Saturday, December 31, 2005

30 Questions

Blame Mark Haberman who posted this idea on his blog, Habergamer. (Mark, btw, needs to do some more blogging.) :-) Anyhoo... here's a New Year's "getting to know you" post for for 2006.

1. How long have you been gaming?

I've played board & card games as long as I can remember. Over the years, I've had forays into nearly every area of gaming:
  • classic American (the 1970's): Monopoly, Prize Property, King Oil, etc.
  • wargames (late 70's/early 80's): Wooden Ships & Iron Men, Squad Leader Third Reich, etc.
  • role-playing (early 80's): Dungeons & Dragons, Runequest, Traveller
  • Games Workshop board games (mid-late 80's): Talisman, Fury of Dracula, Dungeonquest, etc.
It was finally in the late 80's that I discovered via Games Magazine that there was another world of gaming out there: Euros. (Well, at that point, "German" games.) I bought every Ravensburger game I could find that didn't look like it was for 5 year olds.

Then, in the mid-90's, two incidents changed my gaming hobby into an obsession:
  1. buying a copy of Phantoms of the Ice from White Wind Games... bringing me into contact with Alan Moon & the rest of the White Wind line. That contact led to an invitation to the Gathering of Friends...
  2. finding Linie 1 and Modern Art in a game store in Cinncinati, OH... I spent over $100 on the two of them (highway robbery!) but I was hooked...
Within the next few years came Settlers... then an online connection with Rob Wood - which led to a friendship with Ted "Roving Reporter" Cheatham - which led to an invitation to the second Gulf Games and becoming buddies with Greg Schloesser and yadda yadda yadda.

2. What was your first "Euro" game?

I think it was Scotland Yard... though I also have an early AH copy of Adel Verpflichtet.

3. Which game sucked you in?

Which time?! :-)
  • wargames: definitely Third Reich - looking back, I'm still amazed we fought our way through the rule book
  • roleplaying: D&D - a group of us read the cover article in Games Magazine and hunted down the "blue" starter box - $10. (Wish that was all I had spent on D&D... man, what I laid out for graph paper alone would finance a small 3rd world country...)
  • Games Workshop games: Talisman
  • Euros: Scotland Yard was good, but Midnight Party is what hooked me on Ravensburger games... and it was Settlers that shifted the whole thing into overdrive.
4. What is your favorite game?

Today, it's probably Return of the Heroes/Under the Shadow of the Dragon. Over time, it's either El Grande or Settlers of Catan.

5. What is your least favorite game?

Wow. Such a long list to choose from... Devil Bunny Needs A Ham is pretty high up there (or low down there), as is Lunch Money, Munchkin (and all it's evil spawn), Wortelboer, Krieg & Fremden, and Vox Populi.

6. Open or closed holdings?

For the uninitiated, there are a number of games (most notably Acquire) that have very important information hidden from other players that is trackable if you're a good card counter. Many people prefer to play with this information open to make the game less "mean."

I like holdings open for Acquire... but I don't particularly like Acquire, so there.

7. To gamble or not to gamble?

I don't gamble for money - but I'm happy to play Poker for chips. Or M&M's... though I'm in major danger of eating my winnings.

8. How much luck do you like in your games?

It just depends... sometimes I love the wild swings of fortune and other times I want total control. What I don't want is perfect information games.

9. Last three games played?

It's December 31st... while Shari & I may play some 2-player stuff later, we played games with Braeden tonight before he went to bed: Go Away, Monster; Buddel-Wuddel & Platsch!

10. Last three games purchased?

Hmmm... Under the Shadow of the Dragon, Wings of War: Watch Your Back!, and... wow, I can't remember.

11. Pack rat or trader?

I'll trade stuff... but only if I really don't enjoy it. Otherwise it stays in the collection.

12. What game are you thinking about right now?

I really like Ark... the first play was confusing for the first 30 minutes. Then, you could almost hear an audible "click" in the room as we finished the game at twice the speed we played the first 30 minutes. I think there's a lot there to explore (how to play cards to keep other players from using "your" spaces, etc.) but I need to play it some more to make that happen.

13. What's your favorite mechanic?

I don't know that I have one... but I like it when the mechanics mesh with the theme. (Goldland is an excellent example.)

14. What is your favorite theme?

I like exploration games a whole lot.

15. Who is your favorite designer?

It's a toss-up between Klaus Teuber (Settlers, Gnadelos, Anno 1503, Entdecker, Lowenherz) and Wolfgang Riedesser (Dschungelrennen, Ausgebremst).

16. Best gaming experience?

Gulf Games... I'm hard-pressed to choose individual games, but particular highlights include:

  • Shanghai (BAD game, GREAT company) with Ted Cheatham, Greg Schloesser & Craig Berg
  • Princes of Florence with Derk, Vonda, Jon Pessano & ?... wining after Derk talked major trash about me being a fluffy gamer
  • Waldschattenspiel with Frank Branham in a darkened kitchen

And so many others... sigh.

17. Worst gaming experience?

Perpetual Notion with my Bible study group - we renamed it "The Fight Game".

18. Favorite game for 2 players?

Memoir '44... even when I lose, I enjoy the ride.

19. Favorite game for 3 players?

Schappchen Jagd... I can't spell the game, but I love to play it.

20. Favorite game for 5 players?

El Grande.

21. Favorite game for 6 players?

Entenrallye. Just as long as one of them isn't Dave Vander Ark. (Hi, Dave!)

22. Favorite party game?

Time's Up, followed closely by Smarty Party.

23. Do you value Theme or Mechanics more?

Like I said earlier, I value the meshing of the two... I want a theme that works and/or draws me in that lines up with the mechanics of the game.

24. What color do you want to use to play with?

I like being yellow, but I don't always get to do that. I'd rather not be "doody brown" (which is an option in some of my games.)

25. What is your favorite movie?

"The Princess Bride"... followed closely by "Raising Arizona" and "The Truman Show".

26. What is your favorite book?

  • Fiction: The Silver Chair (C.S. Lewis)
  • Non-Fiction: Seizing Your Divine Moment (Erwin McManus) & Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller)

27. Last three books read?

  • Faith of My Fathers (Chris Seay & family)
  • Walk On: the Spiritual Journey of U2 (Steve Stockman)
  • The Present Future (Reggie McNeal)

28. Last three movies watched?

  • Jump Tomorrow (highly recommended indie romance with a bit of magical realism and an almost total lack of cynicism)
  • King Kong 2005 (gorgeous & epic, but it's about a big ape, for crying out loud)
  • Narnia: LW& W (the kids are incredible and there are great moments, but Aslan doesn't have the power he has in the books)

29. Favorite beverage?

It used to be diet Coke... more recently it's either Snapple Apple or Starbucks Caramel Apple Cider.

30. What are the three most important people in your life?

My wife, Shari, and my two boys, Braeden & Collin. (No surprise here, right?!)

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Lion & The Monkey

Short Version:
  • Monkey beats Lion.
Longer Version:
  • Monkey is better than it's source material.
  • Lion is good, but NOT better than it's source material.
Final Thoughts:
  • I'm glad more people will be aware of Narnia, but the movie (Lion, Witch & The Wardrobe) was good but not great. (For an excellent analysis/argument about the film, check out this discussion.)
  • OTOH, though a bit long, Kong is substantially better than the 1933 movie it is based upon... and makes the 1976 version look like a bad TV movie.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Jesus Hates It When You Smoke

from Todd Rhoades blog, Monday Morning Insight and his post "What Not To Get Todd For Christmas":

Jesus, the Prince of Peace gazes balefully upwards at your approaching cigarette... How does that make you feel? 'JESUS HATES IT WHEN YOU SMOKE' reads the print inside this provocative, righteous ashtray. Sticker on bottom reads: "use of this product may be hazardous to your health and/or eternal soul". (This'd be a great soul-winning tool for those 'turn or burn' sign holders). They're a steal at just $12.00, available here.

You've got to be kidding.

Unfortunately, they're not.

Now, not that I'm a big fan of smoking and/or secondhand smoke. But for crying out loud, people, what were you thinking?! Jesus died on the cross so he could guilt you into stopping a potentially sickness producing habit? THAT'S what the Incarnation and the Atonement were all about?!

In the words of Bill the Cat: "Accck!"

Well, I need to climb off my high horse and eat some crow and a whole lot of other animal cliches... evidently this is a gag gift. (Thanks for the heads up, Jon.)

In the words of Emily Litella (SNL): "Never mind."

Saturday, December 10, 2005

If Only...

...oh, if only I could have seen this version of Titanic first. I'd have 3 hours of my life back.


thanks to Invisible Craig for showing me the light!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Greer Spring

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my sister organized an "expedition" to walk down to Greer Spring... so we left Collin with my mom & Aunt Wylma and took Braeden on an adventure. (Greer dumps into the Eleven Point River, which is a wonderful Ozark river that winds around my mom's home town of Alton.)

We had a great time hiking & throwing sticks into the white water... and even got Aunt Liz to take this great picture of the three of us. Posted by Picasa

Collin & Grandpa

My dad had a sinus infection over Thanksgiving, so he wasn't the most cheerful guy on the planet. But it's pretty obvious Collin liked hanging out with him! Posted by Picasa

Collin & Cousin

On Thanksgiving Day, we celebrated my Grandma Jenkin's 95th birthday... all of my cousins were together for the first time since 1978. Of course, this time we had a bunch of kids - our kids!

This is Collin sitting in his great-grandma's lap with his 3rd cousin (I guess, I can never keep all of that "how are we related?" stuff straight), Kammie. She is Kevin's daughter - Kevin & I were born a couple of months apart, as were Collin & Kammie.

For me, it's really cool to watch Collin & Braeden get to interact with my extended family - not just because I'm so darned proud of my boys, but because it's like watching impossible home movies of what it was like for me to do the same thing in the same places 40 years ago.Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 05, 2005

Blasts From The Past

Almost every summer, my family would take a vacation and go to Missouri - where both my mom & dad grew up. Mom grew up in a little town named Alton, and her brother & sister & mom (my grandma!) still live there.

For a child of suburbia, it was a pretty disorienting experience. (If you want to see how I grew up, watch E.T. That kinda looks like my neighborhood.) I remember having trouble sleeping the first few nights each summer, as I could hear all these different sounds (mainly bug noises). Grandma didn't have air conditioning, either - which just seemed weird to me. (Of course, I kept trying to talk my Uncle Jim into paving the gravel road from the highway down to his house... a 1/4 mile of road. I just couldn't conceive of unpaved roads as being normal.)

One of my favorite places to visit/stay in Alton was Uncle Jim & Aunt Wylma's house - not only were they fun to hang out with , but they also had a pool table & a ping pong table & a shuffleboard court in the basement!

And they had this cabinet of games left behind by my older cousins... Video Village, Broadsides, Conflict, Flintstones, The Game of Nirtz, Smack-A-Roo, Beverly Hillbillies card game, and even an Electronic Baseball. (It was kind of like Electronic Football, with the runners that moved because the game vibrated, but his was done with a magnetic ball that stuck to the outfield fence.) I spent a lot of pleasant muggy afternoons & evenings playing games with my cousins & my sister at Aunt Wylma's house.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I brought my family back to Alton to celebrate my grandma's 95th birthday. So, Braeden & I had the opportunity on Friday & Saturday to play some games... stuff I hadn't seen for 20+ years.

More of a dexterity playset than an actual game, Smack-A-Roo uses a spring-loaded shooter and marbles to play a variety of games. I don't remember playing this a lot as a kid - nor would I see myself playing much of it now. You don't have that much control over what happens once you shoot the ball - and the only interactive game in the whole thing is a baseball take-off. Braeden, however, occupied himself with it for hours.

The Bobbsey Twins Go To The Farm Game
I'm pretty sure that my brain blocked any memory of this nasty piece of work. Imagine Chutes & Ladders, only with 2 pawns per player & a longer map. Blech.

The Game of Cootie
It's no wonder Americans hate games, if this is the kind of stuff they got introduced to as kids. The only fun thing to do with Cootie is build bugs - the gameplay is simply "roll & hope you get the right number."

Video Village
I'm not old enough to remember the TV game show - but I certainly remember playing this game over & over with my sister & cousins. It's got a cool dice rolling device, plus a jail & a bridge & a series of stand-up plastic storefronts on the board. The game isn't much, but it's fast & light & a bit of fun. Braeden wasn't taken by this one, but he's too young to understand the appeal. (Or maybe he's just more "gamer" than I realize.)

I pulled out Broadsides & Conflict to look through the boxes again (I'd be happy to acquire copies of either of these games), but Braeden isn't old enough for either game yet. The Flintstones game was pretty good, as I recall, but time & weather had faded the card deck so much that it was unplayable.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Why Religious People Shouldn't Design Board Games

From a patent application:

A game board apparatus having a game board horizontally divided into two sectors representing heaven and hell. The start position is at the bottom of the hell and the finish winning position is situated at the top of the heaven. The players use playing pieces to traverse spaces in the heaven and hell sectors, the amount of advancement being dictated by indicia provided on decks of question cards and answer cards.

Read farther down in the patent proposal and it becomes clear that the game is Candyland with religious overtones. Draw a Hell Card or Heaven Card (depending on where you are on the board)... then draw a "yes/no" card - and move accordingly. As Frank Branham, who pointed this silly thing out to me, said: "Apparently, there is no free will."

And just because I can, here's a few sample cards for you to ponder:

  • Would you make a deal with Satan? Yes: Remain on spot. No: Advance 5 spaces.
  • Do you have unclean habits? Yes: Remain on spot. No: Advance 4 spaces.
  • Would you sell your country's defense secrets? Yes: Go back to start. No: Advance 6 spaces.
  • Are you a self righteous person? Yes: Remain on spot. No: Advance 2 spaces.
  • Do you have ulterior motives for whatever you do for someone? Yes: Go back 10 spaces.
  • Do you sin constantly and ask for forgiveness? Yes: Go back to hell or satan red star. No: Advance 6 spaces.
  • Do you honor your parents? Yes: Advance 2 heaven stars. No: Go back to start.
  • Are you a procrastinator? Yes: Go back 7 spaces. No: Advance 7 spaces.
  • Are you an atheist or communist? Yes: Go back to start. No: Advance to next heaven blue star.
  • Would you give your life in the name of Christ? Yes: Advance to gold star and enter into the kingdom of heaven. No: Go back to start.
  • Do you despise the poor? Yes: Go back to hell or satan red star. No: Advance 6 spaces.
  • Is Christ first in your life? Yes: Advance to next heaven blue star. No: Go back to hell or satan green star.

So, evidently procrastinating is worse than being self-righteous. And sinning & asking for God's grace is a bad thing. And nothing says gaming fun like being told to "go back to hell." In addition, there is a "mercy" deck, which evidently dispenses 2nd chances as well as death (immediately getting tossed out of the game) and "rapture" (immediately win the game). The guys who wrote the Left Behind series are evidently getting a cut on the profits here. Look, although I'm having fun at the design/designers' expense, that's not my real problem with this game - or any "Christian" game, for that matter. Most "religious" game designs are not only bad designs (taking the worst element of Candyland or Monopoly and layering them with moral themes) but they're bad theology as well.

If the heart of the Gospel is the grace of God - that "while we were yet sinnners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8), then the legalistic "stick & carrot"/reward & punishment designs of so many "religious" games are seriously flawed.

Perhaps the very structure of a competitive game is antithetical to communicating Bibilical theology. I dunno - I'm gonna have to think about this one some more.

Addendum: The only "successful" (and I use that word in quotes on purpose!) religious games that I know of are retreads of good basic game designs with "bathrobe pageant" trappings:

  • Ark of the Covenant (which is a Carcassonne variant)
  • Settlers of Canaan (which is a Catan variant)
  • Bible Outburst (which is, obviously, Outburst with Bible topics)

Anyone know of anything that actually is enjoyable & good game design? I'm all ears!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

My Brain's Still at DFW

This article originally appeared in the 11/30/05 edition of The Grapevine, a publication of NewLife Community Church.

The plan was for Shari, Braeden, Collin & I to return home from Missouri Tuesday afternoon. If all went according to plan, we'd land here in Fresno at 1:11 pm, Nancy would pick us up & bring us home, I'd start work on the Grapevine & some sermon notes... and then, seeing as how it's the only free night in our schedule until next Tuesday, we'd put up our Christmas tree.

Only, as you can probably guess by now, it didn't work that way.

Springfield, MO is a nice town, but the airport isn't much larger than ours here in Fresno. So when our plane had mechanical problems, we got bumped to a later flight - so much later (nearly 4 hours) that we missed our original connecting flight & had to hang out at DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth airport) for 5+ hours.

Thankfully, DFW has lots to do. In fact, the new terminal reminds me a bit of the fake airport they built for the Tom Hanks film, "The Terminal" (one sentence review: watchable but no big deal). We ate dinner, we shopped a bit, Braeden played in a sound sculpture (which was actually pretty cool). Braeden & I even rode around the airport in the new Skyline train system, which was kind of like the Monorail at Disneyland. And, of course, we topped it all off with Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

And another delay, as the plane we were supposed to fly in came in late from Phoenix. But what's another 45 minutes to our already overly-long day? Sigh.

Thankfully, we got home in one piece last night (thanks, Neil & Nancy) and crashed. The only suitcases that are open contain essentials: toiletries, underwear, Braeden's favorite stuffed animal. Otherwise, we're just happy to be here.

Heck, I'm happy to be here - in the office, back "on the job", so to speak. But my brain is majorly fuddled - so I don't think I can squeeze a coherent article out of my misfiring synapses. Instead, I'll just do a core dump of some random thoughts about life, God, and the coolness of pastoring NewLife.

- I finished reading The Present Future (by Reggie McNeal) during my week in Missouri... and promptly started reading it again. I'm convinced that it's a key set of questions for where the church (and in particular, our church) is headed in the next 20 years. (It doesn't hurt that Reggie is a Southern Baptist... though he tries mightily to give this book multi-denominational appeal, it's easy to read between the lines and hear his excitement & pain of years as an SBC pastor & denominational consultant.)

- My grandma's 95th birthday party/Thanksgiving gathering was a huge success. We figured out that the last time all of my cousins & I had been together was in 1978 for Grandma & Grandpa's 50th wedding anniversary. Of course, we were the kids back then - now, most of us have kids. (Collin wasn't the youngest - my cousin, Kevin, has a daughter a couple of months younger than him.)

It's very cool to be reminded that my relationship with Jesus Christ was fed by parents & grandparents (and extended family) who follow Jesus themselves. It's not that their faith makes mine real - each of us get to have our own relationship with God - but it's sweet to see the pool of faith that I grew up swimming in!

- Narnia's coming! The movie (The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe) premieres a week from Friday. I have two thoughts:
  1. I can't wait to see one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors come to the big screen.
  2. Oh, please, don't mess this up.

- I'm still a bit in shock from the First Fruits offering - we, with God's help, gave $43,467.00 on the first Sunday of the giving portion of Get in the Game. Wow! We serve a VERY big God.

- It's really nice to pastor a church where I can leave town for 8 days and know that things will go on without me. In other words, NewLife is not primarily about me - it's about God! (And that's a very good thing.) It doesn't hurt, of course, that we've got a great staff - thanks to Aaron & Nancy!

Well that's about all that's rattling around my head this morning. Oh, yeah, I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to get everything done today, but that's pretty much SOP (standard operating procedure) for my life. The nicest thing is that God isn't wondering - He's not surprised by delayed flights or $43,000+ offerings or my Aunt Wylma's peanut butter pie (which was, as usual, incredible).

We think we are headed toward the future. The truth is, the future is headed toward us. And it's in a hurry (we now know the universe is speeding up, not slowing down). We also generally think that the present makes sense only in light of the past. Again, we need to check our thinking. The present makes clearest sense in light of the future. We humans write history by looking at the past. God creates history ahead of time. He never forecasts. God always backcasts. He began with the end in mind. The future is always incipient in the present. Before the foundation of the world, the Lamb was slain. Calvary was anticipated in God's kiss of life into Adam. The cross gain dimension silhouetted against the empty tomb. The empty tomb confirmed the invasion of the future into the present. When Paul encountered the resurrected Jesus, he realized the future had been fast-forwarded. That changed everything.

It still does.
from The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

God is roaring back toward us from the future, not playing catch-up from Bible times. So, wherever we are, it's nice to remember that God is working in our lives in view of who we will be - who He knows we will be - and not just based on the garbage & mistakes of our past.

I'm sold on the fact that God's not going to leave you half-finished. No way. What he's doing with you is superb and he's going to have you ready for when the Liberator, Jesus, comes back.
paraphrase of Philippians 1:6 from word on the street by Rob Lacey

It's My Turn Now

Starting today... and going for the next 10-15 days, I'll be posting my "personal" Top One Hundred Games of All Time Ever. Of course, I won't be posting it here - but over at The One Hundred blogsite. Go on over & check it out!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Small Soldiers Big Battle

Movie tie-in games are usually not very good. Some of them stink. (Reference the Milton Bradley game, Congo: The Movie, which is so incredibly bad that it is actually worse than the horrible film it was based on.) Too many of them are simply re-themed classics: Madagascar Sorry, Lord of the Rings Risk, Star Wars Monopoly. There are some exceptions - I'm a big fan of four of the Star Wars games:
  • The Queen's Gambit - a big box full of plastic minis & a three-tier board system that takes most of a six foot table to set up... and, amazingly, a really good game is in there with all that stuff.
  • Epic Duels - a card-based multi-player combat system that is loaded with Star Wars flavor... you can choose to mix Episodes & characters!
  • Clash of the Lightsabers - a two player dueling card game with nifty pewter figs and interesting gameplay.
  • Attacktix - miniatures combat with not-so-minature figures... with spring-loaded guns & lightsabers!
But, I really wasn't intending to write about Star Wars... I wanted to write about one of Braeden's favorite games. (For those of you who don't pay good attention to the rest of the blog, Braeden is my 4.5 year old son.)

Currently, that's Small Soldiers Big Battle, which ties in (of course) with the film, Small Soldiers. (Note: I haven't seen Small Soldiers - any capsule reviews in the comments section of the blog would be highly appreciated.) We played 7 times this weekend - and Braeden won five of them. Any surprise that this is his favorite game?

Anyway, it's a simple "capture the flag" game using plastic minatures (about 3-4 inches tall). The pieces are copies of the characters from the film - meaning you have one player using army men and another player using monsters. On your turn you spin the spinner, which can result in:

  • moving a character 1-4 hexes (in the 'advanced' rules, you can split your move between pieces)
  • drawing a card (most of which are power-ups... which add speed or strength to a character)
  • recruit a character from the toy store (the toy store backdrop is where "killed" characters go)
  • If you are adjacent to an enemy figure, you can fight. Both players roll a die, apply modifiers, and the highest number wins. Repeat this process until one player manages to land on the opposing flag.

There are some wrinkles:

  • recruited characters MUST appear on a certain space - if that space is blocked by another piece (friendly or otherwise), you can't recruit
  • one of the cards (well, there are two of them) is a Globotech Recall - I'm not sure where it fits thematically, but it means you get to throw one opposing figure into the toy store
  • a number of cards in the deck allow you to use the catapult - which is a skateboard with a flyswatter that throws a golf ball with bolts in it... any figures which are knocked over are put in the toy store
  • powerups are good only until the next battle you're in - once you fight (win or lose), the powerup goes on the discard pile

And that's pretty much it. The box says it's for 5 years & up, but Braeden has no problem handling the game, and he's only four. (Granted, Braeden has been playing games since he was 2, so your mileage may vary.)

So why would I write about this game, instead of jumping on the "Gosh, isn't Caylus the coolest thing since sliced bread?" bandwagon?

  • It's actually fun to play - it's not going to eclipse Memoir '44 as my favorite battle game any time soon, but I don't hate playing it (as opposed to Candyland or Adopt a Dog)
  • there is some room for intelligent decisions - who do I give powerups to? should I rush foward or wait for the other player to come to me? how do I use what I've got to win?
  • it's great training for other games - as far as I can remember, this is Braeden's first hex-based game. It's also doing a great job of teaching him die roll modifiers and tactical movement. (Since there aren't any ZOC's, we don't have to worry about that quite yet. Of course, since he's unlikely to ever play 70's/80's AH and SPI games, he may NEVER figure out that ZOC means Zone of Control.)
  • I haven't played Caylus, which makes lavishing praise on it difficult
A final note: whoever wrote the description on the Geek doesn't have children and/or has some major extra time on his hands - why in the world would you PAINT these figures? In the words of Pepe the King Prawn, "Un-bee-leev-able."

The Far Side of Evangelism

What We Say To Dogs
"Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!"
What They Hear
"blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah..."
from The Far Side by Gary Larson ( I love The Far Side. Gary Larson was/is a genius - ok, maybe a bit warped, but still a genius. And the classic "what we say to dogs" cartoon is one of my favorites. It wasn't even difficult to find: type "far side" and "ginger" to Google, and there it was.

Sadly, though, what caused me to hunt down the cartoon was the decidedly uncartoon-like reality of doing church. I'm beginning to believe that much of what we do in order to reach people for Jesus communicates about as clearly as Ginger's owner communicates with her. To use another pop culture reference, we sound a lot like Miss Othmar, Charlie Brown's teacher. (Weird bit of trivia: originally, Miss Othmar's voice was played by a trombone.)

Why is that?! I mean, we've got the most incredible message in the world...

God's so passionate about the planet that he donates his one and only Son. Whoever invests their life in his Son doesn't die, but gets given this limitless life. D'you think God sends his Son to slam people down? No! He sends his Son to liberate people. No one's written off if they're convinced about Jesus.
paraphrase of John 3:16-18 from word on the street by Rob Lacey

So, why does it come out sounding like "Get right or get left" or "Where will you spend eternity: smoking or non-smoking?" (Yes, I've actually seen these on church signs.)

I'm starting to think that we may have reduced evangelism to a clean-up project - a spiritual "extreme makeover" that is more interested in making people acceptable to us rather than seeing them transformed into radical followers of Jesus Christ.

Evangelism in this worldview is about churching the unchurched, not connecting people to Jesus. It focuses on cleaning people up, changing their behavior so Christians (translation: church people) can be more comfortable around them.
from The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

Frankly, unchurched people don't care about being made in our image... because we've spent way too much time shaving off the rough corners of our lives & drenching ourselves in the cheap perfume of self-righteousness. We haven't shown them anything worth giving up their Sunday mornings for, let alone their lives.

Occasionally when I do consulting for congregations I insist that the church leaders meet off-campus in a restaurant during Sunday church time. I ask the group to look around and then pose the question to them: "Do you think these people struggled with a decision this morning of whether to attend church or to go out for a sausage biscuit?" Are you kidding? The church is not even on their screen.
from The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

So, how do we change this? How do we cut out the "blah blah blah SINNER blah blah" and really make an impact on this community?

Honestly, that's a bigger question than I can answer in a single e-mail article... so, for today, I'm just going to give you a personal starting point, a jumping off place for a journey with God into the great adventure He has planned for us. Here's the four-step plan:
  1. Write down your 10 closest friends/acquaintances. They can be co-workers, guys you golf with, people you get together with each weekend, whatever. Just write their names down on a piece of paper. (See, easy so far, right? As long as you can hold a pencil and write semi-legibly, you're good to go on this one.)
  2. Beside each name, make a note of what you know about their spiritual condition. In other words, do they go to church? Are they a follower of Christ? (BTW, "go to church" and "follower of Christ" are NOT the same thing.) What evidence of God's grace do you see in their lives?
  3. Think about the list you just made. Hey, too often in church we do these kind of exercises like homework and don't actually take time to think through the implications for our life. (There's a reason for that: it's called "avoiding pain." Sigh.) You may find that you don't know very much about the spiritual lives of your friends... or that all of your friends are churched believers. Or maybe you've got a lot of friends who are connected with churches but wouldn't recognize Jesus if He showed wearing a T-shirt with "Messiah" in hot pink Day-Glo lettering on the front. Whatever you find, ask yourself the tough questions: Do I really spend relational time with people who need Jesus, or is my life lived out in the rose-colored bubble of "churchianity"? Why don't I talk more about spiritual issues with my friends? (Note: I didn't say "why don't I witness more?" - so much of what we've been trained/guilted into witnessing-wise is Miss Othmar-ish "dump the Gospel & run" instead of living out our belief in Jesus 24-7. We don't need more drive-by Gospel sharing, we need more people whose love for Jesus bubbles up in their everyday lives & conversations.)
  4. Ask God for wisdom & direction. The temptation is to go into "Mr. Fix-It" mode when you're confronted with stuff like this... don't. Start right now, today, wherever you're reading this, by going to God and asking, "What now? How do I share the truth that changed my life with people who need to see it lived out and hear it spoken?"

There's nothing magic about this process - but there's something amazing & supernatural about our God. He is on a mission to redeem the world... and He wants us to join Him. Hopefully, with a bit more clarity... less "blah blah", more:

You live and breathe to profile and celebrate the one who picked you up out of your dark grovelings and stood you up in his brilliant light... Let your lifestyle be like a magnet for the locals. Let them charge you, try and sue you, but in court the jury will see a rare thing - a prosecution lawyer lost for words. And the papers'll write the headlines: "God turns up to take the credit."
paraphrase of 1 Peter 2:9, 11-12 from word on the street by Rob Lacey

This article originally appeared in 11/8/05 edition of The Grapevine, the e-newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I Feel This Way On Mondays...

...thankfully, not every Monday. Now, here's hoping our new worship & youth pastor doesn't take this wrong. (He he he... hi, Aaron!)

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Not-So-Amazing Race

Shari & I became hooked on The Amazing Race a couple of years ago... couples racing around the world, traveling, running, doing crazy stuff. So we were intrigued when they announced the Family edition this summer.

Unfortunately, the newest season hasn't been nearly as enjoyable as previous seasons... lots of the tasks seem pointless and there's a greater reliance on completely random elements to determine who wins a particular leg of the race. Sigh.

In addition, one of the families is very forward about their Christianity. Now, normally, I'd think that was a good thing - I'm kind of partial to people who love Jesus enough to talk about Him and live their life according to His principles - but the Weaver family? Double sigh. (In all fairness, you need to know that this family is made up of a mom & three teenage kids - Dad was killed in a racing accident a couple of years back.)

What follows are quotes from one of my favorite websites,
Television Without Pity. Let's listen to someone who isn't "inside the Christian bubble" and see how they perceive these Christians.

In maybe the creepiest off-the-mat talk ever, one of the girls explains, "We've been raised since we were born not to trust other people, but to trust your family and to trust God." Wow. Not to trust other people? I mean, I would have gotten it if she said they were raised not to worry about what other people think, but to have a girl that age saying she's been raised not to trust anyone outside the family is unhappy thing. It explains why they relate to other people in a manner reminiscent of the Coneheads, but it feels sad. Anyway, there is more talk about how they can't control other teams talking about them, and then the other daughter, I think, adds, "We're all Christians, and we're above that." Well, I can't argue with that. Jesus did speak extensively about the importance of crowing and placing oneself above others. I think that's what all the stuff about how you're more important than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field was about. It's like I finally understand the Book of Matthew...

Oh, and then Rachel prays, adding at the end, "And let us beat the other people if it's your will." My sense is that she wants to pray for God to make her win money, but some part of her is conscious of how cheap it sounds. She sort of wants to hedge her bets because maybe God and anyone watching might be offended by her asking for straight-up monetary gain at other people's expense, but she holds out hope that maybe God will make her win if she asks and won't make her win if she doesn't ask. Just in case it's an order-fulfillment system like getting books off Amazon, she doesn't want to miss her shot. So you get that (ironically) a**-covering prayer where we ask to win, but only if God wants us to win. Ick...

Back at the Yield, the Weavers are still b***ing. Mama explains that they're "responsible to a higher authority." (God: "[Looking around.] Me? Oh, don't bring me into this....")

The Yield sand runs out in the Weaver hourglass, so they are into the coffee bean Roadblock, where Tammy still has no bean. Boo! Rachel goes, starts into her pile of beans, and is ordered by her mother to begin praying. Gross. I'm sure they only want their bean if it's God's will. Boo, boo!...

My two cents: you can read this snark-y recap as an attack on Christianity & Christians - you know, "Look how persecuted we are." But I think you'd be missing the point.

We are our own worst enemy. When we casually toss God-language and God-behavior around without following it up with authentic Christ-lives, the stink causes people to recoil in horror. If we're supposed to "let our light shine before all men" (Matthew 5:16), then we could certainly do with a little more shining & a little less pointing at how nifty our light is.

And it's not just about the Weavers - as if them being eliminated from the race would somehow advance the cause of Christ. It's about each one of us - where are we "the ugly Christians"?

Look, I'm not talking about perfection. None of us, follower of Christ or not, can stand up to 24-7 scrutiny without breaking down. But there is a graciousness & contentment that bubbles up in people who've genuinely experienced the grace of God that echoes throughout their lives - both through the good behavior and the "I wish I could take that back" kind of stuff.

So, what's bubbling up out of you?

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:45 (NIV)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Far Away But Weirdly Close

I didn't know Kyle well... I met him when Shari & I visited UBC in Waco, TX back in 1997. I'd talked to him a couple of times at emergent church leader gatherings. But that doesn't change that it was freaky to hear that he'd died as a result of being electrocuted in the baptistry of the church during a worship service Sunday morning. (You can read the basic story at Baptist Press. For the church's reaction/response, you can see their website.) A flurry of reactions have gone through my head/heart over the last few days:
  • Man, I hurt for his wife & kids.
  • What in the world are the folks in the church thinking? They just watched their pastor die.
  • Note to self: Don't EVER touch anything electrical while you're baptizing.
  • I wish I had an easy answer for the question "Why does God allow stuff like this to happen?"
  • Remember to pray for the rest of the staff - you've been through the loss of a pastor (due to his adulterous affair, in my case) and you know how traumatic it can be for those left behind.
  • I've been to that church - it feels weirdly close to me.
  • Ditto because I graduated from Baylor - and this was Homecoming Weekend.
For another take on this story, check out Dan Kimball's blog, Vintage Faith.

The One Hundred

Nearly a year ago, my friend, Stephen Glenn, came up with this wild-eyed idea. He'd poll a private mailing list of rabid game players that he & I both belong to about their favorite games... and come up with a Rolling Stone-like list of The Top 100 Games of All Time.

I volunteered to put the list up on my website - and the work began. After much starting & stopping (Stephen opened a game store, Shari & I had Collin, etc.), we finally were ready to go in early August.

And then something went horribly wrong with the software (Freeway Express) and computer (aging iMac) that I use to upload to Game Central Station. Insert immense sigh of frustration here - I have this huge update (which includes much more than just The One Hundred) that I have been unable to upload.

Anyway, after much futzing around, I suggested we create a blog to publish the material. Stephen agreed, and that blog just went live this morning (Thursday, November 3rd). It may or may not be of interest to you - some of you don't read this blog for the games - others of you are pretty ambivalent about the 'spiritual' part of this monster - but if you are interested, you can find it at

The One Hundred

Over the next three weeks, we'll be counting down the games from #100 to #1. Might make a nice Christmas list for someone in your family. :-)

BTW, Stephen is not just a nice guy, he's also the designer of the Spiel des Jahres nominated game, Balloon Cup, which you need to play at some point!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A. Vacation: Reply

I'm confused. This person, who is not a believer, attends a Christian worship service. Despite being an admitted liberal who listens to popular music (such as Van Halen), she criticizes the music of a Christian choir for not being conservative enough? I don't follow the logic of her statement.

You got all the details right but didn't listen to what she said.

  • Yes, Sarah Vowell is profoundly liberal.
  • Yes, she's not a believer (in fact, she's essentially turned her back on church/God, which she does get into at other places in the book).
  • Yes, she thinks the CCM mid-tempo pop ballad is insipid (she's not alone on that one).
  • Yes, she wants music that feels root-sy & authentic...

...which is her point (and mine). We in the church often assume that we KNOW what seekers want - but we don't actually listen to seekers to find out. Much of what the emerging church has done right is because they've tapped into the authentic desires of folks seeking a real & vibrant faith, rather than simply creating our own Christian subculture hermtically sealed against corruption.

But I've gone off-topic - you questioned the logic of her statement. Being a political liberal does not define your musical tastes, any more than being a theological conservative does. What she expressed is a desire for gospel music - that to her, like many of the senior adults in my congregation, there's a particular sound that rings true to them as "professing Christ".

I'm not saying that every church should do Johnny Cash's "Man in Black" each Sunday (though it wouldn't hurt if we played One Bad Pig's cover of it every once in a while). :-) But I think we must listen carefully to those in the culture around us to hear how our attempts at communicating the most important message ever is coming across. Not so we can change the message (cue dope slap) but so we can make sure the way we're communicating doesn't speak louder than the truth of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Assassination Vacation

If you're an NPR junkie, you know who Sarah Vowell is... esp. if you like This American Life, which is offbeat, liberal, and a majorly intriguing way to use radio to re-examine the familiar. (I still think the This American Life show on a youth mission trip should be required listening for every church leader...)

Chances are, though, the only time you've heard Sarah was in the role of Violet in Pixar's The Incredibles. (Not my favorite Pixar flick - that's Monsters, Inc. - but it's very, very good.)

What all of you may not know is that she's also a fine author... just finished her book, Assassination Vacation, in which she combines travelouge, history, political commentary & personal journal into a compelling mix. Her fascination with history (and esp. dead presidents) is a jumping off point for a very interesting read.

Now, don't say I didn't warn you: she definitely did NOT vote for George Bush in the last election. If that's going to make you grind your teeth, stay away.

Whether you go & read the book or not, do finish this post... I'm typing an excerpt on her view about a evangelical Easter sunrise service (from a decidely non-believeing perspective) that those of us in "professional" Christianity need to listen to...
...I get a look at the choir. Thirty singers and from where I'm sitting it looks like only two of them are black. It's not like I'm saying suburban white people shouldn't sing. Because I love Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher." But as I suspected, at six-thirty sharp the choir does stand up to perform the first of their competent renditions of generic, mid-tempo pop ballads that sound like they were written by a computer using a database of Easter vocabulary. In fairness, I should mention that other people here love the choir. The crowd is clapping & swaying and raising their arms. For me, however, where gospel music is concerned, my taste is more conservative and narrow-minded than a Reverend Falwell commencement address at Oral Roberts U. Unless it's an old holy-roller hymn Johnny Cash would have learned from his mama back in Arkansas, I'm not interested...
Question: how much of our musical choices are driven by people outside the church? If music communicates deeply to people's souls, then shouldn't we make sure it's connecting with people who need the love & grace of Jesus Christ?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Gulf Games: Sunday

This is majorly weird, recapping this weekend in late July here now in October, what with the devastation that was wreaked on New Orleans. For more on my jumbled mind about Katrina, see a previous post, so succinctly named Jumbled.

Actually, it feels better to have waited this long to do this - I'm now enjoying the memory of my time with the Gulf Gamers rather than worrying about if they're still alive. (Sigh.)

Sunday morning always starts for me with a non-denomational prayer service that I lead - we've done it in a number of places, my favorite still being in the ballroom bar in Birmingham. (I actually sat on the bar to lead the service.) In New Orleans, we used one of the alcoves leading to the pool and gathered chairs around to share life & God together. As usual, a primo experience.

From there, I asked Joe Huber to teach William & I
Pompeii. This game got negative early response when released last year - but I think much of that negative response was the All-Consuming Devil of Misplaced Expectations. This is not a slow, deep game of wise placement & movement... this is Midnight Party for adults. (It also has a lot in common with Escape From Atlantis/Survive... either way, the game is primarily about running while screaming from the lava and/or cutting off your running/screaming opponent with lava.) We had a great time playing and in the end, Joe & I tied, but he had less guys in the volcano, which won him the game. BTW, I'm on the prowl for a copy of this... it's growing as a game people enjoy and is getting more difficult to find.

Next, I taught the Schloesser's & Shanna
Konig Salomons Schatzkammer which I had played earlier in the weekend. I liked it better with four players (less downtime, a bit easier to plan) but it's not one I'm going to run out & buy. Shanna smoked us.

Sunday morning means a lot of "catch a quick game before I have to load up" and that's what we did with Jim Fairchild & Leon Hembee. This time, it was Knizia's
Jumbo Grand Prix, a quickie filler card game that really is a filler. I've always likened it to Lost Cities for Multiple Players, but it's not even really that deep.

The scores were amazingly close, however - I won with 56, Leon was at 55, Jim at 53, and William (the newbie) managed 51.

Next up was the much-touted Oltremare (whose new high-quality production just released looks mighty nice). The early buzz sounded like it was Bohnanza with teeth... in reality, it reminded me more of Meureter with trading added. Either way, it's a solid game, but it didn't light my world on fire. I wouldn't refuse to play it agina, mind you - I'm just not having the Pavlovian "must-buy" response.

It was, however, the only game Anye Sellers & I got to play together, which was a highlight. So was finishing in front of Derk. (Anye won, I was second.)

More new games for me (since I've been out of the "new game" loop, what with no Gulf Games or Gathering for the past two years)... I got to play
Ingenious (aka Einfach Genial). Whoop-de-honkin'-doo. The production is very nice, but it's just an abstract game you can play with 4 people. Play - count yer points - wait while others play. Sigh. I'm not understanding the love that's been lavished on this game.

It probably didn't help my opinion that Jay Bloodworth BLEW the rest of us out of the water. 3 points from a perfect game. Well-played, but it holds no interest for me.

My run of new-to-me games continued with Pickomino (aka Heckmeck am Brautweck... am I the only one who thinks the old name sounds cooler?) It's a pretty simple dice with some fun decisions, a major bit of "take that", and cool components (the worm "dominos" are tres nifty.) William actually won this, but we all had fun.

The same crew of William, Peter McCarthy & Eddie Bonet got in my last "official" game of Gulf Games as we dragged out the Haba classic, Karambolage. Cross billiards with Carabande and you've got a rough idea of how the game works. I was doing great (in fact, almost ready to win), but choked, and Eddie passed me by.

And that was it for Gulf Games. William & I went to Mother's for Po Boys (extremely yummy, highly recommended) then headed back to the hotel for a night of gaming ourselves: the Game of Life Card Game, Samurai, Duell, Crazy Chicken, Coda, That's Life, and Galloping Pigs. Man, I love having a nephew who loves games almost as much as I do.

Don't know when I'll get back to Gulf Games - but I certainly do miss it. And I miss my friends there... which are as important as the games.

Surely, You Can't Be Series, Us

Yes, I am... and stop calling me "Shirley".

One of the best things about subscribing to Netflix (shameless plug for which I do not get paid) is the ability to watch entire seasons of TV shows in great, glorious whacks of TV viewing. No cable here in Easton (you either buy a dish or go with the old fashioned antenna thingie), so I would have missed Band of Brothers entirely without Netflix. (Say what you will, but I'm not plopping down $90 for a series I've never seen...)

The latest series I'm enjoying is Veronica Mars... I'm only eight episodes (two discs) into it, but it's odd & charming & intriguing. (And PG-13 in it's content - this one's not for the kiddies.) Best as I can describe it:

1 part teenager show (think Everwood or The O.C.) + 2 parts Buffy the Vampire Slayer (minus the supernatural stuff) + 1 part Alias (minus SD-6 and the constant running through corridors)

Anyway, I'm having fun. Nobody spoil it for me by telling me how the season ends, ok?

Tuneage For A Postmodern Pastor

Here's what's been in my CD player... the links, btw, go to Amazon where you can actually hear samples!

Actual Miles - Don Henley (greatest hits)

He's a cynical son of a gun, but I love the grooves he lays down and the intelligence of his lyrics. Favorites include "Sunset Grill", "New York Minute", "I Will Not Go Quietly", and, weirdly enough,"Garden of Allah".

Voices From Heaven - Soweto Gospel Choir

Heavenly voices singing gospel music with a decidely African vibe... first heard these guys on NPR and promptly drove around looking for the album. A couple of the songs are in English, but most are in a variety of South African dialects.

Slow Burn - Kaiser/Mansfield

Acoustic blues with a decidely faith-based tinge... and when I say "acoustic", I mean guitars, harmonica & stompin' on the studio floor. Very root-y... it feeds my soul. Glenn Kaiser is one of the"grand old men" of (I hate this term) Christian rock'n'roll - Resurrection Band's first album is 1973, and the dude is still recording music. (If you like solid 3-piece Chicago blues, the Glenn Kaiser Band is an excellent blend of rock & blues.)

Classic Disney Volume 1-5

Braeden is seriously into the Disney music, as is his old man, and these collections are primo. The later discs (4 & 5) are a little weaker, drawing more from Pocohantas (only good thing about that movie was the music) and other "slight" films, but they're a great overall view of Disney classics. There's a good smattering of theme park classics ("Pirates Life For Me", "Grim Grinning Ghosts", "Main Street Electrical Parade"), some crazy old stuff ("Monkey's Uncle", "Let's Get Together", "Ugly Bug Ball") as well as odd new stuff ("Oogy Boogy's Song", "On the Open Road", "I Will Go Sailing No More").

Extra points for identifying which songs go with which movies... :-) [withOUT looking at the liner notes...sigh]

Monday, October 10, 2005

Over My Head

First, thanks to zionred that I even know this song. And, in case you're wondering, I do realize that "Over My Head" is off Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, but I like Faith Hope Love better. So sue me.

over my head i hear music in the air over my i hear music over my head it's loud and clear it's going to my head music music i hear music music i hear music music music oh! oh! oh! lord music over my head i! i! i! hear it so clear i! i! i! hear it so dear i know i know i know i'm not crazy it's going to my head grandma used to sing grandma used to sing everynight while she was prayin' over my head over my head i hear music oh lord

Interesting how the world works, eh? I'm sitting here in my office, totally overwhelmed by what's coming up in the next couple of months here at my church, and my brain shifts over to Kings X.

It's really a two-step process... the first is a kind of stream of consciousness brain explosion that runs something along the lines of:

The Get in the Game capital campaign starts Sunday and I'm freaked out by the responsibility of asking for $300,000 from our folks without being a total guilt-inducing jerkweed and I'm not getting enough time with my family but that isn't likely to clear up for the next six weeks... and then there's the associational meeting I promised I'd speak at on Saturday as well as attending Braeden's last soccer game and helping get Aaron moved into the new house and spending time with Shari & the money we're wasting on Netflix because we're holding onto DVD's too long because we don't have time to watch them...

Really, it's lovely being inside my brain. Join me, won't you? :-) What flashes through my overloaded synapses is that I'm in "over my head."

The second step is to go from "I'm drowning in my responsibilities" to humming "Over My Head" by Kings X. (This is the same brain function that had me spending 1/2 my time during worship this weekend at Promise Keepers trying to figure out which U2 riff they were ripping off.)

And then, to do this post, I looked up the lyrics again - and heard the voice of God. More than my circumstances drowning me, I'm swimming in the music of the goodness of God. And that's all right.

Or better.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Pig Quotes

In The Tale of The Pig, I told the story of The Pig & his autograph book. Just thought I'd share with you some of the other signatures & some random thoughts.

Hokus Pick

To The Pig,

We are more than excited to start this book for you. You better behave because we really like bacon.


Hey Pig,

Keep God #1. Love His Truth!


When Ricky realized that exactly what The Pig was, he complained to me that he'd really signed the wrong thing. "I coulda been funnier!"


Cleanliness is next to godliness. But that's not actually in the Bible. So stay dirty!



P- Peace of God

I - God is incredible.

G - God, God, God, God, Good.


Steve Taylor

To The Pig,

I think you're gonna be a big, big star...

Your friend, Steve Taylor

This is one of two Steve Taylor autographs I own. The other is on a postcard he sent the youth group after we sent him a copy of a music video we did of his song, "Bannerman." It reads: "You guys have a great future in film and/or in jail."

DC Talk

To a smelly animal, that has no style.

Michael Tait

I was privileged to spend an afternoon with Tait in Chicago... what a classy guy. And walking through a hotel lobby with him gave me a closeup look at the scary nature of being a celebrity. He was stopped at least 4-5 times for autographs & pictures... dude, how would ever have time to yourself?

Adam Again/Lost Dogs

Hey, it's The Pig!!!

Gene Eugene

This one is pretty poignant... as Gene died a couple of years back. I remember thinking how short he was. And how it was cool he stopped for a minute and took time to sign the book for me.

Renee Garcia

To The Pig:

How about putting an apple in your mouth and making a home in my oven? See you at the dinner table,

Renee Garcia (of Bliss Bliss)

I'd always liked Renee's "Living in the Vertical" album, though I thought the stuff from Bliss Bliss was so-so. What I really loved about Renee is the way she took time with 2 of my junior high girls after a concert in Houston (she opened for David Meece) and spoke into their lives.

DeGarmo & Key

To The Pig,

Thanks for being so ugly! It makes me feel good about myself.

Eddie DeGarmo

God bless "The Pig"

Stay out of Memphis in May.

Dana Key

This was on their final acoustic tour... these guys had been around a long time (15+ years) by this point and were kind of like elder statesmen for CCM. Yet they were the least egocentric musicians I've ever been around.

Live It Up

From one Ham to another,

Where's the beef?

Sir Loin, Loiny Donoho

Lanny Donoho is the head honcho behind a series of camps & events in the South that I loved to use... his heart for God is only slightly larger than his insane sense of humor.

Next Time I Fall In Love

To The Pig,

You are my hero - round, a whiner, and a perpetual runny nose. May you bring bacon to my table, and ham to my hungry soul!

Chap Clark

Chap was one of my youth ministry heroes... and a very funny guy. He & his wife, Dee, led a youth ministry & marriage seminar that made for some major breakthroughs for Shari & I.

Sixpence None The Richer

To my sleak pink fuzzy little friend I've never met - May you never find yourself on a Grand Slam Double Plate at Denny's.

Matt Slocum

True to form, Matt wrote more in the autograph book than he said to me in person. Watching him talk & play guitar, I finally understood the term "shoegaze" music.

Audio Adrenaline

To The Pig,

Take care, and take it easy. (P.S. Stay away from that breakfast table.)


Pig Rules!


To The Pig,



To The Pig,

Man, I hate bacon!!


Geoff Moore & The Distance

To Pig-O-Rama


Oink On!


I love ham


Don't cast your pearls before swine!


Ham & bacon rules


I'm not sure Geoff understood the whole Pig thing, but the band hooted & hollered.

Rebecca St James


Hope you're on fire for God!


Rebecca definitely didn't understand it... still, I remember seeing her at an industry showcase before her frist album came out. Her DAT tape broke and she just kept singing - strong voice & all. She nailed it. At that point, I knew she was going to be a big deal.

The Tale of The Pig (and How His Influence Still Touches My Life)

Many moons ago, I was a youth pastor. (For those of you who need more precise numbers, I resigned my last full-time youth ministry position in March of 1997, so it's been eight & a half years ago.) While I never particularly liked lock-in's (the idea of staying up all night with a bunch of highly caffienated youth still sends shudders up & down my spine) or some of the other unpleasant duties that went with the territory in the traditional church I served (searching the Sunday School classrooms during evening service to make sure youth weren't hiding out), I loved assisting teenagers in growing closer to God.

And playing with them - man, I loved playing crazy games. Jenn & Aaron played "Ultimate Octopus" with our crew here at NewLife a few weeks ago, and I found myself grinning ear to ear. (For the uninitiated, "Ultimate" is a high speed cross of basketball & soccer usually played with a Frisbee. Instead, they used a six pound dead octopus. Hilarity ensued.)

It wasn't the best game I ever came up with, but we decided to play touch football on a retreat with a pigskin - in this case, a fluffy pink stuffed animal pig. About 1/2 way through the game, his tail was ripped off during an aborted pass attempt. We laughed and played and went on with the retreat.

Well, as often happens to youth pastors after retreats, all of the leftover junk, debris, and lost & found ended up in my office, with The Pig perched on top of the pile. Sort of as a joke (and I'm not sure whose idea it was anymore), we made The Pig our youth group mascot. One of the youth sewed up the bad spot where his tail had been and he began traveling with us to youth events & concerts. His usual position was in the church van, rolled up in a window with 1/2 of his body sticking out. He even was featured prominently in our music video of Steve Taylor's "Bannerman."

Enter Mark Pittman, my odd but wonderful friend who worked for interl'inc, a Christian company that connected youth ministries with Christian musicians. It was his delightfully hare-brained idea to get The Pig his own autograph book. When we'd go to a show, rather than have our youth work so hard to get autographs that they'd lose and/or idolize, we send a group up with The Pig and his autograph book... presto, instant silliness.

The Pig stayed behind when I left youth ministry... I have no idea what happened to him. (He's probably in the organ loft at Dalewood Baptist... that's where literally everything else ended up when someone didn't know what to do with it.)

OTOH, the autograph book came with me. Over the three years that The Pig went to concerts, he managed to collect some pretty great autographs: DC Talk, Sixpence None The Richer, DeGarmo & Key, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, Church of Rhythm, Joy Electric, Geoff Moore & The Distance... basically a "who's who" of mid-nineties CCM.

I still have very fond memories of the very first night we took the autograph book to a show... a group of 10 of us headed out on a school night for the middle of nowhere TN (the name of the town escapes me, but it's where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place) for one of the best concerts I've ever attended. The headliner was Steve Taylor (one of my favorites), with Hokus Pick (another favorite) and Guardian opening.

Which brings me (finally) to the point of all this. (Sometimes, I wonder why you people are willing to read my ramblings - but, you do. So I'll keep writing!) While I was a huge Steve Taylor fan (and still am) and saw enough Hokus Pick shows that the band knew me on sight, Guardian was just a group of guys who played loud metal-derived rock'n'roll. And then they signed The Pig Book.

Pig, you'll make a great BBQ sandwich.
To The Pig, I love how pink you are!
The Pig - God bless you! Thanks for being the other white meat.
Tony Palacios

So, it was meeting them and glimpsing their sense of humor that allowed me to slow down and really listen to their music.

And that brings me to a song that's been running through my head this week: "The Lion's Den".

Once upon a time in churches of old

The velcro age had yet to unfold
Flannel was king and Sunday School knew
How to make those Bible heroes stick like glue
How to make 'em stick with you

Flannelgraph lions, mounted and mean
The prophet Daniel in between
Head toward heaven, sturdy and true
A man of God who did not fear the gods of men
He didn't fear the lions' den

Every age at every stage
Lions rage
Pray, stand your ground
They'll lie down

Dumb struck, I was shaken and stirred
He wouldn't kowtow, he kept God's word
Teacher said, "Son, this could be you
If you put your trust in God and not the praise of men
You won't fear the lions' den"


And if we play by lions' rules
We start lionizing fools
God wrote the book, he'll fortify
And like the eagles we will fly
We're gonna fly

Late one night in a fever dream
The prophet Daniel came to me
"Sir," I said, "I've lost my nerve
I lip serve God and put my faith in Godless men
I fear the lions' den"
Then he said, "Who says I'm not a feline-phobe?
Who says I wasn't ready to wet my robe?
Faith is tough, boy, but God gives grace
So take deep breath, head up, set your face like flint
And stop being a wimp"

words: Steve Taylor music: Tony Palacios & Jamie Rowe copyright 1995 - from Guardian's album "Buzz"

"Faith is tough..." Gosh, it's good to hear that this week. It's "all too easy" (props to Darth Vader for the quote) for me to buy into the lie that faith, if it was "real", should be easy. That if I was really a "good little Christian", my feelings would fall into line and I'd be relentlessly & digustly cheerful in the face of everything that comes my way. Kind of like, for those of you who got forced to read Voltaire in college, Candide, only with an iPod filled with tunes by Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith.

Instead, faith isn't about how easy my life is... or how good I am at faking a complete lack of fear & anxiety. Faith is based on the goodness of God, not the goodness of me. And that's incredibly freeing. (Even typing it makes me feel better - like saying it aloud makes it more real.)

So, a shout out to The Pig (whatever dark closet he's hiding in at Dalewood Baptist). Thanks to your fluffy pinkness, I'm reminded again of God's power and love for me in the midst of stuff that feels like it's gonna eat me alive.

Obviously, I'm not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ's servant.
Galatians 1:10 (NLT)

This post originally appeared in the 10/5/05 issue of The Grapevine, a publication of NewLife Community Church.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Lovely Rita, Meter Maid

Well, not gonna be able to listen to that Beatles song again without flashing back on last weekend.

What follows is a random series of stories & impressions post-Hurricane Rita.

- I'm thankful that the storm skated east of Houston... Shari's family was holed up in Conroe (north of Houston) and fully expected to lose the barn/apartment on their new property as well as see their unsold former home flood if Rita hit them full force. As it is, they're without power and running the fridge & some fans off a borrowed generator, but there's no major damage.

- Being thankful for the hurricane not hitting my in-laws makes me feel guilty - because it isn't like the hurricane just fizzled out and did no damage. It actually came ashore in my old stomping grounds, southeast Texas. Back in 1987-88, I was the minister of youth in a little (smaller than NewLife) Baptist church in Silsbee, TX - Good Shepherd Baptist Church. I went into Beaumont every week to see a movie, pick up the new comic books, and just hang out. Seeing the pictures from Beaumont & Port Arthur are disconcerting, to say the least.

- I've been trying to get in touch with the pastor of Good Shepherd this week - but the phones are down & the power is out. I can still see the church in my mind's eye, and then I try to imagine what kind of damage they sustained. (The church sits in a bit of a hole, kind of like NewLife, and I have this sick feeling that they have a combination of wind damage & flooding.)

- My memories of Good Shepherd are really positive - it was my first full-time church position and the folks there were incredibly kind to me. I was hired as the summer youth minister after my first year at seminary... and things went so well that they invited me to continue on through the school year. They even gave me one work day a week to attend seminary (in Houston).

- I learned how to do hospital visits in Beaumont. Bro. Fred (our pastor) drug me along & had me watch him. Then, the next person we visited, he had me pray. By the end of the day, he was letting me do most of the talking. (Can't say enough good things about Fred Raney... he was a gift to me as a young minister.)

- I'm a little ticked that the news media is so focused on New Orleans & Houston. It feels like natural disasters really aren't that bad unless they happen to big cities.

All of this reflecting takes me (of course) someplace spiritual...

In the film, "Three Amigos", Steve Martin's character (Lucky Day) gives a short speech, meant to be encouraging as the little village gets ready to face down the bandit king, El Guapo:

I suppose you could say that everyone has an El Guapo. For some, shyness may be an El Guapo. For others, lack of education may be an El Guapo. But for us, El Guapo is a large ugly man who wants to kill us!

For some, your El Guapo may be a hurricane. For others, it's the storms of life. (Most of us don't have to worry about a large, ugly man wanting to kill us.)

I can't control the weather. I can't make a storm stop in it's tracks or change direction. If a hurricane is coming my way, I can either run or board up my house & ride it out.

I can't control most of the storms in my life, either. Oh, yeah... I know there's lots of storms we bring on ourselves (bad financial habits, insufficient courage to do the right thing, etc.) But many of the things that hit us are due to the mistakes & sins of others.

So the question is: how do I react to those storms? Have I properly prepared my life to deal with disaster, or am I pretending that "nothing bad will ever happen to me"? Look, if someone promised you that following Jesus would protect you from bad stuff, they obviously didn't pay attention in Sunday School. The Bible is filled with stories of bad things happening to people who love God: stonings, beatings, murder, natural disaster, shipwreck, flood, etc. Christianity is not a magic talisman to ward off difficult circumstances.

Instead, followers of Christ are spiritually prepared for the storms of life... armed with the peace of God's presence and the call to live out what they believe.

Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-8 (The Message)

So, I'll ask again: are you ready for the storm? It's coming.

The waves crash in the tide rolls out
It's an angry sea but there is no doubt
That the lighthouse will keep shining out
To warn a lonely sailor
And the lightning strikes
And the wind cuts cold
Through the sailor's bones
Through the sailor's soul
'Til there's nothing left that he can hold
Except a rolling ocean

Oh I am ready for the storm
Yes sir ready
I am ready for the storm
I'm ready for the storm

Oh give me mercy for my dreams
'Cause every confrontation seems to tell me
What it really means
To be this lonely sailor
And when the sky begins to clear
The sun it melts away my fear
And I shed a silent weary tear
For those who mean to love me


The distance it is no real friend
And time will take its time
And you will find that in the end
It brings you me
This lonely sailor
And when You take me by the hand
And You love me, Lord, You love me
And I should have realized
I had no reasons to be frightened


"Ready For the Storm", written by Dougie MacLean (recorded by Rich Mullins on his Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth album)

This article originally appeared in the 9/29/05 edition of The Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.