Monday, March 26, 2007

TMNT and a Myth

This weekend the family and I went to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the drive-in theatre. We had a good time, but it had me pondering about the use of violence as the best weapon against evil.

Before I get all theoretical and critical, I do want to admit that we had a splendid evening. The movie wasn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but the kids had fun sitting in the back of our van and in chairs outside on a nice evening watching a movie. Good times.

But with the recent hit movies out, 300 and TMNT, violence is the means to overcome problems with our neighbors, even if they are a bit cranky and overbearing like threatening death if you don't bow down.

So what do you do if you are the good guys? Well, you fight back with superior force until they act the way that you want them to act, or, if that fails, you destroy them. Of course it's legit - we are the good guys! Of course, "good guys" meaning in the realistic sense those that are on the same team as you are.

The movies do have a heavy dose of let's-work-as-a-team and we can overcome all obstacles. Now, I am a strong believer in teams but let's face it: you can't overcome all obstacles just because you are a team. You also need to work out and become all muscle-y so that we can pulverize people together.

The cost of the myth of redemptive violence is heavy. You must be absolutely sure that you are in the right, whatever that might mean to you, and the fight with your conscious when it means destruction of people, including casualties. You must ensure means that the other people will act forever as you wish them to behave because let's get one thing clear - you won't change their hatred for you. Their retaliation will only escalate if they believe in redemptive violence as well. It never ends.

The cost may also be yourself and your people. I was amazed after we saw 300 at the non-reaction to the destruction of babies that did not meet the standards of maintaining the ability of heightened physical violence. Can anyone say "Hitler"? Hello! I have not seen anyone flinch at the scenes of kids beating on their brothers in the name of becoming stronger. Personally, that was the saddest moment of the movie for me.

But we overlook all that when we see Bravery. I love seeing people go against great odds. I long to be the one who stands up with others to say, We will not stand for this, it is not right. The emotional impact of watching heroes - people who stand up for what they believe or who fight for others - can catch you up. But to do that with the threat of physical Power shows a lack of imagination and bears a cost. Is there another way?

While I was in DC, there was a pastor at a local church that I had the opportunity to attend a function with. He told about the time when he attended a presidential luncheon with other church leaders with President Clinton. During the luncheon, if I remember correctly, there was a guest speaker. This lady needed a box to stand on to be able to reach the microphone. When she did, she lambasted the President and the country for their views on abortion. No one said a word, including the most powerful man man on earth. They didn't cuff her, they didn't shoot her when she got outside. She just finished and went back to her seat. Mother Teresa wielded real Power.

Real Power lies in not forcing behavior on people, but changing their hearts, beliefs, and values so that the behavior comes from within. And that takes Bravery and Imagination.

What are some of the problems that you see in your community? Maybe we could talk together, maybe even use some teamwork, to come up with non-violent means of confronting these issues.


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Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Stories We Meet

I was up late on night recently finishing up some work on a class and I wanted to get out of the house, so I went to Denny's since it is open 24/7. I was finishing up and the young lady who had been serving was doing a great job and I let her know. While we were chatting, I asked if she always worked the night shift.

She said, "No, just on the weekend. I go to school during the week."

"You go to school during the week?" It was one of those I'm struggling to get this in my mind so I'll ask a stupid question or just repeat what you already told me moments. Changing your sleeping pattern from night to day is difficult, and she just told me that she doesn't really do that. She just pulls all-nighters on the weekend so that she can work. I'm still wowed by that.

She continues on, nicely filling in for my dumb question, "Yeah, I'm only 17 and haven't finished high school so I work on the weekends. This way I can get more hours in."

I asked her what she wanted to do when she graduates. She told me that she is thinking about business, and definitely wants to travel. I told her that there are lots of good business jobs that have traveling, and told her of some friends who traveled a lot for their jobs. We talked on for a few more minutes since it was relatively slow that night.

Anyway, she cheered me up. Here is a nice, hard-working young lady who isn't angry that she's up late working - she was friendly and was doing a fantastic job at her workplace. I left her a tip that was triple my bill and wished that I could afford to give her more.

As your story overlaps the story of someone else, that intersection will be colored and developed. Those intersections happen all the time, most of it with little thought. To paint a few brush strokes of bright and lively colors on the canvas of life is not a bad way to go about living.


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Friday, March 23, 2007

More strange questions

I was stumped again with a question that I was totally not expecting. This time it came from my four-year-old, and it probably happens all the time except this time I was actually paying attention.

We were driving home from lunch today when he asked me, "What is bait for kangaroos?"

I had to admit that I wasn't quite sure. I don't know what or where to find one close enough to try. After a little prompting to find out why he was asking, I heard about the trap my kids had set up in the back yard to try and catch the rabbit. It was one of those boxes held up with a stick tied to string with bait inside.

I hope they catch something, just smaller than a kangaroo. Although that would be pretty exciting...


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To do this, I have to review a blog that is reviewing a book. You get a first-hand response to a second-hand observation.

Scot McKnight is reviewing Daryl Tippen's (from Pepperdine U.) book Pilgrim Heart, which discusses confession as a discipline. Since I recently wrote about this, it is one of those lingering electrical sparks that has been zipping back and forth between lobes of my brain.

Check out these three claims:

“the Christian community’s demand for respectability often increases the dishonesty” of not confessing


“A Christian who is not confessional is in peril”


“An unconfessed Christian is an oxymoron” (100)

I like it when somebody lays the smackdown like that. I hope that you can take these phrases to your version of the Christian watercooler and while you are standing there, you say to the next person that walks by, "Hey, guess what I heard today: _______. Can you believe someone said that? What do you think about that?" Or even take it to the secular watercooler; they might be just as fascinated with someone taking it strong to Christians.

At least I hope one or more of those phrases gets under your skin.


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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Solemn as what?

I saw the phrase "solemn as churchgoers" in a fiction book that I was reading and it has bothered me for the last couple of days (the phrase not the book; actually, the book is quite fun and I'll review it next week).

I can certainly see why the phrase has come about. Often, the only times many non-churchgoers ever enter a church is for weddings and funerals, and in the middle of both the mood can be quite similar - solemn, I am referring to.

Or maybe the picture some churchavoiders have is of the manic preacher breathing fire and brimstone (and spittle on the front row) on the people in the pews while they sit there and grimace. This is followed by rows of weeping people making their way to the front in fear.

And in times leading up to today, many churchgoers have enjoyed the times of solemnity and austerity. Certainly, the subject of Christianity has its talk of death and a cross and suffering, which isn't a time for knock-knock jokes.

But the "solemn" in the "solemn as church goers" is not meant by many as a compliment, as some might take it. I believe it is meant as "mirthless" rather than "causing serious thoughts". And in that case, I have a problem.

After all, aren't we the people of Sunday, the people of Easter? Aren't we the people of the Good News? If we have difficulty embodying it, it should at least be sitting on the tips of our tongues.

If churchgoers are the non-complimentary solemn-ers, then no wonder people aren't all that interested. Is that what heaven is supposed to be like? No wonder people say they will take their chances.

You want to know what I think the real problem is? I'll pretend like you do. It's a lack of Joy. Real Joy. Not the detergent type, not the "smile as I walk in the door" type. We've lost it. Our houses are so cluttered that it's sitting under something, but we have to dig through all our stuff to find it and we just don't have time or we just pile on something else hoping another Joy will come around.

We watched the documentary The Devil's Playground last night. It's about Amish kids when they turn 16, no longer have to do as they parents' want, and get to do whatever they want - and boy do they go crazy! Although, of course, they probably learn most of this from their "English" friends - a few of whom we meet in the film.

Now, I'm not saying we should all join the Amish church or way of life. But here is something fascinating - they have one of the highest retention rates (teens deciding to join the faith) these days than they ever have! I seriously doubt many church denominations or non-denominational groups have retention rates that are as close. You'll have to watch the film to see what you think.

My own hypothesis as to why - there is a contrast between the lifestyles. It is easy to "see" a difference between being "English" (normal American culture) and being "Amish".

I just don't know that we, the churchgoers, do a good enough job of making the Joy evident in our everyday lives. I just don't know if we feel it. I want people to see Christians as heavengoers, and that is the Best News that they could hear.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Strange questions

I was sitting at lunch today by myself while reading a book when a college student asked me, "Are you the prize monkey?" I said, "I'm not quite sure I know what you are talking about." (The day might have been even stranger if I had.) He replied, "I heard that the prize monkey was sitting alone somewhere near here." The only response I could think of at the moment was, "I don't think I'm the prize monkey."

Anybody beat that for "strange question of the day"? I can think of plenty of good responses now; how about you?


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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

When the room gets quiet

I was with four people in a room the other day while we were waiting for a store manager. There was a little conversation going on here and there, but after a few minutes of this the room got quiet when the surface conversations went dry - the dreaded lull in the conversation. One girl got visibly nervous and finally asked, "So is someone going to say something?!"

Someone finally asked her a question that would not have usually engaged a drone but the silence was heavy and she was happy to fill it, even with prattle. It was fascinating to watch.

She, and this is not picking on the female sex (it just happened to be that way in that room), probably would have answered a question that involved random words or maybe even something like, "So, what do you think about the source of the space time continuum?" She just wanted (honestly making a huge assumption about someone's motivations, just go with me or even disagree with me) noise to be filling the air and connections to be made, regardless of the tenuity of the resulting babble.

What is it that makes silence so frightful? Is it an indication of the cynical bent that if someone isn't saying something nice, they must be thinking something wrong? Is it a fear that I might start thinking things and who knows where that may go? Is it that the constant noise that is usually around us creates an environment in which golden silence is more like copper dead air?

I'm actually one of those people right in the middle of the I/E personality composition. I enjoy parties and big crowds and can hop into conversations with complete strangers and have a blast. At the same time, I need times of aloneness and non-talk, so that moment of quiet in the room didn't bother me a bit.

So fill me in, oh yea of glad speaking, on why you think silence can be tough to take...


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Monday, March 19, 2007

What is it worth?

Interesting idea for this restaurant. I've also read somewhere, I wish I could remember where, of a man who sold bagels at workplaces and used the honor system, which is not quite the same but has the similar characteristic of trusting people to sacrifice for something that they use.

What if that was in place for other things as well? What if we just gave in taxes what we thought our government services was worth? Lots of interesting ramifications - and how you see the future probably depends on what you think about human nature. Would you see anarchy or would you see a more genteel society?

There is some aspect of paying for what you think things are worth for most objects and services - if you don't want what they are offering, offer less or don't get it. I read an article on one of my many travels lately on American Airlines about a man who will negotiate for you.

Personally, I don't think we, "we" as in representing people who buy things, don't spend enough time thinking about the true value of stuff. I guess that is obvious, but what that really means is that we stop buying things, at least so quickly, and come up with a process of determining long-term value to our lives.

So, good reader, how do you think we could do that? Should we consult someone on any purchase over a quarter? How do you determine the true value of something in how much it adds to your life?


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Saturday, March 17, 2007


We went sledding over our spring break, as you can see in this picture of my brother, sister, and I heading down a pretty steep hill.

What is it that makes sledding fun? You hop on a small, uncomfortable little disc or rectangular plastic sled at the top of a hill and then careen out of control and if you are lucky you are mostly facing downhill. You get snow flying everywhere, including in your face and up the back of your sweater (as can be seen at the bottom of this picture). One time down the hill my daughter and I were going so fast and so out of control that we went past the snow and ended up in mud.

But as you can tell, for some reason this out-of-control I'm going way too fast feeling has us smiling and laughing. Sometimes it feels good to just let go and see where the hill will take you...


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Friday, March 16, 2007


I'm on spring break (the reason for the lull in blogs) with my family in the mountains of New Mexico; and when I say family, we have a loaded house here. We went skiing yesterday, and in days of the past, skiing and fear were two words that would not be seen in the same post.

When I was younger, there truly were few things that I was afraid to try, as my high school skiing buddies could attest. I wasn't all that great, but that wouldn't stop me from racing them down the mountain or flying off a ledge. We would stop at the top of a slope, they would point out a jump and dare me to try something. They knew that I would never turn them down.

That has resulted in some tremendous crashes and occasionally a pretty amazing feat. But it was all different Tuesday as I was on the ski slopes with my family. I hadn't been skiing in several years, and I took it easy. I saw a few jumps and went around them. There were some spots where I could pick up a lot of speed and I slowed down.

So it is that I'm just getting old? I suppose that is part of it. I've experienced hurt and pain. I've had several surgeries on body parts and I know that it could happen again. Getting up after falling down just isn't as easy as it used to be.

I'm really not that old, so coming to this realization is hard. I fear the next morning after I have taken a couple of hard falls. I fear landing wrong and going through rehab for six months. I now have fear when I watch my kids and hope that they have a little more trepidation (but still have chutzpah) than I did going down the slopes of life.

My oldest son actually had a bad fall on the slopes and sprained his knee. The swelling will go down in a couple of days and he is already up and playing in the backyard, but it just drags up the fear that I have of the future.

What is my fear? Potential pain and lost opportunity.

There is a good part to this fear - it helps me to relish other moments. I try to drink in the hugs that I get from my kids. I try to think "this is good" when my wife and I share our thoughts and hearts. I love having a good laugh and experiences with my friends. These become the glue in my life in the face of fear and brokenness. I just hope that the strength of the cherished moments are strong enough to help me overcome the fears when I need to be brave.

So tell me, friends, how do you know the difference between a good fear and a bad one?


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Friday, March 09, 2007


Yesterday I went early to the elementary school where I was subbing. I was filling in for a kindergarten teacher. I actually like subbing for elementary teachers - you get to be there all day with the kids and actually try to teach them something. In high school, you are usually handing them busy work for an hour and then they are out the door.

The school was in a Hispanic part of town, so I didn't think anything about the English and Spanish words covering the walls. I was quite stunned, though, when the teacher's directions were for me to work with the students using the Spanish language books. I don't speak Spanish (other than "si" and "no", kind of like saying I know Japanese because I can say "karate").

To keep it short, I had a good day. I told the kids they were going to have to help me and they did. I tried reading through the kids book using Spanish, and they had great fun yelling out the correct pronunciation when I would miss one or two a page. There was no doubt that I learned far more Spanish yesterday than I taught them English.

It is true: you can learn from anyone if you want to. Those very young students were great teachers.


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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Medicine and Traveling

We have traveled more in the past three months than I have in at least a decade, when I was a real business person. You know, I don't really mind traveling. Our kids are at an age, when they travel with us (about half the time lately), where they pretty much take care of themselves. I don't have a fear of traveling - check that, I have fears of what will happen to our luggage, fears of traveling with the flu, etc., just not a fear of the plane taking a nose-dive.

My only problem is when the our means of traveling are dipsy-doodling around.

I have motion sickness. Stupid kinetosis. When things get bumpy or lurchy, my head gets funny and if that doesn't stop soon, my stomach gets not-so-funny. According to Wikipedia, the encyclopedic source of people's best guesses, nausea actually means seasickness; although for some strange reason I never get motion sick or nausea on a boat. But I digress.

At the onset, I'll do the usual of trying to look out the window, which might get annoying if I'm sitting in the middle aisle of the plane and leaning over two other people to see out that tiny window that mostly shows me the wing or engine. Usually that will keep it at bay, or maybe I'll get lucky and be sleepy and then just drool on the person next to me with my head on their shoulder.

But when I really need to, or if I'm on one of the puddle jumpers, I'll take medicine. The only problem is, after popping a couple of Dramamines, I'm never quite sure what will happen.

I'll probably stop being motion sick. That's the good news. The bad news is I'm one of those people that medicine pops a big wallup. Not just medicine, any chemical has a big impact on my system. I can drink a glass of tea with dinner and it'll keep me up later. Decaff coffee will make me bouncy. So when I take something that may cause drowsiness, most of the time it will leave me lying on the floor within minutes. My wife hates it when I take Dramamine on those short planes because they may be only 45 minutes long, but the Dramamine will put me out for an hour and a half. The plane will be landing, she will be punching me trying to wake me up, and I'll be saying something like, "Leave me alone, Mom, just ten more minutes before school starts."

But it doesn't always happen like that. Sometimes I get strange side effects. Sometimes the medicines will do the exact opposite, like keep me awake for days. I was taking some heavy meds when I had my shoulder surgery, and I didn't sleep for 3-5 days and can't remember most of what happened. My wife said I was giggling and flirting with the nurses on the way out of the doctor's office.

So we get on a plane not too long ago and I pop a couple of Dramamines 'cause the ride over to the airport wasn't so smooth. I do so about ten minutes before we board and it was perfect timing - I got in my seat and almost instantly was asleep. Perfect, for the first half hour. Then for some reason I pop up, wide awake. Within minutes, my legs and feet start to itch and shake. It was the second worse plane ride I had been on in the last couple of years. I was shaking my legs into the aisle, kicking under the seat, and was just generally squirming for several more hours; it just made me hate those first class travelers all the more - I could be squirming without hitting my shins into the seat in front of me. My four year old thought it was pretty funny.

That's why I generally avoid medication. Who knows what something like the diet pill would do to me.


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Review of "Cultivating A Life For God" by Neil Cole, part 2 of 2

The real topic of Neil Cole's book - confession, rather than discipleship - is something I believe many people are longing for but are scared to death of. I believe that you can see this in the popularity of places such as PostSecret, where people create postcards that are indicative of the secrets that they anonymously mail in.

The PostSecret website picturing the postcards is fascinating. The creator eventually puts enough of the confessional postcards into a book and then goes to signings, where you look around and wonder who wrote what.

Reading the postcards is a surreal experience. You know real, next-door people (maybe even yourself) think those thoughts and have gone through those experiences, but we just don't talk about them. Period. Not in polite company, not in rough company, and especially not to people we are close to. Rather, perfect strangers are preferred in an anonymous setting.

Are confessions really necessary? Can't we get by without them? I suppose so, since millions probably do. But are we truly a community that loves each other if we can't share our problems? That seems more like a community that is friendly as long as I don't have to really expend much energy or compassion.

Here is a confession: there are times when I'd rather see your fake smile than really know what is going on. I think my biggest fear isn't that I'd have to take time off from watching TV to help you (Survivor really isn't that great), it's that I would feel the need to reciprocate and tell you my own problems.

But the healing that could happen! How wonderful it would be to be able to tell people of my struggles, of my broken past, and know that they would love me fully! The monkey removed, the struggle is shared, and real growth could happen.

Where has the church been? Why aren't people making these same confessions in the context of the body of Christ, where forgiveness is supposed to be complete?

Gossip. Condemnation. Feeling like you are a zoo animal.

So, instead, we have anonymous boxes hiding our identity to Catholic priests, we have websites such as which is basically the same as PostSecret but endorsed by a church.

I appreciate for at least making an effort, just don't quote the verse from James when you allow anonymous confessions. In real community, you confess your sins and problems and cares to each other, not to an electronic priest. Otherwise you may feel good for a few minutes, but you miss out on the purpose - community and growth. James says the purpose of the confession to each other, not privately to God, not privately to the internet, is so that we can take care of each other, pray for the other person, and help us to get over and through it.

Thus comes Cole's book, saying let's do it, people are craving it. He suggests groups the size of two or three people. I would add "who you can trust or build a trust" but he doesn't seem to necessarily think that is necessary. He has examples of adding people in within weeks, and in one scenario he talks about people being added to the group and multiple groups forming within one setting. I have to wonder if trust and confession isn't being trampled on at that point.

I love the idea of the groups and I think they are for everyone who has ever sinned. I love his advice about having it spread as a grassroots movement rather than as a program. My own inclination would be to focus the purpose; Cole seems to stress the groups more as a Bible study and evangelism tool than as a confession and healing tool. But here is another confession: I haven't started one yet, but I plan on it. Maybe then I'll have a little better perspective.

You lucked out - I won't post my confessions on this blog.


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