Friday, October 30, 2009

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that I'm the only person that thinks those commercials with the guy taking away the Miller High Life from rich people are really funny.
...that, anytime I'm with someone who uses the phrase "Socialism never works" (this argument is currently used in political discussions) I'm responding with, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I offer as Exhibit A, the National Football League." Both are oversimplifications, so I can make the treatment simple.
...that when you start with Muse's "Uprising" as the song, and then hit the "genius" button on my iTunes, well 6.4 hours of songs I like a whole lot show up.
...that my paper delivery person might be double wrapping due to rain, but at 6:38am, in the words of my maternal grandfather to his paper boy anytime the news was delivered after 6am, "If I wanted the afternoon paper, son, I'd subscribe to it." Of course, that was a time when cities had two newspapers and kids on bikes delivered them. My paper delivery person drives a cool car and might be a licensed handgun carrier for all I know.
...that some of my friends invited me to a tailgate party for the local high school rivalry game tonight, and for some reason that little note in my e-mail box made me happy. I mean, I like these friends. I've known them for years. It's not like I don't see them weekly. But when I got the my first response was, "GREAT! That'll be cool."
...that I'm the only person that truly, deeply appreciates the reality that we've tripled the amount of rainfall in Dallas this month and that I'm in a good mood about it. Now, I wouldn't mind at all if it took a break for the tailgate and big game festivities tonight.
...that all you bloggers who have posted your little jukebox on your blog, there needs to be a cease and desist order. I don't mind reading what you're listening to, but I'm not all that interested in hearing what you like while I'm trying to read what you wrote.
...that all the women in my house seem to be getting increasingly more beautiful with each passing day. This is a blessing beyond words.
...that I'm torn between going to see Davis' pee-wee hockey game, which is at 12:30pm Sunday. This coincides with the noon Cowboys kick-off. DVR, you say? Well, try to avoid a Cowboys score in Dallas in any public venue...but this rink is attached to a mall and I've already been forewarned that the game'll be on there. Oh, man.
...that I don't like how Jim's character on The Office is playing out. Is this what happens to everybody who goes into management?
...that my friends Abby, Bailey and Carlen have all posted blogs I really enjoyed lately--varied lengths and tones, but they're all good writers. And, if I may say so myself, so has Kid1. Links at left.
...that one of these days I'm actually going to create the blog page I want. I know what I want it to look like. I know how I want it to appear. Man, some days I regret the liberal arts degree.
...that today is one of those days.
...that I'm about to finish week 9 of the 13 week P90X home workout (I finished one cycle and had significant weight loss and dropped in clothes size) and the results are smaller than last time but still noticeable. It takes about an hour a day total...but this has cut my reading time in half. I can't decide if the physical benefits are worth the mental trade-off I've apparently made.
...that I don't understand people who aren't from New York who like the Yankees. I wish failure on them in any circumstance, and especially hope for grand failure of not only their entire team, but also the individuals on that team--and none more than A-Rod and Teixeira. A-Rod going 0-for-8 with 6 strikeouts thus far makes me happy. Maybe I have this romantic view of what baseball should be and that view is of a game that really no longer exists, but mercenary millionaires trying to get a championship ring before they quit goes against my grain. I mean, where are the days when Frank Robinson got traded ONCE in a career and a player was identified with ONE team for their career. Give me Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson, Bob Gibson, et al. Of course, we'll never know what they would've done to jump at an 8-year deal with $55 million of guaranteed money.
...that if you're an Auburn football fan, your heart will break in some form or fashion each and every year. I imagine on my deathbed in like 2035, I'll say something like, "At least I had 2004, but even then we never got to play for it all." That'll be before I get to the really important stuff before I die, maybe like 3 or 4 days before it gets serious. I imagine I'll know.
...that I wonder if Facebook is killing blogging.
...that while I'm on the subject, I'm letting all of you know that on Facebook I'm not joining any cause you ask me to, and I have no time for fake farming or mafia activity. Please stop asking me. And don't get me started on quizzes.
...that on November 12, the ladies in my house are going to see the greatness of Regina Spektor at Nokia, and me and Retrophisch are off to see Son Volt at the Granada. Look at the McKinney's all concert intensive! I do need to note that Retrophisch is taking one for the team here, as I felt the need to make him a disc of Son Volt's songs and give him some backstory. I hate going to concerts that might be good but I don't know any of the songs. I'm hoping this show is the transcendent experience Jerry World robbed me of with U2. I think I need to be back in small clubs for that. Hmm. Wonder if that is that same for American churches? That's a blog topic for another day.
...that my newspaper finally arrived, and while it's thrown my groove off, I feel like I should get to it. Lots to do today and limited amount of time to do it in if I want to make my tailgate party!
Diner Football Picks, Week 9

Manalive, do I feel like I should give the patrons an apology. It's never been this bad for a whole season...sheesh. Last week I went 3-7, making it two straight losing weeks and 7 of 9 losing weeks. The overall record is 26-42-2, which means that if you'd bet the OPPOSITE of what I picked and bet $100 a game, you'd have $1,320 in your pocket (naturally, I took out the "vig" you pay to play your losing/tying bet).

Sure, I've got a little loss of confidence.

Sure, the mojo seems to be going against me.

But now I've gotta play for pride, patrons. Gotta find some way to redeem myself, and it starts this week. On to the games!

Ole Miss at Auburn (+3.5): I have no idea what Vegas sees here. Auburn stinks in 11am games. All the early season good vibes are long gone and they're about to implode. The offense can't stay on the field against SEC opponents which leaves the thin defense exhausted and out of sorts. On the other hand, Snead and McCluster racked up 500 yards of offense last week and are starting to look like the team everybody thought they'd be at the beginning of the season. The oddsmakers must think Auburn will rally the troops and save the season. That's iffy at best. I haven't seen anything that leads me to believe this team has the heart and fight to do that. Diner Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Auburn 14.

Texas at Oklahoma State (+9): With Kid1 recently being accepted to UT we've become Longhorn intensive around here. Watching Texas, it's easy to see that they play tough, aggressive defense. Colt McCoy completes short passes that receivers turn into big gains. The running game struggles, but they're solid on special teams. Meanwhile, up in Stillwater, the Cowboys have been getting better since the fluke loss to Houston. Add to that OSU has blown big leads to Texas the last couple of times they played them and Gundy is 0-5 against Mack Brown. Texas finds ways to win. It's really that simple. And while I think the Cowboys will put up a fight, their losing streak will continue. Diner Prediction: Texas 24, Oklahoma State 20.

South Carolina (+5.5) at Tennessee: If Lane Kiffin's special teams could've made just one of their three makable field goals on the road against Alabama, he'd have gotten his first "signature" win. The Vols have been getting better each week and demolished Georgia at Neyland two weeks ago. But even the older, more mellow Steve Spurrier ratchets up when some young gunslinger comes in a thumbs his nose at him. He's quietly circled this one after Kiffin's media digs at him. Both teams play good defense and have struggled on offense. It'll come down to who has the better game: Crompton/Hardesty or Garcia/Miles. I think the Vols have better talent and win at home in a close one. Diner Prediction: Tennessee 20, South Carolina 17.

Florida vs. Georgia (+15.5) at Jacksonville: Something about the Gators just doesn't look right to me. They win, but it seems like they're struggling offensively...even with Tim Tebow. Last week, Tebow gave up two interceptions for TD's. The defense is stout, though. Richt is now on the hot seat all of a sudden, and while you can say this is a serious rivalry game and all that, well, the Gators have won 16 of the last 19. Last year, they won by 39 points. I can't shake that reality that the Gators aren't pounding teams like they have in year's past. So, I think they'll win but I'm not sure they'll cover. Diner Prediction: Florida 27, Georgia 16.

California at Arizona State (+6.5): Arizona State got pushed around by Stanford last week. The Cal Bears haven't lived up to the pre-season hype. However, their quarterback Kevin Riley seems to do very well against teams that aren't national powers. Meanwhile, Dennis Erickson's Wildcats always have the ability to beat anybody on any given day. Being at home helps them out, but I think Tedford's Bears are hungry and looking to get back into the top 25. I think they'll win on the road. Diner Prediction: California 27, Arizona State 17.

U.S.C. at Oregon (+3): I really think the Ducks have a HUGE home field advantage, and they especially want to knock USC out of the Pac-10 race. Halloween night in Eugene, Oregon. U.S.C. with loads of talent but a young quarterback who hasn't played well on the road. They'll try to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage, but Oregon has Masoli. And that team has turned the corner after losing to Boise early on. I think the Trojan reign of Pac-1 + 9 ends Saturday night. Diner Prediction: Oregon 31, U.S.C. 28.

Kansas (+6.5) at Texas Tech: I love Leach. This week, he said that his players listened to their "fat girlfriends" tell them how great they were and how badly they'd beat Texas A&M. When reporters asked him if he wanted to apologize or retract his statement he said absolutely not. That said, the rumor mill has it that he'll be starting his redshirt freshman quarterback Seth Doege who came in last week when Potts struggled. Kansas has been playing well and Reesing is a very good quarterback. I think Leach is mad and wants to make a point and will do his best to score as early and often as possible in Lubbock. I think it'll be enough to win and cover. Diner Prediction: Texas Tech 34, Kansas 24.

Iowa State (+7) at Texas A&M: The Aggies upset the Red Raiders last week in Lubbock. Iowa State upset Nebraska last week in Lincoln. The Aggies have really been struggling to get the program turned around and are hoping that was the first step toward climbing back to respectability. Iowa State hired Paul Rhoads, who has now won as many games in one season as Auburn's Gene Chizik won there in two. They're already talking about bowl games for the Cyclones. My guess is that the next lesson they'll learn is how to handle success. That win last week might be their downfall this week. Diner Prediction: Texas A&M 23, Iowa State 14.

North Carolina State (+9) at Florida State: The bottom line here is that Florida State's Christian Ponder leads the ACC in passing. The Wolfpack defense gives up the most yards passing. Florida State is at home. The problem is that FSU's defense has been finding ways to give up plays in the 4th quarter and letting other teams stick around longer than necessary or win outright. I think the Seminoles have more talent, and they grew up last week holding on late against the Tar Heels. FSU will score, and I think they're better equipped to make a few stops in the stretch. Diner Prediction: Florida State 44, North Carolina State 31.

Missouri at Colorado (+3.5): It's like Nostradamus made Missouri's schedule. Rain, heat, cold and now snow in Boulder. The Tigers will try to redeem themselves after not even lasting one good quarter against the Longhorns on national television. Unfortunately, it'll have to happen on the road in less than optimum conditions. The Buffaloes, however, will need all the weather they can get because their defense isn't good. It should be close, no matter the conditions...but I think Missouri will have more motivation and have enough talent to pull it off on the road. Diner Prediction: Missouri 20, Colorado 13.

Well, there you have it, patrons! Your thoughts on the games or the proposal to eliminate the divisions of the Big 12 and just make it one conference because of the huge imbalance between north and south?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Proud Uncle Alert

My oldest nephew started high school this year...and he has been playing on the freshman team for the Spain Park Jaguars. He's been starting at one of the wide receiver positions and caught a touchdown pass in an earlier game this season. These photos are from his most recent game, a 14-0 victory over Oak Mountain:

Obviously, he's #5. Checking to make sure he has the right play:

In the slot:

Running his route. Notice the respect the defensive back is showing by giving him such a large cushion (hey, I said it was a proud uncle alert. You were warned.)

Pre-game, getting ready to run on the field. You can see #5 to the right of the banner:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another Diner Table Game!

I'm always on the look-out for discussion starters or games that can be played on van rides or whenever we have "down-time" with teenagers. Occupational hazard. A side benefit is that they work whenever you might need them with friends or in other social situations.

Anyway, I read a good little discussion starter last night in Chuck Klosterman's new book. If you know of Chuck Klosterman, you know why things like this are in his essays. If you don't know of Chuck Klosterman, well, your loss.

Here's the starter:

You have the chance to make a telephone call back in time to the 15-year-old YOU. Keep in mind that the 15-year-old YOU will not be able to know it is the FUTURE YOU or ask questions, because you only have 15 SECONDS to communicate. They have no idea this is possible...just a random afternoon, they're at their house and their telephone rings. After they hear it, they'll have no simply hang up and they go on to live their life after that. It'll help if you try to put yourself in that situation at 15 years of age. What would you hear and think if you listened to that call?

(The example the author gave was to say, "Invest in Google!" over and over. Then he realized that the 15-year-old him, even if he looked that up in a dictionary or encyclopedia--there was no internet then, remember--would've wondered how you could invest in a large number and have no idea what to do with that data later unless he stumbled on it.)


...what do you say in your 15 seconds to the 15-year-old YOU?



Monday, October 26, 2009

And, So It Begins...AGAIN

Dr. Emmett Brown couldn't generate 1.21 gigawatts of electricity in 1955 to make his flux capacitor work (as we learned from Dr. Brown that he was sure that in 1985 "plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955 it's a little hard to come by"). The only thing that could generate enough power to get Marty McFly back to 1985 Hill Valley was a bolt of lightning. One problem: "Unfortunately, you never know when or where it's going to strike."

It's the same way for youth ministers.

You try to build relationships with teens...the "flux capacitor" of ministry to them, if you will. Your job is structured to do that very thing. You sit in coffee shops getting to know them or maybe even problem solving. You go to their games. You see their plays. You hear their concerts. You get your car washed (most of the time poorly) if it doesn't need it and eat lunch at restaurants you don't really want to hoping they'll notice you were there. You have them play Wii at your house when they should be doing homework. You ski with the kids who aren't good skiiers. You understand that the true spiritual life is most effectively learned life-to-life.

Sometimes the lightning doesn't strike. You never know the reason, but you suspect it could be several reasons. The bottom line is that the teen doesn't want you around. This is something few parents truly understand...and the youth minister gets blamed because the teen keeps pushing us away. Then they tell mommy and daddy they have no idea why the youth pastor "hates" them or why there are "cliques" in the group and they can't get connected.

Open note to parents: Sometimes your teen doesn't tell you the whole truth. Sometimes your kid outright lies. You get that little tidbit of blog information for free today only, kids.

But when the lightning does strike...

...manalive is 1.21 gigawatts powerful.

See, it usually happens about once a year to me. That moment that the God of the Universe puts that ONE KID on my heart. Let me put that in human terms for those of you not hip to Christian insider lingo. There's a moment where words pop into my brain that say something like, "Pay attention to that kid and build into their lives big-time. Christ has something very specific to do with them and you'll be an anchor for them during the next few years of their spiritual development."

At that point, in poker terms, I'm "all in" on that kid.

If I were to list 21 years worth of the "that kids" He has, well, um, put on my heart, let's just say that I have few misreads on that. The Kingdom will be more populated and rewarded because of their ministries, and in many ways their ministries are "more successful" than mine.

Some are pastors in varying roles, from young married to senior to college to youth. They still give me a hard time that they learned Greek and Hebrew during seminary, while I never did.
Some are on the mission field full-time.
Some are still in seminary.
Some are great moms who teach a senior high small group of girls.
Some are giving their testimony to large groups of women after having taken, well, a somewhat circuitous route to the spiritual life in Christ.
Some are school teachers in public schools...loving teens through art (some paint, some coach elementary P.E., some dramatic, some studying to do it through English).
Some are in the business world by day and being all emergent-house-churchy-communal by lifestyle.
Some are enjoying being married and ministering alongside their spouse in a Christian school environment.
Some are writing curriculum for financial ministries.
Some are with the Lord. Well, one. But he ministered more by his story (which became public via media coverage) fighting CF in his 20 years here than I likely will in however many God gives me.
Some are college students trying to figure it all out and leaning on Him in the "now and not yet" time of life--that time between finishing college and getting to ministry.

Like I said, I have few misreads on those moments.

But, these days, when the lightning strikes, I'm pretty sensitive to the when and where. At this stage of the game, I have some idea of what's going to happen on the back end.

And, it has happened twice in the last two weeks.

1.21 gigawatts moment #1: Discussing the curse of writing with her. I "get" that curse. Where you simply HAVE to write. It organizes the thoughts that are constantly coming into your brain. It lets you get rid of the jumble of ideas as they happen. It lets you put on paper the odd way that you perceive the same events that happen to everybody else. She felt misunderstood by even though she was closest to. She had HUGE questions about God and for God. Uh-oh...she felt far afield from her fellow man, including fellow Christians.

That sound you heard was me pushing all my chips to the center of the table.

1.21 gigawatts moment #2: Goofing around at a table (enlightening the young ladies at the table regarding the importance of ALWAYS taking the Captain's Wafers over regular saltine crackers at a salad bar--yes, this is what your kids get in the normals of ministry, but don't knock the advice. It's true, and you know it.). I take the kid's iPod and scroll through the music library. We're music twins. I comment about that. She says, "Yeah, music is really important in my life. When nobody understands me or I'm stressed or feeling bad, music just kinda drains all that crud away." Uh-oh. I tell her it has a similar effect on my life. Suffice to say, her story to that age and mine were strikingly similar.

That sound you heard was me pushing in another stack of chips to the center of the table.

So, parents, sometimes us youth ministers aren't "playing favorites." Sometimes, it's nothing more than responding to what we believe God telling us to do.

Open note to parents #2: And, yes, sometimes we do "play favorites." Not on purpose, mind you. It's just that some teens let us in a little faster or maybe we have more in common with them or whatever. That does happen. Just let us know when it does. We'll do what we can to help your kid. Promise.

And, it ain't all roses when you're the 1.21 gigawatt kid. Having the youth minister's chips all in on your hand has tremendous downsides, too. They feel it. They know it. There are times they want out of that fishbowl and just swim around like the other kids. They don't get that luxury. They're uncomfortable with just the idea that there's something God wants to do with them that might just keep them from ever being whatever their idea of "normal" happens to be. I'm sure some of them who read this blog will comment on that reality...that reality that their youth minister sees something extraordinary in what you perceive as a very ordinary you.

But, like when I try to explain to others "why I'd spend all day every day for 21 years with teenagers"...

...why do you (or the 1.21 gigawatt kid, for that matter) assume that I have a choice?

I am not my own.

And, neither are they.

We're in this "slow business" of spiritual growth together...for my "planting" portion of the program. Others will "water." God will cause them to grow in His time and in His way.

In some more words of Dr. Emmett Brown, "Let me show you my plan for sending you home. Please excuse the crudity of this model, I didn't have time to build it to scale or to paint it."

There's a plan.
The model is crude.
It isn't built to scale.
It isn't painted.

But when the lightning hits it...



P.S. How long has it been since I told you I love my job?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

FloMo Diaries, Installment 3: Extracurricular

*I mentioned earlier that I was inspired by an idea David Byrne (co-founder of the great Talking Heads) had. He bought a bike and cycled around the various places his artistic life took him and write a book about what he noticed. Taking a page out of that book, I've started writing down nuances of my suburban culture of Flower Mound, Texas, as I meander through in car, on feet or in coffee shops. For a few weeks, anyway.*

It was spring of my 5th grade year that I learned exactly what I would NOT be doing as an extracurricular activity.

Nearly 3 decades later the details of how that trombone got in my room for an afternoon are somewhat sketchy. If memory serves, the music teacher at my elementary school began recruiting for concert band, which began in 6th grade. We all got out of our normal class routine and went to the music room and the teacher chatted with us for a minute and then somehow determined what musical instrument suited us best. We got to take it home for the afternoon.

I have no idea why he chose trombone for me after our minute-and-a-half interview. It didn't matter. There was a brief lesson on how to play it and take it apart and put it back in the case. Then I lugged it the mile walk home from school and was having quite the Ferris Bueller "Never-Had-One-Lesson" time. A couple of hours in my room making a horribly joyful noise.

Then my dad knocked on my door...home from the steel mill. The exchange went something like this:

"What 'cha got there, son?"

"It's a trombone, Dad! The music teacher gave it to me for the afternoon and wanted me to see if I liked it or not and if I did I might could play it in concert band at school and they'd give lessons and..."

"Do you carry that across a goal line?" he interrupted.


"Does it fit through a hoop? Do you shoot in in a goal?"


"What about running bases? Does it run bases? Or do you hit it over a net? Anything like that?"


"Then you ain't playing it. Put on your sneakers and let's go play some HORSE."

Now, don't get me wrong. I wasn't ruined for life because my dreams of playing in a jazz combo were forever squashed right then and there. I'm pretty sure I had a fun afternoon playing basketball in the driveway with my dad because I had fun playing whatever sport was in season with my dad whenever he came home from work. We had a makeshift baseball diamond (had to play between the houses so as not to break glass with foul balls) or driveway foul lanes or gridiron with our yard and next-door neighbor Al's yard (the cluster of trees by the street often made nice blockers on punt returns) and even a backyard hockey goal with one of mom's old sheets as a net. All with my steel-working dad.

But that day influenced my choices for my extracurricular activities for the rest of my school years. Well, maybe. By the time I was 11, I'd already seen Brooks Robinson highlights and was doing book reports on Nolan Ryan and was watching Monday Night Football (got to stay up late) and listening to college games on the radio (this used to actually happen before cable television). So, maybe I was geared for sports. I certainly gravitated for them, even if I wasn't great at them.

Now, my suburban middle school and high school offered the full menu of extracurricular activities. There were sports (including cheerleading, which has become a sport, but back then it wasn't a competitive team sport). All the normal things like school newspaper and yearbook staff were available. The honor societies. The band had a whole lot of options, from marching to jazz to peop bands and the like. Drama and choir were around, too, putting on plays and shows. The requisite math and foreign language and academic clubs were all there. The service clubs were around. There were the "on-the-fly" clubs the came together of common interests, like the Hackey Sack club. The student council. The class officers. We had them all...even the famed Audio/Visual Club, which back then involved setting up movie projectors and film strips, with retractable screens.

Now the sports and band and drama and choir deals all got a specific period each day...athletics was last. I think band was first. I think drama was during or after the lunch period. The other clubs got to meet during the school day once a month. We had a special schedule the first week of the month on Tuesdays and Thursdays where the clubs would meet and fulfill whatever their purpose happened to be. Or maybe plan when they'd get together and execute their purpose.

I don't know exactly because for my four years of high school I wasn't in a club.

At all.


Maybe because they didn't involve a court or net or goal or maybe it was because Kim Markovich said something like, "I don't think I want to be in any club this year so I'm just going to stay in homeroom." She was a cheerleader. She was in my homeroom. About eight or 10 of us thought that sounded good. We called it "Homeroom Club." My extracurricular activity for three years was to be near Kim Markovich and try to figure out a way to get her to go on a date with me. Then she moved to Florida, and the Homeroom Club was ingrained with me and Mike Mayhan and Keith Martens and Greg Lozano that we just stuck it out that last year. It was never the same without Kim, but I digress.

My point in all this is that is seemed so much simpler in the early 1980's. If I wanted to stay in Homeroom Club or play baseball or be in the band or join the Hackey Sack club, you joined. If you weren't interested in those things, you didn't join. There was an honesty and a purity to being a part of the club. Sure, there were a few type-A's that joined clubs like it was going out of style because of some pressure to get that resume looking good. But most people joined those clubs because they had some sort of unifying interest in that particular club...even if it was a cheerleader.

Nowdays, it seems like middle and high schoolers have started joining clubs they don't even care about because some counselor told them they needed to get some things on their resume for college. Needed to show some ghost of an admissions representative at some random university that you're "well rounded." I can't tell you the number of teenagers who join things they aren't interested in to pad the old resume.

I know that I've had teens go on our church mission trip because they needed something like that to look good for their resume. Now, that's not all bad, mind you...because I've seen dramatic changes in teens' perspectives no matter what the initial motivation of any kid might be.

It also seems to me that the extracurriculars are incredibly specialized these days. For example, I know a student who was on the cross country team at the local high school. They train before school, but somehow the training bleeds into the first period class or something like that. Anyway, this student thought they might like to play their trumpet in the band. No dice. Band practices in the parking lot before school starts. Counselor said it simply wasn't possible. Gotta choose one or the other. Keep in mind: This was in the SUMMER BEFORE 9th GRADE. They had to choose between two things they wanted to try and that decision, in many ways, cannot be corrected.

But, in this particular case, the band does indeed practice before school every day during marching season. And, they practice after school in that same parking lot every day for two to three hours. And, each section usually grabs another hour for extra work during the school day. Don't even get me started on the drum line, who is out there all day every day somehow. Realtors don't show homes in the neighborhood across the street from that parking lot during hours the drum line is out there in the summer.

It's the same for sports, too. Teens have to choose one sport or the other before 9th grade because the practice schedule is so demanding for every sport. Football is a year-round endeavor...with camps and 7-on-7 tournaments and weight training schedules and all that. Same for baseball. In 1981, our high school team won the state championship and went 30-5. That's 35 games. Baseball season was over in mid-May and summer was "off" until football two-a-days started in August. But now, kids will play their 30-game high school season, then hook up with their summer travel team and play around 40 games. I'm not kidding when I tell you that I have high school sophomores that play nearly 90 games a year when you include "Fall ball."

What all of this does is create mastery of one particular activity (our local high school band won a national championship, as have area drum lines, which have their own particular championship--I know--but there were 8 national championship bands in 2008 if I read Google right, so I'm not sure what that means) at the expense of trying to figure out what you like and what you don't like.

That mastery is pretty good, too.

Ever seen a high school yearbook these days? They're 600 glossy color pages of goodness that truly documents a year. Sure, there are photos of kids in their classes and club photos and teachers and all that, but there are quality journalism pieces on everything from kids in school who do X-Games type sports to anorexia to fashion trends and all that jazz. It's incredible to see.

Ever seen a school newspaper these days? There are themes and they all look like mini-New York Posts. Great cover photography. Excellent journalism. Themes for the week.

They win awards, too. The idea is to go to the state championship for these things.

Ever seen a school play these days? Suffice to say that technology helps, but the sets and the talent (some of whom have private drama teachers, much like athletes get private coaches) and the sound and lighting (all of whom have their own clubs) are top drawer. It often costs $12 at the door to see a high school play, too.

So, here in FloMo, we have incredible opportunities for our teens to be involved in extracurricular activities. Our bands and teams and newspapers and yearbooks and dramas and choirs do indeed win all sorts of awards and championships (who knew there was a drama state champion, right?). Our teens often get the very best chances to be great at those areas they specialize in...

...even if the motive is to pad a resume to look good for some admissions counselor.

...even if it's at the price of an unbelievable amount of time commitment.

...even if it's at the price of a significant financial commitment.

...even if it's at the expense of maybe missing out on something else they might enjoy because there isn't time and money to do both. I mean, I have no idea if I'd enjoy the jazz combo or not, right?

And, I wonder how much of this comes from the teachers and parents... have the very best team/band/theater/choir and win championships. "keep our kids out of trouble." re-live our high school glory days or try to correct whatever glory we wanted but didn't get in high school.

Even with the huge upside of excellence (and, frankly, it is a HUGE upside), and the real joy of friendships and experiences developed in those various activities, and the interests that get developed and mastered...

...the lack of pressure days being a part of something because you enjoyed it, even if that meant three years of Homeroom Club trying to hit on Kim Markovich, are long gone.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Everyday, I Wish I Wrote With This Much Insight

From Donald Miller (yes, the Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller) blog. He's writing about the book tour, with resulting readings, signings, lectures about it. The new book is good, by the way.

Reflections on Endless Self-Promotion, by Donald Miller.

You won't regret reading it, I don't think.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Diner Football Picks, Week 8

Going into last week's games, The Diner was 23-35-2 against the point spread and coming off a two-week winning streak. The streak helped ease the sting of 4 straight losing weeks...and last week we went 4-5-1. Not too shabby, but still a lot of ground to make up over the last few weeks of the season if we want to get to the respectable .500 mark. Here's trying to make some hay this week:

Auburn (+7.5) at L.S.U.: You'll hear a lot this week about how close these games always are and how something crazy (fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, coach gambles that pay off, etc.) usually happens. Well, no matter how you slice it, we've learned that Auburn's offense has been figured out...which leaves their talented/thin defense on the hook and they have trouble stopping others in the 4th quarter. L.S.U. has a power running game that can wear down a defense and their defense has enough athletes to stifle Auburn's offense. Even if Jefferson is very average, Ben Tate won't be enough. This line started at 11 for a reason. L.S.U. at home, too. Diner Prediction: L.S.U. 28, Auburn 13.

Tennessee (+14.5) at Alabama: Sure. Tennessee throttled the Dawgs in Knoxville. But lots of teams seem to be putting a lot of points on Georgia these days. Lane Kiffin added fuel to an already heated rivalry by asking Alabama to let UT wear orange in Tuscaloosa, knowing they wouldn't let them, and making Alabama look petty by saying no. Sure, Bama has had a little trouble on offense, but Mark Ingram, a sophomore, has been touted as an early Heisman leader. He's the real deal, and while Tennessee can certainly play defense, they won't have enough offense to stay in the game. I think Bama might just blow them out. Diner Prediction: Alabama 31, Tennessee 9.

Texas at Missouri (+13): Texas has been hard to figure out. Colt McCoy hasn't played like everybody thought he would and the running game isn't the strength it should be. They play very good the question is whether or not the Horns will start slow and pull away at the end like they have all season, or will they start peaking at the right time now that OU is out of the way. My guess is that it'll be more of the former due to an OU hangover. Diner Prediction: Texas 24, Missouri 13.

Texas A&M (+21.5) at Texas Tech: Something is seriously wrong with A&M. They gave up 62 to Kansas State. No, not in a basketball game. A football game. Texas Tech has shown that their system is pretty much plug-and-play in that you can put any of their quarterbacks in it and they'll rack up yards and points. Expect that this weekend in Lubbock. Texas Tech 55, Texas A&M 27.

Penn State at Michigan (+4.5): The Big House ain't what it used to be, but Michigan seems to be slowly turning the corner and buying into Rich Rodriguez and his spread offense. Penn State seems to have been forgotten on the national stage as of late, but they're still a pretty good football team. This one will come down to coaching, and that's where Paterno has a slight edge...but Green won't play and the Lions would win bigger if he were. It should be a great football game, maybe coming down to the last drive. Diner Prediction: Penn State 24, Michigan 20.

Iowa at Michigan State (even): Let me get this straight: Iowa is 7-0. Michigan State has started finding ways to win after losing 3 close games in a row, all triggered by upsetting rival Michigan in OT. So, a 3 loss team is even against an unbeaten team? Somebody in Vegas knows something, and I think the Spartans are starting to peak at the right time. I'll take the home team. Diner Prediction: Michigan State 26, Iowa 20.

T.C.U. at Brigham Young (+2.5). That's right. ESPN's GameDay is in Provo for the Mountain West tilt. It seems like each and every year the Horned Frogs start getting mentioned as a BCS buster they lose a close last year in Utah they went to the wire against a team that manhandled an Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl. Something tells me Patterson learned some lessons from that and will have his team fired up to play in something other than the Fort Worth Bowl. The BYU win over OU doesn't look nearly as good as it did when it happened, either. Diner Prediction: T.C.U. 17, Brigham Young 13.

Arkansas (+6.5) at Ole Miss: Ole Miss is on the downturn. A lot like Auburn, the Rebels started out with high hopes but Jevon Snead has been a disappointment. While the Rebels play very physical football and will try to pound away at the Hogs, somebody might want to take note that Arkansas has discovered how to play defense. Their offense will score points, and I don't think I'll need the 6.5 I'm getting. I think the Hogs win outright. Diner Prediction: Arkansas 27, Ole Miss 23.

Boston College (+7.5) at Notre Dame. Which B.C. team shows up? The one that beat F.S.U. in the 4th quarter or the one that laid down against Virginia Tech on the road? Which Notre Dame team shows up? The one that took U.S.C. to the wire or the one that struggles against weaker teams? For some reason, Notre Dame plays to wherever their competition happens to be. But, I think the B.C. team is really the one that played against Virginia Tech, and I think Notre Dame and Jimmy Clausen are ready for a breakout game against a rival. Diner Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Boston College 21.

Oklahoma at Kansas (+7.5). OU is now playing for pride and the hopes of a Florida bowl game on New Year's Day. Effectively out of the race for the Big 12 south, out of the national championship for sure, starting Heisman quarterback out for the season and maybe for good, things don't look happy in Norman. The funny thing is, that even when things are that bad for OU, they're still better than pretty much anybody in the Big 12 North. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 27, Kansas 17.

There you have it, patrons. What do you think?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fair Warning

My horoscope (which I liken to fortune cookies) reads, "You fight any sort of restraint, independent action seems to be the only thing you can manage right now."

Sounds like I'm on my own today kids. Don't try to restrain me.

But, I must not be very good at that, because they said my day would be a 6 out of a possible 10, even thought I've never seen anything lower than a 5.. Hmmm.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

FloMo Diaries, Installment 2: Education

*I mentioned earlier that I was inspired by an idea David Byrne (co-founder of the great Talking Heads) had. He bought a bike and decided to bicycle around the various places his artistic life took him and write a book about. Said he felt biking gave him a connection to cities and places you can't get in a car or on a train. He also said that the things he noticed tipped him off to the nuances of the culture. I stole the idea, and am going to make weekly Sunday entries about my little suburb of Flower Mound, Texas. For a few weeks, anyway.*

It's been said that what you spend your money on is an indication of what you truly value. You know, that deal where you sit down, you take a look at your checkbook, and you can tell what is important.

Well, let me throw some numbers at you:

$900 million.
$776 million.
$468 million.
$380 million.

The first number, you ask? Yeah. That's the value of all the land owned by the Lewisville Independent School District.

That second number, you ask? Yeah. That's the amount approved in the 2008 bond election.

The third and fourth numbers, you ask? Yeah. Those are the total adopted expenditure budget and the total general fund expenditure budgets for 2008. I'm not that strong in math, but the district website made them two different numbers. Not sure why.

Voters around here can't get taxed any more to pay for education if we wanted to. The great state of Texas says so. 11 times since 1970, voters have approved a bond package to fund various educational needs and wants. And, when I say "approved," well, most of the elections I recall were in the 85-90% approval rate. Businesses only create about 30% of the income.

It's safe to say that we value education, and while we're saying it, we're pulling out our wallets and checkbooks and maxing out our property taxes and making sure we put our money where our mouth is.

And, brother, it's pretty darn good, too. Folks move here for it. We plaster words on the buildings of our schools that say things like "Exemplary" or "Blue Ribbon" which highlight how well we've done compared to other Texans or other Americans. Marcus and Flower Mound High Schools combined for 25 National Merit Scholar finalists, and 70 Commended Scholars. At graduation ceremonies, principals crow about how much money the class garnered in scholarships, which usually had the word "million" after the dollar sign somewhere.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. We value education, we're willing to pay for it, and we're given a pretty good bang for out buck.

Schools dot our landscape, too. FloMo has two high schools, with about 6,300 students. We have 6 middle schools, and 15 elementary schools. And, because they stagger the beginning and end of the school days (presumably so one parent can drop off/pick up their kids in different levels of schooling) you have to note your speed anywhere you happen to be going from 7:30am-9:15am and 2:30pm-4:45pm. You darn well better not use your mobile phone in those zones, either. All the blinking lights have little cell phone icons with a "Ghostbuster" red circle to let you know that use is "prohibited." Frankly, we need those signs in pretty much every area of our society...and I view this ban as a good start for that very thing, but I digress.

I also want to kick some shouts out to the very good private schools in our town, and homeschooling is an option that's likely more prominent here than in other parts of the country.

What they all seem to have in common is that they view themselves as "college preparatory" in nature. What I take that to mean is that they pretty much figure that all of their students will be going to colleges and universities and most of the process of education is geared toward that end. I have no idea if this is because our little burb has a very high percentage of college grads who have the same expectation of their children or if the power brokers making decisions designed it that way--an educational chicken/egg conundrum--but the system promotes that way of thinking.

Both our high schools even have something called a PSAT Team. See, the PSAT is taken your junior year...and the results of that test determine the National Merit Scholars. So, all the sophomores take this test--gets 'em all test-taking savvy. Then, these kids'll spend a couple of hours every Saturday for about four months "practicing" to take this test. By the time they take the official PSAT, some kids have had about 100 hours of practice. The teams make t-shirts. Not even kidding.

Sometimes I wonder if we're creating very good test-takers at the expense of creating very good thinkers and learners...but I have no idea how you'd measure that and in some ways you have to find ways to measure what students are "learning." Maybe actual learning gets lost in that shuffle somewhere.

Another couple of things that get lost in the shuffle are the "trades" and (perhaps) military service. I'm a firm believer that the university route is NOT for EVERY kid (granted, in our community, most probably should go to college), but there's both subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to get in one to "prepare you for today's world." For example, I can point to two students who are very bright, but one LOVED to do woodwork, and the other LOVED to work on cars. Both showed very special aptitudes in those areas. They made good money in high school working for others doing what they LOVED. Their parents badgered and pushed them to go to college and wasted a bundle on a year of books, room, board, tuition, books and fees to discover what the graduates already knew: They wanted to be carpenters and mechanics. They still are...and, oh, by the way, did you know that suburban folks will pay a pretty good chunk of money to have some custom cabinets or deck work? You know how much people are willing to pay for a good, honest mechanic? They make more than their teachers who have university educations, folks.

Now, things have changed a bit in the last few years for the better regarding military service. A while back I was in the DFW Airport, and I saw a dad point to two soldiers who were making a connecting flight. Fatigues & duffel bags. Looking sharp & walking tall. The kind of soldiers you want on that wall. That you need on that wall. Protecting our freedoms while we sleep. You can finish the Jack Nicholson speech yourself.

Anyway, that dad pointed and nudged his son and said, "See those guys, son? That's your future if you don't get your grades up." I wish I'd had the guts to say what I was thinking, which was along the lines of, "When did military service lose nobility? Don't we want our best and brightest in that role?" Again, I feel pretty confident that mindset is an extreme minority in our community these days, but I wonder if we don't accidentally foster a "fall back" mindset rather than a "first choice."

This "university mindset" puts an awful lot of pressure in high school, too. They know their class rank beginning their freshman year, for crying out loud. I didn't know my class rank until graduation day and we accidentally stumbled on the list some teacher left lying around. This is so they'll know if they're in the top 10% of the class, which pretty much guarantees them admission to the state university of their choice. That's a law in Texas, which the folks in charge claim to be working on because kids can get into Ivy League schools but not the University of Texas (which has 85% of their incoming freshman class as beneficiaries of the top 10% law). I think some of those PSAT Team members that make up the 11%-ers in our community must be pretty smart cookies because their college choices are pretty impressive, too.

Sure, there's a bit of grade inflation, too. One year, nearly 20% of the graduating class had higher than the equivalent of a 4.0 G.P.A. Yeah. You can have better than all A's and not be in the top 10%. That's pressure, man. I mean, there's a bottom 90% that can't all be "failures," can they? Since when did a "B" become bad...or even a "C." You can finish the Bill Cosby lecture to Theo about making a "hard C" in college here.

One last thing that goes on at high schools which scares me more than any horror movie I ever saw: They have random drug testing at the high school. You have to sign a paper saying it's okay for your kid to be randomly tested, so I'm sure it's some kind of legal loophole...but your kid can't participate in any extracurricular activity without signing the form, so who knows if it'd hold up in court? But nobody really seems to care that this goes on. Not parents--all of who say things like, "Well, it's good the school is trying to help parents find out if their kids are on drugs." Students laugh that they got chosen however they choose them and I don't think the deal is catching very many students, either. Sure, if some kid gives a teacher or administrator just cause to suspect drug use or coming to school drunk, have at some form of "proof" because they're messing up the educational process. But our community has been eerily quiet that students who are innocent have to surrender their rights (the school isn't a "private employer" that I'm aware of)? I'm much more fearful of government intrusion than I am of some kid who smoked pot over the weekend while listening to Pink Floyd who sobered up by Tuesday getting "found out" and the ensuing suspension or whatever. Sounds to me like he'd be one who's cut out for university if you've ever been to a university, you know what I mean.

Like I said at the beginning, we put our money where our mouth is on this education that we value for our kids. My guess is we happily do so largely because we love our kids and want the very best for them...all our community's kids. We're very blessed to live here because our kids have advantages that will give them every opportunity to succeed in our society. Our kids get more by the end of 9th grade than many in the world get in a lifetime. I'm a big fan of the educators in our community, too...even the "bad" ones are pretty good at what they do, and the "good" ones are often truly great at what they do. So, it works for us.

Commended Scholars.
National Merit.
Scholarships in the millions.

Numbers don't lie. Darn right it works for us. A blind guy with one eye could see that.

Our biggest danger with our empahsis is what doesn't get empahsized--even if those are more an oversight than anything else...

...and the reality that many see our formal education system as a panacea when it's really a placebo.

(next time: extracurriculars and parenting)

Friday, October 16, 2009


Forgot that I was going to do another entry for the FloMo Diaries this Sunday. It won't get done as I'm taking a group of students to Pine Cove to serve for the weekend, so for those few who are left reading this blog (numbers are WAY down, kids), I hope you aren't bummed...

...but I'll try to have it in time for Tuesday's entry.

Sorry, man.
Diner Football Picks, Week 7


Maybe we're on a turnaround. Granted, it was a slow start. But maybe we stopped the bleeding two weeks ago...and turned the corner last week. We'll see, but here we go with an upbeat belief that we're now on the road to recovery.

Kentucky (+13) at Auburn: Auburn got exposed last week. They didn't match up well defensively against a team that throws well, and when they ran into adversity, they fell apart. They did indeed rally and made a 34-3 deficit shring to 11 in the 3rd quarter. Rebuilding goes in stages for any program, and Auburn's stage was learning how to handle success. A little humility might be just what the Tigers needed to refocus. A nighttime home game might be just what the doctor ordered for Auburn this week...especially with UK's starting quarterback on the shelf and a young qb at Auburn for his first start doesn't bode well for a Wildcat team that's struggled anyway. Diner Prediction: Auburn 38, Kentucky 23.

Texas vs. Oklahoma (+3) at Dallas: This game has all the benchmarks of a classic. It seems like the tables have turned on Big Game Bob and now Mack has the upper hand. But then the Longhorns couldn't run against Colorado last week, and that makes this one interesting, because Muschamp's defense can expose even the best of offenses. Bradford wasn't sharp in his return last week, either. In close games, defense usually wins out...and I think this one will come down to the question of can Muschamp stop Bradford on the last drive. I think they will. Diner Prediction: Texas 21, Oklahoma 17.

Texas Tech (+10.5) at Nebraska: The line on this one opened 5.5 and has nearly doubled since Tuesday. My guess is that has to do with Tech's quarterback Potts and whether or not he'll start. Leach ain't sayin.' But Nebraska is at home, and playing like the 15th ranked team in the country, while Tech has fallen far after being last year's media darlings. The Huskers have an offense this year, and if Zac Lee can do what he's done all season, they'll cover the spread at home. I don't think he'll do what he's done all season, and they'll win, but the half point matters. Diner Prediction: Nebraska 31, Texas Tech 23.

South Carolina (+17) at Alabama: The voters moved Alabama up to #2 this week over the Longhorns, although that may shift back this week if Texas wins. As I've said for three weeks, the Tide is playing as well as anybody in the country, too. Granted, Spurrier is unbeaten in Tuscaloosa, but that's when his teams were from Florida. The Gamecocks on the road won't be able to stop Alabama's punishing running game, and Bama's defense can easily stop an offense that Ole Miss stopped. Diner Prediction: Alabama 34, South Carolina 14.

Southern Cal at Notre Dame (+10.5): U.S.C. has been wildly inconsistent, and Notre Dame has spent much of the season finding ways to win close games. So many people think that this will be the year that the Irish can get over the Trojan road block. They won't, but it'll be harder than U.S.C. fans think. Diner Prediction: Southern Cal 27, Notre Dame 17.

California at U.C.L.A. (+3.5): Each and every year I get sucked into believing Cal is going to finally win the Pac-10. I thought so until their thrashing by the Oregon Ducks. But I still think they have enough firepower to cover that point spread even on the road against a very unpredictable Bruin team. Diner Prediction: California 24, U.C.L.A. 19.

Missouri (+7) at Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State started the season as the media darlings and then fell from grace after Houston beat them. Then Mizzou got off to a strong start only to lose to Nebraska in an awful rain storm. Well, the weather in supposed to be nice, and Zac Etheredge is good...I'd like this line if Bryant was playing, but without him and his story has been the story. That has to be a distraction. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma State 28, Missouri 24.

Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (+3): Virginia Tech has been VERY strong...and going to Grant Field isn't as scary as it used to be. I honestly felt like this line had to be a mistake when I saw it, and I'm going to go with that gut feeling. Diner Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Georgia Tech 17.

Arkansas (+25) at Florida: Florida didn't look all that impressive against L.S.U. last week, but they won against a good team on the road. Tebow looked tentative and they didn't throw it much. Meanwhile, Arkansas was able to figure out how to tackle and cover and play defense. I think the Gators will win big, and Arkansas won't be able to do to the Gators stout defense what they did to the Auburn thin one. Diner Prediction: Florida 41, Arkansas 17.

Washington (+6.5) at Arizona State: I've become a believer in the Huskies resurgence. The Sun Devils lead the Pac-10 in scoring defense, but those numbers were padded by playing Wazzu and Oregon State. So, while Arizona State is at home, I think that the Huskies will win this one outright as they've played tougher competition and done well. Diner Prediction: Washington 27, Arizona State 24.

There you have's hoping the Diner has turned the corner on predictions. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Random Thoughts On The U2 Concert Last Night

A billion dollars can build you an amazing stadium...and being from Alabama, where college football stadiums become the 5th largest city in that state on gameday, well, Jerry World was impressive inside and out.

My friend and I avoided paying for parking by using his connections to park at a local hotel and take a trolley. Saved $30...and a lot of sitting in traffic. See, the traffic arteries getting in and out of Jerry World involve interstates and highways. The trolley, once out of the hullaballoo near the stadium, zipped around quickly because it was using local roads.

There aren't any restaurants within a walking distance to the stadium front as we'd hoped...not even fast food. Maybe the best idea is to pick a restaurant that offers "free" parking with a $30 purchase with a trolley is the way to go on that.

Having used subways in New York city to get into and out of packed stadiums (both football and baseball games) and getting from New Jersey to Manhattan in 40 minutes, well, one more argument for public transportation that works looking at the entrance and exit of 70,000 cars to a small area--as if it needed more arguments.

Those bicycle cabs are a good idea for in-shape entrepreneurs. Low overhead, big tips, lots of folks wanting the ride.

The going rate for t-shirts is $40. I discovered that they broke my price threshold on that deal. I was prepared to go $30, but even for the "victory banner" purchase--where you can brag to your friends you got to see that show without saying a word--the extra $10 kept me away.

They sold party passes for these decks on either end of the stadium for $30. Some of the standing room seats in the east end zone were closer than some folks who paid big money. I'm getting old, because the idea of standing for 5 hours might keep me from cheap entry...when, in my younger club-going music-frenzy days, standing 5 hours was just part of the deal to get as close as you could to whoever was playing.

Philly cheesesteak and one bottled water at Jerry World: $15. Paid it, since I was hungry because no restaurants within walking distance...and I'm pretty sure the tip to a bike cabbie would've cost more in the end, not to mention that I'm not sure that we could've bike-cabbed back because the in-shape entrepreneurs likely wouldn't have stayed and who knows if they troll the restaurants for business?

16-oz. soda $5. Beer, $9, another two price thresholds I wouldn't break on those. I think I'm getting cheap in my middle-age.

The crowd had a signficant age range. Little kids. Young parents. Middle-agers like me. Old-timers. My guess as to the median age of the crowd, 35. Good music is good music regardless of when it was made. Last time I saw that kind of mix was at Tom Petty, both in Dallas and San Francisco.

On to the show:

Opening act, Muse. Very, very good band. Note to self: Get Kid1 to make a Muse mix CD. I think I would've gotten really into their set if I knew the words to the songs...even though I'd heard three of them on the radio a bunch. When they play 10 or 12 and you only know three, you say to yourself, "I'm pretty sure they're good. I wish I knew more of their stuff."

In between bands went by pretty quickly. Concession stands didn't do much work, but there were no lines. There weren't really any waits at restrooms and such, girls or guys. Although I did think it was funny that some guys discovered a "family" restroom sort of tucked away behind a column and monopolized that.

The stage for U2 was HUGE. They raised the 60-yard long by 25-yard high HD replay screen that spans the middle of Jerry World to get it out of the way of the 100-foot high stage (and let me say that the HD replay screen is IMPRESSIVE EVEN WHEN IT IS TURNED OFF!). They were in the "round," and their main stage was inside a 50-yard ringed walkway. People inside that ring had great views, but then again, so did people who were 50-yards away who later in the show were front-row. Kind of allowed them to make the back half of the stadium feel more intimate...well, as intimate as a show that large can feel.

There's a reason U2 are big-time rock stars. They can draw 70,000 people in while at the same time blowing you away with sound.

Speaking of sound, I don't think there's a way to deliver GREAT sound to a stadium that large. Doesn't matter if it's an outdoor venue or domed stadium, good sound that "big" I'm convinced is a difficult task.

Best moment: A crowd that large singing a cappela to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Stand By Me."

Worst moment: Bono trying to make an impassioned plea at times for the president of Burma and their African relief organization, both of which got lost in bad sound.

Best songs: "Vertigo." "Beautiful Day." "I'll Go Crazy (If I Don't Go Crazy) Tonight."

Worst songs: The entire final encore. Too slow. Too preachy.

Song they didn't play: Pride (In The Name of Love). How do they NOT play that?

After the show, it took us half an hour to get from our seats to the trolley. Another half-hour to get from the trolley to the car, and 40 minutes to get home from there.

So, overall, it was a good show, a good time, and I'm glad I went becaue I've never seen U2 live and have wanted to since college. Even if I didn't get a t-shirt.

But here's what I know: I'm much more into going to some dive club that seats 1,000 or so to hear a really good band than I am going to an arena with 70,000. I mean, I've seen "Stomp" at the Orpheum in New York, with it's tight seating for 1,500 and narrow venue and the touring show with 8,000 seats in a lovely venue in Fair Park and there's no comparison that the intimacy made a huge difference in the experience. In this case, it was a good experience for what it was. But what it was isn't really my preference.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gee...Now I'm So Disillusioned.

Front page, New York Times Sunday edition, Oct. 11. Above the fold, too:

"Lobbyists Fight Efforts To Save On Health Care: Ideas Killed, Bit by Bit"

Introductory paragraph: "As the health care debate moves to the floor of Congress, most of the serious proposals to fulfill President Obama's original vow to curb costs have fallen victim to organized interests and parochial politics."

Later in the article: "Lobbying doctors, hospitals and other health care providers, meanwhile, dimmed the prospects of various proposals to cut their incomes...'The lobbyists are winning,' said Representative Jim Cooper, a conservative Tennessee Democrat..."

Lemme see if I have this right:

An organized political group with lots of money contributed a lot of that money to campaigns of Congressional leaders and now is having some significant influence in legislation to protect their interests, financial and otherwise?


Imagine that.

This is front page news?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why College Football's Polls Stink: Exhibit #3,493

It won't really matter much.

See, Alabama supplanted Texas as the #2 team in the nation. Granted, at some point, Alabama will likely have to play #1 Florida if both teams remain undefeated, so it won't matter to Texas ultimately. If Texas wins 'em all, they'll play for the national championship.

But, Alabama wins by 19. Texas won by 24. Both beat conference opponents. Alabama is voted ahead of the Longhorns.

Here's why it sucks: Auburn, 2004. Again. The test case for any and all logic.

That year, AU went undefeated, playing a tougher schedule and winning with more "style points" than both Oklahoma and U.S.C., the top two teams that year. Yet, Auburn couldn't get past #3 because...

...repeat after me...

...if #1 and #2 don't lose, well, how can somebody "jump" them in the polls? Auburn heard that after beating highly ranked teams while the top two teams ripped subpar teams week after week.

Well, #2 didn't lose. How can somebody "jump" them in the polls? Somehow, someway, it happened this year...and sports commentators seem surprisingly quiet about it all.

It's very simple, kids. There's a simple, easy way to fix it:

Let the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, ACC, Pac-10 send their champion to the playoffs. They can pick their champion however they want, but they send their champion. Let the Mountain West and Big East have a playoff game to send one team. Then pick two at-large teams from the current ranking system for an 8-team playoff.

How hard is that? It allows teams to play big-time regular season games against teams from other conferences without hurting national championship goals.

And, don't tell me that each week is a playoff, because that isn't true. Look at L.S.U. with two losses in overtime winning a national championship, or U.S.C. still climbing the polls after their loss this year.

You can't vote a really is that simple.
FloMo Diaries, Installment 1: Car Culture

*I mentioned earlier that I was inspired by an idea David Byrne (co-founder of the great Talking Heads) had. He bought a bike and decided to bicycle around the various places his artistic life took him and write a book about. Said he felt biking gave him a connection to cities and places you can't get in a car or on a train. He also said that the things he noticed tipped him off to the nuances of the culture. I stole the idea, and am going to make weekly Sunday entries about my little suburb of Flower Mound, Texas. For a few weeks, anyway.*

In the late '90's I was in Chambellan, Haiti for about a week. Our church body has a connection to a church there and every year, sometimes twice per year, we send a pastor from our church to visit. Every so often, their church reciprocates.

As the visiting pastor I was treated like, well, royalty. I was taken to meet the mayor of the town. My laundry was done daily. I was asked to preach or pray at every possible opportunity. I felt like a big deal.

One of the meetings I was asked to attend was a business meeting for their church. It was "official" and "formal." I reported the newsworthy events that transpired at my church since our last visit and they reported on their situation. As is customary for "official" and "formal" (as well as "unofficial" and "informal," for that matter) meetings of the Tribe Known as Christians, we ended the meeting with prayer with and for each other.

And, if you know anything about our Tribe, we're wont to spend a few minutes discussing precisely "how" we can pray for each other. As the guest, they asked me to go first.

Our particular church at that time was growing. We were adding services and people kept coming. One issue that was concerning was "parking." All those people coming had vehicles. The city government said we could no longer park cars on the extra acres of empty land that surrounded our building and the bureaucracy involved made a temporary lot installation impractical. I wanted my new friends to pray that our proposed solution of parking about a half-mile away and shuttling people wouldn't discourage our own members and wouldn't prevent visitors from having a positive experience with our congregation.

Seems reasonable, right? It was a genuine problem with genuine repurcussions that could affect our church negatively. Granted, I was a bit naive when dealing with people in extreme poverty and disease and very little of what we'd call modern conveniences. But, still. It was where WE were at the time as a church.

Blank stares came back at me from my Haitian brothers from another mother.

The translator spent a minute or two giving them a detailed explanation. When he finished, some guys slapped their foreheads in disbelief. Others shook their heads. Another laughed. Then there was excited chatter that I couldn't understand.

I asked the translator what was going on. He said that my brothers from another mother were having are VERY hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that there was so many cars where we lived. They acknowledged the problem and would gladly pray for our situation, but these were people that lived in a village that had maybe one car drive through their town a day...and that was a bus headed for Port Au Prince.

Their roads were made for burros and walkers and practical for labor. When they had a house, no thought was given to where cars would be parked. They didn't have a word for "parking lot" for the same reason they don't have a word for "hockey rink."

And, we live in a town (officially, we live in the "Town of Flower Mound" and our "town council" meets at the "town hall") where cars are at the forefront of the way we live. When our buildings are designed, you have to go before planning and zoning committees and you can bet your bottom dollar they're going to want to know where you're going to park all those cars that will come to your business. Oh yeah, and where all the water is going to drain off that big old parking lot is going to come up, too.

In fact, when we designed our current church facility, given that parking had become as sore subject with our congregants (the Haitian brothers from another mother's prayers were answered in the short term, but you can only hold that beach head for so long) that we sought out "average recommended" parking spaces for when the auditorium was full--architects know these kinds of things--and we tried to double that. We thought lots of families in our situation brought two (or maybe more) cars during Sunday services due to our worship schedule.

We weren't alone. Other churches who were building called us to see what we were doing with our parking lot and where the water would drain. I was in meetings to determine where future "curb cuts" would be so people could get into and out of our parking lot.

We aren't alone. One rapidly growing church in our community purchased a former grocery store, complete with big parking lot, and there's already concern about words like "egress" and "traffic flow" during "peak times" and such.

Our cars are important to us, man. So much so that a recent proposition during a recent election involved us using tax dollars to join a regional effort for effective train/public transportation was defeated 90% to 10%. The other cities around us got in on it and have stops in their towns. Us...not so much.

And we've added a lot of cars. See, in 1974, DFW Airport opened. At the time there was around 2,000 residents. With requisite cars. Six years later, the population doubled. With requisite cars. 10 years after that, the population quadrupled. With requisite cars. 10 years after that, it tripled again. With requisite cars. In 35 years, our population growth was akin to "letting it ride" in Vegas, and doubling down with vehicles. Today, folks who keep up with such things think we're close to 70,000 folks. With requisite cars.

Figuring that our two local high schools likely have close to 5,000 licensed drivers, and most households have at least two cars (our family has four)...well, that's a lot of cars.

Much like Haiti, so many of our roads were built for practical reason. In our case, primarily to get folks from our sleepy town to the airport. This is why Farm to Market Road 2499 (in Texas, Farm to Market roads are precisely what you think they would be, still serving that function in rural areas, while adapting their function in urban ones) zips north/south through the heart of our town like it more-or-less zips through the heart of DFW Airport.

This is why the Town Council meetings at the Town Hall have people up in arms about widening Morriss Road. The Morriss' had five daughters and were prominent school teachers in the late 1800's. There are LOTS of parking spaces on each side of Morriss Road if you think about it...a lot of those spaces at the high school which should be alongside the road named after prominent school teachers.

There are locals upset about Long Prairie Road (a.k.a. FM 2499) going all the way through to Denton. Our town has often named roads for historical reasons, like Cross Timbers (a.k.a. FM 1171, a.k.a. Main Street) is what folks that came cross country in wagons called this area because they'd apparenty crossed a lot of timbers that stretch from here to Kansas and finally had hit a "Long Prairie." The Kirkpatricks and their 8 kids hit the Long Prairie after their trip from Tennessee. They just widened Kirkpatrick Road with little, if any, opposition from the natives.

We have lots of cars.

Which is why need lots of roads that were built for 2,000 people fixed up to handle 70,000. And why architects design homes with garages as a primary feature, some hold two cars, some can park 3. If we wanted to and had six cars, we could park them in our garage and driveway and not use the street or block the sidewalk.

And not many have sidewalks that are used for anything more than creating an easement to run power lines underneath. Most people only use them for neighborhood strolls if the weather is nice (re: October, March-May). Joggers use 'em some. Skateboarders can't really, because most have earth shifts underneath them to cause good skateboarders to use the pads and helmets for their intended purpose. Instead, they try to use parking lots, most of which have signs informing them that skateboarding is some sort of misdemeanor crime.

And we don't even consider other modes of transportation seriously. It'd be easy for me to bike from my house to one local high school, but VERY tough to bike to the other. And some middle schools I couldn't safely get to from my house via bike. No way to get to shops without crossing some major throroughfare designed for cars going at least 40 m.p.h. Biking ain't consistently safe. Razor scooters just aren't practical. Roller blades suffer the same fate of skateboarders. Motorcycles work well, but mostly it's a bunch of guys that are referred to as Mild Hogs who pay for status symbol bikes and go on long rides to rural restaurants that provide way too much fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

Our restaurants have drive thrus because we can't be bothered to get out of our cars. Last night, I was at Chick Fil A and no one was using parking spaces, but 8 of us were in line. Sonic is mostly parking spaces anyway...but some waitresses do indeed use roller skates.

We adorn our many cars with icons of our children and their involvements, and political affiliation, and religious fish or a minority of politically incorrect folks who have unreligious fish. We purchase cars we swore we'd never own because both doors slide open and we can get all the necessary gear in and out of 'em so that when we get to the soccer game our family and gear look like Ringling Brothers clowns pouring out of the car and they just keep comin.'

If you want to know Flower Mound, the first thing you'll notice is that we love our cars, and we're prepared to pay more taxes to keep on truckin'...just check out the ever-present orange barrels. Either state, county or local taxes keep us up to our armpits in construction. Our economy here thrives on the auto: We have the needed gas stations. And needed auto parts stores. And body shops. And garages where we take the cars when the radio won't cover up the strange noise anymore.

And maybe our Haitian brothers from another mother should spend more time praying for us about that. Even if those prayers would only hold the beach head for a limited time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


...when you're a pastor and you're in that dark spot where you're wondering if you just have a bunch of "really good kids" who make wise choices because it's more or less who they are...

...but you don't know if they're really "growing up" in Christ and living out that whole Ephesians 4 thing...

...and you try to figure out if the former is a precursor to the latter and/or if that's even a negative thing...

...God lets you have coffee with a former student who reminds you that it's all a big, fat process that you're planting, somebody else will water, and God will cause the growth. Because you get that glimpse of 2 years after the moving the tassle from one side of the mortarboard to the other, and you realize the beauty of transformation.

...even if she doesn't necessarily see it.
...even if she is in a very similar dark place wondering the same things you're wondering about regarding our Tribe.
...even if she's trying to figure out the same things you are at this point in our spiritual lives.

And you wonder if that kid--er, young woman--has any idea what an encouragement she is to you personally.

And you wonder if she knows--I mean, really KNOWS--what a beautiful person she is and how you consider her one of your true FRIENDS now...and how cool it is to enjoy the friendship instead of feeling responsible for her in youth pastor type roles.

And you thank God for that little glimpse to start your Friday...

...because it reminds you that when the dark spots are there, you ought to spend a lot more time looking at the trees than the forest. Because sometimes you forget that the most beautiful poem you see is...

...well... know.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Diner Football Picks, Week 6

Well, we went 5-5 last week...nothing to really write home about in an ordinary year, but this stops 4 straight losing weeks:


So, for the year, 17-31-2. Lot of ground to make up, but maybe we turned the corner last week and stopped the bleeding. So, on to this week's picks:

Auburn at Arkansas (+2): Anybody that knows Auburn football knows that the team plays better when they're underdogs under-the-radar. Well, their little 5-0 secret is out after taking care of Tennessee on the road better than Florida did at home. Now, former AU coach Tommy Tuberville is on local radio stations telling folks that Auburn will win this one by three touchdowns. Oh, brother. But, a little publicity doesn't change the fact that Auburn is the better team...even if a fired up Razorback team (Tuberville said their defense couldn't stop a cold) that can score points is at home. Lots of scoring in this 11am kickoff (where Auburn has traditionally been miserable), but the road team has one the last four in this one, and Auburn has won three in a row in Fayetteville. Both of those streaks will continue. Diner Prediction: Auburn 35, Arkansas 31.

Alabama at Ole Miss (+4.5): Will somebody please tell me how a team that struggled to score points at South Carolina and everybody who knows anything about college football says was incredibly overrated is less than a touchdown underdog? I must be missing something. Ole Miss always loses to Alabama even if traditionally it's a close one, it won't be this time around. Everybody, repeat after me: Alabama is playing as consistently well as anyone in the country right now. Besides that, McElroy is indeed getting Heisman talk even if it's because no one else is claiming it. Diner Prediction: Alabama 27, Ole Miss 13.

Florida at L.S.U. (+8): L.S.U. at night at home with a bunch of wild fans who've been partying all day and they get 8 points? And this is with Tebow being a gametime decision. And that's the "x" factor here. If Tebow plays, Florida is a great football team. If he doesn't they're a very good football team. But people overlook the Florida defense which returned every starter off a national championship team. My biggest problem is watching the L.S.U. offense be inconsistent...largely because Jefferson is. I'm of the opinion that Tebow won't play, but the Gators will cover because of their defense. Diner Prediction: Florida 28, L.S.U. 17.

Georgia (+2) at Tennessee: Simply put, the Vols are playing for their season. A pretty tough early schedule that includes UCLA, Florida and Auburn, with Alabama and South Carolina on the horizon, well, the Vols need this one. The only thing that keeps them in games is their defense, which kept the Gators in check and bent but didn't break against Auburn. Georgia is starting to come around on offense, but Joe Cox is no Matthew Stafford, and there is no replacement for Moreno either. But the Vols offense is really bad, and Crompton missed a LOT of open receivers against AU. This will be close, but Richt is tough on the road and the Vols haven't found a way to win close ones. Diner Prediction: Georgia 21, Tennessee 17.

Houston (+1.5) at Mississippi State:I think Houston has a great coach and Case Keenum is an excellent quarterback. They have skilled receivers. But, it's going to be rainy in Starkville. The Bulldogs put 26 on L.S.U., 24 on Auburn, and 31 on Georgia Tech. They've got a little something beginning there and a new attitude, and somebody please tell me how a team that gave up 58 to UTEP is going to score enough against even a weaker SEC defense when I don't think they'll have the ball enough with the points the Bulldogs will put up. Diner Prediction: Mississippi State 42, Houston 31.

Arizona at Washington (+3): Arizona hasn't played anybody except Iowa and they lost by 10 to them. Washington, however, has beaten U.S.C., took Notre Dame to OT on the road, and played L.S.U. close. The biggest thing is that loss to Stanford on the road led me to believe that they aren't a good road team...but then they gave the Irish all they wanted. I think the Stanford game was an aberration and I'm a big fan of Locker and getting points at home, even if I don't think U-Dub'll need 'em. Diner Prediction: Washington 24, Arizona 21.

Georgia Tech (+3) at Florida State: Florida State officially is in trouble. The school president came out and said Bowden's job is safe through the season. That loss at Boston College in the rain may have done them in. Georgia Tech is better than B.C., and the 'Noles are now playing for nothing but pride and to send Saint Bobby out with some degree of ability to hold his head high. That's lousy motivation for a team that's used to playing for championships. Diner Prediction: Georgia Tech 23, Florida State 13.

Oregon at U.C.L.A. (+3.5):Oregon is looking to win their fifth straight after Boise (um, 4th ranked Boise State) won in week 1. U.C.L.A. is coming off a loss to Stanford (who is sending notice to the Pac-10 this year, eh?). Oregon traditionally scores a lot and actually is close to scoring 2 points for every 1 U.C.L.A. scores this season. I think Oregon has righted the ship and will put it on the Bruins, even on the road. Diner Prediction: Oregon 31, U.C.L.A. 20.

Wisconsin (+16) at Ohio State:Something has to give. Wisconsin is a great running team while OSU is a big-time run stuffing defense. Wisconsin scores a bunch, but pads stats against teams like Wofford and Northern Illinois. But then again, Ohio State hasn't really gotten to the meat of their schedule, either. They folded in their only big game against U.S.C. and had trouble scoring in that one. I'm not too sure about Wisconsin's defense, and while I'm sure Ohio State will win, I don't know that the Badger D will give up enough for them to cover. I'll take the Buckeye's to win, but give me the points. Diner Prediction: Ohio State 35, Wisconsin 23.

Boston College (+13.5) at Virginia Tech:If you're asking me, a 7 point win at home in the rain against a weak Florida State team is not really a match for a Virginia Tech team whose only loss was to an Alabama team by 10...a loss that looks more and more impressive as the weeks go by. The Hokies are tough in Blacksburg, and watching them dismantle the Hurricanes there, well, I'm not sure the Golden Eagles will even cover. Diner Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Boston College 17.

Here's hoping to something better than 5-5! What do you think, patrons?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Starting This Sunday...

...I'm going to start writing a series--that will run weekly on Sundays--

...based on these quotes I read in Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne (yes, THAT David Byrne, the guy in the big suit in those Talking Heads videos...because he's a genius and lead singer of one of the most underrated bands of all-time, The Talking Heads).

See, what Mr. Byrne started doing while he was in the various cities his art (both musical and otherwise) took him was to bike around. He even got one of those fancy schmancy fold-up bikes popular in Europe that you can take on trains. See, he felt that you could "connect" with a city more that way than if you were in cars or the places their public transportation took you. So, he bicycled around and simply journaled his observations. Here's a couple:

"Cities, it occurred to me, are physical manifestations of our deepest beliefs and our often unconscious thoughts, not so much as individuals, but as the social animals we are. A cognitive scientist need only look at what we have made--the hives we have created--to know what we think and what we believe to be important, as well as how we structure those values and beliefs. It's all there, in plain view, right out in the open; you don't need CAT scans adn cultural anthropologists to show you what's going on inside the human mind; its inner workings are manifested in three dimensions, all around us. Our values and hopes are sometimes awfully embarrassingly easy to read."

And this one (he started in his suburban Virginia hometown):

"My generation makes fun of the suburbs and the shopping malls, the TV commercials and the sitcoms that we grew up with--but they're part of us, too. So our ironic view is leavened with something like love. Though we couldn't wait to get out of those places they are something like comfort food for us. Having come from those completely uncool places we are not and can never be those urban sophisticates we read about and neither are we rural specimens--stoic, self-sufficient, and relaxed--at ease and comfortable in the wild. These suburbs, where so many of us spent our formative years, still push emotional buttons for us; they're both attractive and deeply disturbing."

So, I'm going to wander around my little suburb here in Flower Mound on Saturday mornings. I don't have a bike, so I may drive and park and then walk, which is more my speed anyway. I'm going to make observations based on the premise that our structures indicate what we value and believe...and some of them will be both attractive and deeply disturbing.

Now, keep in mind that I'm not restricting myself to the city limits of Flower Mound. My venture will certainly take me into some neighboring towns, a.k.a. the FlowerPlex.

With this in mind...anything you want me to stroll by, patrons?
Mind Vitamin

Read this little dandy that should get sparks flying over the cups of joe this morning in a book by Reggie Joiner entitled Think Orange: Imagine the Impact When Church and Family Collide..." after a discussion on John's messages to the churches in Revelation 2 & 3:

"For church leaders, the application is not complicated. Our jobs are clear: We have to keep the wicks trimmed, the light burning, and the lampstand it its proper place. If the light begins to dim, we much immediately move into action. God's intention is for the church to be placed strategically in the culture in order to show Himself to the world. Anytime a church becomes ineffective in its role to illuminate Christ, it must rekindle and reinvent itself around its core purpose.

The church's potential to influence is directly related to how it is positioned and what it illuminates. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason some churches have more influence than others is that they are more intentional about putting Jesus in the spotlight? Maybe some churches have lost influence with their communities because they no longer focus on what attracts the hearts of people."

Oh, man.

Have at it, patrons.

*chuckles, puts on the free coffee, sets out the chairs, and awaits the conversation.*

Monday, October 05, 2009

There's Something To...

...President Obama's statements about either extending the school day or school year in an attempt to make public education more effective. Now, I'm not much for extending the school day if most of the nation's school days are like the ones in our community. See, they start at 8:45am and end around 4pm. The rest of the evening is eaten up by extracurriculars and/or homework. Sure, they could be a bit more efficient with that school day, but then again, so could every office I've ever heard about or been in. All work and no play blah blah blah.

I am for extending the school year by a few days and going to the "quarter system" like when I was in university. You'd start school the third week of September and roll through until mid-December. After nearly three weeks off after finals, you go from early January to mid-March. After those finals and a spring break of 10 days, you'd go from late March to early June...take finals and two weeks more off. That was more or less the school year. Me and several of my buddies went to summer school, which went from late June to mid-August...and then you'd get an entire month off.

Now, the reason I'm for this is that it's basically the same amount of school days divided up with longer breaks and based on a more accurate cultural reality than the current system (implemented when working the fields was a big player in the economy).

I'm sure there are drawbacks, too. My guess is that the biggest reason would be the simple one of resistance to change. You know, child-care schedules and work schedules and practices and vacations and all that.

Side comment: I don't believe the idea that people don't like "change." I hear people say all the time that "people don't like change." I think they do like change if the reasons for "change" are clearly communicated as well as how the "benefits" outweigh the "inconveniences." Case in point: If someone in the 1960's in the summer in Texas didn't have air-conditioning, and you told them that you could put a window unit in their home which would cool down a room where they could be more comfortable as well as a few health benefits, etc. Sure, there'll be an additional cost, namely financial, to your power bill. And maybe some nominal risk regarding fire hazards or what not. But, largely, a person living in the heat would like that change and be willing to make a few personal sacrifices for it.

Anyway, I've long been a propenent of "year-round" school (much like my little personal crusade for public transportation) and would love to hear the patronage weigh-in on the idea.

Frankly, I think we pretty much have year-round school anyway since coaches and sponsors and band directors have camps and tournaments and such that require our kids to be there.

And, even more frankly, there's not a chance anything like this will ever pass in Texas since the tourism industry lobby has enough sway with state legislators to move the school schedule to allow for more summer vacation (when most everybody I know heads to Colorado or north Florida for their vacations anyway).

Lastly, I have no idea what the teachers would think about it, which is ultimately who should have a majority voice in the discussion.

But I think it's a fun discussion to have, so, whaddya think, patrons?