Wednesday, April 27, 2005

No Red & White Striped Hat, Though

It's like playing Where's Waldo when Braeden decides to dive beneath the surface of the ball pit. Posted by Hello

The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen

I just finished reading Ethan Mordden's The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen... subtitled "The Last 25 Years of the Broadway Musical". (Yes, my reading tastes are eclectic. No, I won't be preaching on the evils of CATS anytime soon.)

Reading all the stories of these musicals is a blast. Seeing behind the scenes of flops like TITANIC - yes, there was a musical about the sinking of the Titanic, and no, the Celene Dion song wasn't in it - and hits like THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD - still hard to believe that an unfinished Dickens novel made for such a great musical theater experience - is delightful. I long to see PARADE (a dark musical about the murder of Mary Phagan & the lynching of an innocent man); I'm saddened that I didn't get to see the revival of BIG RIVER cast with mute, deaf & hearing impaired actors; I'm still miffed I've never had the opportunity to see DREAMGIRLS live.

See, I was a budding actor once upon a time. In high school, I was convinced that my lot in life was to go to college, get a theater degree, then go work for a repetory theater somewhere doing classic plays and musicals for small but very appreciative audiences. (When I felt called into the ministry during the summer right after high school, I promptly morphed that calling into a call to become a "Christian actor" and travel from church to church doing profoundly funny & deep theater.)

I even had a list of musical roles I really wanted to play:
  • Cornelius Hackel in HELLO, DOLLY (though I don't have the tenor voice to cover his songs and I'm not really the romantic leading man type... honestly, I've got Horace Vandergelder written all over me)
  • Sweeney Todd in SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (I so do not have the pipes to sing this one, but the music is hypnotic)
  • The Music Man in THE MUSIC MAN (which is a show I might actually be able to carry off now as a 40 year old... sigh, anyone want to give an out of work actor a chance?!) :-)
Thanks to my college roommate, Steve Stigler*, and his friend from high school, Chris (who I need to blame my yearly Oscar Birdbath on), I was exposed to the music of Stephen Sondheim. Over time, I fell in love with the stunning but dark beauty of FOLLIES, the near-opera horror of SWEENEY TODD, and the odd but compelling failure of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. (Mordden writes about all of these in his book.) My favorite Sondheim is still SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (more on that show & painting in a post to come).

With all of that, you'd think I'd seen a lot of musical theater - the answer, sadly, is quite different. I've never been to Broadway. (I've never been to New York. Heck, I've never been more Northeast than Richmond, VA!) The last professional stage musical I saw was WONDERFUL LIFE (a musical adaption of the classic film, "It's A Wonderful Life"). The only Sondheim shows I've seen live are A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and a cabaret show of Sondheim's greatest hits.

In other words, I've enjoyed all this theater from a distance - reading, listening, etc - but never truly experiencing the joy of live theater. Kind of sad, eh?

Frankly, this sounds a bit like the way we live our lives as followers of Christ: reading the Bible as a chore, listening to other people speak about their walk with God, singing along with songs we've grown to know & love so much that we don't think about the lyrics... but never truly experiencing the joy of a relationship with the God of the Universe through Jesus Christ.

Really sad, eh?

*I just googled Steve's name... and it looks like he's the pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Caldwell, TX. Funny, both of us went into youth ministry and both came out as pastors. Imagine that...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Big Brother

Braeden & Collin getting some hang time in the hospital on the day Collin was born. Consider this my "little gift" for those of you who ran over here to see the "new" blog site. Posted by Hello

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Jury Has Reached A Verdict...

...and The Last Juror does not, unfortunately, change the classic John Grisham pattern. The "mystery" and "unexpected twist" are neither mysterious nor unexpected. The story doesn't just dribble to the end... thankfully, there is something close to an actual ending here. But it just isn't a very satisfying read.

For a very different kind of thriller/mystery novel experience, check out Stephen Carter's The Emperor of Ocean Park.

The matter is quite simple.

I read this in nimrod's blog, which is usually about "being a boardgame geek". This morning, a little bit deeper.

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
- Soren Kierkegaard

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Last Juror

I'm about 3/4 way through John Grisham's The Last Juror, which is probably the 10th or 11th Grisham book I've read. (OK, I just went up to and counted - this is actually my 15th Grisham novel. I didn't actually make it all the way through Skipping Christmas, but I'm counting it anyway.) I'm really enjoying the book so far - he captures the feel of northern Mississippi almost perfectly, as well as the disorientation someone from the "North" can experience moving into the small town South. (Since I served a church in northern Mississippi as a summer youth minister, I'm stunned at Grisham's ability to peg those feelings accurately.)

Here's what I'm afraid of, though. I'm afraid this is going to be the typical John Grisham novel.

"What do you mean by that, Mark?", you ask. And I, as the writer of this piece, am obliged to let you in on a little secret. Mr. Grisham has a disturbing tendency to write 7/8's of a brilliant novel followed by a slapdash ending that is vaguely unsatisfactory.

Witness The Firm, which is an amazing thriller novel with legal implications that devolves in the last 20 pages as the bad guys turn stupid and the good guy becomes darn near omnipotent. Or The Partner, which comes to the logical moral conclusion which is depressing & way too quick. (We won't even talk about The Brethren, which is filled with unlikable characters doing unlikable things coming to justly deserved ends... or The Client, which is just a profoundly silly book.)

I must pause a moment to give Mr. Grisham credit where credit is due: The Pelican Brief is a good movie and a great book, one of my favorite legal thrillers. The Runaway Jury made me laugh. And The Testament is one of the best "Christian" novels I've read.

BTW, I have the same fears about my own life. I don't want to spend 7/8's of my earthly existence making a difference in the lives of people, then spend the last eighth coasting to the finish line.

Look, this isn't just about retirement. In fact, that's the least of my worries right now. It's about my moral character - the way I stick to what I believe.

The weird cross-pollination of John Grisham & Joe Broussard's sermon this last Sunday (way to go, Joe!) is what sparked all this. Joe spoke about Isaiah 6, which starts out telling us that "in the year that King Uzziah died..." A seemingly inconsequential detail from Isaiah, intended to set the story in time - like if I'd said "in the year the Beatles broke up".

Ah, but there's more to the story than that. Uzziah was a pretty decent king (and, let me tell you, decent kings weren't exactly falling out of the sky in ancient Israel). According to 2nd Chronicles 26, he "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord." (This, as well, was a pretty rare commodity.) He rebuilt Jerusalem, opened more land for farming, and helped increase the strength and technology of the army. (This guy could run for president!) He reigned for 52 years. But... (you knew it was coming, right?)

But then the strength & success went to his head. Arrogant & proud, he fell. One day, contemptuous of GOD he walked into The Temple of GOD like he owned it and took over, burning incense on the Incense Altar. The priest Azariah, backed up by eighty brave priests of GOD tried to prevent him. They confronted Uzziah: "You must not, you cannot do this, Uzziah - only the Aaronite priests, especially consecrated for the work, are permitted to burn incense. Get out of God's Temple; you are unfaithful and a disgrace!"

But Uzziah, censer in hand, was already in the middle of doing it and angrily rebuffed the priests. He lost his temper; angry words were exchanged--and then, even as they quarreled, a skin disease appeared on his forehead. As soon as they saw it, the chief priest Azariah and the other priests got him out of there as fast as they could. He hurried out--he knew that GOD then and there had given him the disease. Uzziah had his skin disease for the rest of his life and had to live in quarantine; he was not permitted to set foot in The Temple of GOD. His son Jotham, who managed the royal palace, took over the government of the country.
2nd Chronicles 26:16-21 (The Message)

Ouch.Uzziah ended his days alone when "strength & success went to his head." It doesn't invalidate the good he did, but it drastically decreased his opportunities to enjoy it.

So the questions start ping-ponging off the walls of my mind:
  1. where do I trust in my own "strength & success"?
  2. am I pacing myself to live a "right in the eyes of the Lord" life, or am I burning myself out emotionally, physically & spiritually?
  3. who is speaking truth into my life about where my actions are taking me... and am I listening?
What about you? Are the choices you're making going to lead you into quarantine... or deeper & closer to Jesus Christ?

This article originally appeared in the 4/21/05 edition of "the Grapevine", the e-newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Singin' The Gathering Blues

With the odd & diverse audience of this blog (or perhaps I could simply refer to the audience of "aka pastor guy" as odd), there's no way I'm able to do this next post without a truckload of footnoting. Apologies to those out there who live in the tiny insular world of the boardgaming subculture.

Anyway, with that less-than-interesting introduction, this is my annual Pity Party week, as I realize that yet another Gathering of Friends [1] has gone by without me attending. As the posts & blogs & reports & pictures come rolling in, I can feel a sad, blue wave pull at my emotions, like a mental riptide dragging me off to sea. (After typing this sentence, my Internal Editor told me to lighten up.)

It's actually been worse since I attended the Gathering in 2002... now I know what I'm missing. Interestingly enough, it's not primarily the new games. (OK, a lot of it is the new games. Or the odd games, those treats from the collections of Sheila Davis [2], Joe Huber [3], Frank "Moo" Branham [4] and others.) What I really miss is time with close friends like Greg Schloesser [5], Ted Cheatham [6] & Craig Berg [7] (anyone up for a game of Das Storrisches Muli?!)... or the delightfully Danish humor of Mik Swellov [8]... or the gruff & off-color outside/fluffy teddy bear inside of Derk "Boardgame Geek" Solko [9]. (I fully realize I'm leaving lots of people out, up to and including the host of the shindig, the venerable Alan R. Moon [10], but this is a blog, not a novel.)

In many cases, I'll get to see these folks again this summer at Gulf Games [11], but it's still semi-miserable to think about all the fun they had without me.

OK, should I preach on evy, jealousy or covetousness this week? Sigh.

  1. The Gathering of Friends is an invitation-only boardgaming event held each spring, hosted by Alan Moon (see below). Over 250 people gather in a hotel/covention center for 8 days to play board & card games, primarily "designer" games. It also is a major "meet-up" event for game designers & game companies.
  2. Sheila Davis is an extraordinarily avid game collector from Colorado, whose collection has over 10,000 games in it. I bring her collection up whenever Shari begins to worry about how many games (roughly 700) I own. Sheila also runs a yearly Battle Cattle miniatures event that was one of the highlights of my only Gathering experience.
  3. Joe Huber is a good friend and designer of two published games (and many other unpublished ones): Scream Machine, which I playtested, and Ice Cream, which I did not. They're both very good little games, btw.
  4. Frank Branham is a game designer who shares my love of odd & wonderful children's games, even Frank & I make an odd pair when we're hanging out together. I'm a huge fan of his nearly published space combat game, as well as his insanely difficult trick-taking partnership brain-burner, Dia de los Muertos/Four Dragons.
  5. Greg Schloesser doesn't actually design games. He just plays them... a lot of them. And writes about them. He's a one-man force for boardgaming, as he heads up the IGA (a "designer" game award) as well as running Gulf Games (see below) and keeping up the Westbank Gamers website. He's moving to Tennessee soon, which also gives me the blues, as I used to live there!
  6. Ted Cheatham is a game designer as well (some good news coming on that front soon) but I know him best as the crazy, wonderful guy who got me introduced to a number of the major players in the hobby - and thought enough of me to invite me to the second Gulf Games. Ted's friendship goes beyond the gaming table - he's likely to give you the shirt off his back.
  7. Craig Berg, otherwise known as "Invisible Craig", is not only a good gaming friend, but a guy I'd like to grow up and be like. I love his kids, I love his wife (though not as much as I love mine), I love his sense of humor, and someday, if I'm very well behaved and pay attention, I'll be able to tell a funny story as well as he can.
  8. Mik Swellov runs this nifty little website called Brett & Board, that used to be the place to go for gaming news, until the uppity Canadian got involved and made Mik's life easier. My best memory of Mik involves playing a game he didn't like (Cairo), laughing & joking and continually asking, "Why am I playing this game?"
  9. Derk Solko really is a teddy bear. Really. Only a teddy bear that wouldn't be allowed on network TV. (Actually, I've wondered if Derk & I would make an interesting The Amazing Race team... Salty & Sweet, "The Pastor & The Anti-Pastor". He he he...) Anyway, Derk's gaming claim to fame (besides being my friend) is that he runs BoardGameGeek with Aldie.
  10. Alan Moon is the host/creator of The Gathering of Friends - but he's also a "big deal" game designer, with two Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) wins to his credit for Elfenland and Ticket To Ride. Despite him being quite kind to me (up to and including a Gathering invite back in the mid-90's), Alan & I have never played a game together.
  11. Gulf Games is a family-oriented invitation-only gaming event to which I have the privilege of being one of the "early adopters". It's like a twice-yearly family reunion with people you love and games you enjoy... one of the toughest things about moving west was moving away from many of these folks. Thankfully, I'm headed back to Gulf Games this summer...

Monday, April 18, 2005

Some Days, It Just Seems Like That

I went home to eat lunch earlier today (ah, the joys of a 45 step commute from my office to the parsonage) and Shari began telling me about Braeden "teaching" Collin how to jump & be silly. (For those playing along at home without benefit of a program, Braeden is nearly 4 and Collin is 6 days old.) She emphasized how sweet Braeden was... and how hard he tried to get Collin to pay attention - but Collin was asleep.

Being a pastor can feel pretty much like Braeden - you do your best: you study, you wax creative, you pray like mad - and still 1/2 of your "audience" is asleep.

Or worse, sleepwalking. I think the saddest thing I see on a regular basis is people who attend church to put in an appearance... or to keep up appearances... or just appear "religious". All of these, btw, are lousy reasons to attend a worship service.

And though it's nice to have bodies in the seats (it's more fun to speak to 120 people than it is to 60), when many of those bodies are watching you like you're a re-run of "I Love Lucy" they've seen 2 or 3 times before, it's disheartening.

Yet, it's not my job to make sure everyone is there for the right reasons. It's my job to be faithful and to "teach" people silly things like trusting God and loving each other.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
Isaiah 6:8 (NIV)

Sin City

This is flat-out the best review I've heard of the movie so far... and, of course, it's from one of the guys I game with on a regular basis:

I enjoyed most of it but it was a little too violent even for me. Luckily they broke it up with some nudity... In terms of comic book style I think it should be the halmark that every other comic book movie should try to emulate. I would've enjoyed the depravity a little more if I wasn't so worried about some of the young kids in the audince being mentally tramatized and shooting me in the head when I cut them off on the freeway 10 years later.

Think what you will, but if you can't figure out whether you'd enjoy the movie (or not) from this review, you really need to take a "Reading For Comprehension" class, pronto.

For the record: While I'm a fan of some of Frank Miller's stuff (I really like "Batman: Year One"), "Sin City" wasn't enjoyable on paper and I can't imagine it being any more enjoyable on film.

Friday, April 15, 2005

'Hell Bound Pope' Sign Not A Good Idea

URL: 'Hell-Bound Pope' Sign Not a Good Idea

And, of course, they're Baptists. Sigh.

Thanks to "Church Marketing Sucks" for the heads up.


I'm a good Baptist kid. I was president of my youth group and directed the drama ministry at my campus BSU. I've led small groups, completed any number of Lifeway studies (including Experiencing God & Masterlife), and served in any number of special mission projects. I've served on staff at 7 different churches. I've written Bible study materials and articles on youth ministry for Lifeway.I'm the SBC equivalent of Paul's "I have more" speech in Philippians 3.

And all of that is useless for getting God to love me one iota more. The Bible clearly teaches that:

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

And Paul concludes the aforementioned speech with:

"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that whichis through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith."

Philippians 3:7-9 (NIV)

Powerless, still sinners, ungodly... the story of our lives. But the story doesn't end with the mess we've made - it is completed in the extravagant grace of God. All those good works can't make God love me more - but they are great ways for me to show God how much I love him. And they are not garbage - what Paul says is that he considers them rubbish in light of the righteousness of God.

Chew on that for a little while.

CBJ: Day One

Collin Blake Jackson: Day One Posted by Hello

12:13 pm

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005 at 12:13 pm... my second son was born.

The whole C-section experience was wild... suiting up, being led into the operating room by the nurse, trying not to pay attention to the blood on the instruments that were being used to cut my wife open, stroking Shari's arm. Then, to hear Collin, only his head out of the incision, begin to cry & yelp. Seeing him covered in goop & blood & only God really knows what as he was taken from Shari's body... my son.

Kissing Shari quickly goodbye as I followed Collin to the warming table where they cleaned him up, then carrying my little boy over to Shari Jo, holding him close to her face so she could kiss him.

Next stop: the nursery, for his first bath & vital signs check & a whole lot of other stuff that's become a blur. (I took video... never remember it otherwise. Just too overwhelmed by being a dad again.)

Carrying him into the recovery room so Shari could hold him and love on him.

Listening to the joy in Braeden's voice when I called to tell him Collin was born. (His next question was "Does he look cool, Dad?" The answer, of course, is yes.)

For those of you looking for cold hard facts, he weighed 9 lbs 1 oz and was 21.5 inches long.

Monday, April 11, 2005

20-20-20-Four Hours To Go...

...Shari wants to be sedated! (Gotta love the Ramones... thanks again to Mark Pittman for teaching me the "Interl'inc Fight Song.")

Anyway, we went to the ob/gyn today and found out that Collin has decided to go breech again. This time he's head up, feet down. And, if that weren't enough, he's got the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. (It's not like I don't spend enough energy keeping his older brother from using the jump rope as a necktie as is... sheesh.)

Our ob/gyn was really clear that Collin is fine - the reason he's gone breech again is that he's uncomfortable going headfirst with the cord around his neck. (Smart kid, eh?) There's plenty of fluid and everything is looking good.

Anyway, we're having a C-section tomorrow morning at 11:30 am. Braeden's staying with my mom at our house and if all goes well, Collin will enter the world tomorrow just in time for lunch.

Prayers are greatly appreciated - as is "forgiveness" for not posting to the blog for a few days. :-)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Red Pill or Blue Pill?

In contrast to the world's "if I can't touch it, it isn't real", the Bible clearly teaches that we live with a stunted view of reality. Spiritual warfare rages around us and in us (Ephesians 6:12) and we all too easily write it off as coincidence or the ill will of another person. Like the Israelites, it's tempting to equate earthly wealth with the blessing of God... and so Jesus tells parables about wealthy men who die and answer for their souls without their possessions.

We live in a spiritual equivalent of "The Matrix". (Yes, the film with Keanu Reaves... otherwise known as "The Man Whose Best Roles Involve Him Saying 'Whoa' A Lot.") The vast majority of us live as if there is no spiritual dimension to our lives, blind to both the potential destruction inherent in our sin and the incredible hope present in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

In other words, if I'm not immersed in the Bible and listening to God in prayer, my view of reality is seriously skewed. On the other hand, when I take the "red pill" of Scriptural truth, the world comes sharply into focus in the shadow of the cross.

The prophet Habakkuk wrote:

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights."

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NIV)

It is so simple for me to focus on the circumstances of my life to obtain validation and significance... and so dangerous. My moods, likewise, have a tendency to bob like a ship in a storm-tossed sea - happy when things are smooth & the winds are favorable; bitter & depressed when the waves kick up and my life founders in the storm.God, through the prophet Habakkuk, issues a clear reminder that the circumstances of my life do not define reality. I can only understand what is going on through the intimate knowledge of Who is in charge.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

iMac Airport Cards & Linksys Wireless Routers

I promise, despite the overly tech-head title of this article, it will eventually apply to all of you. Really.

The last three months have been a veritable blizzard of changing addresses, unpacking boxes, and hooking up various services to our home. The one great holdout has been an internet connection. Easton (as many of you know) hasn't been wired for cable (therefore, no cable modem) and we're too far from the nearest phone "station box" for DSL... so the only choices is dial-up.

Except that the church has a satellite broadband connection... and a wireless router pointed at the parsonage. (I'm sure I've lost some of you by now - let me try to explain it a little better: it's like having a super-fast cable modem connected to a DirectTV dish at the church office, which we can connect at the house kinda like a cell phone uses a cell tower to connect.) All we had to do was make our poor little iMac wireless-ready. And all that takes is what Apple calls an "Airport Card".

Well, I bought & installed the Airport card... and it didn't work. So, I called Mark Curts and got the passwords & other necessary stuff from him (hi, Mark!). No luck. I had a tech-savvy friend from Nashville (hi, Chip!) help me with the wireless router at the church. Still didn't work. A gamer buddy here in Fresno (hi, Randy!) brought his laptop and checked to make sure we could get a signal in the house. We could - but not with our computer. A friend of Nancy's from Northpointe (hi, Dana!) helped make sure everything was cool at the church and did major research into how to make the Airport card work. Close, but no cigar. I called Apple Tech Support (twice!) and got some helpful answers... but their final call was simply "take to a service provider who can look at it." (And we won't get into how non-helpful CompUsa was... sigh.)

So, yesterday, my dad & I drove 100+ miles to Modesto, CA, to Mac Daddy (yep, the place really is called Mac Daddy.) A Gen-X looking dude in a knit cap (hi, Jeff!) popped open the back of my ruby iMac, moved a couple of things around... and made it work. (Here's a short plug for the guys who rescued my 'puter:

That's all it took... 5 minutes with a guy who knew exactly what to do.

My mind made a jump this morning from my computer 'life' to my spiritual life. Why in the world do I spend so much time asking people for help when God himself, the ultimate tech-head when it comes to my life, is waiting to tune me up and connect me to His love & power. He knows exactly what to do. Nothing wrong with other people, mind you... but it makes a whole lot more sense to go to God first.

What do you need to go to God about today? Where & how do you need to be connected?

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV)

This post originally appeared in the 10/23/03 edition of The Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"Anti-Christ" No More: Evangelicals Praise Pope

An excellent article from Christianity Today's website, compiling evangelical response to life, death, ministry & leadership of Pope John Paul II. The blurb reads: "Most are unreserved in their praise on political, social, and even theological matters, but critique of papacy remains."

The article is compiled by Ted Olsen.

Pope Found To Be Catholic

I tried really hard to write about this the other day, but couldn't nail it down. Christopher S. Johnson, however, hit it out of the park with this post on his blog, Midwest Conservative Journal.

Granted, it's impossible to do right now but sometimes I wish the media would ignore religion
Then I wouldn't have had to read this:

Most Americans - Catholics and non-Catholics alike - want the next pope to allow priests to marry and women to join the priesthood, a major break from church rules and the judgment of Pope John Paul II, according to an Associated Press poll.

The sex abuse scandal that has rocked the church has left many Catholics and other Americans convinced that the next pope must do more about predatory clergy. Eighty-six percent of Americans and 82 percent of the Catholics surveyed said greater steps were imperative. Perhaps partly as an outgrowth of the abuse by priests, some also are calling for a larger church role for lay people, a notion that Rome has rejected. In the AP-Ipsos survey, 62 percent of Americans and 63 percent of American Catholics favor a greater say for lay people.

Don't forget universal health care. What's the point of having a new pope at all without universal health care?

Sixty-nine percent of Americans and 60 percent of U.S. Catholics said the next pope should change church policies to allow priests to marry, while 25 percent of all Americans and 36 percent of Catholics said they preferred no change.

The new pope should also come up with an anti-steroid plan for major league baseball with some teeth.

Most Americans, 64 percent, said women should be allowed to become priests, and 60 percent of the surveyed American Catholics agreed in the poll. Thirty-two percent of Americans in general disagreed, 38 percent of Catholics.

And Social Security. The new pope should have a plan to fix Social Security.

"Celibacy of priests is an issue that should be gone, priests should be able to marry,’’ said Joseph Riess, a self-employed businessman and Catholic from Vienna, Va. Riess said he had mixed emotions about women priests.

Join the club, Joe. Some of us on the Anglican side can tell you some stories.

In the survey, 37 percent of Americans and 41 percent of U.S. Catholics said the next pope should come from Europe while 36 percent of Americans and 43 percent of Catholics said the cardinals should choose a pontiff from Africa or Latin America, the fastest growing areas for Catholics.

A solid majority of Americans also felt that the new pope should pick a vice-pope from the South in order to balance the ticket.

Again, this post was written by Christopher S. Johnson.

M.C. Fluff Daddy

My sister asked: "Fluffdaddy??? Where in the world did that come from? you must splain."

Westley: Who are you? Are we enemies? Why am I on this wall? Where is Buttercup?

Inigo Montoya: Let me 'splain. [pause] No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Nearly 3 years ago, I was part of a e-mail group called Nigglybits (which was a bunch of gamers who also enjoyed talking about all sorts of off-topic kinds of stuff). They'd made good-natured fun of me for quite a while because I like "fluffy" games - as opposed to 'brain burning' or 'strategy' games. (Which is funny, as I actually like both.)

Anyway, one day I goofily posted a "rap" to the group, attributing it to M.C. Fluff Daddy (taking off on the then-popular Puff Daddy.) The nickname stuck - and to this day, I'm referred to in most gaming circles as Fluff Daddy.

So, I just decided to enjoy the silliness and it's what I use for e-mail and my blog id.

And that's the story.

What follows is the actual posts/"raps" that started the whole thing.

WARNING: I rap only slightly better than I dance. Plus, this contains lots of obscure German gaming references that are better left unexplored. And did I mention it's really bad?

[cue Greg Schloesser to make beat box noise with his mouth while Sarah Samuelson turns her cap around backwards and says "Heyyyy, boyyyy" a lot]

I'm a fluffy fool, and a real down dude

I don't play mean and I don't play rude

Ab die Post, Aura Poku,

Carabande, Storrisches Muli, too!

Willy Wachsbar's my homie,

So's Loopin' Louie,

If you get in my face,

I'll... I'll... chase you up a tree!

Oh, I can't rap [no, he can't rap]

Oh, I can't rap [no, he can't rap]

But I'm the Prince of Quirky Fluff

Go Quirky! Go Quirky! Go Quirky! Go Quirky!

(We now return to something approximating reality.)

And as if that weren't bad enough...

donald seagraves wrote:> I move that "rapping" of this sort should be heretofor banned from the pub..... Any seconds? Mwahahahaha

dave bernazzani wrote:> Seconded! hehheh

1st Amendment! 1st Amendment! Rapping is a form of personal expression... of course, when *I* do it, it's also cruel & unusual punishment, so we've got a Constitutional crisis in the works.

Soooooooooo... (you asked for this, all you nay-sayers!)

[cue Nick-E to do his best 'sullen white guy' impression]

You can't stop me! I can rap if I want

I can sing! I can dance! I can rap! I can taunt!

(Any resemblance of me dancing to actual dancing is purely concidental.)

Don't... (oohhh - yehhh) dis... (oohhh - yehhh) Fluff Daddy!

(Everybody intha house...)

Don't... (oohhh - yehhh) dis... (oohhh - yehhh) Fluff Daddy!

(Everybody intha house...)

My fluffy games are like a pile of cotton

I can lean right back and fall right on 'em

Like Charmin, Mr. Whipple and the Snuggle bear

You won't find no sharp edges there!

Bring on the cutsie wooden animals

Spinners & shakers, too!

I'm willing to play anything

Even that stupid Aura Poku

Come on, girls, sing about that Angry Brother

"Angry Brother, he's a heavy

Doesn't drive a Ford or a Chevy

Looks like Nick and sounds Greg

Fluff Daddy's gonna take him down a peg"

BE-you-tiful... join us on the chorus!

Don't... (oohhh - yehhh) dis... (oohhh - yehhh) Fluff Daddy!

(Everybody intha house...)

Don't... (oohhh - yehhh) dis... (oohhh - yehhh) Fluff Daddy!

(Everybody intha house...)

I warned you - if you've got this far, you're either a glutton for punishment or... well, a glutton for punishment.

I promise - no more rapping on this blog.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Diving Beneath The Surface

What with AIDS, hunger, poverty, war... and the desperate need to transform people's lives, body & soul, it can be really frustrating when "media Christians" (those people who have been annointed by the networks to speak for religion & the cause of Christ) focus on incidents like the last year's Super Bowl halftime show or the newest "outrage".

I think the "trick" is to understand the difference between moments which are indicative of larger issues (Janet Jackson) and the issues themselves.

For example, HBO emasculated the excellent book
And The Band Played On, the history of the first years of the AIDS epidemic, which was written by Randy Shilts, a gay activist who has since died of AIDS. Rather than deal honestly with the causes of the spread of AIDS (which Schilts lays at the feet of opportunistic bathhouse owners, power hungry members of the gay community, government ignorance & stupidity, and media misinformation & panic), the film essentially absolved the gay characters of any wrongdoing & focused on the government, religion & media as the prime purveyors of evil.

Now, the HBO film is NOT the AIDS epidemic... but it is a cultural moment which is truly indicative of a way of dealing with problems (a culture of blame & victimization, if you will) that MUST be dealt with by Christians.

And, of course, it's not just outside the church, but inside it as well. It's present when we spend our time blaming our destructive & sinful choices about pornography, sex, & fidelity on the culture rather than dealing honestly with our unwillingness to wisely interact with culture & our blatant disregard for Biblical teaching. It's not Victoria Secret's fault I watch a lingerie special... I'm a big boy. I can use the 100 calories it takes to pick up the remote and click "off". (The company and those who work for it are responsible for their own actions... but that's a topic for another day.)

Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" is another cultural indicator - the main problem is not that we saw her nipple (or the starburst thing - man, that's gotta hurt) but that the choice to do something like that on network television tells us something about our culture that must be addressed. "Addressed", btw, doesn't mean castigating Janet Jackson or Justin Timberlake. It means taking a hard & close look at a society that has devalued sex to such an extent.

We are called by the Bible to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) - so we're called to talk about our culture and the issues that lurk beneath the surface of those cultural indicator moments. It's easy to let our moral outrage burn white-hot at an offensive film or flagrantly immoral politician or performer who subscribes to a ethical code we consider to be reprehensible. Yet it's our job as believers to get behind the persons & actions to the heart of our broken-down culture... and speak truth into it.

Moreover, those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers are also obligated to "live in the light of God's presence" (1 John 1:7) - in other words, to live the truth in love. That means we need to care for those stricken by AIDS, regardless of how they contracted the disease. That means we feed the hungry, free the oppressed, cloth the naked (Matthew 25:34-36)... in short, make a God-sized dent in this world of ours.


Off the AP wire: Woman Pelts Robbery Suspect With Bananas Thu Mar 24, 5:13 PM ET By JAMES MacPHERSON, Associated Press Writer

BISMARCK, N.D. - Crystal Senger stopped at a convenience store to buy pop and cigarettes, and she saw the clerk being choked in a robbery attempt. She ran to call for help. Then she started throwing bananas.

Senger, 19, said she grew up playing organized baseball, and used those skills to pelt the suspect in the head with every banana she threw, from about 10 feet away. "I was seven-for-seven," Senger said in a telephone interview Thursday. "They were green bananas — not the ripe mushy ones — so they hurt."

Senger said the suspect, who police said was intoxicated, was stunned from getting hit by the flying fruit.

A 17-year-old was arrested after he bolted from the Devils Lake store and tripped over a piece of wood, after a short foot chase, Police Chief Bruce Kemmet said. The teen had no weapon and no money was taken from the store, Kemmet said.

Police said the suspect, who was not identified because of his age, stood more than 6 feet tall, and weighed about 300 pounds. He allegedly entered the Holiday Station Store about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

"It's pretty simple. The guy walked into the store and said something to the effect of "Give me what I want,"' Kemmet said.

"He threw me around like I was nothing," said store clerk Ed Bingham, "and I weigh 220 pounds." Bingham said the suspect kicked and punched him for what "felt like forever."

Bingham, 43, said he pushed a button that alerted the store's security company.

"When I walked in the store, I saw Ed in a choke hold, yelling for help and gasping for air," Senger said. "There was blood everywhere."

She ran out and told her friend to call 911 on her cell phone. "She was in shock, so I had to do it," Senger said.

Senger said she came back in the store and "screamed at the top of my lungs at him to stop." When she was sure the suspect was unarmed, she began bombarding him with bananas.

Senger said the basket of bananas was the closest thing she could find. "If there would have been cans of soup on the counter, I would have thrown those at him," she said.

Man, you can't make up stuff like that. I'd love to see the in-store security camera footage of the scene. And I'm betting that Isaac would sign Ms. Senger up for our softball team in a heartbeat.

But you've probably guessed that I'm telling you this story in order to make a point. (I always have a point, right? Well, most of the time.)

Here's the point: Ms. Senger saw a situation that demanded action (the robbery) and decided to act. In fact, she was willing to use anything she could find to make a difference... in her case, green bananas. (We'll have to check with Bruce, our local expert on all things "police-y", but I'm guessing he didn't receive any training on how to foil a convenience store holdup with produce.)

Our God works the same way.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world's eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important, so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.
1st Corinthians 1:26-29 (New Living Translation)

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have--right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start--comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That's why we have the saying, "If you're going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God." 1st Corinthians 1:26-31 (The Message)

Basically, we're bananas. Or cans of soup. Or 6 month old packages of pastries. Or whatever. We're the "foolish things", the "powerless things", the "nobodies".

Now, I'll bet I'm not the only person reading this who doesn't like the sound of being a "nobody". I've spend most of my life trying to be "somebody", to garner a little pile of fame, recognition & success. But the thrust of the passage in 1st Corinthians makes it clear that it isn't the scrapings & shavings of power & honor that we've swept into our corner that makes us valuable to God. It's the fact that Jesus loves us so much He uses us to change the world.

In other words, it's not what you throw (bananas or soup cans), it's who's throwing it (an ex-baseball player).

In other words, it's not what you throw (the foolish, the powerless, the nobodies), it's who's throwing it (Jesus Christ).

Take a minute right now and let that sink in - no matter what you've managed to accomplish, or how your life has crumbled & collapsed... you are being pitched into the game of life by the One the book of Hebrews calls "the author & perfector of our faith." You're a green banana upside the head of the Enemy... enjoy!

This article originally appeared in the 4/5/05 edition of "the Grapevine", the e-newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Games I Never Win

Matthew Grey's weblog is a lot of fun - though he confuses the heck out of me when he starts speaking computerese. Last week, he posted a "Games I Never Win Post" which I found fun, clever, and more than a little bit stat obsessed. (This would, as many of you know, describe me as well.)

So here's my take on the same question.

There are some games I'm very good at (Richileu, for example, but that's really the seed of a topic for another post). There are many more games, however, which I stink at. And when I say that I stink, I'm talking "dirty gym socks hiding in the back of a frat room closet" stink.

Of the games I've played 5 or more times since 1998 (when I began keeping a spreadsheet of the games I played), here are the smelliest gym sock performances:
  • Family Business 0-12
  • Monster-Fressen 0-7
  • Coloretto 0-6
  • Die Mauer 0-6
  • Small Soldiers Big Battle 0-6
  • Adel Verpflichtet/Hoity Toity 0-5
  • Caramba 0-5
  • Die ErbRaffer 0-5
  • Formula Motor Racing 0-5
  • Overthrone 0-5
  • Phase 10 0-5
  • Pit 0-5
  • Tic-Tac-Chess 0-5
Thankfully, none of these games are "serious" games - well, maybe with the exception of Tic-Tac-Chess. (All of those losses at that chess variant, btw, are to my wife.) Of course, if I'd played Chess 5 times in the last 7 years, it would be on this list as well. The really sad entry on this list is Small Soldiers Big Battle, which is a very silly kids game based on the film, Small Soldiers, that Braeden likes playing. That's right, all but one of those losses are at Braeden's hands.

Of course, if I did this post again in a couple of weeks, it's likely that Return of the Heroes would appear on this list. Despite this fantasy adventure game being rated for age 10+, Braeden (who is nearly 4) is able to make most of the simple decisions on his own - and win. 3 times in less than week. Whimper.

Desert Island Discs

I'm a big fan of Christianity Today's Movies website - which includes subscribing to their weekly e-newsletter, CT at the Movies. (Unlike many "religious" sites that rate movies, CT does a very good job of reviewing movies as movies and not simply as "attacks on Christianity." At the same time, they don't shy away from critiquing shoddy theology - or shoddy filmmaking.)

This last week, they challenged me (and a whole lot of other people) with:

So … let's play the Desert Island Disc game! You know how it goes: You're stranded all alone on a desert island, but you've got a DVD player and screen. (Hey, it's a desert island with perks, OK? Just play along, all right?) What ten movies do you want with you, and why? For the purpose of counting, I'm just talking about individual movies. So, even though I'm planning to take my Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King extended edition—and all four of its discs—it still only counts as one movie.

So, in no particular order, my 10 Desert Island Discs.

1-3) Lord of the Rings: Extended Versions. Yep. All three of 'em. I figure I'll finally have time to watch 'em straight through. And then time to watch them with the audio commentary tracks turned on. And then time to watch all the documentary stuff. And then time to actually look through & enjoy the galleries. If a rescue boat can't reach me by then, it ain't coming. The cast of ABC's Lost needs a DVD player, stat.

4) The Princess Bride: Special Edition. Because there is no possible way you can watch this movie too many times. (And it's a movie that should NOT work - a Frankstein-like combination of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler crossed with a Monty Python film, cast by an eclectic mix of neophytes, Broadway musical stars, independent film faves, and a legendary wrestler, and directed by the guy whose main credits up to that point were playing Meathead on All in the Family and directing This Is Spinal Tap. Yet it does - brilliantly.)

5) Singing In The Rain: Special Edition. I defy anyone (even people who hate musicals, because, to quote Dana Whitaker on Sports Night, "They often contain hoedowns") to resist the charms of this movie. (Another moment in How Did They Get Away This? movie history: the 15 minute "Lullaby of Broadway" sequence which has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the plot, but still manages to be incredibly enjoyable.)

6) Raising Arizona. I don't think there's a special edition set for this movie (there should be), but that won't stop me from taking it with me. I find myself laughing harder & harder at this film each time I see it. The offbeat humor has wormed it's way into my heart.

7) Still Breathing. I don't even know if this movie is out on DVD. (I know, I know, I could check, but that would take time I could be wasting playing games on Brettspielwelt.) A very quirky romantic comedy about redemption and forgiveness... and a film that isn't in a rush to tell it's story or reveal it's charms. It makes me peaceful and more in love with my wife every time I see it.

8-9) Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3-Disc Set. Again, I'll have plenty of time before the rescue boat shows up to really enjoy the extras on these discs. Besides, I cry EVERY TIME I see Toy Story 2's "Jesse being thrown away" sequence - and want to go find Puppy (my first cuddly animal) and beg forgiveness for putting him in the trash can because I was in my 20's and he looked like he'd been run over by multiple cars.

10) Sabrina (the Harrison Ford/Greg Kinnear/Julia Ormond version from 1995). OK, I know it's some kind of cinema buff heresy to prefer the modern remake to the classic Humphrey Bogart/Audrey Hepburn film, but the fact that Audrey is so embarassed that she tries to kill herself with automobile exhaust just rubs me the wrong way. Besides, Julia Ormond is stunning & sweet & adorable, Greg Kinnear is swarmy & likeable, and Harrison Ford manages to play the Professor part of the Indiana Jones role for a whole two hours and make it work.

Well, that's it. Other things just missed the cut (the Star Wars films, Disney's Beauty & The Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the classic con movie The Sting and others... but I figure the 10 I chose would keep me busy & happy.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

My 25 Cent Rant About DST

It's official. I hate Daylight Savings Time.

Well, I guess I need to be specific. I hate the "Spring Forward" part of Daylight Savings Time - as it steals my sleep and messes with my biorhythms and all that jazz. The "Fall Back" thing is OK, though. I'm always up for an extra hour of shut-eye.

BTW, does anyone really follow the whole biorhythms thing anymore? I still remember "charting" my biorhythms back in high school (which would make this the late 70's/early 80's). So, with that kind of timing, biorhythms are from roughly the same era as mood rings & pet rocks.

I'm not sure Daylight Savings Time makes a huge difference for a lot of people - unless, for example, you've got a job in which Sunday is a work day. Which may explain my irritation. I can think of at least three times in which I've shown up early (or late) for church due to D.S.T. Thankfully, no worship services - just Sunday School [at the traditional churches I've served] or load-in [at the church plant I pastored].

So, I guess that's enough whining for one moring. Go read Dilbert (which is actually funny today).

Friday, April 01, 2005

Forward, Christian Soldiers

We all get the stuff - forwarded across e-mail from one friend to another. Sometimes it's a touching story or a collection of inspirational pictures & sayings or a pithy sermon illustration. Sometimes it's heartwarming, other times just smarmy & irritating.

Unfortunately, way too many of these forwards end with a line or two that sounds something like this:

"Pass this message to 7 people except you and me. You will receive a miracle tomorrow. Don't ignore and God will bless you." or: "If you're not ashamed of Jesus, forward this on to 10 other people."

(Those of you who've read a good bit of what I've written know what's about to happen. I'm gonna drag out my soapbox and climb up on top of it and commence to preaching.)

I just have to ask: what in the world do we think we are doing when we send stuff like this out!? Has spiritual encouragement become so impoverished in our world that we are forced to use emotional blackmail to get people to say nice things to each other?

Because what the "not ashamed of Jesus" line implies is that if I refuse to forward the e-mail, I am ashamed of Jesus. It has an element of pride in it - because, of course, the person who sent is obviously not ashamed.

Hogwash. If the test for being a devoted follower of Christ is whether I can hit the "reply to all" button on Outlook Express, then faithfulness has been majorly devalued. In the classic illustration of the carrot & the stick (two ways to get a donkey to move), this is the "stick" methodology.

In the same vein, the promise of a miracle and/or blessing is just as big of a theological problem. This is the "carrot" approach to inspiring people to forward the e-mail... in other words, "send this on and you'll get paid off by God for your good behavior."

Now, God clearly promises to bless us and that we will experience miracles (things beyond natural explanation)... but nowhere in Scripture is that tied to chain mail. Nor is it a formula: "if A, then B". Saying it another way, "If I do this for God, He has to do that for me." We cannot obligate God to perform for us!

Yes, the Bible clearly says that if we ask anything in His name, He will do it. But take a close look at that passage:

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:12-14 (NIV)

The purpose of giving us what we ask for Jesus to bring glory to the Father... not to make our lives easier or our health better or our bank account fatter. If those things happen, well & good! Give God thanks... but when we ask Jesus for things "in His name", we must not use his name like a magical incantation.

Let me draw that out a bit... when we view God as someone we can 'force' to do our bidding by our behavior, it's as if we turn the prayer, "Jesus, please heal my son" into "Abracadabra, heal my son!" And that's not any different than "God's gotta give me something good if I hit 'reply to all.'"

(OK, I'm climbing down off the soapbox now... sort of.)

Here's what I do. When I receive a forward with one of those lines or something similar on the bottom, I delete it. Nuke it. Zap it. Consign to Deleted Items Folder for all of eternity. And I do that regardless of the quality of the rest of the e-mail.

One last thought: seems kind of nutty that I've gone off like a Roman candle about this, doesn't it? I mean, it's "just e-mail."

Well, here's something for you to chew on: I "went off" not because forwards are irritating but because the underlying theology is bad. This week, try and look carefully for the underlying theology of some things you take for granted in your life: what you watch on TV; a magazine article you're reading, a discussion you have around the water cooler at work. All part of that "taking thoughts captive" thing, right?


This article originally appeared in 3/30/05 issue of "the Grapevine", the weekly newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Welcome, Welcome Friends... the show that never ends. (Extra points for everyone who can complete the obscure reference to ELP... and no fair Googling your answer.)

Well, at least I hope the "show" won't end any time soon. A number of people have been after me to start blogging (hi, Paul, hug Harrison & JuJuBee for me) and a recent article in Leadership Journal on "Pastoring By Blog" finally pushed me over the edge. (The article hasn't been posted there yet, but Leadership Journal has a web presence.)

So, I'm going to start slow. My goal is to post 3 times a week - one post on gaming (naturally!), one post on being a pastor, and one post on something else. (I'm thinking the "something else" topic may well be my attempt to prove I have a life.)

I really have 3 goals for "aka pastor guy":

  1. Meta número uno: to sharpen my writing skills. Someday, I'm going to write something besides youth ministry curriculum and an offbeat website about board gaming. Blogging seems like a good way to hone my abilities.
  2. Ziel Nr. zwei: to expand my ministry. Over the years, I've discovered that I "pastor" a whole lote more people than are in my congregation. (The e-newsletter I write on an almost weekly basis goes out to over 200 folks.) Blogging is just another way to continue doing what I do in that weekly newsletter.
  3. but numéro trois: to have fun. Writing is fun - really. Being a smart aleck is fun. Talking about Jesus is fun. Being a minister is fun - well, most of the time. Sharing that with other folks is fun, too

So, "come inside, come inside"... and enjoy the show.

Oh, yeah - I forgot that I was going to explain the "aka pastor guy" name for the blog. It's not really a terribly great story (not like the time I got kicked out of Disneyland or the time we poured beer on burning bus brakes in Arkansas, but we'll get to those later.)

It's just that when I'm being lazy and don't want to type:

mark jackson
NewLife Community Church
Easton, CA

I type:

mark jackson
aka pastor guy

So, there you have it.