Thursday, July 31, 2008

Everybody Doesn't Need To Be a Doctor

I think Rubel Shelly1 had it right when he first said that our churches should not be country clubs -- they are to be battleships and hospitals. There is especially a contrast with that last image. I was a part of a young adults Bible discussion on Tuesday where we discussed Rob Bell's first Nooma video on "Rain." In a country club church sub-culture, we bottle up our hurt & pretend it doesn't exist -- that everything in our lives is "good" or "fine." But in a hospital church sub-culture, we deal with our hurts.

That said, there can be something reckless & painful about a church hospital sub-culture if we're not careful.

I have some friends in ministry named Carlos & Gina. They're a married couple, and Carlos is a youth minister. When my Mom died, Carlos & Gina went to extraordinary lengths to show love and compassion to myself and my sister. However, while Gina was trying to go the extra mile, my sister began to feel like her feelings were being invaded. I had to go have a conversation with Gina about 6-8 weeks ago about this issue -- to ask her to back off of Katie just a little bit -- and here's how I explained it to her:

You know, it's like if you've got this big wound right up underneath your shirt -- a sensitive area on your body. And, with everyone knowing about this wound, its like everyone you're around wants to pull up your shirt and say, "Well, let me check on this wound today. How're we doing?"

That can feel invasive.

You know, one of the things about hospitals that people really hate are how impersonal they can be. Doctors, nurses, and technicians can come in to treat a wound or to check whatever it is they have to check, but in treating the wound they forget about the person.

Ironically, as it were, Gina lost her mother just a few weeks ago to cancer. I haven't had much of a chance to talk with her, but I'd imagine that she's had a rough go of it. I've talked with her husband Carlos, who was there when I explained to Gina about Katie & about the analogy. I asked him if they understood now, and he said, "Bro... totally."

Carlos went on to tell me how Gina felt like she wanted to sneak into church a little late & duck out before the closing prayer so she wouldn't be overwhelmed. What does that say about church if when we're hurting that is one of the last places we want to be?

We don't all have to try to play doctor with hurting people. That's sort of what Job's friends were trying to do when they explained to him how he just needed to repent. They really had it right when they spent that first week with him in silence. We do well when we just focus on loving on hurting people -- calling them up (if only for a couple minutes to relieve their loneliness), bringing the occasional gift (if only a small token), or whatever we do to love those around us.

A few months ago, I already shared the wisdom of John Mark Hicks with you about "How to Comfort the Suffering." This is sort of an expansion of that last thought where he said "Don't Pry." Sometimes, there's something about constantly bringing up a hurtful issue that folks begin to feel like a project. And nobody wants to be a project.

If hurt people knew they were going to get more hugs & less questions when they came to church, I think they'd be there in a heartbeat. I think that's the kind of people we ought to be.


1 This may be a bad thing to open a blog entry with in case a potential future employer goes hunting around here with the search bar. Nevertheless...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Price Wars in the Panhandle

I watched a news story the other night on the late local evening news about a couple of gas stations that got caught up in a price war. For the locals, the two competing gas stations are at the intersection of 390 and 389 (about a mile away from my church building as a matter of fact).

Apparently, the proprietor of the Texaco always sets his gas prices a penny cheaper than the Chevron across the street. And, on Monday, the folks over at Chevron had had about enough! So, over the course of Monday, both gas stations changed their prices ELEVEN times -- undercutting each other by a single penny. It was hilarious when a reporter from NBC affiliate WJHG inverviewed a Chevron cashier during the piece:

"It's been a gas war going on because he keeps trying to go a penny under us and we're just trying to prove a point that we can afford losses we're going to try to keep our customers, but why can't he just try to stay even with us, quit competing with us."

The two gas stations settled their dispute at $3.68 on Monday night -- about 15-to-20 cents below the local average.

As I drove to church tonight, I couldn't help but want to go out of my way to see what the prices were this evening.

Chevron: $3.81
  Texaco: $3.80

They showed them!

Should We Watch This?

Bill Maher has made a documentary called "Religulous" ...



And he sat down to talk about it with Larry King...



Bill Maher usually makes me so angry. And when it comes down to it, I'm not sure if I want to subject myself to his 2nd-gradish, bullying brand of "Ha Ha Ha! You're so Dumb" humor.

You should understand that Maher is an agnostic (or as Colbert calls them, "an atheist without balls") and hates religion. Not only does he hate religion, but he seems to really have it in for religious people. And he has taken that vitriol and tried to turn it into a Michael Moore- or Borat-type of money-making reservoir for himself.

I'm not an advocate for burying our collective heads in the sand. But I also don't think that this is a guy that deserves my money or my attention. This film will no doubt spark a lot of controversy when the release date nears, and I imagine Maher will gleefully hope that that translates into a boomer box office return. I just don't think that I'll be one of the ones purchasing a ticket or a DVD.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pursuing Honorable Motives

I think it was Jack Nicholson who gave voice to this concept for me some years ago in the movie, "As Good As It Gets:"


Funny thing how the promise of affection from the opposite sex can motivate us to daring feats. Jack wanted to woo Helen Hunt, and he realized he needed to be a better, more honorable man to do that. So, he was motivated out of a sense of honor to suck it up & take the bitter pill. But even Nicholson admitted that his bold bit of self-disclosure was motivated less by positive inspiration. Rather, he was motivated more by the fear of Helen Hunt walking out on him at that moment & the shame of a woman leaving him alone in the middle of a restaurant.

I also wrote something about this earlier in the year, where a smut-pushing direct mail advocate said that, "Americans respond more to negative emotions than they do to positive emotions." I was disturbed & appalled at the time, but I've come to realize that this is true in all of life. We are motivated more by our fears than we are by our hopes (think about it: are more folks baptized because of the promised joy of Heaven or because of the harrowing prospect of Hell?). We are motivated more by avoiding shame than we are by pursuing honor. By and large, this is just the way we are.

I've come to realize that some of the most effective application points of my sermon come after I setup a straw man like Nathan did with King David. I'll explain some deplorable situation or person, and I will convince the congregation of how shameful it is. And then once I've got them nodding in agreement, I'll pull the curtain back & reveal how we can often act the very same way. I suck them in, and then I jab the knife in when they least expect it. Its just so darn effective, and I can tell it makes an impression.

(Let me disclose, before I lose you, that I don't abuse this. Any rhetorical device can be over-used & get old. And I don't advocate this as a form of manipulation; a prophet of God used it for good!)

I did this very thing Sunday night. I borrowed a concept from this sermon, and preached about how we can contribute to causing a church to die. If you turn that around -- how we can partner to help a church thrive -- it just doesn't carry the same salacious punch.

I once heard Randy Harris say that the PRIMARY common trait among annoying people (you know, that type of person that just grates against your nerves all the time, and is draining to be around) is this: they don't realize that they are annoying! Because if they realized how annoying they were, they would probably change their behavior so they would be more likable.

Even I've recognized this. I have an acquaintance who is a chronic whiner. It is the most annoying thing in the world to be around this person when they are in a complaining state of mind. It's really reached a point where I'm going to start confronting this person about it more directly whenever it happens again. Nevertheless, being around this whiny individual has helped me realize how unpleasant it is to be around someone who whines. So, in an effort to avoid shameful behavior, I don't whine. I don't whine about being single & seeing happy couples everywhere. I don't whine about how awful the price is everytime I have to fill my truck up with gas. And this effort isn't particularly motivated from a sense of wanting to be a more honorable man. It comes from a motive of not wanting to be a shamefully annoying person to be around.

But here comes the irony -- I realize that there is shame in always being motivated only by negative emotion. And in an attempt to avoid that shame, I'm trying to learn how to drive myself & motivate others based more on honor, hope, and positive energy. Isn't that funny? I think it is.

I think that it is a mark of maturity that a person learns to drive oneself based on both positive and negative energy. And I desire to be a mature person. So I want to live life making decisions out of a sense of hope as much as, or even more than, I do out of a sense of fear. I don't just want to not be shameful; I want to be a man of honor.

These are things I've been tossing around my noggin' lately...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Spiritual Growth Workshop

Every two years, Christians from all over Florida (and a couple other places) gather in Orlando, FL in July for a weekend seminar called "The Spiritual Growth Workshop." I was able to attend this year, and here are some of my reflections...


• As I was driving down on Thursday, it hit me that it was exactly eight years ago at this conference that I began to receive my call to full-time ministry. Some people get uncomfortable talking about a call, and I understand that; I'm just not shy about it. I don't think I'm extra spiritual, though, because I have a moment to point toward. I read a book in undergrad about personality type & religious leadership, and the book told me that my personality type (INFJ) tends to experience "a call" to ministry very strongly.

(However, I do think I am extra spiritual because of my personality type. That same book proclaimed that Jesus was probably an E- or INFJ. So, basically, I'm a lot like God)

SGW 2000 happened after my freshman year at Florida. I was majoring in Chemical Engineering. I had excelled chemistry & math in high school (and hated liberal arts stuff), but I was beginning to grow disinterested in those subjects. I was really beginning to thrive in my faith, and even remember thinking about taking a possible future role in church leadership seriously. It occurred to me that I might be a future Elder or Deacon in the church, and if that were going to happen I ought to take my faith more seriously. So I was doing a lot of reading and searching, and exploring the spiritual disciplines.

The minister of my home congregation had tried to put a bug in my ear a couple of times before about ministry. In a very flattering way he would say, "Boy, Philip, I think you've got a lot to offer, and I'd really like to see you become a minister." When I ran into him at this workshop 8 years ago, he couldn't help but do it again. I remember replying that I had been thinking about being an Elder or Deacon one day. A few moments later, his friend Wayne Kilpatrick (a regular speaker at SGW who I had just listened to) passed by and he introduced me saying, "Wayne, meet a future Elder or Deacon in the church." I can't remember the last time I'd been so flattered & embarrassed.

As I was wandering around the convention area of the hotel that afternoon, looking at the book exhibits & fraternizing with others off and on, an uncomfortably direct question hit my head: "What's stopping you from pursuing a life of full-time ministry?" Having just come out of a serious romantic relationship, and feeling relatively untied-down, the simple one-word answer was even more unsettling: "Nothing."

I remember feeling very intimidated & shaken when worship began before the evening keynote session. I was sitting with my friend Kristen and her Mom, and Kristen noticed that something was off with me. I imagine that I looked like I had seen a ghost. She asked if I was okay, and I told her I'd talk about it later.

And we did. She gave me some great advice: take a few months and stew on it. She said that if it was a whim it would settle down, but that if it was a real yearning then the desire would grow even more. After a couple months of careful consideration, I decided that I would transfer to Harding the following fall. And that was that!

• So, I brought warm feelings down to central Florida with me. Instead of catching the Thursday evening keynote, I spent that afternoon and evening with Kristen & her husband Justin in Gainesville. They are fantastic people -- Kingdom servants of the highest order. We chit-chatted about a host of things, and our old campus minister Donny D. came over for about an hour and we engaged in our old pastime: SPADES! I can't explain how much that card game was a staple of my UF college experience. You just would have had to experience it to understand. Let's just say... lots of late nights, with lots of store-brand Mountain Dew, and lots of goldfish crackers, and WWF wrestling was involved with all of that somehow as well.

• The speaker quality seemed a little down this year. Other than Randy Harris (who really did just a marvelous job on content, even if he recycled a bunch of old jokes I'd already heard -- I am a sermon hound, however, so I may be the only one who caught the repitition), Randy Lowry (new Lipscomb Prez), and Wayne Kilpatrick, there wasn't really anyone else I enjoyed. There was this especially poor speaker named Matthew Dabbs. I hope they never invite him back.

• I typed that last part with my tongue firmly pressed in my cheek. The author of Kingdom Living is one of my "best good friends," and it was so much fun to see him get an opportunity to speak. I already told him this, and he probably recognized it, but I just sat through his session with a big, goofy grin on my face. Matt has a special mind, and it was encouraging to me that he was given a platform to speak. He did a great job talking about the Kingdom of God out of the Gospel of Mark.

• Another fellow minister that I enjoyed running into this weekend was Damien Barber. Damien's Mom Janice and my Mom got to be best buddies last year when they met at radiation clinic everyday (that's a picture of my Mom on the left in her profile picture). And it just so happened that both of their sons were, as my Mom would say, "Church of Christ ministers."

Mama loved Janice. Janice had never been to the beach, so this time last year she invited Janice and her family down to Panama City Beach for a week. They rented a 3-bedroom condo, and Mom took care of the bill. It dove-tailed with Damien & his new wife's honeymoon, so they stayed there for part of the week as well.

Mom *loved* doing stuff like that. She called it "Playing Santa Claus." Paul called it "being a cheerful giver." It comforts me that right before that Paul says that God loves those kinds of folks.

Damien gave me the news that his Mom is in remission. Praise God for that!

• You know, sometimes -- maybe even a lot of times -- the business side of Kingdom work can be awkwardly incongruent with Kingdom values. Matt & I spoke about a couple of situations like that over lunch Friday -- ungodly Elders, or ungodly ministers, or awkward leadership situations.

Its even sort of funny how selfish ambition can get caught up into a profession where you would expect the greatest leaders to be the most humble. There's a sense in which a conference-type atmosphere is a showcase for your own ministry skills: one's ability to speak, or to "work a room," or network with brotherhood power-brokers, or whatever.

I think I'd be dishonest if I said I didn't struggle with that. There's a part of me that feels like I have a word or two to share with that kind of an audience. And when I hear a speaker not quite deliver -- as I witnessed in a few occasions this weekend -- Satan can be suggestive in urging me to feed that little pride monster inside.

I think a great counter to selfish ambition, however, is spending yourself in encouragement. Rather than spending the weekend sulking over insulted pride, I chose to focus on building up others around me. There's something about "playing Barnabas" that heads off selfish ambition completely.

• Its good to receive that kind of encouragement, as well. At one of the final sessions I went to, I ran into an old UF buddy named Scott. You'd have to know Scott to appreciate this, but he looks JUST LIKE "The Rock." He can even do that thing with his eyebrow. One of the first things Scott said to me was, "When are you speaking?" I told him I wasn't, and he said, "Man, they need to get you on the roster. You should be speaking at this thing."

Scott is a great encourager. I remembered that I spent some of my last months in the campus ministry at UF teaching a Wednesday night Bible class, and Scott always had some of the most encouraging comments for me each night.

Scott introduced me to his new wife, and said, "This is Phil... he was in the campus ministry... '98-'02, right?" I had to correct him and say, "Nope -- '99-'01. I was there just for two years." Scott said, "Oh. Well, you just made a big impact."

Thanks, Scott ;)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Is Obama's Rhetoric Empty?

John McCain supporter David Brooks sternly chastised Barack Obama's rockstar-like speech in Berlin this past week in his Op-Ed Column in the New York Times on Friday. Here's a little of what he had to say about what he perceives to be empty rhetoric from Senator Obama:

But substantively, optimism without reality isn’t eloquence. It’s just Disney.

Ironically, that's some pretty good rhetoric! But is it substantive?

Tom Brokaw asked Barack Obama about Brooks' column on Meet the Press this morning:


I've listened with supreme patience recently as friends of mine have criticized Obama's rhetorical prowess. But the more I listen the more I realize that my friends haven't actually been listening to him. They listen to shock jock radio hosts (I can tell it by the caustic tone they adopt when they talk about Obama), or to some other contrarian voice, but rarely do I find that my friends actually listen to HIM. And it seems like they don't want to. It is as if they are allergic to well-crafted arguments or critically-thought-out logic that is well-presented.

Obama is right: speeches before large crowds are not the place to try to be didactic & lay out in a professorial way the mechanics of your policies on each given position. In fact, if you were paying attention (I was), being "too professorial" was a big complaint about Obama 8-10 months ago:

Too Much Wine, Not Enough Beer?
"Obama... Too White..."
Obama's Impression of Elitism

The Senator had to dumb-down his rhetoric (NOT his message), and when he did, that is when his campaign began to gain momentum & achieve actual success. And, hey, let's be fair here -- if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Also, for the record -- I sure don't want anyone to miss this -- I haven't had any difficulty finding exactly what Senator Obama believes about each issue when I actually tried to tune in to listen to him.

No, Obama's rhetoric is not empty. It is actually well-reasoned and well-crafted. Folks may disagree with his ideology or how he proposes too implement it. But I find it supremely unfair for David Brooks or anyone else to insult Barack Obama or slander his rhetoric in an underhanded way with blatantly partisan motive.

In other words, "Don't hate the playa. Hate the game."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Top Five Friday... Belated

I don't really have special blog days. But my old buddy Matt does. And he invited folks to post their top 5 vacation spots. Here are mine...


1.) Boston, Mass.

Having been to Fenway, I just feel like I gotta get back there more often somehow. I think I could break into "There's a Stirring" about that place. I enjoyed it that deeply.

2.) Tuscaloosa, AL

You're probably catching the sports theme here...

3.) Central Florida area

Was just there. Spent Thursday night in G-ville with JP & Kristen. And then Friday & Saturday in O-town at the Spiritual Growth Workshop seeing bunches of other G-ville & Tampa/St. Pete folk. Lots of loved ones there...

4.) Washington, D.C.

Didn't get to see enough when I was there last month. SO much to do, and so much of it is free (if you don't count the whole "we pay taxes" part)

5.) Pine Mountain, GA

About an hour south of Atlanta, there's this cool little place called "Callaway Gardens." You oughta check it out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Wisdom of Michael Scott


This is the quote of the day on my daily tear-away calendar of quotes from "The Office." I love this calendar. I get to start every day of 2008 with a good laugh. It's awesome.


Did General Patton actually fight in World War II? No, he delegated the fighting to soldiers after telling them what to do... I like to be in the trenches. But I still have to tell other people what to do... "Lead that battalion over there." "You guys, jump on those grenades and save a village." That's just good management.
-Michael

When Does an Occupation Become an Occupation?


Link: Bobby Bowden Downplays Retirement Talk, Stresses Need for Results

TRANSLATION:

"We don't need to set a timetable for withdrawal. That should be determined by us meeting the objectives on the ground. Who cares if they want me out? We've gotta make sure we leave on our terms: as victors."

But perhaps the most important issue that Bobby & our President need to attend to, however, is that they define "winning" in the most vague terms possible. Then again, they seem to both be doing that well already.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Manny Being Manny

His latest adventures out of left field. This was from Friday night.



Also, there are some disturbing rumors that Manny purposely left his bat on his shoulder & struck out in a critical situation vs. Mariano Rivera earlier this month. I remember watching that at bat & being totally amazed that Manny didn't swing. And now it makes total sense.

The Red Sox can tolerate Manny being clownish & incompetent in left field -- clearly we have already stomached it for this long. But if he goes into pouty & surly Manny mode, it won't be much longer for him in Boston. He will go the way of Nomar.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

REVIEW: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight
Just Watched:
The Dark Knight

My Rating:
5 Stars

(CONTAINS NO PLOT SPOILERS)

My sister and I trekked on over to the theater 30 minutes early this morning to watch the latest installment in the new Batman series in an empty theater.

Yeah, that's right. I watched the Dark Knight with literally 4 other folks in the theater. We came for the 10:00 AM matinee show. And since I didn't know what to expect crowd-wise, we showed up over a half hour early. Turned out there wasn't a rush. I have no idea why not. Given the rating, it's pretty obvious that I thought this movie was a grand slam.

I just love how Nolan's vision of Batman brings a greater sense of realism to a world of fantasy. In "Batman Begins," it is realistically explained to us how & why a billionaire orphan decided to create a persona in which he dresses up in a bat suit and fights crime. Unlike Superman or Spiderman, you come to believe that Batman could actually exist. "The Dark Knight" furthers this realism, as Bruce Wayne is beginning to fatigue in his quest of turning fear onto those who prey upon the fearful. And in the midst of the realism, real life issues can be examined in morality play fashion with greater credibility & more dynamism. The implications of the Dark Knight could be unpacked and applied to America's War on Terror, or the drug war, or fighting crime in general. In that sense, the latest Batman movie could be considered didactic. That made it an enriching experience for me.

The Joker
An Amused Terrorist
Heath Ledger's death is even more heart-breaking to me now. He stole this show. Much like Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean" or Doc Holiday in "Tombstone," Ledger's portrayal of The Joker dominated every scene that he was in. His performance was that good.

I'm not going to make a stake in the "Ledger vs. Nicholson" debate, but I will say this... Nicholson's Joker was more of a "King of Kings" type of Mob Boss -- the one who was crazier & willing to go to greater lengths than the other bosses, but he was still just a mob boss. Ledger's Joker, however, is different. Ledger's Joker is a terrorist. He is a sadist in that he delights in inflicting pain. But, as an odd twist, he is even more a masochist in that he seemingly takes more delight in receiving pain. He loves to mock the idea of civilization itself, so his terrorist activities are aimed at disrupting order & perceptions of security.

The senses of humor are different, too. Nicholson's Joker seemed to try to win you over -- it was as if deep down he wanted you to like him in his own twisted way. Ledger's Joker is different. He doesn't want to be liked; he wants to be feared. And his sense of humor reminds me very much of Andy Kaufman's. When you watched Kaufman perform, sometimes you got the impression that his jokes were only for himself: that his elaborate acts were designed to amuse Andy primarily, and maybe the audience indirectly. That's what the Joker's humor is like in "The Dark Knight."

I don't understand why Heath Ledger wouldn't be up for an Oscar nomination. His performance is just so good.

The rest of the film is so outstanding, as well. The musical score is inspiring & makes your hair stand up. The cinematography is eye-catching, and each scene is full. Although, having tripped to Chicago recently, it is a little difficult to not see Chicago (where TDK was filmed) and imagine Gotham City -- so much of Chicago is recognizable. If I had one other complaint, it would be that Maggie Gyllenhaal just didn't fit in the role of Rachel Dawes; the disconnect from her to Katie Holmes is distracting. Nevertheless, I'm willing to overlook these minor defects and enjoy how great this show was.

I don't want this series to end. I want Nolan & Bale to keep making more and more Batman movies. The two that they have made have been pitch perfect, and I don't think I can get enough. 5 Stars.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sense of Entitlement

I haven't written anything in a couple of days. There's no reason for that in particular. I just haven't. So I thought I'd comment on THIS GUY.

No one should take joy in anyone losing their job. But I'm glad to see some punishment for that former officer. Brazen sense of entitlement is conceited & ugly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Josh Hamilton Redemption

It was one of those special sports moments Monday night. It was one of those moments where you answer the phone when your buddy calls, and your first words aren't, "Hey man," but they are rather, "Are you watching THIS!" And you don't say it in an inquisitive way -- I already knew Jordan was calling precisely because he was watching it. I almost had a, "You had BETTER be watching this" tone in my voice.

Josh Hamilton put on a show in the Homerun Derby at Yankee Stadium Monday night. But you have to know his story to understand what made it so exhilarating: a life and talent marred by drug abuse only to find faith in Christ, clean up his life, and climb back to the top of his sport.

I'm glad I was able to watch it. I'll remember it alongside other meaningful baseball memories (Cal Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game, the Red Sox '04 comeback, even Jon Lester's no-hitter this year, etc.). Every homerun he hit felt like he was beating back evil, cynicism, and the powers that would enslave us all. I know that I didn't keep dry eyes through the whole event -- it, uhhh, got a little dusty in my living room that night. ;)

Peter Gammons put it in perspective, as he so often does so well, telling us that out of the ash heap heroes emerge:

Baseball has always been able to turn the page because of someone and something always grew up out of the rubble, and Josh Hamilton began the process of turning the page on Monday night. It is unbelievable what he has done, and now the nation knows it.
[...]
(On Monday we watched) 55,000 New Yorkers standing and chanting Josh Hamilton's name. We are reminded that baseball can help us remember what we stand for, not against, what we believe, not what we fear, and that while we learn from the past, what we all want is to open the door to the future.

Or, as Rick Reilly said, it was a lousy night to be an atheist.

A few months ago I mourned the eclipse of the Great American hero. Some of you had some well-wishing sentiments, but I was genuinely disheartened about this. And I clarified my dismay:

Still, despite each of you guys' well-put words, I still find myself dejected over this sad state of affairs. It isn't because I just realized that there is hopelessness where I had always expected there to be hope. I think it is more that I wish to see my faith played out on that stage of public celebrity. I want to see some light shine through. I want to see some evidence in the world -- that I can point to... that I can show to others -- to say, "Here is where the Reign of God is breaking in & making a difference. Here is where the beacon on a hill is shining."
[...]
I know that Christ has forgiven us of all our sins (lowercase-"s"). But what about the (uppercase-"S") Sin problem here, while we're still on Earth? The cross has salvific power for eternity, and Scripture is witness to that. But also, the logic of the cross overcomes the problem in the here & now of the power of Satan in our lives. It's not enough to just have our record expunged. I want my heart washed clean, too.

And, so, it would be marvelous to find more examples, that are in public view, of humanity overcoming. I know some of you are still going to argue, "You're looking in the wrong place." I don't think I am. I'm just looking for that city on a hill. And I suppose my point in all this is that it's hard to find in celebrity. I want to be able to point at someone and say, "See, Christ works even THERE!"

If it is true that "to write is to pray," then I praise God for answering in such a fun way! I have my hero, and he is bonafide.

Thank God for heroes.

I like to imagine that we will have a "Josh Hamilton Day" in Heaven. And I can just imagine us on that day, pumping our fists to the rafters as we joyously sing "This is How We Overcome." That's something worth looking forward to.

Corruption in the NBA

I wrote a couple of months ago about the present sports decade of cheats. The NBA, especially, appears to have some serious integrity issues.

I saw this story on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on Sunday morning before church. I'm not an NBA fan, per se. But anytime there is another scandal or anything slimy or deceitful about any sport it's just sad. And the reason it's sad is that it feels like everyone shares in the shame -- including us fans. It is as if we're complicit in this system of greed & corruption.

Here's the story...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It'll Jump Up and Bite You

There's really no dignified way to grieve except in private. And yet it appears there's no healthy way to cope except in community. So in the interest of being as respectable & authentic as I can, here I am.

It will have been three months this Friday that Mom passed (which was, incidentally, on a Friday). I mark that thought not because it is meaningful to me, but because it isn't so much. I won't plan on being an emotional basket-case this coming Friday. You don't plan your crying fits when in mourning. They come upon you.

And so it was this evening as I laid down that my thoughts drifted to Mom. And the tears welled up, the thoughts & emotions strengthened, and then the dam broke. I had to get up and have a good cry.

This doesn't happen too often -- maybe 2-3 times a month? At least it hasn't been an everyday occurrence for me. Others may cry more. But it does appear to be an important release from time to time to let myself cry.

Most of the time it is short & I don't really lose my composure. For example, there have been a couple of times where I was reading something that reminded me of Mom, and so I let a few tears stream down my face. But I wiped them off and then continued on with my day as if everything was normal.

Other times, though less often, a longer cry is necessary. Tonight was one of those nights. I lost a little sleep, I meditated on the void, and I let the emotions out. I miss her very much. And even though my emotions aren't as strong as they were immediately following her passing, it seems that as time passes I realize that I miss her even more than I thought I would, or thought I did originally.

Anyway, I chronicle this here for my own posterity and for those of you who've never had to deal with loss. If you're interested in some of my thoughts/feelings at other points in the last few months, just click on the label below.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Keeping The Main Thing The Main Thing

What are the main issues that our Presidential candidates should be addressing? Dr. Thomas Sowell provides a sobering perspective about what he thinks should be at the forefront of our political consciousness: national security.

In his original article, he also provides a single option in response to this issue. I find his approach to that conclusion intellectually dishonest & manipulative. So I'm going to post the better excerpts of his article here with the political barbs sanitized out.

BTW, I don't believe that this issue is one upon which the Republicans necessarily have a definitive advantage in policy debate. I ask these questions:

• Are we safer now than we were 8 years ago? Militarily? Economically?
• Are we hated less? Are the fires of anti-American sentiment being trampled down?
• Or are we ourselves stirring up these fires with our own overly-aggressive foreign policy?

These questions & their answers are legitimate issues that we must consider as a nation.

Here's the excerpt:


While [...] posturing is going on in politics, the biggest national sponsor of terrorism in the world-- Iran-- is moving step by step toward building a nuclear bomb.

The point when they get that bomb will be the point of no return. Iran's nuclear bomb will be the terrorists' nuclear bomb-- and they can make 9/11 look like child's play.

All the options that are on the table right now will be swept off the table forever. Our choices will be to give in to whatever the terrorists demand-- however outrageous those demands might be-- or to risk seeing American cities start disappearing in radioactive mushroom clouds.

All the things we are preoccupied with today, from the price of gasoline to health care to global warming
[to social security], will suddenly no longer matter.

Just as the Nazis did not find it enough to simply kill people in their concentration camps, but had to humiliate and dehumanize them first, so we can expect terrorists with nuclear weapons to both humiliate us and force us to humiliate ourselves, before they finally start killing us.

They have already telegraphed their punches with their sadistic beheadings of innocent civilians, and with the popularity of videotapes of those beheadings in the Middle East.

They have already telegraphed their intention to dictate to us with such things as Osama bin Laden's threats to target those places in America that did not vote the way he prescribed in the 2004 elections. He could not back up those threats then but he may be able to in a very few years.

The terrorists have given us as clear a picture of what they are all about as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis did during the 1930s-- and our "leaders" and intelligentsia have ignored the warning signs as resolutely as the "leaders" and intelligentsia of the 1930s downplayed the dangers of Hitler.

We are much like people drifting down the Niagara River, oblivious to the waterfalls up ahead. Once we go over those falls, we cannot come back up again.

[...]

There is one big difference between now and the 1930s. Although the West's lack of military preparedness and its political irresolution led to three solid years of devastating losses to Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, nevertheless when all the West's industrial and military forces were finally mobilized, the democracies were able to turn the tide and win decisively.

But you cannot lose a nuclear war for three years and then come back. You cannot even sustain the will to resist for three years when you are first broken down morally by threats and then devastated by nuclear bombs.

The Deuce

A Video Ode to one of the most under-rated players in college football history: the great David Palmer. This guy was Houdini with a football in his hands.

The highlight starting at 1:08 is never ceases to drop my jaw...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

T. Boone Pickens and Alternative Energy

Maybe you've seen this commercial...



Or one of the news stories...



Well, here's his plan...



I'm glad to see a smart-thinking capitalist embrace alternative energy. When these kinds of folks get serious, stuff gets done. Although, he doesn't really provide a comprehensive solution. As he confesses, this plan only stems the tide, not to mention probably lining his own pocket (not that there's anything wrong with that...).

Hopefully there will be other smart-thinking capitalists, and maybe even some engineers with ingenuity & other noble-minded do-gooders, who will work to do even more to improve all of our lives & secure our "temporal" future in terms of diversifying our energy sources.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Which One Is More Embarrassing?

Mikey from Swingers calling Nikki? Or Dimitri here calling Ulga?...


Creeptastic Phone Message

I've gotta say that I wonder whether or not Dimitri feels any shame or embarrassment at all. So, probably Mikey.

Confession time: I remember the time in high school when I was young, and ignorant, and did something like this. So shameful. Horrible memories I wish I could purge...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Elitism and Censorship

I just can't get away from Elrod-gate. There are a couple of reasons for that.

For one, I just don't like to see my Alma Mater's name dragged through the mud. It has done a lot for me and a lot of other people, and I am offended to see people bite the hand that fed them.

Along with that, I detect a disingenuous spirit afoot in the conversations about this issue across the blogosphere. It smacks of the incongruity most Americans have in that they hate Congress, but they also love their Congressman. Everyone seems to cherish their own Harding experience, but they also love to critique and pick at some of the integral elements that make Harding what it is.

Take this entry, for example. I currently have one comment posted in this blog entry. But when I took an even more critical posture, my voice wasn't allowed to be heard & my opinions weren't given an audience. I'll admit: I was tough. I'm not sure whether or not I'd let a tough comment like the one I made remain on my own blog if I had the choice. But I'm not the one arguing against censorship, either.

Here is the comment that didn't make the cut:


I just don’t know how to say this without being blunt. I’m not sure if it will pass the “blog administrator approval” test, but here goes...

I detect a high level of elitism from you in this forum. Pretending to understand issues better than the people actually involved in them; a manipulative writing style that underhandedly seeks to win the reader over with false arguments (ironically, about “false arguments”); and dictating to each of your dissenters exactly how they should understand & receive the words you wrote and the spirit in which you wrote them.

The great thing about elitism is that it affords you the luxury of being dismissive of dissent: a passive-aggressive tactic for silencing opposing voices. Quite ironic given the subject matter.

So, you see, I find it difficult to take your ideas seriously at all. I think you have an ethos problem.


What Ever Happened to Palatable Freedom?

I’m sad about this. Thanks, Lloyd, for your thoughtful choice in tasty snacks. The point wasn’t to make everyone eat only your chips; the point was to help everyone enjoy more different kinds of tasty chips, and to open people's eyes. You did. That’s not always appreciated.

Sad day. Just a sad, dank, depressing day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Red Sox Fan's Worst Nightmare

It is a sad reality that winning sports franchises attract bandwagon fans. Perhaps nowhere has this despicable phenomenon been realized more this decade than with the over-indulgent lust for the now-media-darling Boston Red Sox.

Whenever I hear people complain about the ridiculous amount of Sox love in the media, at the theaters, or in the All-Star voting (come to think of it... actually, Jordan, I think its just you...), I don't have much sympathy. Because, you see, we Red Sox fans climbed an extreme incline to get to where we are today. We paid a steep price. You see, for those of us who didn't just hop on the bandwagon within the last four years -- before the momentous comeback for the ages against the Yankees & the fulfilling sweep against the Cardinals in the Series -- people forget what we were.

We were Red Sox fans.

It was ugly, even though it had its redeeming charm. It was shameful, even though there was some perverted element of honor. It was utterly heartbreaking to be teased, tormented, and trampled upon in the horrific fashion that seemingly only the Red Sox could script. I'm not sure I can offer enough hyperbole to make this point ring true. It was brutal. It was masochistic. It was like passionately rooting to take a sucker punch to the gut.

And that is why my worst nightmare for this coming October would be to see the Red Sox make it to the World Series to face the Chicago Cubs.

Here's the deal. Our franchises had at one point been linked as both being star-crossed. But the meta-narrative wasn't really the same. The Red Sox would come tantalizingly close to glory, only they would quite magnificently snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Cubs, on the other hand, just lost all the time & never gave their fans any hope at all.

So is it better to have loved & lost than to have never loved at all???

Not according to an old college chum of mine named Eric, who (being a life-long Cubs fan) stated definitively that the Cubs' 2003 NLCS Bartman-induced epic collapse was much worse & much more heart-breaking than having never really come close to glory before.

And it got even worse for Cubs fans after that '03 debacle. They watched the Red Sox leave their class of "lovable losers" after the '04 World Series victory -- their first in 86 years. Not only that, but they watched their crosstown rival Chicago White Sox exorcise their own demons by winning the 2005 World Series -- their first in 88 years. And that wasn't the end of it. In 2006, they watched their hated division-rival St. Louis Cardinals come out of nowhere to win their franchise's 10th World Championship. Sadly the bleeding didn't even stop there, because in 2007 the former fraternal Boston Red Sox took a step toward dynasty-hood by winning their 2nd World Series in 4 years.

Honestly, the worst kind of torture is watching everyone else around you be blessed when you're not. Right? Always the bridesmaid; never the bride... that kind of deal. David writes about it in Psalms 22:2-6 -- "Come on, God... You're enthroned as 'The Praise of Israel' ... I've heard about these other Godly people who obeyed you and were blessed! Why not me? Why do I have to run for my life from Saul when I'm trying to do the right thing here?!" That's the gist of David's complaint anyway. And its one of the saddest that there is.

So that is why when I read some so-called "Sox fan" (no doubt a bandwagon-jumping dullard) write on a message board that their dream World Series this year was Sox/Cubs, I almost came unglued. I was so offended that I felt the need to write this diatribe about it. ("Stuff White People Like" entry STILL funny!) Either that person is a sadist, or (more likely) he doesn't understand the grief a Red Sox-induced World Series loss for the Cubs would feel like for long suffering Chicago fans.

Obviously, it would not be pleasant for Red Sox fans if Boston lost a World Series. There is little redeeming value in losing that way. But it would be almost equally joyless to defeat the Cubs to win it all. Because true Red Sox fans know that such a victory would make the transformation complete. We would then BE the New York Yankees: a franchise & fanbase that delighted in trampling less worthy franchises underfoot for the sake of some kind of baseball manifest destiny.

The hype is already there. It is 2008 -- precisely 100 years since the last Cubs World Championship. The Cubs are in first place in their division, and they just traded for an ace pitcher who could take them to the promised land. Poor Cubs fans are already getting set up for the heartbreak to end all heartbreaks.

Please God don't let this happen. Don't let the Cubs & the Red Sox both make the World Series this year. I can't take the pain...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Rush to Outrage

The Church of Christ blogosphere has been "abuzz" (that's putting it lightly... some were practically frothing at the mouth!) in the last 36 hours over the news that Harding Professor Mark Elrod's blog is going private. Mike Cope wondered out loud whether Harding University has any sense of academic integrity. My buddy Bob mourned the loss of an internet locale where open dialogue was allowed to flourish. Harding Professor Frank McCown noted that this is an example of how speaking on controversial topics inevitably brings out the yahoo's. And this guy I don't know blasted the Harding administration, but then retracted his scathing rebuke.

So, clearly, I add my commentary on this issue at the risk of saturating the web with more conversation about the seemingly insignificant development of a blogger deciding to be more selective about who reads his writing. Nevertheless, I have some things to say.

I'm troubled that we live in an era of sensationalized news. It disturbs me that we allow larger voices (whether famous bloggers, talk radio hosts, or even news organizations) dictate to us what we should get upset about. We wring our hands over Senator Obama not wearing a flag pin on his lapel or John McCain deciding not to work on weekends. And sometimes this rush to outrage affects lives, as it did with Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I let myself get lathered into a rage and can write critically & harshly about a subject as if the world is coming to an end. Go look up the blog label "My Diatribes" and there are plenty of examples of this.

I wonder what fuels this rage, in me and in others. I wonder if this misplaced anger is just angst over our discontent with the present -- with moral depravity & the long wait for the fulfillment of God's Kingdom. At least one blog humorously pondered that it may be sociological. At "Stuff White People Like," someone posited that Being Offended is a unique characteristic among Caucasians. An excerpt:

[...] many people develop a thick skin and try to only be offended in the most egregious and awful situations. In many circumstances, they can allow smaller offenses to slip by as fighting them is a waste of time and energy. But white people, blessed with both time and energy, are not these kind of people. In fact there are few things white people love more than being offended.

O, satire... how unveiling you can be!

I'm not saying we should never get upset. Ecclesiastes 3 teaches us that there is a time for all things. Righteous indignation has its place. But I find it supremely important that we be sober in our wrath. We would be wise to heed James' suggestion that we "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." Some of the comments in Mike Cope's blog were fiercely critical of Harding University. Though Preacher Mike is often tempered in the words he uses about the more conservative element of our fellowship, it appears that the comments section of his blog is a haven for a more caustic brand of hypercritical talk. And even though Dr. Elrod issued a statement on his blog explaining that he chose to do this & was not forced to do so by his academic employer, Harding remains slandered.

I often think about those Duke Lacrosse players & the stigma they will live with for the rest of their lives. Their employers will always wonder if the men they hired really were rapists. And how about their wives? Won't there always be some lingering, remnant doubt that maybe, just maybe, the men they sleep with really did rape those girls?

Outrage-induced stigmas don't just go away...

Obama doesn't wear a flag pin on his lapel! Despicable! (Translation: Obama is not patriotic. And that stigma won't go away no matter how often the Senator wears a flag pin between now and the end of his life)

McCain doesn't work on weekends! Doesn't he realize what's at stake?! (Translation: McCain is old and has lost his work ethic. And that stigma will remain in the back of people's minds between now and the election)

And Mark Elrod is making his blog private! Harding should be ashamed! (Translation: Harding is like Big Brother & doesn't really care about institutional integrity. And that stigma will continue to stick with people when they remember this event months from now)

Thus are the casualties of a rush to outrage. The words people write, the opinions people form -- you can't un-ring that bell.

And these "offenses" ... are they really that egregious? Are they THAT despicable? One of the early creeds of our creed-less Restoration Movement was that we wanted to "speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent." I've used that as a guide in my own theological dabbling by thinking that "I want to make a big deal out of issues that the Bible makes a big deal about, and I don't want to make a big deal out of issues that the Bible doesn't make a big deal about." In a news culture that sensationalizes small issues and rushes render judgment, I think we would all do well to take a step back, examine ourselves, and carefully consider what is really steering our passions on a given subject.

Otherwise, we all become drops in an ocean of mob mentality. And we become pawns for the personal ambitions of immorally manipulative people -- useful idiots for their selfish purposes. Pray that we wouldn't resign ourselves to that sort of existence.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Doogie Does Deodorant


Well done, NPH.

This got me to wondering: What would a "Doogie Howser, M.D." movie look like? Instead of writing in his computer diary it could be a blog. Maybe he could be the head of a hospital by now. Maybe he could be given some life-threatening disease that makes him question his life of upward-mobility & leads him on a quest of existential discovery. Who knows...

The big question, of course, would be whether they make Doogie gay or straight. Because NPH has come out of the closet, and maybe the writers would want to explore that as a major theme of some film. Personally, that wouldn't offend me as much as it would gross me out. Same reason I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain: it was the gross-out factor that just makes me not want to watch.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Question of Hygiene

Just one question: Who picks up a random, strange-looking toothbrush that doesn't belong to them and just sticks it in their mouth like it is their own?


These Little Wonders

• I'm amazed at the difference paint can make. Paint can really transform a dilapidated-looking room into something impressive. We've been repainting the interior of our church building in the last week, and I was genuinely wow'd by how good new paint makes our building look.

• I'm amazed at the positive power the Word of God can have over the human heart. Given the on-going transformation of our new building, I thought it appropriate to preach on transformation on Sunday. And since it was 4th of July weekend, I wanted to say some words about sacrifice also. Let's see, sacrifice... transformation... how about Romans 12:1-2! ;) So I ended up preaching probably one of the most simple, non-dressed-up expository sermons I've delivered this year. But I really fleshed out the application. Based on the participation at our Sunday night fellowship, and the response of one gentleman in particular during the invitation, the sermon had an immediate impact. Its really a fun thing to see the Word of God perform & do its work in people's lives.

• I'm amazed at how selfish we can all be sometimes. I know I can be selfish. And in being able to recognize my own selfishness, I can see it in other folks around me. I remember sitting around with some of my Mormon male cousins one time soon before one of them was about to be married. My oldest cousin, Barry, shared some wisdom when he spoke up and said, "You know... I never knew how selfish I was until I got married." Being single, I think that there must be ways that I am selfish that I'm not even aware of. But in general, it is truly a marvel to me at how myopic & self-centered we can all be from time to time.

• I'm amazed at a group of young teens who spent a week of their summer vacation serving others. A youth group from the Jenks Avenue Church here in Panama City & another youth group from the Lascasas Church up in Tennessee spent last week serving the community in a work camp here in town. They did a bunch of the work in helping my church, the Lynn Haven Church, remodel the interior of our building by putting on a couple coats of paint in about half of our building. What a wonderful, selfless thing to do: to spend their precious free time serving others.

• I'm amazed at how little we know of one another in church. We're supposed to be family, but we're more like familiar strangers. We are so skilled at concealing the possibly embarrassing details of our real selves around these people. Being a minister, I've come to sense this very well: I can sense the fear in fringe members when they don't want to tell me too many details about their own lives. I think they fear confession, and the necessary-but-uncomfortable change that would come along with repentance. And I suppose that we'd all rather be cold & distant with one another than go to all THAT trouble. Amazing...

• I'm amazed at how frustrated fantasy baseball can make me. I simply care about my team's standing too much. The last three weeks, I've lost points in the very final game of the week on Sunday night. There are usually over a hundred games during a week; and in the last three weeks, the very last game of the week affected the outcome (in a bad way... for me) in my fantasy baseball matchup. The last three weeks, I've gone to bed unsettled & stewing at the ball not bouncing my way in that Sunday night game. How can such an insignificant little diversion like fantasy baseball have such an influence over my emotional state? This should not be...

• I'm amazed at how captivating a woman can be to a man's eye. That females can virtually transfix a man's thoughts and completely dominate a man's focus. I don't believe that most women truly understand the level of influence they hold.

• I'm amazed that God listens to prayer. I think there's a sense in which I really just "don't get it" yet in terms of understanding how deep & wide God's love is for us. I think it is why I don't pray often enough -- that I don't understand His love. I don't understand how God could intently listen to numberless millions of his creatures yammer on about what are ultimately the insignificant details of their lives. The reach of God's ability & the depth of His sympathy are something that I do not yet understand.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Freedom Isn't Free

On this Independence Day, take a look at what my buddy Jordan wrote about how much some people were forced to give for what we now enjoy:

"Independence Day"

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How to Charge the Mound

Since tomorrow is July 4th, I can hardly think of anything more American to talk about than baseball. And there is hardly anything more unique to baseball than the bench-clearing brawl. Utter pandemonium breaks out, and yet this is accepted. If this happens in football or basketball, we wonder if society is unraveling at the seams & if we have a greater cultural problem. But baseball -- eh, this happens every other week.

Anyway, I've always wondered about the upside for a batter to charge the mound & incite the brawl. Usually he takes the most abuse. Just look here at what happened to Coco Crisp a month ago: the catcher throws him down & 3 other guys jump on top of him throwing haymakers:


But, now, someone has taught us all how to avoid getting caught from behind or cheap-shotted by the catcher. This video is truly awesome:


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

An Introspective Question

Something I'm meditating on in my time with God lately...

How can I tell the difference between righteous indignation and self-righteous indignation?

That is, there are injustices in the world that should rightly rouse our passions. But how do we tell the difference between THAT or rancor from everyday petty annoyances, mere insults to our pride, or other issues that really center more on our own selfishness? Because I don't believe God would will for us to be angry at an opportunity to learn patience, humility, or some other virtuous trait.

I'm speaking in generalities, I know, and I'm not sure if any of that is even comprehensible. But this is what my mind has been wrestling with in the last 24 hours.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Confessions of a Hypocrite Continued

A college chum, Nick Faris (I like to call him "Bueller" ... get it??), wrote an interesting little piece a little over a week ago called Confessions of a Hypocrite. I've had some similar reflections of my own recently.


• I don't have delusions of grandeur. I recognize that I have a small role in God's grand design. I think that I could say I'm a relatively humble person.
• I rarely find myself in a situation where I feel less intelligent than someone around me.

• I feel like I'm a generous person
• I rarely open up my balled-up, white-knuckled fist without extensively counting the cost. I rate waiters & waitresses on a host of effort-oriented issues before deciding how much I'm going to leave for a tip. And I have an impeccable memory in terms of recalling the number of times I have picked up the tab.

• I think that NASCAR & other motor sports are an incredible waste of natural resources.
• I drive a gas-guzzling pick-up truck.

• I take preaching very seriously & pour a lot of effort into each sermon. There is little that is as important to me as my preaching.
• Mere hours after a service, I have to strain to recall what I preached about.

• It drives me nuts when my sister leaves a mess on her side of the living room.
• My side of the living room is a mess.

• I hate cleaning up. It's just such a hassle, and it's going to be a mess again anyways, so what's the point?
• After cleaning, I often think to myself, "Wow. It's clean. This is pretty awesome."

• I enjoy parking at the very back of the parking lot. I get to stretch my legs a little more & slow down the pace of life a little bit.
• I'm secretly envious of everyone with a better parking spot than I have.

• I don't at all like it when people try to put others down for how they decide to cast their vote. Whether people vote by ideology, by party affiliation, by stance on a certain issue or group of issues, or by what they think of a candidate's character & qualification, that is every person's personal decision. There are some people who demean others if they don't vote in the same way they do for the exact same reasons they do, and I think that's wrong.
• I think everyone should think the same way I do.

• I write my blog more for myself, not others. It is a way for me to exercise my mind and my writing skills (that's right -- according to my buddy Matthew, I've got skillz), which in turn makes my preaching better.
• I want people to read my blog & pay attention to me.