements, pedigree, experience, or credentials. Rather, he was elected primarily because of what he represents.

Barak Obama is a symbol in the sense that many people cast their votes for him because he signifies what they believe America to be, a place of opportunity for people of any background who have zealous aspirations for a better future. Many votes were cast not so much to give Obama a chance to prove himself to the world but because people want to prove something about America, that we have matured beyond the limits of white Anglo-Saxon culture.

Barak Obama is a symbol for my generation, who value symbolism as much as we do substance and aesthetics as much as we do accomplishments. My generation likes what they hear and see coming from this President, whose campaign capitalized on my cinematically-reared generation. My generation is willing to consider something worthwhile even if it hasn’t been proven over the course of time. Obama is like the iPhone in this sense, which prompted long lines for its retail debut even though it hadn’t been market-tested.

Barak Obama is global, the political equivalent of Soledad O’Brien and Tiger Woods. Is he Hawaiian, Indonesian, or African? Throughout the campaign, his connection with these locales was frequently referenced alongside his street level roots in Chicago. He is glocal, both from here and readily identifiable with the world out there. First with CNN and now with the internet, the world has become closer and Obama is a symbol of a new breed of Americans who find themselves living in a flat world.

Barak Obama is a symbol of third millennium religiosity. He is not an atheist but neither is he an evangelical. He identifies himself as a Christian who coincidentally has a Muslim name. However, his brand of Christianity lacks the hard edges and defined beliefs that typify evangelicalism, his faith seeming to be more categorical than creedal. His religion is inoffensive, inclusive, and reclusive. In a world that is growing smaller, religion is going to become more, not less, of a hot-button issue. A new generation of religiosity has emerged that wants the comfort of older labels (like Christian) but is stripped of its historical content.

Barak Obama is a symbol of post-individualism in America. It is not coincidental that his campaign slogan chose the first personal pronoun as one of its three words: Yes, "we" can! Individualism, characterized by the hyper-consumerism of Generation-Me, has proven empty and my generation among others desires a new sense of community, as seen by the young professionals who account for much of the new urbanism. Obama’s campaign brought people together as part of a movement, something that hasn’t been seen for quite some time, and did so by making good use of emerging online communities such as Facebook.

Electing a symbol isn’t always bad (nor is it a first for America) and Obama signifies many things that are true of me and I hope are true of our country. There are matters of actual substance where I stand directly opposed to the new president and which kept him from garnering my vote, along with McCain also. I don’t agree with everything he represents, especially his banal religion. Nonetheless, we live in a nation that loves it symbols, both on-screen and off. Over the next four years (at least) we will find out if he has enough political substance to actually advance the very things he represents."

Have at it, patrons.

Monday, January 19, 2009

17 Minutes Worth Anyone's While

The entire speech at the March on Washington:

The final minute of his final speech in Memphis:

Friday, January 16, 2009

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that while I didn't care that much that the NFL started their own network, I've been watching the Major League Baseball network like crazy and this might seriously cut into my reading time.
...that when a movie trailer starts with the question, "What makes a great date movie?" and then flashes up the words "SEX," "VIOLENCE," "TERROR," "FUN," and "3D" in between flashes of horror movie violence/gratuitous lingerie shots, well, maybe the last two might get a girl to go on a date with you. I mean, how's this for an opening line, "I've liked getting to know you these last few days, and I'd like to take you to see some SEX, VIOLENCE & TERROR. Maybe grab a bite to eat after that? How's that sound?"
...that a good way to start the year is by reading a novel that won awards in the 1960's and some C.S. Lewis.
...that my wife's work schedule demands that she hire a maid service to clean the house before the in-laws come to town this weekend, and I think it's funny that the family spends half an hour picking up before they get here.
...that I don't know much about the skill of flying a commercial airliner, but that guy who landed a plane on the Hudson River was pretty darn impressive to the untrained eye.
...the proposal before Congress to make talking on mobile phones while driving illegal in our country, well, that seems like a slam dunk.
...that the Texas Rangers don't seem to do anything right on or off the field. Yet, I'm guessing 3 million folks'll show up again this season.
...that I can't blame any college student for turning professional before their eligibility ends. Universities will always be there. Million dollar signing bonuses won't.
...that unless you're 21 and have never been before or on some sort of bachelor party excursion, I don't understand the allure of a strip club. Yet, I've heard Dallas has more of them per capita than any other major city...and it was big news when the largest one in Texas opened yesterday. It is 25,000 square feet. How much demand is there for these places?
...that they're building some lofts in Dallas designed for folks with a combined income of $75,000. They'll be ready in three years. So, lemme get this straight. In my price range. We'll be empty nesters. No yard. No garage. City living. Where's the downside?
...that our student ministry is off to Pine Cove for our annual No Agenda retreat. It's a true schedule. Only optional "meetings" for study or prayer or whatever. The only requirement is that the kids show up on time to meals. We live in a student ministry age where getting away from hustle & bustle and stress is more valuable to them than paintball, bowling, or anything else we could offer them.
...that because of that, The Diner will be self-serve for two days, and I'll touch base with all of you on Monday...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rambling About When It Ain't All Roses

There's always been, in my mind, a certain romance of the idea.

See, Francis Schaeffer (yes, that Francis Schaeffer) came to a crisis in his spiritual life. According to him, in 1951 & 1952, after he'd been a pastor for 10 years or so, he noticed two things in particular:

First, he wasn't seeing the fruit in those he served to the degree Scripture said should be so clearly a part of their lives.

Second, his own reality wasn't what it once was.

In other words, the "it" of the spiritual life wasn't clicking for him. Or those he served. Personally and professionally "it" just wasn't "working."

His solution is pretty romantic, all in all. Pretty extreme, too. He decided to go back and "rethink his entire position." Mentally go all the way back to the days of his agnosticism. And use reason & logic. Walked outside. When it rained, he'd pace back and forth in his barn. Maybe that doesn't have romance for you? Well, consider that he did this for two years in Champery, Switzerland...

And all's well that ends well, too. Needless to say that those thoughts and journals and extensive prayer, etc. turned into a lifetime of being a "missionary to the intellectuals." It was the basis for the rest of his life in ministry. Now, if only he'd sought some advice on some particular theological leanings I've come to differ in opinion with him about...but generally, all's well that ends well.

I guess it's an occupational hazard for those of us in ministry. When the bottom lines of our personal & professional lives can be summed up with the word LOVE...

...or in some way determined by whether or not our lives & our student's lives are littered with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness & self-control...

...well, I guess you could say it's easy to take a look around and not see those things in your own life. Or the lives of your students.

And I'm reading a lot that "feeds" this mindset. You read in our professional journals about how to "avoid burnout." You see in our conferences that we need to manage our time better. You see that we should spend more time (interesting confluence of ideas, right?) "sitting a Jesus' feet" and "being more like Mary than Martha." I've been to youth ministry conferences where the introductory speaker said (for four years in a row) that he "knew we were all exhausted, tired, overworked and underpaid" and that their goal was to "refresh" us.

I was always mildly amused about this assumption.

I mean, I wasn't exhausted by anything but the time change and travel plans.
I mean, I was having some "losses" in ministry. Personally and professionally. But I was having some "wins," too.
I mean, I was working a lot of hours. But I wasn't burning out.
I mean, some of my times in the Word and prayer were exhilarating, and sometimes I was simply checking the box that I'd done it.
I mean, sometimes the sermons were good and the worship was great. Sometimes not so much in either case. Sometimes a mix of good sermon/bad worship and vice-versa.

But, that's part of the job. Frankly, it's part of any job. The ups. The downs. The reflection on why you're there and if you're doing any good at all and the days that it seems like you're all about to get fired or laid off and the days everybody gets a big, fat raise and/or a bonus.

And, this goes on for days. The days add up to weeks. Weeks add up to months. Months to years. Years to decades. You get the drift.

So, yeah...

...this might be one of those days where I take a look around and there are issues. maybe I don't see a lot of wins today, personally and professionally.

But, I don't see a need to chuck it all and ponder those dark-night-of-the-soul kinds of things, eithe personally or professionally.

I just remember to have the perspective of a farmer. That long-term idea of cycles and elements beyond your ability to control. Just be faithful to what you gotta do right now, in the next hour...which will then extend to decades.

And I remember that spiritual formation is a slow business. What you see today might not be true tomorrow...human nature is a fickle muse. This goes for when it's good and when the skies are gray, too. I've seen them both change on a dime. Personally and professionally.

And I trust God...

...and do the next thing.

And I think about some of those "wins." And I pray for some of those "losses."

Anyway, that's where my thoughts kind of went this morning.

At least I had something today.

Or maybe it'd have been better to just leave it blank.

Oh, well...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sorry, Patrons. Once Again...


Well, that's not entirely true. I got plenty of sumpthin.' I just can't, well, won't, talk about it here.

Back to talking amongst yourselves...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In My Big Bag of Tricks Today...

...I got nothin.'

Just talk among yourselves...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cruisin' and Playin' the Radio, With No Particular Place to Go

Not much going on in the brain, but a few things to clear out...

If you're one of those folks who wants to get on a good reading plan but find those "through the Bible in a year" reading plans too demanding, here's a two-year plan that seems a bit more manageable to me.

If you one of those parents that feels like childhood has become overmanaged and overscheduled, I came across the blog of Lenore Skenazy. She's the author of a book (GREAT title, if you're asking) called "Free Range Kids: Giving our kids the freedom we had without going nuts with worry." She also refers to herself as "the world's worst mom," which I'm sure she's heard plenty from helicopter parents. Her book has become a for-sure pick-up next time I'm in a bookstore.

Yeah, lots of people knock Saturday Night Live's new cast & writers, but, frankly, sometimes they hit pure genius. While this may not have you holding your sides with laughter...there are a few LOL moments. But this sketch is what the original SNL writers tried to do: Go for smart and funny happens. This is truly smart comedy, and his comment about "Stomp" was my favorite LOL moment (one definite PG-13 moment, so beware):

The Golden Globes got it right: Slumdog Millionaire for best picture. I haven't seen Revolutionary Road, so I can't speak to Kate Winslet's win for best actress, but Anne Hathaway was the best actress I saw all year in Rachel Getting Married.

Well, that's all I've got for today, kids. I think the mentholyptus has fried my brain...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Maybe It's The NyQuil Talking...

...but there were some strange components to my dream last night. Among them:

1. People kept asking me how I had four tickets to the Lee Greenwood concert. I couldn't explain. Apparently, they simply showed up on my dresser.
2. I accidentally overfilled not one, but two, bathtubs. You know, I'd left the water running, went to do something else and when I came back, the first one was overflowing. While Tracy was helping contain the damage to the first one, I apparently wanted to take a bath because I did the same thing to the other bathtub in our house.
3. There were two guest appearances by people from my past who I felt I've been wronged by. They said nothing, just waved from a distance. One shook my hand when I offered it to him. I made no offer to the other, but waved back.
4. A very popular student at a local university had left school for some reason and it seemed to cause turmoil at the school. I resembled the student, apparently, because the news media there to cover the story (must've been a scandal of sorts) kept wanting to interview me about it. The media would go away when I showed them my driver's license.
5. Two friends of mine opened a restaurant in Dallas and I went to the grand opening. It was Polynesian food, and I was impressed that they'd had a bar of chargers for people's cell phones, video cameras & digital cameras. I was also very concerned about my ability to get on the DART light rail line that would take me back to my car.
6. At the end of the dream, I gave away the Lee Greenwood tickets to random people in the restaurant. Three of them, anyway. I was stuck with the extra, and they wouldn't take it with them.

Either this has tremendous symbolic significance, or I need to stop saving a few pennies by using the "Equate" version of NyQuil. While I lean toward the latter, feel free to chime in if you can be of any help in interpretation!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday Morning Update...

The weekend upcoming: Fighting through a vicious chest cold or flu (not sure which) my usual Saturday routine of taking the ballerinas to Fort Worth and hanging out at Starbucks getting lots of reading done or sermon-listening catching up on some Bible studies or whatever else I might want to do with 5 hours has had the kibosh put on it. From the looks of today, the major accomplishment will be to shower, shave, brush teeth and watch football. Of course, I might get some reading done or sermon listening if my brain can focus.

Where I am at the moment: Confused, mostly. Bewildered, some. I happen to be in what Dr. Suess calls "a most useless place": The waiting place. Where people are just waiting. Waiting for a train to go, or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or a No, or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting. Waiting for the fish to bite, or waiting for wind to fly a kite, or waiting around for Friday night, or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake, or a pot to boil, or a Better Break, or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants, or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting. Sometimes, I really think all any kid ever needs to deal with life is the complete Dr. Suess library, the DVD box set of Sesame Street, and for grins, the Looney Toons DVD complete collection.

On my to-do list this week: Survive well enough to get through Sunday responsibilities of teaching/pastoring. Walk through the Real Teen's Bible Conference with Charlie. Go to Pine Cove No Agenda of the biggest deals for our high school ministry!

Procrastinating about: There are several conversations I need to have that all have the potential to go haywire in varieties of ways. Maybe this flu is helping with timing.

Book I’m in the midst of: Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck. A really good read, and frankly, I agree with them on a lot of things, mostly on their desire for doctrinal clarity.

Music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: With the bowl games afoot and NFL playoffs, much of my music time has been spent listening to sports talk radio (we have one of the nation's best here in Dallas). But I've been fascinated by the Raconteurs ever since I got both of their CD's on Christmas Day. They've been splitting time in the changer.

Next trip: Pine Cove with the high schoolers for work. Las Vegas in February as I get to tag along on my wife's work. She works, I play on that one! Hopefully a trip in late spring to go see my new nephew a bit after he's born and the dust settles.

How I’m feeling about this week: Hoping I shake this flu thing ASAP. If that happens, I'm golden!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Photo Project 365 Dies

I figured out that the photo project 365 isn't for me.

Instead of coming in to open The Diner trying to find words, I spend my days thinking about trying to find a photo that signified the day.

Then, I try to figure out what to write about that photo.

Besides, I'm a lousy photographer. I always have been, but this just solidified that reality.

I'm glad I discovered these things, too.

So, with your permission, I'll go back to The Diner being an overwhelming majority of words, and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused the patronage.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Photo Project 365, Day 7

Last night, I had to pick up these supplies:

Suffice to say I'm doing my co-workers a favor today...and I truly cannot think of the last time I took a sick day, man. I think it was a few years ago when I had walking pneumonia.


Back to the couch.

Diner Bowl Predictions, Championship Game

Record against Tuesday night's point spread: 1-0.
Bowl season record against the point spread: 17-16 (can't lose on the season!).

Today's Game:

BCS Championship Game, Miami, FL: Florida vs. Oklahoma (+4). One thing we've learned over the course of this bowl season is that the high-octane Big 12 offenses haven't been as strong against out-of-conference competition. But the reality is that this is the strongest offense or the bunch. I know the common lines of thought of the experts goes like this: Florida's team speed (with 12 guys who run a 4.4 40-yard-dash or better) will do what SEC defenses have done to most recent challengers. Meanwhile, OU chokes on the big stage. The conclusion is usually that it'll be another failure by Stoops & OU. My belief is that the game will go into the fourth quarter like the SEC Championship game, and that's where the team speed will wear OU out. It should be close, but I think the Gators pull away at the end. Diner Prediction: Florida 31, Oklahoma 24.

Well, that's it for the college football season!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Photo Project 365, Day 6

Could there be a more audio-visual stimulation than the sports bar/grill?

After dropping Kid2 off for ballet rehearsal, I decided to catch the first half of the Fiesta Bowl at Buffalo Wild Wings near the studio. The place was loaded with Longhorn fans excited about their team making a statement and a few "Hurray-I'm-For-The-Other-Team" folks in Buckeye red. They were all excited, spending money and having a good time hanging out with family and friends. Good vibe.

Anyway, as you can see from the photo, there were 12 televisions that I could see:

What the photo doesn't show is that there were 3 above the bar directly to my left, and there were 6 more behind me that I could see if I turned around. Granted, the only sound was to the football game most folks were there to see, but it was loud enough to be heard clearly over the din.

So, 21 televisions to possibly view and folks cheering for their team and announcers piped in to keep us all up to speed on what was going on. I only wish I'd stayed for the exciting finish to REALLY experience some audio-visual stimulation, and I didn't even have an emotional investment in either team!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Photo 365, Day 5

The running joke is that we have all the weather seasons here in Texas...and we get them all in one week. Pretty much every week.

In fact, on Sunday, 65 degrees. Nice.

Monday, at my house, at 3PM:

Friday, projected, 72 degrees.

Combine that with the record high last Friday of 84, and we got 'em all this week.

P.S. I cannot tell you how much I dig a day of freezing rain, man. People tell me I'd loathe it if I lived in drizzle and such, but I still maintain I love it.
Bowl Predictions, Day 15

Record after yesterday's game against the point spread: 0-1. Way to go Texas...just casting more doubt about the Big 12's ability to do anything against the rest of college football's defenses.

Bowl season record against the point spread: 16-16.

Today's game:

GMAC Bowl: Ball State vs. Tulsa (+2.5). Both of these teams hit Mobile with coaching turmoil. Ball State was undefeated and trying to crack into a BCS bowl and lost to Buffalo...and now their head coach has decided not to coach the team as he's headed to San Diego State. Tulsa, on the other hand, has lost their offensive coordinator (to Auburn) after they've led the NCAA in total yardage for two years running. My guess is that since Malzahn is still going to coach the game, the offense will click even if he leaves the next day to recruit for Auburn. I'm also counting on Ball State noticing their coach NOT being on the sidelines and deflated after losing in the MAC championship game. Diner Prediction: Tulsa 38, Ball State 31.

Only one more left!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Project 365, Day 4

I believe in a well-prepared classroom.

Correction: I firmly believe in a well-prepared classroom.

When my students enter that classroom I want them to see that I'm not just throwing something together. I want them to know that I'm ready for them. I want them to know that I want them to have the best possible opportunity to learn.

So, the chairs are arranged differently almost every time. If I want them to focus on the nuances of the Bible verses I'm teaching (like I did last night), the chairs will face the huge whiteboard...which has the main verses we're emphasizing written in one color and Greek words that are insightful in another. I have pertinent verses that add "color" to the main section we're studying already on the board when they walk in. I make sure to leave one of the whiteboards blank except for the words "Applications To Our Lives" on it.

If I want them to make the correlation to a movie clip I might be using to the Scripture we're studying, the chairs face the screen we have installed. If I want them to focus on the worship/praise aspect they face the stage. If I want them to focus on prayer, I might have the chairs in small groups. If I want them to hash through something together, the chairs might be around a table.

I think the environment when the student hits the door communicates something quite clearly to the learners, man. It's very important.

So much so that I spend a half-hour to 45 minutes preparing the room. I make a conscious decision to have the video games on or off. Maybe if the Cowboys are playing and the game is ending as my students arrive (which happens a few times a year) we turn it on the big screen so those students can enjoy the end together. Sometimes it might be reflective music or other times super upbeat & loud. Lighting is important, too...sometimes bright, sometimes darker, sometimes just candles.

That meticulous routine also helps me to get mentally ready to teach, too. I'm sure everybody has their "pre-game" rituals in their work. Those little things they do to prepare to do their best. Mine is room set-up. I mean, we have college students at our church employed to do that very thing and I guess I could avail myself to that...

...but it would rob me of the chance to think-through what it is I want to communicate. To pray for my students. To pray for guidance & assistance from the Holy Spirit. I mean, I've been entrusted with communicating the highest truths to people God loves. And I want to give them the best possible environment to learn what He would have them learn at that moment.

I don't take that lightly.
I can't take that lightly.
I won't take take that lightly.

And, setting up chairs, thinking and praying as I go, reminds me that 45-minute shot I have to teach and to engage my students might be the most important moment in somebody's life...

...and that I ain't just whistlin' Dixie.
Bowl Predictions, Day 14

Last day's record against the point spread: 0-1.
Bowl season record against the point spread: 16-15.

Today's game:

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs. Ohio State (+8). When this game was announced, it sounded like the same mismatch the Rose Bowl had. In this case, one of the best teams in a strong conference against the 2nd best team in a weak conference. It seemed like the Longhorns in a rout. Then the Cotton Bowl happened. A hefty defensive line and a strong running game created havoc against a really good football team. And Ohio State reminds me of Ole Miss--not as good as the team they're playing but a strong running game and a solid defense. A team that wasn't as good won that game outright. That's the case here. Texas is simply better and deeper than Ohio State. The problem is that they keep wishing they were in Miami and we all saw what Utah did to a Bama team who didn't want to be in the Sugar Bowl. I think it's best to keep intangibles out of it and trust the better team just goes out and wins. Diner Prediction: Texas 35, Ohio State 24.

Can you believe it? Only two to go!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Photo 365 Project, Day 3

Either I've got to get a better camera phone or start carrying the old Elph around...but this'll have to get the point across for today.

I think the folks at IKEA might win a few more points for public relations if these twine dispensers in their loading zone actually contained what they say they contain...

Saturday, January 03, 2009


I've brought this up before: The current emphasis in Christian publishing on the "mess." You know, books are written (that I happen to like and often recommend, by the way) where jazz is blue and doesn't resolve; the you need mercy on the road while you travel; that spirituality is messy. Again, don't get me wrong...I've enjoyed the books and the way they focus on intropsection can be a good thing.

Unfortunately, thus far, the introspection turns into navel-gazing. None of the books really focus on the beauty of transformation in the spiritual life. It reminds me of how the fitness industry is focusing on the abdominals--getting those washboard abs. Without the diet and well-rounded fitness programs that are needed, you're just going to have washboard abs covered by 3 inches of flab. The Christian navel-gazing is just going to result in discovery of the cobwebs and skeletons in our closets.

The beauty of the walk with Christ is found in TRANSFORMATION. What I once was I no longer am. The exchanged life with Christ, lived as a responce to and exhibition of GRACE.

Again, maybe all of those authors will focus on that reality in their next books. That'd be a good thing, too. They're gifted and provocative writers and I've read their other books as well. I'll pick up the others they write. Let's be clear: I'm not saying those books they've already written are bad or shouldn't be read. They've helped plenty of folks be more transparent with themselves and others. This is generally a good thing.

But, the first book I'm reading this year is titled, Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). I can't imagine that needs any comment or explanation. The two guys are Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. They touched on what I've been thinking thusly, after quoting a musician he knows who said, "In the music scene it's cool to search for God. It's not very cool to find Him.":

"The destination matters little. The journey is the thing...Because the journey is an experience more than a destination, the Christian life requires less doctrinal reflection and more personal introspection. The postmodern infatuation with journey feeds on and into a preoccupation with our own stories. If my grandparents' generation could be a little stoic and not terribly reflective, my generation is introspective at a level somewhere between self-absorption and narcissism. We are so in-tuned with our dysfunctions, hurts, and idiosyncrasies that it often prevents us from growing up because maturity it tantamount to hypocrisy in a world that prizes brokenness more than health."


Have at it, patrons.
Project 365, Days 1 & 2

Several of my friends are taking part in a blogging activity this year where you take a photo per day (from what I gather, that picture is supposed to represent your day somehow) and then blog about it. I like the idea and thought I'd give it a try, even if my camera and photography skills stink! Since I missed the first day I'll get caught up...

Flannel Football

I truly rested on January 1, man. Tracy and I hung out with friends (we dominated Scene It--the guys truly embarrassed the girls) and got home at 3AM...which mandated sleeping in, followed by scrounging for food, followed by a nap, followed by watching football in my flannel pants. The only time I left the house was a quick run to Wal-Mart.

Yes. I put on some jeans for that, but I was immediately back in the flannel pants upon return.


My passport expired. Since I need it for work (and a friend of mine recently couldn't go on a concert adventure with Duran Duran--she's president of their fan club--because she didn't have hers. I'm not in those kinds of adventure circles, but, hey, you never know, right?) and I had some time, I figured I'd check that little chore off a to-do list.

First, run by Walgreen's and get some photos. This will allow me to get rid of the old one in which I seriously resemble a drug lord.

Second, run by the post office. Fill out the required form. This is where it gets blurry.

See, there was a line waiting. Not a big one...but a line nonetheless. I'm wrapping up the paperwork and the lady says to step in her little office and it's easier for her to do this than to wait for me to walk through each step in the process.

"Here. Fill this out with your address here and (pointing to an 18-point type address in Philadelphia) this address there." She'd just handed me a Priority Mail sheet envelope.

While I was was doing that..."Hon, would you hand me those passport photos you brought? Thanks." Tearing. Cutting. Stamping. Pulling.

"Got that done? Great. Now if you'll just hand me your old passport..." Stamping. Folding.

"Thank you. Now, if you'll just fill out that check for me, hon."

I start writing the check. "Now, that's seventy-five dollars. Make sure to pay to the order of the United States Department of State. You don't have to spell out United States or Department. U.S. is fine and you can just abbreviate department. Oh, yeah. Would you do me a favor?"

I'm just writing as fast as I can.

"Make sure to put your entire date of birth in the memo line."

I do that immediately.

I hand her the check.

Staple. Fold. Slide packet to my side of the desk.

"Now they'll send you your old one back in one or two weeks. The new one should arrive in three to four weeks--

--would you just put these flat in that envelope for me?--

--and now you can just pull that tape off and fold it in there nice 'n neat for me."

Pull. Fold. Press.

"Great. Now, since you already had to wait in line I'll make sure you get to the front. Mailing this off will be an additional $4.85. Just follow me over here."

Embarrassed. Stare at floor to avoid contact with everybody who is already in the line. Follow her.

"Glad I could help you save $25 by doing it this way! Happy New Year, Sir!"

Mumble "Happy New Year to you."

Pay the $4.85.

Swipe. Enter PIN. Take receipt.

As I sit here right now, I have no recollection of whether or not I wrote out "Seventy-Five and zero zero over one-hundred" or even signed it. It all happened so fast.

I just know that my date of birth is in the memo line.
Bowl Predictions, Day 13

Yesterday's record against the point spread: 2-1.
Bowl season record against the point spread: 16-14.

Today's game:

International Bowl: Connecticut vs. Buffalo (+4.5). There was a lovefest for Buffalo's head coach Turner Gill, who is widely believed to be biding his time until a plum head coaching job comes up. Meanwhile, the Huskies have the nation's leading rusher and have some wins this season against some pretty good teams. Connecticut limps in going 2-6 in their last 8 while the Bulls won 6 of their last 7, including an impressive win against previously unbeaten Ball State. Nothing more than a hunch, though, that the Bulls are primed to win their very first bowl game ever. Diner Prediction: Buffalo 34, Connecticut 31

Only 3 more left!

Friday, January 02, 2009


Each and every year, I go through the motions of making resolutions on or before New Year's Day. Some years, I've written a manifesto of sorts on all the things I'd like to change or affect and why. Other years it's one sentence. Most of the time it's in-between.

Take last year, for instance. Some hit, some missed.

...lose 25 more pounds. Ummmm. DISMAL failure. 52 books. Well, I got 40 done. Not too bad.
...learn 12 songs on the guitar. Again, DISMAL failure.
...learn to cook breakfast including pancakes, bacon, eggs, sausage--the whole bit. Mission accomplished, even though I didn't do it much after I learned it.
...learn to make a really good chili. I didn't do it, but I got some crock pot recipies that I promptly have misplaced.

Take 2007's simple one: No sodas. HUGE success! But then I started again this summer after 18 months of avoidance. Dumb.

Other years I have noble & high-falutin' goals, like to "lovingly influence the future of our church." Or generics, like, "Be a better father. A better husband. A better friend." I like making ones like these, even if they sound as hollow as a beauty pagent contestant desiring world peace. I think the trouble with them is that I have trouble determining if I did them. I mean, I have times when I did them well and maybe even overall I did a good job...but there were spots when I failed. Like 2005:

"Rouse the rabble
Burn bridges of convention and safety
avoid a well-worn path to successful mediocrity
be less of a copy and more of an original

(*Specifically, with the idea I'm being less than obedient to God at present*)

...and to at least get rejection letters from one book publisher and two magazine editors."

I don't even know what I meant by those, so I can't expect you to. I actually did the last one, though.

Same for 2004:

Resolved: Write the book. Yeah. Ahem. Not quite. Didn't even start.
Resolved: Date night with Tracy once a least. Kinda.
Resolved: Get comfortable with the my job's evolution. Kinda. But then it changed again. Twice since I wrote it.
Resolved: Re-commit to breakfast with my daughters on Saturdays. Kinda--we decided on coffee on Monday mornings.
Resolved: Live out an authentic abundant/messy life in front of the congregation I serve and rock their worlds by demanding the same from them. Wait. What?

This year, I'm in a very specific kind of here we go:

Resolved: To drink zero sodas.
Resolved: To purchase and complete the P90X training system by May 1.
Resolved: To read 45 books.
Resolved: To take my wife on 6 dates that I plan and work all the details.
Resolved: To take all my vacation days and use them for what they're intended to be, as well as to take my two weeks of "spiritual refreshment" time and use them for what they're intended to be.
Resolved: To contact my seminary to start the process (and continue in the process as directed by them) of becoming an adjunct professor of student ministry.
Resolved: To engage in two acts of "mortification" and one act of "vivification" to enhance my spiritual life. I know what these mean...but basically there are two areas of my inner life (that obviously affect my outward actions) I'd like to harness and put to death. There's also an act of "coming alive to" in my spiritual life: I'd like to read through the Bible in The Message by next December 31.

Well, that's it for this year. We'll check out how we're doing at the end of July and next December, too.
Bowl Predictions, Day 12

Yesterday's record against the point spread: 3-2.
Bowl season record against the point spread: 14-13.

2006 record against the point spread: 14-18.
2007 record against the point spread: 13-19. (Apparently, the Diner really struggles with bowl season)

A couple of thoughts after the New Year's Day games regarding college football: First, I really don't like having 5 games on January 1 and then 6 more before a national champion is crowned. I realize it's been this way for a while, that change is inevitable, and money makes this happen. I guess I'm a purist on this one, though. If you're NOT going to have a playoff, then this schedule of bowl games seems weird. You can have the national championship game on Jan. 2 if you like to set it apart...but everybody else should be finished on New Year's Day.

Speaking of not having a playoff (and, yes, here's where the 2004 Auburn Tigers come up again) and you've already got your BCS national championship game participant lined up (no matter how unfair the system is), I can't stand it when Brent Musburger and the Rose Bowl announcers start talking about how U.S.C. should be considered for the Associated Press vote and that they should "look at U.S.C.'s record & conference and evaluate them on the entire body of work" and maybe split this year's national championship.

Well, that happened in 2003 to LSU when USC got a share of that one...but then when Auburn made that very claim after their undefeated SEC season in 2004, all we heard was that wasn't fair to a team who'd been ranked #1 all season & didn't lose. I guess the big name schools get what they want. Oh, yeah...and if Utah beats Alabama tomorrow, I'd be all for splitting the national championship and giving the only unbeaten team in the land part of it (and we know that if Utah were BYU, they'd get that very consideration). ABC, you only highlight the obvious: This system is horribly flawed.

Anyway, on to today's games:

Cotton Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss (+4). On paper, it seems like a Tech rout. They have the superstars Harrell and Crabtree as well as a ton of talent at the skill positions. Granted, on defense, they're a little suspect, but they've been playing in the Big 12 south division, so that's understandable. To Big 12 teams, the Cotton Bowl has a lot of meaning and Tech fans will travel to Dallas en masse. When you think of Ole Miss, all you think of it them beating Florida at Florida by one point. But, the folks in Vegas only think that Tech is about a field goal better. They must know something I don't. Diner Prediction: Texas Tech 34, Ole Miss 21.

Autozone Liberty Bowl: East Carolina vs. Kentucky (+3). East Carolina was able to come out on top against the high-powered Tulsa offense in the Conference USA championship game. I don't think the Wildcats are as tough on offense as Tulsa. The iffy thing is the Pirate defense. They held West Virginia to 3, but give up lots of points to lesser teams. I think this one will be close, with the most tested team coming out on top in the end. Diner Prediction: Kentucky 24, East Carolina 21.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Utah (+10). The folks in Alabama have been crowing about how 'Bama's Back, even though they didn't win a championship of any kind. There's also been a bit of turmoil in the Crimson Tide camp this week with Andre Smith allegedly having dealings with an agent. Meanwhile, Utah was busy this season, beating Michigan, BYU, TCU, Oregon State and Air Force. No question that Alabama's better and rolled through a tough SEC schedule and it'll be like a home game (Tide fans LOVE New Orleans and view it as their yearly reward) they haven't had in 16 years. Utah will put up a fight, but it won't be enough. Diner Prediction: Alabama 31, Utah 24.

That puts us down to four games left!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Resolutions Delay

I haven't really had a chance to give those enough thought, so I'll spend the day writing them down and thinking about it and will get back to you tomorrow on that, okay?

In the meantime, any suggestions?
Sorry To Bother You...

But I want to have all this archived as the sidebars don't stay static in Blogger formats:

Books I read last year:

Joe College: A Novel, by Tom Perrotta
Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, by Steve Martin
A Long Way Down: A Novel, by Nick Hornby
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Hard Fighting Soldier: Finding God in Trials, Tragedies, and Triumphs, by Chette Williams
Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, by Rob Sheffield
High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, And Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
It Never Rains In Tiger Stadium, by John Ed Bradley
Looking for God: An Unexpected Journey Through Tattoos, Tofu & Pronouns, by Nancy Ortberg
21: Bringing Down The House, The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas For Millions, by Ben Mezrich
Little Children, by Tom Perrotta
The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus, by Bruxy Cavey
The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, by Tony Jones
Crazy in Alabama, by Mark Childress
The Shack, by William P. Young
Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, by Brian McLaren
Do Hard Things, by Alex & Brett Harris
The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticsim, by Timothy Keller
The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins
On Being a Pastor, by Derek Prime & Alistair Begg
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright
Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story, by Chuck Klosterman
Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, by Stephen E. Ambrose
A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, by Hara Estroff Marano
When You Are Engulfed In Flames, by David Sedaris
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell
The Last Christian Generation: The Crisis is Real. The Responsibility is Ours, by Josh McDowell & David Bellis
Choke: A Novel, by Chuck Palahniuk
The Abstinence Teacher, by Tom Perrotta
Cringe: Teenage Diaries, Journals, Notes, Letters, Poems, and Abandoned Rock Operas, by Sarah Brown
The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell
Jesus Wants to Save Christians, by Rob Bell & Don Golden
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, by Ruth Haley Barton
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, by Francis Chan
The Dart League King, by Keith Lee Morris
Youth Ministry 3.0, by Mark Oestreicher

Movies I saw last year:

The Bucket List
The Great Debaters
Rambo IV
27 Dresses
Definitely, Maybe
Michael Clayton (2007)
Vantage Point
Charlie Bartlett
Be Kind, Rewind
Horton Hears A Who
Drillbit Taylor
Run, Fat Boy, Run
Smart People
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Baby Mama
Iron Man
Speed Racer
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
What Happens in Vegas
You Don't Mess with the Zohan
The Happening
Get Smart
The Love Guru
Kung Fu Panda
Wall * E
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
The Dark Knight
Pineapple Express
Tropic Thunder
American Teen
House Bunny
Hamlet 2
Death Race
Burn After Reading
Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist
Zach & Mira
Role Models
Rachel Getting Married
Quantum of Solace
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
The Changeling
Four Christmases
Yes Man
Seven Pounds
Slumdog Millionaire
Gran Torino
Marley & Me
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Music I purchased in 2008:

Pennywise (5 songs)
Social Distortion (1 song)
Gallows: Orchestra of Wolves
Pavement: iTunes Essential Playlist
The Black Crowes: Warpaint
Pennywise: Reason to Believe (free one-day download!)
R.E.M.: Accelerate
Moby: Last Night
B-52's: Funplex
Beck: Modern Guilt
Love as Laughter: Holy
Metallica: Death Magnetic
Cold War Kids: Loyalty to Loyalty
AC/DC: Black Ice
Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers
Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely

TV Shows I watched last year:

The Big Bang Theory
How I Met Your Mother
The Office
Generation Kill
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Lots and lots of sports

Sorry to put you through all that, folks!