Friday, February 27, 2009

Taking A Break...Maybe Forever

It's a cliche in the blogging world: The "I'm Quitting This Forever" blog. Apparently, every fervent blogger does it at some point.

It's also a cliche in the blogging world: The "I'm Back Now" blog. Apparently, every fervent blogger returns to doing it at some point.

But today I really do feel like shutting down The Diner.

Sure, I've threatened before in bouts of writer's block. Or when folks anonymously attacked what I said and weren't loving, polite or even civil. Or when I was just tired from work. Various threats.

But last night I felt so certain that this was what I wanted to do. Just go back to journaling and maybe channeling the energy into other writing endeavors. Before I did anything rash, I wanted to sleep on it.

I mean, we've developed quite a little community here, haven't we?

There's about 125 different customers who stop in every day, sometimes two or three times. And we've been through an awful lot together since the summer of 2003 and 2,700 posts later--almost daily entries, too. I mean there have been mission trip updates, diatribes on the benefits of public transportation and the downsides of mobile phones, birthday celebrations, the death of my mom, vacations, an "earthquake" at my place of employment, highlights of rock concerts, stuff I've been thinking, thoughts on ministering to teenagers and anything and everything in-between.

And, at various times, I've been encouraged beyond belief by you. At various times, I've been discouraged by some of the comments. I've felt like I was among friends here. I've felt like I could NOT be more afield from my fellow man here. It's run the gamut.

Like I said, it's a quaint little community here.

But ultimately, I write just for me. I'm glad you come along for the question about that.

And there are lots of things that I could never write here because of the public nature of the forum. It seems that lately those are the things I want to discuss and explore and write about. So, in some ways, I don't feel like I'm being true to myself or even fair to you by posting the second-rate stuff going on in my brain these days.

So, I'm going to close The Diner for a month.

Here's the plan: I'm going to come back on April 1.

Either with a new post letting you know that I'm rested and back ready for blogging on some sort of consistent basis (even if it's only once a week or whatever)...

...or with a "Closed" sign on the door.

So, today's not final. But I woke up this morning believing the same thing I did last night: It's just time to close The Diner. But it certainly seems like I should write that cliche "I'm Quitting This Forever" blog.

And that's my intent--although I'm going to leave the door open for a bit so I don't have to write that cliche "I'm Back Now" blog.

We'll see...

...and I'll let you know on April 1.

Until then...Godspeed, patrons.

And, thanks for reading and caring.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Have A Feeling This Is Going To Be A MISERABLE Summer

Yesterday, it got up to 84 degrees here in Dallas.

Today, it's supposed to be similar, if not a degree or two hotter.

That's about 20 degrees higher than normal for our area at this time of year.

We only had a few really cold days this winter where I wore a coat. Maybe 10 or so.

They said last night it's not very likely to rain for two months.

Not that the weather's not somewhat enjoyable right now...but somehow I think this is only going to prolong the brutal Texas summers.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Southwest vs. American

It's a preference thing around these parts: Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have their business homes in DFW.

American flies out of the huge DFW Airport located between Dallas and Fort Worth. They have reserved seats and their flight attendants play it straight and it's more "traditional" airline travel. Generally, it costs a little more. American Airlines has their name on the big arena downtown...and you get a fake boarding pass when you enter most games and they give away free flights based on drawings.

Southwest flies out of Love Field which is very close to downtown Dallas. They have a system where you get a number based on your order of check-in and the pilots make funny announcements and it's more "just get there" airline travel. Generally, it's a "no-frills" kind of deal and you can save a few bucks. Southwest has a major advertising presence at the baseball park the Rangers play in. The "H" in their logo lights up when a hit takes place, and the "E" lights up upon fielding errors.

So, most folks in our area have done both airlines on several occasions. People here have opinions on each, too. Like the Southwest frequenters tend to know the system and check in on-line at 12:01 AM the day of their flight so they can get early boarding numbers, hence good seats. American travelers like the frequent-flier miles they can rack up and priority boarding/seating, etc.

And last night, that difference was highlighted in spades...although it could've happened on any airline.

We were on Southwest and didn't check-in on-line and got a late boarding number. Our group of six split up into couples and got some of the last seats in the rear of the plane that had two together. A few minutes after us a couple got on and you could tell they were annoyed. She mumbled that she and her husband didn't get to sit together on their flight to Las Vegas and it was their anniversary and now that they were going back she really wanted to sit with her husband.

The husband then announced he was giving $20 to anyone that would slide over and make room for two seats together.

At this point, I should say that there's a rowdy group of 20 year olds having an absolute ball in the back section of the plane. They're laughing loudly. They're telling stories like crazy that involved bumping into hookers and the money they lost gambling and general 20 year old views on things. "Dude. I was standing there and that roulette chick just fires the ball into the slot on the wheel and that ball is going like a million miles an hour and I was like, "Damn, Gina. How in the hell does she make that ball go so freakin' fast?" and all these dudes are like throwing these chips on numbers and colors and I don't know what the hell is going on and then the roulette chick waves her hand and everybody stops moving and I'm wondering when that ball is gonna stop and where it's gonna land and then I told the waitress that I didn't want her cheap watered-down free drink. The next thing I know that ball is bouncing around in the wheel and this dude with a ton of bling wins big and the roulette chick rakes in a ton of chips into this little hole. Totally blew my mind, dude!"

The six of them proceed to HOWL with laughter.

Those within earshot, and by earshot I mean the back third of the plane, giggle and the six of them because the story isn't that funny but they think it's hysterical.

The wife-half of the anniversary couple then announces that there's $100 bucks to anyone that moves so they can sit together because it's their anniversary and she just wants to sit next to her husband on the flight home.

Rule of thumb: If you offer $100 bucks to 20 year olds for sliding over four feet, expect that offer not to last too long.

Rule of thumb: Be quicker to jump when such offers are made. Then Vegas "entertainment" fee for the McKinney family breaks even on for the trip.

Well, there was this party girl in the crowd who took the $100. The anniversary couple is now in the back corner of the plane surrounded by the storytellers/howlers.

The party girl who took the $100 then began to regale the other 20 year olds and those within earshot (re: back third of the plane) of stories of drink specials and money lost and rude people encountered and hookers avoided and drunk stories of her friends and rude people at work and invited the 20 year olds out for drinks when the plane lands and where her mother lives and on and on and on.

Maybe she'll stop when we pull away from the gate.
Maybe she'll stop when we are finished taxiing.
Maybe she'll stop after we take off.
Maybe she'll stop when we're allowed to use our approved electrical devices.
Maybe she'll stop when we're leveled off at 39,000 feet.
Maybe she'll stop when we're making our approach into San Antonio.

No. She didn't stop for the 3:25 we were in the air.

The back third of the plane was worn out. My wife even had an iPod for watching a movie with headphones on and could still hear every word.

When she deplaned in San Antonio and was out of earshot (we had 30 minutes on the ground of our "non-stop service" to Dallas, so I guess Southwest has a different definition of non-stop than American) I turned and asked the anniversary lady if that was the WORST $100 dollars she ever spent.

To which she replied, "I'm never flying Southwest again. This is awful. The way they board is horrible if you don't know how the check-in system works. These kinds of cheap fares puts you at greater risk for having obnoxious college kids all around you. This isn't non-stop. You only get peanuts and you have to ask for a whole can of soda. We did this to see if the savings were worth it. They weren't."

Now, I'm of the opinion that you can wind up with a crying baby for a long flight on any airline. Or get seated next to the bouncing, coloring, question-asking 5-year-old. Or get behind the two teenagers who didn't get seated with their high school youth group ski trip contingent. Or the hard-drinking boor of a businessperson gets the seat next to you and wants to chat about widgets for the whole trip. Or the college kids basking in their exaggerations and overamusement with themselves.

But the anniversary lady was convinced that the "Greyhound of the Skies" was at the root of all this. That their way of doing business created the kind of clientele--or at least set up the kind of atmosphere--that allows for this sort of behavior.

Personally, to's the deal. This airline was going to the place I needed to get to at the time I wanted to get there for about the amount of money I had to spend. I don't care if there's soda or more than peanuts. I don't care if it's assigned seats or not. I don't care if the flight attendants and pilots are joking around or "professional." I know the drill on each airline. So, I adjust accordingly.

But I was wondering today what you thought about the anniversary lady's opinion. Does the "image" of Southwest encourage that kind of revelry any more than American's "image" squelches it? Do you have a preference of "style" on an airline and why or why not?

At the end of the day, I can tell you this: I'd like to record every word those 6 college kids said for 5 days in Las Vegas and transcribe it and call the essay, "A 6-Year-Old Brain's Report of Las Vegas In A 24-Year-Old's Body." But I don't think the airline had anything to do with it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Leaving Las Vegas

Sorry so late today...

A few images from my quick three days in Las Vegas as a first-timer to the city:

Here's the pirate show from our hotel/casino, Treasure Island. The show was slutty pirates vs. Chippendale pirates full of double entendres. This was supposed to be the "family show" in these parts, and now that I think about it, it might've been.

For some reason, this particular sign seemed like redundancy to me. I mean, isn't this pretty much the rule in the United States?

We went exploring while the girls were at work and here are the landmarks we all have heard of. What I noticed was that every hotel had a theme (which was given full throttle attention in every detail), a show to attract folks, a star-quality attraction, and of course, a casino. All the casinos are pretty much the same, too. Same machines, same sounds, same stale cigarette smell, same lighting. Same people, really...


...Planet Hollywood and the Mirage (which was my favorite one we wandered around in--but we didn't do much time in the Bellagio)...

...and Caesar's Palace.

I was fascinated by the architecture of hotels, man. Every single thing is designed to get you in, keep you in, and have you stay and spend money. Casinos especially were confusingly spaced and no seats anywhere except machines & tables. My favorite game was roulette. Least favorite: Slot machines.

Early on I was up $20, as evidenced here. Then the next day I lost that $20 and an additional $15. Then, the next day I was up $35 so I broke even while I was there.

I loved that the elevator never said "lobby." Always "casino."

The view from our host's room. Ours wasn't much different, but there's was 14 floors above ours:

I didn't know they had these in Nevada! Good...but, with all due respect to my friends from California, it doesn't live up to the hype, man. Kind of like Krispe Kreme's to folks not from the South:

I guess you know you're in Las Vegas when there's an Elvis silhouette greeting you at the men's room:

Not even kidding: This was my very first ad I saw once we got into the airport. It made me think this place is really different than pretty much every other American city when this is the stuff that greets you:

My overall review of Las Vegas: Thumbs up. I mean, it was fun, and I bet it's good in small doses. About the time I was leaving I was thinking that I was just starting to figure it all out...and there's a lot of shows I would've liked to have seen, too. And, considering I broke even (my smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife lost a bit more, but not as much as we thought we might view of "entertainment expenses--so all the good).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sorry, Patrons

I misplaced the camera cord. It may be in the secret little pocket in my suitcase back at the hotel (side note: I'm in NO WAY paying freaking $14.95 per day for WiFi when I can stroll next door to Starbucks and get it for free, kids)...but I'll check when I get back to the room.

And I was planning on chronicling the entire journey to Las Vegas right here today in the blog, albeit later than usual. You should know by now that when I get to Pacific Time all the entries are going to be later. I got some really fun pictures, too.

But, alas, it'll have to wait because I'm well, pretty much a cheapskate.

Or forgetful.

But either way the pictures aren't getting posted today...

Suffice to say that the husbands along on the trip went shopping for the business party that Tracy and her friends were hosting for their suppliers. That was the deal: We do some grunt work in the afternoon for the right to tag along. And, yes, their party was a HUGE success and their little company is getting some serious buzz, which should help as they grow. Yes, folks. Little things matter. And when you throw a party to say "thanks"--with no other agenda other than good will--to the people who usually throw you parties to try to get your business, well, let's say they sit up and take notice of that little touch.

But, you should all be happy to know that I'm up precisely $20. I cashed out when I doubled my daily allotment yesterday, so it's house money from here on out.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

And The Oscar Goes To...

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of movies. So much so that I read textbooks that are used in flimmaking classes just to see how the art is created...and I even taught a class last summer on Film & Theology. The class was designed to teach you to find the message of the artist creating the film and then compare/contrast that message with what Scripture says. It was really just an extension of what I do when I go to the theater as it's what I do constantly in my brain.

So, I enjoy movies.

And, I enjoy spectacle. I really love happenings and if they're big and blown-up, all the better.

And tonight combines the best of both: Movies and spectacle! That's right, it's time for The Oscars!

We started here at The Diner two years ago with the major categories...but I pick the movies two ways: Who I want to win, followed by who I think will win. Here's the major categories this year:

Best Actor: I only saw two of the movies these actors were nominated for, and in this category I'd like to add Who I Don't Want To Win...which is Brad Pitt for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Manalive, if there was ever a more overrated performance in a more overhyped movie, I'm not sure what it was. 3 hours of a poor man's Forrest Gump if you ask me. Anyway, this one comes down to two guys anyway, Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. Who I Want To Win: Mickey Rourke. He was brilliant in The Wrestler. Who Will Win: Sean Penn, for Milk.

Best Actress: This is always a tough category because there are usually so many great actresses. I thought Angelina Jolie was good in The Changeling. I didn't see Doubt but my wife said Meryl Streep was, well, Meryl Streep. But, for my money, the best acting I've seen in years was from Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married. Maybe it's because she went so far against playing princesses in romantic comedies, but she was stunningly brilliant as a recovering alcoholic. Obviously, Who I Want To Win: Anne Hathaway. Who Will Win: Meryl Streep, for Doubt, and because she's Meryl Streep.

Best Supporting Actor: You don't even have to say anything because this category was won after The Dark Knight opened. And, it will be deserved. Who I Want To Win: Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder. Who Will Win: Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight.

Best Supporting Actress: This category, contrasting the supporting actor category, doesn't have a clear winner. Who I Want To Win: Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler. She won't, because Oscar folks can never get past when she won for her comedic role in My Cousin Vinny. People went so far as to say that the presenter read her name as a joke and it wasn't in the envelope...and the backlash against her will keep her from it, but she was fabulous as a kindred spirit to Rourke. Who Will Win: Taraji P. Henson for Benjamin Button. Hollywood types are going to force us to think this was actually a good movie with great acting. The only thing it should win is for cinematography or costumes, maybe.

Best Animated Film: I like that they added this category. But, Who I Want To Win and Who Will Win are one in the same. While I really liked Kung Fu Panda, the hands down winner will be Wall-E.

Best Director: Are you kidding? A shoot in the slums/city of Mumbai, India, with a no name cast of young actors...many of whom were children. Not to mention the scope of the events and the back and forth nature of telling a story from each question of a "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" If there's a director that did more with less than Danny Boyle in this list, I don't know who it was. Who I Want To Win: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire. Who Will Win: Gus Van Sant for Milk. But if you're asking me, it's easy to direct Sean Penn in a biopic set in San Francisco.

Best Original Screenplay: Who I Want To Win: Happy-Go-Lucky. That movie grew on me. I'd heard good things, and when I saw it the pace seemed slow. That's what serious flim critics say when they mean "boring." But the message was great and the dialogue was meaningful. Who Will Win: Milk.

Best Picture: Who I Want To Win: Slumdog Millionaire. If there was a better movie this year, I didn't see it. It was simply a brilliant movie that stood out by surprise. In fact, many Oscar observers have mentioned backlash against it because it wasn't done in Hollywood by insiders in the biz...and it won Golden Globes and got such amazing buzz. Who Will Win: Milk. It has everything Hollywood voters love: Big stars, big name directors, big studio behind it. It's possible that Ron Howard's name could get behind this deal and get some love for Frost/Nixon but I don't think so.

Well, that's most of the major categories...

...what do you think, patrons?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It's Been Too Long Since I've Seen My Nieces

Margaux update:

Man, I really miss that kid.

Katelyn update (with my daughter Shelby on the left):

Man, I really miss that kid.

What I'm doing today: Yardwork. Yes. It's February 21. Yes. It actually needs to be done. Today. Dangit, Texas. You didn't even get cold enough to kill the bugs this year.

What I'd rather do today: Hang out with Margaux, watching Sesame Street. And introducing her to Bugs Bunny cartoons. And read lots of Dr. Suess. Munching on Goldfish out of a cup while we do that. And getting her a banana split, which she will only eat three bites of and I can have the rest of hers in addition to the one I got for myself. And nap together. And play Legos.

Or: Hang out with Katelyn, watching Backyardigans. And introducing her to Bugs Bunny Cartoons. Go to a movie together. Eat Puppy Chow that we made together at her grandparents house. And getting her a banana split, which she will eat 8 bites of and I can have the rest of hers in addition to the one I got for myself. And get out my electric guitar & amp and let her strum and sing and play with all the effects until somebody makes us put on the headphones.

Man, I really miss those kids.

Man, some days I really don't like it that there's a significant river or mountain range between where I am and where they are.


Friday, February 20, 2009

"Doing Nothing Is Better Than Being BUSY Doing Nothing."--philosopher Lao Tzu

I hear it every day.

"I'm too busy to..." Finish the sentence with anything enjoyable you'd like to do.

"I mean, with Jane's _________ and Timmy's __________ and our ___________..." Fill in the blanks with whatever the children do and whatever responsibilities you have.

Yep. Being busy is to The Aughts what money was to yuppies in the '80's and style was to hipsters in the '90's. We use that word proudly, as a badge of honor and importance.

And, I read my friend Mike's blog entry from Feb. 19. Go ahead. Click on the link. Read it. We'll be here when you get back.

Back now?


We could all write our own blog entries with similar stories. Couldn't we?

And I commented on the entry. Throughout the Old Testament, God promised the Israelites rest. Christ spoke of the easy yoke and the light burden. Not to mention that He wanted people to come to Him so they could get...

When I think of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, in those topsy-turvy words that, in effect told a crowd of subversives and revolutionaries that The Revolution was indeed coming. Just not in the way you think, kids. I mean, He'd just blessed all the WRONG people, didn't He? At least not right now, anyway. See, you're supposed to illuminate the world and give it flavor and you stink at it, Israelites. He then proceeded to show that The Revolution was inward.

In the hearts and minds of the hearers. In other words, the outward going-through-the-motions religion that's been in place is backwards. Inward realities make outward changes.

Anger gets revisited.
Adultery does, too.
Taking oaths, too.

The standards for all of those are a bit more stringent than the current milieu may suggest, eh?

Loving enemies, too. Uh-oh. I thought The Messiah was supposed to, well, overthrow the enemies.
Giving? Yeah. Do that in private.
Prayer? Yeah. Do that in private, too.
Fasting? Yeah. Again. Private.

And then Christ... his Inaugural Address, no less... with anxiety. An enemy of rest.

And the reality that, in order to give the world the illumination and that flavor as they observe us, we're supposed to, off all things, seek Him AND His righteousness and He'll take care of today. We're supposed to be different from the world with regard to how we handle stress and busyness.

And my suggestion is that all stress & anxiety...

...which are the main ingredients in our recipe for Busy Soup (because we really don't believe what Scripture says here, do we?)...

...comes from disbelief that what God says He actually will do.

So, we try to keep the plates spinning.

Because we have it all under control.


Now, I didn't mean to go off on a rant here today.

But I'm kind of glad I did.

As long as we'll chime in on HOW we can take the idea of REST seriously in our culture.

So, have at it, patrons. Let's encourage each other today with some ways we REST.

And maybe the cares of this world will grow strangely dim...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Manipulating Systems vs. Education...Again

This is a well-worn path here at The Diner.

You know the drill by now: The parent who goes to the high school teacher with test paper in hand to get their kid's grade bumped from a 96 to a 100. The school systems that teach to the upcoming standardized test. The reality that a local high school had nearly 15% of the graduating class with BETTER than a 4.0 G.P.A. Kids who learn how to get "right" answers but don't learn how to think. Blah blah blah.

You know the good-old-days syndrome drill by now, too: My mom would've told me to talk to the teacher if I had a question about grading. I don't remember taking a standardized test except the year-end Stanford Achievement Test that had no bearing on anything other than how public school kids in Alabama stacked up against the rest of the nation ("Thank God for Mississippi"). There were on 2 kids with better than a 4.0 G.P.A. in my graduating class. Those of us in the middle of the pack academically were too busy cutting up to worry about the "right" answers, anyway, but our ability to be rambunctious (i.e., "accidentally" hooking up the Bunsen burner to the water instead of the gas) was eye-rollingly tolerated so as "a different way to approach the problem."

And the New York Times article headlined "Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes" gives us the results of the current educational process from the perspective of college professors.

A few quotes:

“I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” he said. “That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A.”--Mark Grossman, University of Maryland.

“I think that it stems from their K-12 experiences,” Professor Brower said. “They have become ultra-efficient in test preparation. And this hyper-efficiency has led them to look for a magic formula to get high scores.”--Aaron Brower, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’"--James Hogge, Vanderbilt University.

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

The article even mentions that some universities have instituted a mandatory class for freshmen that re-introduces students what an education truly is as well as the reality that grading will be different at this level.

Oh, brother.

I'm not exactly sure why or how we got to this point, but I hope this trend corrects itself somehow.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Taking My Mom's Advice Again

Moms say lots of stuff you ignore when you're younger. Some of it was worth ignoring. Some of it wasn't.

One of those things that should've been paid attention to when I was younger was one that every parent tells their child: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."


I won't be saying anything at all in the blog today.

In fact, it's most definitely a Black Flag/Social Distortion background music morning.

Consider yourselves warned while I hibernate.

Just letting you all know.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kickin' It Old School

Two quotes to really get your brain going from the C.S. Lewis book I've been reading. Both are from the chapter on "Christian Apologetics," which was an address given in 1945 to Anglican pastors & youth workers.

Many of you know my stance that Christians must be excellent at what they do when dealing with non-believers. In other words, we should ensure that our conduct is honoring to Christ so that our message may not get diluted when we have the chance to talk about Christ. For example, my neighbors know that I'm a pastor, so if they see me angrily yelling at my wife or not doing my part to keep my home looking presentable or stealing their mail, well, when it comes time to speak...I haven't earned the right to be heard. Imagine my smile when I came across this little quote when C.S. Lewis on influencing those non-believers in the scientific community:

"What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects--with their Christianity *latent* (emphasis his)...The first step to the re-conversion of this country (in this case, the U.K.) is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the 'Penguin' and the 'Thinkers Library' on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science would have to be perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly."

Did you catch that, patrons? As early as 1945 we were starting to publish to ourselves and having little effect outside our own little huddles...and, apparently, Christians were using "bad science" to challenge the scientific community. Interesting that Lewis addressed this. Oddly, when I point out the certain organizations with radio prominence have done this, I get blasted because I'm "attacking" other believers. And, don't think I didn't notice the use of the word "latent." I believe that's crucial when dealing with non-believers.

And, as I had stern opinions regarding the close-mindedness of my Tribe during the election year and subsequent election of our new president, imagine how happy this little quote made me a little later on in the article:

"...we may, of course, state our political opinions: but we must make it quite clear that we are giving our personal judgment and have no command from the Lord. Not many priests have these qualifications [professional experience in national politics]. Most political sermons teach the congregation nothing except what newspapers are taken at the Rectory."

May I add here what channels a pastor (or congregation member for that matter) gets their news from or what talk show hosts they listen to?

I'm really glad C.S. Lewis lived and wrote, man. It's a shame our Tribe didn't apply more of this stuff we had the chance. Of course, it's never too late to start, eh?

Just felt like stirrin' it up today kids. It was gettin' kind of vanilla in here. Have at it, patrons.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Morning Update

The weekend that was: It was rushed. Tracy had a quick business trip where I picked her up from the airport around 9PM Friday...between work, working out and picking her up all just shot Friday. I watched the end of a good hockey game and went to bed. Saturday was Valentine's Day (I still do a little something for ALL my girls) and Tracy worked all day, Kelsey had a practice test in Dallas for advanced placement credits so I had a quiet morning of working out and Tracy and caught a movie that night. Yesterday was my birthday...and when you're a grown-up, well, they aren't fun-filled like when you're 9 and got to go bowling with your friends. Plus, Sundays are my busiest work days. It's nice, though, in a Facebook world--which, if you didn't know, they have a feature that lets everybody you're friends with know it's your birthday--and a world in which the teaching pastor let it be known from the pulpit, that so many people take the time to wish you a happy birthday. Shouts out to the higher-order life-liver sister Jilly and Barnstorming brother-in-law Shane for the subscription renewal to Rolling Stone and a subscription to the Sunday edition of The New York Times--the high holy grail of newspapers conveniently delivered in the same package as my normal Sunday paper. I now have a MAJOR decompression hour set aside for Monday mornings! Shelby returned from a visit with her grandparents yesterday which involved their news that they're giving her their old car, so she was thrilled (and we're happy for her, too)!

Where i am at the moment: Well, I'm feeling good. Two weeks of consistent diet and exercise can do wonders for all sorts of aches and pains, plus the decaffeinated lifestyle leads to better sleep patterns. Spiritually, I'm in one of those places that just "is." Not too high, not too low. Mentally, I'm picking myself up off the deck some days. Lots of stuff beyond my control (like everybody else in this economy) gets my mind going in all sorts of directions.

On my to-do list this week: Gonna make sure that Charlie is all set for the big middle school ministry event this weekend. Gotta get ahead on some things at work as I'll be taking an extra day off next week.

Procrastinating about: I thought we'd at least have one more really cold snap here in North Texas, but it looks like spring has sprung. I was using that as my excuse not to do yardwork. I need to trim the crepe myrtles, some bushes back, and do that first mow of spring.

Book I'm in the midst of: "God in the Dock" by C.S. Lewis. One of those reads I always meant to get around to and never did. So, it got moved to the top of the stack. I imagine my book-finishing pace will pick up when I stop reading this "heady" stuff and get back to more leisurely paced armchair stuff.

Music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: Nothing really. It's a lull period for music releases, and I've got this loaner car (we're finally getting our vehicles repaired from LAST spring's hail damage--as my wife said, "Just in time for THIS year's hail storms.") and the CD player doesn't work. It's been a sports-talk radio week.

Next trip: Vegas on Sunday! I've never been, so I'm kind of excited about it.

How i’m feeling about this week: Slightly pensive. No, I don't want to elaborate.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hey, Everybody! It's MY 43rd Birthday Today...

...yes. I used to try to keep it a secret. Mostly only my family and folks at the office knew. The only reason the office knew is that our comptroller puts lots of celebratory notices all over the place for everybody's birthday and anniversary. But, now with Facebook reminding the friends I have that is indeed my birthday, well, I don't try to keep it a secret anymore.

Anyway, most of you are well aware of the long-standing tradition here at The Diner of celebrating birthdays of patrons or celebrities by starting the sentence like I did in today's title and then listing quirks or idiosyncrasies or well-known habits of the person who is having the birthday. You know, like, "Hey everybody! It's Jimmy Page's birthday! Let's all celebrate by trashing a hotel room and practicing the occult--maybe!" Or "Hey everybody! It's Angelina Jolie's birthday! Let's all celebrate by leading adopting a kid or two and winning an Oscar!"

Well, have at it, patrons:

Hey, Everybody! It's Brent McKinney's birthday today, let's all celebrate by...

*pours coffee & wonders why he sets himself up for this kind of stuff*

Saturday, February 14, 2009

At Noon Today (Central Time)...

...if you get very still.

...and listen.

...out there...

...somewhere...'ll hear a faint "popping" sound that is familiar to you.

At first, you won't recognize it.

But then you'll remember...'s the sound a baseball makes when it smacks into a leather mitt.

It is time.

Pitchers and catchers report to their respective Major League camps in Arizona and Florida.

Manalive do I love that game and this time of year.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Apparently, It's That Time Again...

...where I wonder if it's time to shut The Diner down. Comments are down. Readership is down (hey, I keep track...people "vote" with their "internet feet"), but not significantly. My guess is that the topics of late are of little interest.

So, in the interest of keeping the patrons happy and appreciative of their Diner experience, it's time to open the floor for questions... it's time to play "Ask The Management!"

What would you like to know or have me write about.

*pours another cup of coffee and waits for you to fill out the index cards*

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Just A Jumble Of Things Today

...that if you missed the first game of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup last night between the United States and Mexico, well, you missed everything that makes soccer the most popular sport in the world. The nation of Mexico hasn't won their last 11 games on US soil, so their country desperately wants to win against us. In fact, the Radio Shacks in Mexico City were selling voodoo dolls in our uniforms with "Gringos" on the back where the name is supposed to be. In a tactical move, we chose to host our home game in cold-weather Columbus, Ohio because we knew it would irritate their team...not to mention ensure a more pro-America crowd (when they used to host them in Dallas or San Diego, Latin American fans would purchase tickets in droves). The play early on was spirited...and that's putting it mildly. This fired up that pro-America crowd, too. And, I maintain that the instant a world cup type goal is scored is one of the most exciting moments in sports. In a nice hometown twist, the coach's son scored both our goals in the 2-0 win.

...proud dad alert: Kid1 has a sculpture going to the state finals. That's in the state of TEXAS, folks. It's kind of a big deal. Irritated dad alert: I haven't seen it. The thousands of pictures she takes with her mobile phone and not one exists of this piece. All I know is that it's metal sculpture (she loves working with a metal cutter & such) and it's a feather that apparently has a "wow" factor.

...watching my friends become grandparents it funny to me. I wish we'd all had a grandparenting mentality when we were raising our infants/toddlers/small children. Grandparents are incredibly relaxed and prone to all sorts of wonderful gestures of love.

...I don't think we're paying enough attention to the war we all forgot was going on in Afghanistan. Things ain't going very smoothly there if what you read the papers is even close to true.'s pretty amazing how much of a difference you actually "feel" after only 10 days of good diet and consistent exercise. I wonder why it's so easy to get out of those habits when you experience the results every single time.

...sometimes Christians can say the most discouraging and hurtful things to each other, particularly in the areas of childraising and parenting choices.

...sometimes, when you're with your junior/senior guys Bible study, you can sit back and marvel at how the Holy Spirit teaches them. I mean, all I do is study very hard (usually 3 to 4 hours for a 45-minute lesson). Then I'll just ask basic observation questions. Or ask them to put that sentence in their own words. I'll maybe highlight some Greek word I think REALLY enlightens the passage (like when Paul refers to himself as a servant by using a different word than he usually used--in this case it referred to being an "under-rower." You know. One of those guys who sits in the hull of an 1st century ship and rows a boat to the beat of a lead drummer? Pretty cool, huh?). Then I'll ask them how we can apply the passage here and now. Exegetical study together is very cool...and listening to what they're learning is so encouraging. Of course, they'll get a major case of stupid-head 10 minutes afterward, but, hey, man. Spiritual growth is a slow business. I'll just keep plantin.' Somebody else will water 'em later. God will cause the growth. And they pay me for this. Classic.

...colleges sure must spend a lot of money on all things postal. And they kill a LOT of trees.

...I really miss my former staff sometimes. Just doing life and ministry together with Kristy, Steve-O, Nathan, Wes & Lizzie, Heather, Lindsey, Katherine, et al, made you go to work actually wondering what really cool thing was going to happen that day. Charlie's got that same vibe, so now we just need to pray God will bring us a few more kinda sorta like him with ministry talent and unique personalities.

...time to go listen to a podcast I like while I get ready. I'm really into these two guys sermons right now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Favorite Quote?

Music going this morning: An iTunes "Genius Playlist" created by starting with a Widespread Panic song. Loaded bands like the Grateful Dead, Son Volt, and Wilco. Seems like it just fits for a post-storm sunrise. This might be followed by a compilation techno-trance music some friends of mine in Holland gave me.
Mood at the moment: Miffed and on-edge. It could go either way from here, folks. I mean, I'm pretty sure I can be polite on the outside. However, I'm not sure I'd choose to tangle with me today if I were you. Consider yourselves warned.
On the agenda today: A few honey-do's as the missus and kid2 are off on a plane related and they'll be back in a couple of days.

I'm a "quote" person. I don't keep a running file of them like a couple of people I know, but journals are littered with random insights from a sermon, things that made me laugh, movie quotes, stuff I read. Somebody asked me what my favorite quote of all-time was.

I gave an answer, but the question rattled around in my brain all day...and I think I came up with three to choose from. I'm not sure I could nail down just one.

1 and 1A: From Douglas Coupland.

"A collapsed view of heaven is the price you pay for your comfort." and
“The only valid viewpoint for any decision is eternity."

2nd, From Eugene Peterson.

"Spiritual formation is a slow business." Simple, but profound on about 100 levels.

And finally, from Mark Rosenthal from a graduation speech I saw on C-Span (I know, right?).

"Rabble-rousing is an American birthright. Despite a penchant for middle-class, middle-of-the-road homogeneity, America usually comes around to admiring--and rewarding--those who burn their bridges to convention and safety--and light up the sky in the process."

So, that's my four...and I'd be curious to see what the patronage would list as their favorite quotes.

Here's the rules:

You gotta start by listing the song(s) in your brain and your mood, and then the quote.

*pours coffee and looks forward to hearing the quotes*

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

That Sound You Heard Was Martin Luther Rolling Over In His Grave

According to a New York Times article, the Catholic church is bringing back indulgences! For my younger readers, the article defines indulgences fairly well: "In exchange for certain prayers, devotions or pilgrimages in special years, a Catholic can receive an indulgence, which reduces or erases that punishment instantly, with no formal ceremony or sacrament."

At first, I thought, "Well, in a tough economy, you got bills to pay. You gotta keep looking for new revenue streams." However, that was quickly rebuffed:

“Confessions have been down for years and the church is very worried about it,” said the Rev. Tom Reese, a Jesuit and former editor of the Catholic magazine America. In a secularized culture of pop psychology and self-help, he said, “the church wants the idea of personal sin back in the equation. Indulgences are a way of reminding people of the importance of penance.”

“The good news is we’re not selling them anymore,” he added.

Oh, well, I guess that IS good news. And, in even more good news, we're bringing a steady diet of focusing on guilt-inducing personal sin back into the equation.

I mean, confessions are down, right?

So, here's the deal to get indulgences (once again, according to the article): "...fulfilling the basic requirements: going to confession, receiving holy communion, saying a prayer for the pope and achieving 'complete detachment from any inclination to sin.'”

If I were a practicing Catholic (or even Catholic, for that matter), I'm thinking that last requirement is a tough one.


Granted, as a protestant my entire life, only having Catholic friends as my exposure to Catholicism, I'm not sure I can understand this fully...

...and I certainly don't want to be unnecessarily offensive...

...but I REALLY don't get this reintroduction of what even Vatican II got rid of at all.

Any help the patrons can give me here would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Monday Morning Update

The week upcoming: There's a lot of changes upcoming in our family schedule, as Kid2 is taking a break from dance. We'll actually have a chance to grab maybe 2 family dinners. We've also got Valentine's Day upcoming and I still do that for not only my wife but my girls, too. I just started doing it when they were little and I'm not sure when that's supposed to stop or if it's supposed to stop. I mean, I did an informal survey with my high school female students and they pretty much all said that their dads still did stuff for them. Maybe when the nest empties that goes to just a card. Tracy's going out of town with her job and taking Kid2 from Wednesday to Friday. So maybe me and Kid1 can enjoy hanging out together.

Where I am at the moment: Settling into the groove. Ministry has warps and woofs that involve the busyness of planning and strategizing followed by the more routine execution of the planning and strategizing. For example, we'd finished up planning in late December and January we had a peculiar schedule due to the timing of the holidays and the Super Bowl. We had a 3-week teaching series that fit into that, then Super Bowl Sunday (which messes with our evening schedule a bit) and last night I started the 14-week high school series. We made a forced change to the Wednesday night Bible study teaching schedule because of the weather-related school now that all that seems to be behind us, I'm settling into a more consistent groove, which should last for a month until Spring Break in mid-March. After that, it should be a long grind from then until school lets out in June.

On my to-do list this week: Finally getting around to getting the cars fixed from the massive hail storms last spring. I'm glad we waited because now the dent fixers are all wanting work and have plenty of loaner cars to get us where we need to go for a few days. Also, I need to do one minor banking deal to consolidate two savings accounts. Work-wise I need to make some phone calls which will finish up an ordination process plan for one of our candidates so he can be voted on.

Procrastinating about: Nothing really. I do need to get serious about looking at my schedule for some vacation time. I know I'll want to go see my nephew when he's born in the spring...and there's the Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park that I want to see the band list and dates for but I'd like to go again. The way my schedule fills up so rapidly I feel like I should nail some stuff down.

Book I’m in the midst of: A David Foster Wallace book of essays. It's really good, but I haven't found much time to read more than 10 pages or so at a time. I either get too sleepy to read further or whatever I'm waiting for winds up occurring so I have to stop reading. I haven't picked up the C.S. Lewis book "God in the Dock" in a week.

Music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: I'm in a weird place musically. Nothing sounds good and everything I listen to goes about 30 seconds into the song and then I decide I'm in the mood for something different. Lately I've bailed and just gone with sermon podcasts. I'm really into a good series by Pete Briscoe at a close-by church on Ephesians.

Next trip: Counting down to Vegas. Followed the next weekend by a service opportunity to Pine Cove.

How I’m feeling about this week: Relaxed. I like the consistency that executing the plan brings. The planning is good and creative, but more "artistic" and scattered. The routine seems like a rifle-shot where you know where you're headed and what you're about and going in the direction you're supposed to go.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Living In An Age Where Common Sense Is Cutting Edge: Example #4,569

Having a kid in the Dallas Independent School District gives me reason to be a bit more informed about what goes on there even though I live in a suburban Robin-Hood school district.

Today a Dallas Morning News article was unavoidable because it discussed how the mayor and school board president are studying the highly-regarded school system in Finland to find areas where they can improve. Bully for them, man. Nothing wrong with that.

And, sure, the Fins have some advantages that are inherent. Things like a smaller population. Things like geography that demands practical use of a number of languages. Things like fewer immigrants. Simply put, a lot of things the Fins are doing won't necessarily transfer.

But, here's what let me know that the Finnish educational system isn't all that radical. Noting what the Dallas folks learned about the success of the public schools in Finland:

They focused on establishing a single, straightforward curriculum for all schools.

They expected good results from all students and providing extra teaching resources to get those results.

The believed in giving well-trained teachers respect and freedom to teach.

So, lemme make sure I got this right. If you want to give kids a good education, you'll need to have clearly defined objectives, set the bar reasonably high and challenge kids to rise to it, give them the resources they need to reach those goals, and then give gifted, highly-trained and talented teachers the nobility they deserve and allow them to be creatively innovative in their classrooms.


Imagine that.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Space Oasis

Today I'm thinking about space.

Not the Hubble Telescope astronaut moon landing kind. Our own space. Like our own room.

What fueled this was getting hung up in a showing of the movie Juno (brilliant, by the way) on one of the channels on the premium end of the dial. We had basic at one time, but the amount of sports I watch when you have other stuff cuts HEAVILY into the amount of money that I spent at Barnes & Noble. We're saving cash. Don't judge me.


...there's a scene in the movie where Juno, a pregnant teen meeting prospective birth parents for the first time discovers that the potential father was once in a rock band, had all his stuff relegated to a small, out-of-the-way room. "She gave you your own room in your own house for all your stuff? Wow. She's got you on a long leash, there, Mark."

In his "own room in his own house" he's got all the kind of things a guy who played in a band that opened for some bigger bands but never made it would have. You know, his guitars in stands. Framed posters & backstage passes. The CD collection. It's his space. Obviously, in the movie, it stands for all sorts of things that will get revealed as the movie goes on. I'm thinking about space.

My first space, my bedroom growing up, was adorned at various times with Kiss posters. Those gave way to Loni Anderson ("W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati," anyone?) and Bo Derek ("10," anyone?). They all gave way to The Ramones--a decision I've never regretted. Also of note were plastic replica batting helmets of major league baseball teams that were, for some reason, a fashion hot item at my high school for about a month. For some reason, my parents brought back hurricane glasses from trips they went on and I kept change in them.

My second space, my first college apartment, was an audio visual haven as one of my roommates was big into that. He even payed $750 for something called a CD player. That was the going rate for high-end component pieces in 1984. We ran our television through the speakers, and had the classic milk-crate and/or cinderblock and board shelving...and three single guys can get their hands on untold numbers of beer posters with hot girls on them.

My third space, shared with Hollywood for two+ years, was laden with a poster of the skyline of Dallas (after I knew I wanted to go to seminary in Dallas--my guess is that it was some sort of motivation) I picked up at World Market. And magazine covers of girls I thought were awesome. On that list was Nicollette Sheridan ("The Sure Thing," anyone?), various covers of Playboy or Penthouse (fraternity house life, anyone?) pets I found attractive--with Carol Alt and Cindy Crawford's Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition covers (standard 1980's obvious choices, anyone?) and, oddly, Molly Ringwald ("Breakfast Club," anyone?) and Bernadette Peters ("The Jerk," anyone?). Also was a poster I took from Ft. Lauderdale's spring break excursion with Hollywood in 1985 ("Hollywood Doug's bellyflop competition, anyone?). Also of note, a HUGE cork board to tack our gazillion ZAPS photographs on, and my collection of quotes I thought were funny written on the 2x4 that framed my bunk bed.

My fourth space, a dorm room at Dallas Seminary on the top floor of Stearns Hall, was adorned with tons of books. That's pretty much it. That's kind of all there was to do. However, my room was the social hang out late at night because I'd installed a nerf basketball hoop that would get games of H-E-R-E-T-I-C going. Clever bunch, weren't we? No TV. No phone. Just a clock radio and study stuff.

Then I got offices for my spaces. I've really had the same stuff. Books, books and more books. Knick-knacks from 21 years of ministry...most people comment on the some 150 photos of teens (some framed, many under the glass on my desk) and the soccer scarves I've picked up on various mission trips or teens brought me back from their college mission trips. I've gotten several conversation pieces given to me by various years Bible study guys upon graduation (never symbolic, always inexpensive).

And, you know, I think having our very own space is important in some way. I mean, sure, we have houses that are nice and comfortable and they become an "our" kind of space (this is why I didn't include the various homes/apartments Tracy and I lived in). We collectively own them and we might have stuff we call "my" chair or "my" DVD collection, but they're collective. But having your own space is always kind of cool and expressive.

What I'd be curious to hear from you about today is the stuff you've either got in YOUR space or stuff you miss from former YOUR I kinda miss having the 250+ album collection displayed in crates along the wall and the cinderblock shelving that displayed the collection of 7-11 Slurpee cup complete collection of NWA wrestling stars (which I still have in the garage in a box) and the hallway me and a summer semester roomie adorned with photographs from magazines/newspapers (one per day) that we fake autographed to ourselves (my favorite was a GQ magazine cover of boxer Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini my roommate fake autographed, "To Brent and Ron: You guys knock me out! xoxoxo Boom Boom").

Have at it, patrons.

Friday, February 06, 2009


I'm fascinated by the ability of websites that I "belong" to because they have some sort of deal that can make recommendations for you based on the things you've purchased or maybe even browsed. You know, like Amazon or Barnes & Noble or iTunes. Occasionally, the recommendations will get goofed up because I was looking to buy a gift for a friend or family member so their interests will get recommended, but those clear out over a short period of time and they get back to "me" exclusively.

The iTunes store nailed it today. Recommended the new Billy Corgan single as well as Minor Threat's "Out of Step." Good calls in music.

Barnes & Noble is usually pretty good. Today, they recommended a baseball book on Joe Torre and his years with the New York Yankees.

And Amazon is always the best because it isn't music or book specific, but more broad based. Today's recommendations included a book by Donald Miller released early for their Kindle (and of course, a Kindle is always on my recommendation list--but I don't think I'm emotionally ready to give up books just yet. As always, I fear the new technology until someone else shows it to me once THEY figured it out.) Also a book on "Revolutionary Parenting." So, you can see I browse lots of books.

There were also some running shoes and a few training knick-knacks. I chalk that up to my shopping for a fitness plan a few weeks ago.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long DVD was in the mix. D Magazine & Texas Monthly. Wall-E. Chronicles of Narnia.

All on-the-button.

But what was of tremendous concern was the number one recommendation. A book.

Posthumously published collection of the essays of Mike Yaconelli (the youth minister's youth minister).

It's entitled...

...Getting Fired for the Glory of God.

I imagine that needs some sort of comment or explanation, but the patrons will have to do that. Amazon's thoughts seem to have run amok today!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Nowadays, We're All Followed By Paparazzi

The web site ran out of money and shut down yesterday, which is why it made the news. There was this website named and they were basically a tabloid for various universities. The bit is that you'd log in to your university's page and you could join discussions on things like which professors were great to which sorority girls put-out the most to which freshman girls gained the most weight. And, I'm guessing, any and everything else was fair game, too. Like I said, it was pretty much tabloid kind of stuff.

Except the people were normal. They were people you might actually know about if you went to that college.

Of course, as college kids are wont to do, there were times when it went too far...such as when a student at a college was allegedly raped and the police investigation was still underway and there were postings with her name and other details that would hinder the investigation. And, of course, the website's founder was aware of the legalities that his servers were merely "hosts" and the content was delivered by others, hence he wasn't responsible for content. Naturally, the anonymity of the deal created chaos, too...with stuff like the 1st amendment application to anonymous users (who, presumably, can't be sued for libel since they can't be found). The story I read about this focused on lots of these issues, and I have to say that I'm fascinated by what the digital age is doing to our legal system. It can't move fast enough to keep up with all the issues raised.

However, that's not where my thoughts went this morning...and this is where Jessica Simpson comes into the discussion.

How, you ask?

Turns out she was making some public appearance and her picture from the concert turned up in a newspaper. This picture:

And, the discussion of her "weight gain" and "poor fashion choices" and "while she's still hot for the average guy, why would a stud like Romo want to stay with her" was fodder for shows like Good Morning, America and the gossip section of papers and the tabloid television shows.

I began to think how hard it must be to be Jessica Simpson some days. Granted, I like to think if I were making millions I'd chalk tabloid stuff up to occupational hazard and laugh all the way to the bank. And I'm sure she was unable to avoid hearing about the comments, at least. I wondered if she's still just a girl who looks in the mirror in the morning and gets concerned about stuff like that. Maybe she's above the fray. Most likely, since she's human, she isn't. And this isn't making jokes about something goofy she said on her show that she was paid to have cameras follow her around. I have daughters. I think about things like that.

But Jess isn't alone. Athletes, actors, politicians. It's all out there.

And now, thanks to sites like these, we're all followed by the paparazzi. Suburban moms can open sites to get all Desperate Housewives on their suburb. Dads can get all Sports Illustrated and fire off opinions about the local high school coach's inability to get the right players in the game or question strategy. Teenagers can get all Facebook Group Forming and discuss which teachers suck (or youth pastors). Church goers can get all 1 Corinthians 2 and could rank sermons and compare/contrast their leaders.

So, what I'm saying is that with the internet and anonymity and the 1st amendment...


...let's just say that I don't think Thomas Jefferson and company could foresee this. What used to be whispered about among close, closed circles is now open season for the public to see.

Yes, even for us "average Joes & Josephines."

It's simply the way things are now.

So, let's be careful out there, okay?

P.S. In another innovative use of technology by the younger set:

Open note to those teenage girls who are actively "sexting." (for the uninitiated, that's where teenage girls take nude or semi-nude/lingerie photos of themselves and then send them, via text messages, to boyfriends and the like) Yeah. That's dumb. If that urge ever hits your brain, seriously reconsider your lifestyle.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Why Do Believers Quit The Church?

The article isn't on-line or I'd simply link to it but in this month's Youthworker Journal there's an article by Steven Todd who reviews Julia Duin's new book entitled Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do About It.

Naturally, the article mentions a 2002 article in Christianity Today where George Barna issued nine challenges the church needs to work on. Among them were things like "worship is the same-old, same-old," "watered down theology," "competition vs. cooperation," "the Bible isn't taken seriously enough," etc.

So, here are a few snippets from Julia Duin, as quoted in Steven Todd's interview:

[in response to the question of hope for the organized church in the future]
"It's not going to die tomorrow, but there are some real problems on the horizon. Most churches simply are not relevant to the average person. The typical congregant used to have more free time; but now, people are looking for ways to carve out more free time for themselves, and they see Sunday mornings as a real time-waster."

[in response to rising attendance at youth ministry large conferences and suggesting they might be bucking the trends she's seeing]
"All the creativity--what there is of it--is going toward youth ministry. There are some bright lights. The problem is, what happens to these folks once they're 35?"

[in response to the suggestion that her results could be skewed by a discontented & vocal minority]
"It's still a significant minority, usually the most experienced people in the church. It's the over 35 set who have some track with the Lord who are leaving. These are fathers and mothers in a congregation. Churches cannot afford spiritual brain drain. Why would you bore to death and drive off your best members? Calling the leave-takers a small slice of the pie is just an excuse to not deal with the increasing numbers of folks who are opting out."

[in response to the question of what she would like to see as a result of her writing the book]
"I wish people would read my criticisms and put in some honest effort to change things. The estrangement and disenchantment are really out there...The honeymoon of their early Christian involvement is very much over."

Well, patrons. Have at this and take it wherever you'd like!

*pours coffee & sets out tables and waits*
One Of My Hot Buttons...Again

Frequent patrons of The Diner are well aware of my belief that many of our teenagers have to deal with WAY more stress than I did when I was in high school. Here's a quote from Walt Mueller, widely considered as an expert in the study of the tribe of teenagers.

Try this on for size:

" also are being raised by parents (many in intact Christian families) who exert direct, stress-causing pressure. In my conversation with kids, the source of that stress typically falls within three categories.

There's the appearance pressure parents put on their kids when they actively and passively expect them to fit into the culturally defined model of body shapes, weights, complexions, etc. Don't ever underestimate its presence and power.

There's the academic pressure put on kids to achieve, some at levels beyond their capabilities and gifts.

Finally, there's the athletic pressure that has permeated our culture, in which kids are pushed in ways that make them burnout, crumble or even despise Mom and Dad." have at it, patrons! Agree/disagree & why?
And, more importantly, what, if anything, can/should be done about stressing out our teens/children?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that if you start the day by clicking on "Loretta's Scars" by Pavement and then clicking on the genius button, iTunes will deliver a playlist that I'm not sure could be more enjoyable.
...that day 1 of 90 is done. I'm already really sore, and I chalk this up to the fact that my almost-43-year-old brain or my almost-43-year-old ego trying to convince my almost-43-year-old body that it was almost 23.
...that I think it's hysterical that the Super Bowl commercial that won the kudos by the focus groups was the Doritos commercial where the guy had a snow globe & treated it like a crystal ball. The reason I think it's hysterical is that the commercial was done by two guys who entered a Doritos-sponsored contest to make their Super Bowl commercial. So much for pricey ad agencies, huh?
...that those two guys are about to start their own pricey ad agency.
...that I need to let anyone know that if you'll make a restaurant or coffee shop and refrain from overloading the joint with extreme audio/visual stimulation, you'll have at least one faithful customer for life. Last night, it was less noisy outside on the patio that faced a 6-lane feeder road of a major shopping complex than it was in the store.
...that I'm pretty excited that at least 4 of our former students will be working at Pine Cove camps this summer.
...that at least two of my former students will graduate from seminary in May.
...that I might have trouble finishing as many books as I set out to in my new year's resolutions. I've chosen some heady stuff early on. Very stimulating and good choices, but slow going.
...that I'm wondering what happened to the Dallas Morning News award-winning "religion" section on Saturdays. It kept trickling away and now it's down to just ads for churches. They've also started combining the want-ads with other sections and have decided to share the baseball beat writer with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I'm guessing the newspaper industry is in real trouble. Talk about an industry that certainly needs creative problem solvers, man.
...that I thought it was funny hearing my daughter say she had to go get ready for her Skype date. For the uninitiated, Skype is a program that allows you to video-chat for free (among several other communication applications), and the younger set uses this feature to connect with friends who are off at college or who've moved. And, naturally, dating couples arrange to chat or watch a tv show together or listen to music together. It's certainly an improvement over scraping 10 minutes on the dorm hall phone or waiting three days for the letter to come/go.
...that I still need to call that guy to fix my hail damaged vehicles. They were so backed up at one point due to a spring storm that we just never got around to it. If I don't do it soon and arrange an appointment, I'll forget about it again.
...that this goofy winter with lows in the 30's and highs in the 60's every day has juked my crepe myrtles and azalea bushes into thinking they're supposed to bloom. When am I supposed to prune them without wrecking them?
...that the more I think about it, the more you have to structure yourself and be disciplined in order to be creative.
...that I would've hung out and been friends with the characters on How I Met Your Mother over and above the characters on Friends if those were the only two circles to choose from.
...that I'm pretty excited about the new Sunday School series I'm teaching the teenagers that starts this Sunday.
...that I've got a lot of meetings and such going on today, so I need to get to it.
Just Another Day In Our Community

This seems to be happening all over the FlowerPlex lately.

Monday, February 02, 2009

And, So It Begins


After photo to be delivered after completion of the P90X fitness program. Estimated completion date: May 3, 2009.

This is merely for accountability you'll ask me how it's going.

Mood: Kinda "ugh,"/Kinda excited.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Just Once I'd Like To Write A Paragraph This Well



I know.

I'm late the the David Foster Wallace party.

If you're not aware of him, the New York Times used words like "whose prodigiously observant, exuberantly plotted, grammatically and etymologically challenging, philosophically probing and culturally hyper-contemporary novels, stories and essays made him an heir to modern virtuosos..." and "He wrote long books, complete with reflective and often hilariously self-conscious footnotes, and he wrote long sentences, with the playfulness of a master punctuater and the inventiveness of a genius grammarian" to describe him.

His critics usually said that he was self-righteous or a show-off or that he was only experimenting (hinting that his greatness was merely an accident). But they rarely questioned his talent.

His suicide last September at the age of 46 was mourned by the big wigs in literary circles. Not that I know big wigs in literary circles, but rather I read pop magazines by poser literary big wigs (re: Rolling Stone) who tell me such things. Since he had highbrows who adored him, well, that is one of the reasons I'd delayed reading his work. Usually, when those in those circles rave, I often find those authors "inaccessible." That's a nice way to say I don't get 'em.

Anyway, I picked up a copy of his essays because I've heard that the best way to make an author's fiction more accessible is to read their non-fiction (you can get a good sample from articles published in Harper's Magazine here). You know, read the writer talking about things you may relate to and you can usually pick up on the writer. So, I did.

Here was the first paragraph of the first essay :

"When I left my boxed township of Illinois farmland to attend my dad's alma mater in the lurid jutting Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I all of a sudden developed a jones for mathmatics. I'm starting to see why this was so. College math evokes and catharts a Midwesterner's sickness for home. I'd grown up inside vectors, lines and lines athwart lines, grids--and, on the scale of horizons, broad curing lines of geographic force, the weird topographical drain-swirl of a whole lot of ice-ironed land that sits and spins atop plates. The area behind and below these broad curves at the seam of the land and sky I could plot by eye way before I came to know infinitesimals as easements, an integral as schema. Math at a hilly Eastern school was like waking up; it dismantled memory and put it in light. Calculus was, quite literally, child's play."

You have got...


What I wouldn't give to be able to write like that. Just once. Simply to see what it's like.