Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Conversations with my 6 year old...

Having a chat with my son Hunter is rarely boring. Here are some of our conversations this morning while getting ready for school:

Me: Come here, Cutestuff.
Hunter: Like I always say, there is no such thing as Cutestuff.
Me: Then you must not exist!
Hunter: Now why would I be such a thing?


Hunter: What is for lunch today on the school menu?
Nancy: Hotdog.
Hunter: No.
Nancy: Chili.
Hunter: NO!
Nancy: Peppy pizza salad.
Hunter: What is that?
Nancy: I don't know.
Hunter: Ok, then no.


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Friday, October 03, 2008

Are You What You Buy?

I finished the book Buying In by Rob Walker and thoroughly enjoyed it. The last chapter ends with the question: does what you buy define who you are?

I have the belief that every person is intrinsically valuable. If this is true, then what you buy or what you have does not make you more valuable as a person. But the objects that you surround yourself with does answer another question:

Who do you wish you were?

That is why advertisers tell stories now rather than promoting the practical usefulness of their item. They are working on your insecurity. You know this. I know it. It works anyway.

As one contemporary ad agency executive has put it: "Few stronger emotions exist than the need to belong and make meaning. And brands are poised to exploit that need." (257)
We need food, basic clothing, and basic shelter. Everything after that is novelty that wears off fast because of our adaptive behavior. We adapt to the object, and it isn't as exciting for as long as we thought it would be.
But, I asked, what exactly does it mean to say "the wrong reasons"? If someone creates a symbol that has meaning, if it's Polo or Ecko, and I buy into it and it makes me feel more classy or urban, isn't that okay?
"Yeah," they answered in unison, and Andrew clarified: "You're spending the money to pay for the advertising that they paid for to make you believe that. That's the snake-eating-its-own-tail of it all." (260)
It's okay to buy things, to own things. But before we do, we need to really think about who we intentionally want to be.


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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Did You Really Learn Anything?

Is it possible for you to go through a course or a class and not learn anything? Oh yeah, we've all probably had an experience like that.

But is it possible to go through a course, enjoy the teacher, get a good grade, and still not learn anything? Read on...

I read about the following experiment in the book What The Best College Teachers Do (22-23):

In the early 1980s, two physicists at Arizona State University wanted to know whether a typical introductory physics course, with its traditional emphasis on Newton's laws of motion, changed the way students thought about motion. As you read this account, you might substitute for the line "think about motion" any other phrase that fits your subject. Do you the students in any class change the way they think?

To find out, Ibrahim Abou Halloun and David Hestenes devised and validated an examination to determine how students understand motion. They gave the test to people entering the classes of four different physics professors, all good teachers according to both colleagues and their students. On the front side, the results surprised no one. Most students entered the course with an elementary, intuitive theory about the physical world, what the physicists called "a cross between Aristotelian and 14th-century impetus ideas." In short, they did not think about motion the way Isaac Newton did, let alone like Richard Feynman. But that was before the students took introductory physics.

Did the course change student thinking? Not really. After the term was over, the two physicists gave their examination once more and discovered that the course had made comparatively small changes in the way students thought. Even many "A" students continued to think like Aristotle rather than like Newton. They had memorized formulae and leearned to plug the right numbers into them, but they did not change their basic conceptions. Instead, they had interpreted everything they heard about motion in terms of the intuitive framework they had brought with them to the course.

Halloun and Hestenes wanted to probe this disturbing result a little further. They conducted individual interviews with some of the people who continued to reject Newton's perspectives to see if they could dissuade them from their misguided assumptions. During those interviews, they asked the students questions about some elementary motion problems, questions that required them to rely on their theories about motion to predict what would happen in a simple physics experiment. The students made their projections, and then the researchers performed the experiment in front of them so they could see whether they got it right. Obviously, those who relied on inadequate theories about motion had faulty predictions. At that point, the physicists asked the students to explain the discrepancy between their ideas and the experiment.

What they heard astonished them: many of the students still refused to give up their mistaken ideas about motion. Instead, they argued that the experiment they had just witnessed did not exactly apply to the law of motion in question; it was a special case, or it didn't quite fit the mistaken theory or law that they held as true. "As a rule," Halloun and Hestenes wrote, "students held firm to mistaken beliefs even when confronted with phenomena that contradicted those beliefs." ...The students performed all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid confronting and revising the fundamental underlying principles that guided their understanding of the physical universe. Perhaps most disturbing, some of these students had received high grades in the class.

Have you noticed how hard it is to really convince someone by arguing? People have to be receptive to new ideas for them to really change. It sometimes takes tectonic shifts to get people to change their worldview.

So, either the person needs to be at a point where they want to learn, or they have to be at a point of disillusionment with their worldview. Far more important than providing new information is showing why they should care in the first place.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Salience Matters

Are the things that matter to you relevant to anybody else?

If not, before you assume that they are just not smart enough to have it figured out, you might want to first ask if it has entered their radar. Maybe it has been buzzing around your territory enough that you had a chance to think through it, to see it as something that belongs rather than just a minor blip or an extraterrestial passing through.

The book Buying In (58) has this quote:

Even today, salience matters: You are in no position to desire an iPod if you have no idea what it is. The more you see something, the more familiar it becomes - not as a result of the thing changing, but as a result of your brain changing through repeated exposure.

I find this true when I am teaching. Sometimes there are ideas that I've been aware of for a while that I wonder if I should even bother talking about. I do, and watch people get an aha moment or struggle with it. I have to remind myself that I might have come across it a while ago because of my specialty, and that it hasn't hit their radar yet.

And the same happens to me. I'll find something and think, "Wow!" and the person next to me is like, "Where have you been?"

I get to watch this happen with my kids, watching as stuff hits their radars and they take notice: "Did you know that 100 times 100 is 10,000?" "Did you know that an earthworm has 8 hearts?"

Salience matters. If it is important to you, find the simplest way to communicate it to those that you believe might care. Throw it out there so that it hits their radar screens.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Just Because You Can?

Just because you can sell something doesn't mean you should.

But I suppose that as long as there are a couple of people that will pay for it, there will generally be a couple of people selling it.

Recently I was in the market for a car. For most of us, that means we need to think about what it is that we are really buying. I know ultimately we are buying a means of transportation, but it certainly must be about more than that. Which, I think, is really strange considering how much money we are actually putting into it.

You ever wonder why SUVs were so popular, that is until gas became more expensive than having kids? Roughing it, for many SUV owners, is going to a Holiday Inn. Camping? Out of the question - there are icky things like bugs out there, and you might get dirty. Actually using the 4-wheel drive? Well, they do drive in the snow maybe 10 out of the 365 days of the year. Maybe.

Buying In (p 49) says you bought in:

One reason SUVs became so popular is that they felt so safe: all that metal surrounding you as you towered over the punier cars all around. But of course, the data show rather convincingly that SUVs are far less safe than smaller cars. (And in fact, the feeling of safety may contribute to this, by lulling drivers into carelessness.) Before you blame this on big companies victimizing helpless, passive consumers from the old days before the recent revolution that gave us the power to hold them accountable, it's worth noting that journalist Keith Bradsher tells a somewhat different story in his definitive book on the SUV phenomenon, "High And Mighty." The SUV evolved largely in response to research into what consumers wanted and to what succeeded in the market. Carmakers conducted massive and detailed surveys, involving tens of thousands of consumers and research efforts "backed up by many interviews with consumers in focus groups," on a scale that dwarfed such efforts by politicians or media outlets. Consumers wanted four-wheel drive even though hardly any used it; they wanted to sit high in the vehicle because it felt safe, even though it wasn't. Auto executives seem to have been perplexed by and the engineers almost comtemptuous of what consumers wanted - but of courrse, they sold it to them anyway and in fact crafted advertising that played directly to consumers' dissonant desires.

My favorite car that I have owned was a Jeep Wrangler with a soft top. I loved that car. For the ten years that I owned it, it went on beaches, dirt roads, no roads, through the rain, and almost all of that with the top off (including the rain). It was a sad day when we traded it in. On that day, I realized that I was now truly domesticated: we traded it in for a minivan. A few years later I tried to regain my manhood by buying a motorcycle. I supposed it worked; that is what I called the stitches I received from laying it over once.

But my tastes are changing somewhat. Although I craved getting the 4-door version of the Wrangler, gas prices are making me aware of how much money I'm leaving on the roads, and my brain has turned a shade greener over the years. We went just about as functional as I can imagine: a Honda Fit. It's cheap, it has great gas mileage, and it will last long enough until an electric version of the Wrangler is available...


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Friday, August 22, 2008

How Women Work

This link purports to explain women. Never fear, it is not 900 pages long. Not that it is the final answer, but it does give a little scientific data on the feminine half of the population. And really, guys, don't expect scientific data to help explain what's going on in their heads. But at least its a conversation starter: "How has your amygdala being working these days?"


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Thursday, August 21, 2008

What Are You Looking For?

What is it that you really want in life? My friend Richard Beck thinks that you can look at pretty popular books and get a pretty good read on the populace. I think he makes a pretty good point as he reviews the book Your Best Life Now.

Dr. Beck is an experimental psychologist who teaches at the university from which I received my Master's degree. Besides being pretty stinkin' smart, he's also just fun to be around.

We have minds that hike along negative and neurotic trails when it gets a few quiet moments. But would our minds do that if we didn't have billions of dollars of marketing all around us constantly telling us that we should be dissatisfied with life? Probably, because you would still have neighbors, friends, and even family around you.

So what should you be satisfied with? And when should you work against the status quo? Making a list might make it easier to get up in the morning, ready for a content life that is still challenging.


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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Word Shamus

I would like to examine a new word. Well, it's not really a new word. But I would like to reexamine the word "Yes" because I'm not sure it means what it used to. And also because I really like the word "shamus."

"No," I believe, is still pretty concrete in its meaning. Although we might not like to hear it, I think we still pretty much know what it means when we say it.

Amazingly, there was more than one entry on the definition of "yes" on I thought "an affirmative reply" would pretty much sum it up, but I should have known that it would need more than one line to let us know what it means. Fortunately for us, (the fount of all knowledge) gives the additional information that it is the opposite of "no."

So, now that we have that cleared up, why do so many people have such a problem with saying "yes" and really meaning it? As in: "Will you do this?" and the reply: "Yes" ... "I'm getting to it" ... "I really meant to."

If you mean yes, really mean yes. Don't capitulate, don't mean maybe, don't pinky-swear or on your mother's grave. Say "yes" and do it. That might mean you really need to pause before you answer, you might need to think about your schedule or if your pet needs a bath or whatever it is you got going on. And really think about this - don't just say "yes" because you think we really want to hear it. I'd rather here "no, thank you" than "yes" and later be disappointed.

Are there some "yes"'s that you need to get done? Are there some "yes"'s that you've been putting off? Don't just do it for them, do it for you. To be that better you that everyone can count on.

A bold but reassuring synonym for "yes"? "Undoubtedly"


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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nobody Knows Nothing

This may sound strange, but a bad place to be in is when things are easy.

Granted, a bad place to be in is when things are going wrong and when things are breaking, especially if you were the one that is the cause of the break. But if something is going wrong or is breaking, or for example when someone or some group is going through a period of anomie, then something new or something better was needed anyway.

Those are usually the times when our creativity and energy are the highest, when we perform the best. If you don't crack under the pressure.

In the article "Innovative Minds Don't Think Alike," Janet Rae-Dupree speaks of the dangers of actually thinking you know what you are doing, that you've got this one down pat. You enter a state when change becomes difficult because "Why break something that isn't broken?"

The danger is that something that is working pretty well doesn't stay that way for long. But when we are doing something pretty well, we get in this mode of static thinking - it will stay this way forever. Why shouldn't it? Meanwhile, the world moves on without us.

Take for example the horse and cart. There were people who had developed some pretty nice ones. When you've got one this good, why take risks on trying anything new?

But businesses and churches do this all the time. It is hard to move people from comfortable. But you don't grow in the big comfy seat - you become a couch potato.

Andrew S. Grove, the co-founder of Intel, put it well in 2005 when he told an interviewer from Fortune, “When everybody knows that something is so, it means that 'nobody knows nothin’.” In other words, it becomes nearly impossible to look beyond what you know and think outside the box you’ve built around yourself.

This so-called curse of knowledge, a phrase used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy, means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, buy new cash registers, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path.

The groove is on the other side of easy - when you are being challenged to grow and learn again.


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Monday, August 18, 2008


Sometimes, it is a good thing to walk in someone else's shoes. Yesterday I did that literally as I played two-on-two beach volleyball with some friends. I came back sunburned, aching, and with a mouth full of sand. It was fun, but I'm not quitting my day job to train for any summer Olympic sports. Maybe I could be ready for curling by the time the winter Olympics get here...


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Friday, August 15, 2008

Zero Gravity Thinkers

Are you stuck in a rut? Do you find yourself doing the same things over and over again, or are you struggling to find a new solution that seems to evade you?

We often think that innovation comes from those creative types that sit around throwing pencils at the ceiling most of the time, but every once in a while some moment of brilliance happens. Well, that scenario is probably true, but anyone can be part of the innovation process.

Where can you begin? By asking questions. Usually, just starting to ask questions can be a good start,but these kind of questions can get you down the right path.

In the article from a previous post, the author writes about this point:

In her 2006 book, “Innovation Killer: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine — and What Smart Companies Are Doing About It,” Cynthia Barton Rabe proposes bringing in outsiders whom she calls zero-gravity thinkers to keep creativity and innovation on track.
“I would ask my very, very basic questions,” she said, noting that it frustrated some of the people who didn’t know her. Once they got past that point, however, “it always turned out that we could come up with some terrific ideas,” she said.

While Ms. Rabe usually worked inside the companies she discussed in her book, she said outside consultants could also serve the zero-gravity role, but only if their expertise was not identical to that of the group already working on the project.
“Look for people with renaissance-thinker tendencies, who’ve done work in a related area but not in your specific field,” she says. “Make it possible for someone who doesn’t report directly to that area to come in and say the emperor has no clothes.”
Sometimes, we are our own problem. Past success usually means future stalemate, because the future is dynamic yet it is hard for us to let go of something that has worked for us previously.

Ask basic, simple questions that you think are probably petty and beneath you, and then start writing down answers or more questions. Ask other people, especially people outside of your organization. You might be amazed at the new paths that open up in front of you.


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Thursday, August 14, 2008

What Is That You Are Tapping?

Do you think that your point is getting across? Communication is much more difficult that we think it is or should be - like trying to throw a baseball to someone in a thick fog, all the while you think it is only a cloudy day.

In a nice article from Janet Rae-Dupree titled "Innovative Minds Don't Think Alike," she has this paragraph:

Elizabeth Newton, a psychologist, conducted an experiment on the curse of knowledge while working on her doctorate at Stanford in 1990. She gave one set of people, called “tappers,” a list of commonly known songs from which to choose. Their task was to rap their knuckles on a tabletop to the rhythm of the chosen tune as they thought about it in their heads. A second set of people, called “listeners,” were asked to name the songs.
Before the experiment began, the tappers were asked how often they believed that the listeners would name the songs correctly. On average, tappers expected listeners to get it right about half the time. In the end, however, listeners guessed only 3 of 120 songs tapped out, or 2.5 percent.
The tappers were astounded. The song was so clear in their minds; how could the listeners not “hear” it in their taps?

I am a professional speaker, so this catches my attention like a wild cat high on catnip being thrown in my face. But it should be relevant to anyone that has to communicate at all - teachers, business people, stay at home moms, people in any kind of relationship, etc.

I know what I am trying to communicate, but what I see in my mind has connections, both conscious and unconscious, to my life experiences and thoughts in a complex web. When I am brave enough to ask for feedback from people in the audience, what they heard connected in some way to an experience or thought that they had. It may go in the same general direction that I was thinking, but it may not. Which is ok. For my own purpose, getting people to think and ask questions is better than getting people to agree with me.

In future posts we will explore ways to make communication clearer, but in the meantime a healthy dose of realism about communication can keep your feelings from getting hurt and assumptions realigned.


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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Baby Fascination

Last week my brother, his wife, and their baby came to visit. While they were here we went to the Pittsburgh Zoo. At the zoo we showed my baby niece the baby tiger cub and two baby elephants. It was baby day for the Vaughts at the zoo!

Everybody waits in lines to see these babies. People seem to have a natural baby fascination.

So what is it about them that is really that fascinating? You always hear comments such as: "Awww, isn't that the cutest little thing!" Really? Have you really taken a long, close look at a baby hippo? They look like a 5 year-old went crazy with some clay. And while you're at, have you taken good luck at a baby of any kind? C'mon, they really aren't that great. And newborn humans look more like E.T. from the Spielberg movie than a miniature adult.

My personal opinion? It's the newness. It's a visual reminder of the mystery and beauty of life.

While we were watching the tiger club play with a trainer, everyone was snapping photos of this new creature frolicking around, playing and having a good time. We love that. We love their curiosity, their fresh eyes, and their playfulness.

At the same token, we love those aspects in all ages. We love being around others who are curious, who have fresh eyes, and who are playful and fun. But those characteristics are so easy to lose, it is so easy to get into a rut and just plod your way around. But you don't have to. So take your cue from a cute little tiger cub - enjoy today, be curious, and see life with some fresh eyes today.


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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Desire Code

I have been posting thoughts as I go through the book Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. This week I would like to examine his idea of what he terms the "desire code." And no, it's not about whatever just popped into your head.

Rob Walker states that there is a fundamental tension between two desires that is shared by almost every human being:

  • We all want to feel like individuals.
  • We all want to feel like a part of something bigger than ourselves.

How we generally resolve the tension is by joining a group that seems distinctive because it represents our own individuality. Yet it is still a group. But it makes us feel important as an individual. I hope you get the picture.

He uses the story of skateboarders, who felt like they were outsiders and started forming groups. These groups provided a distinctive identity that made them feel good as an individual but also gave them a group of friends and a network of like-minded people.

I know as I read those two bullet points, I was like "Yeah, I want to feel like I'm unique and not just a part of the Borg. The last thing I want to feel like is some statistic that represents the average Joe (sorry Joe) that gets lost in the crowd. Forget Where's Waldo - where's John?" And then, "Man, I don't want to do this by myself. I kind of like people, especially when they aren't annoying me."

Walker's point is that in an age in which there is very little qualitative difference between products, brands help provide that connection with distinctive groups and identities that we wish to be a part of. As we do so, we also help interpret and create the identity, and the identity can can evolve beyond the control of the people who produced the product.

What I would like to ponder is the identity that I am pursuing. It certainly isn't a linear or singular identity - life if far more complex than that. But am I happy with the my own personal brand that people identify with me, or am I just settling for a common denominator that surrounds me?

There is a game called Imaginiff that is quite fun. You and your friends write down the names of people on the board, and when it is time for that name to be used, a card is drawn and something like this is read:

"Imaginiff ______ were a breakfast. What would she/he be?"
1. coffee and the wall street journal,
2. muesli and fruit,
3. croissant and cafe latte,
4. sausages, bacon, and eggs,
5. vitamin b injections,
6. pancakes.

Then everybody who is playing chooses the number that corresponds to what they think ___________ is, and put it upside down on the table. When everyone decides, you flip them over to see which one got the most votes.

So what if you emailed your friends and asked, "Imaginiff I was a brand. What brand would I be?"

I think it might be good to go shopping every once in a while to see if there might be a better brand, maybe an upgrade. Go for the best quality brand that you can be.


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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Tragedy of the Commons

Have you heard of the "Tragedy of the Commons"? As I understand it, it was first described by biologist Garrett Hardin. The cartoon basically describes the situation (if someone can tell me where the cartoon came from, I'll give them credit).

The basic situation is that if any one of the four shepherds chooses to be the nice guy and only stick with his 4 sheep, or only let his 4 sheep graze on equal grass, then he will feel trapped thinking that maybe one of the other shepherds might take more. It is a way of thinking that encourages you to take while you can, because no one else is going to.

This explains why we would make decisions that we know would ultimately hurt others, and thus ourselves. We know that we are relational creatures, yet we constantly make decisions that harm those relations - and thus, ultimately ourselves. Because sometimes we get the mistaken illusion that sometimes, someone else should sacrifice or get out of the way so that I can prosper. But it never works that way.

I think the Tragedy of the Commons is a common reality, but that is not the way that life has to work. When you realize that being a Giver rather than a Taker provides for everyone, then we all prosper. But you have to trust, and you have to give first.


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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Last Batman Post, Ever

At least, until maybe the next movie comes out. I just saw it in Imax with my brother and his wife, and the Imax version was amazing.

So, here is another conversation that fascinated me. Especially since I have a talk coming up about how we must be careful about making plans for the future:

The Joker: [speaking to Harvey] Do I really look like a man with a plan, Harvey? I don't have a plan. The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do if I caught one. I just *do* things. I'm a wrench in the gears. I *hate* plans. Yours, theirs, everyone's. Maroni has plans. Gordon has plans. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I am not a schemer. I show schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So when I say that what happened to you and your girlfriend wasn't personal, you know I'm telling the truth.
[hands Dent a gun]
The Joker: It's a schemer who put you where you are. You were a schemer. You had plans. Look where it got you. I just did what I do best-I took your plan and turned it on itself. Look what I have done to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple bullets. Nobody panics when the expected people get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It's fair.

He is right: it is pathetic how much we try to control things. Our relationships. Our time. Control over our environment. You name it.

There is just something in the human person that gets antzy about the thought that there is mystery totally surrounding us at all times. We try so hard to peer into the fog of the future, get it wrong constantly, fail miserably, and just keep trying. These are just an amazing small sample:

  • "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - - Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
  • "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." - - Western Union internal memo, 1876.
  • "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" -- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

We worry and stress about ridiculous stuff of which the vast majority of never happens. Frustration is basically the realization that you don't have control. Realize it now, and maybe you save yourself some trouble - but it means being ok with mystery.


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What's Your Take On My "Conversation With Stuff"?

In reference to this post, I am providing a list of the stuff that I bought over the last week:

  • breakfast at Panera's with a friend
  • dinner at Bob Evans (chicken-fried steak)
  • a Gameboy Advance used game for my youngest son (in exchange for work that he did)
  • 2 disc golf frisbees (one is tie-die, if that helps)
  • a custard and icee mix at Rita's with the fam
  • dinner at Denny's (I was there for 3 hours late at night finishing a talk; they are one of the few local places that are open 24/7)
  • Dunkin' Donuts on the way to church
  • the book The Thousand Faces Of A Hero
That is pretty much standard fare for purchases. I rarely buy clothes, although I do need to get a pair of jeans. Even when I do that, it is the exact same brand and style that I've been buying for the last two decades.

It could be a little more exciting, like maybe tickets to New Zealand or scuba gear. I am planning on doing sky diving for my birthday, so it's not completely boring. Track your expenses and post them on your blog, if you have one - see what people can deduce about you from your purchases.


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Monday, August 04, 2008

Comic Strips Stripped

In Garfield Minus Garfield, the tag line is: Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?

Man, are they right! Jon is one sad, pathetic character.

Gotta be one of the funniest things on the web.


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Friday, August 01, 2008

What's That Droning Noise?

The family and I were watching the TV show Wipeout on Tuesday. There is just something funny about watching normal people bouncing off these huge balls and landing in mud. I don't know why it's funny, but bring me some more Wipeout.

We were right in the middle of pitying the fool that volunteered to jump through moving rings on a small platform high over water when the weather man broke in. I hate the weather man.

He went on for 40 minutes on the possibility that there may be tornadoes a county and a half over. 40 minutes of "Can you hand me that report? Yes, yes, it looks like clouds, and sometimes clouds can make tornadoes. Can you hand me another report? The clouds have moved 5 inches since the last report!" This went on for at least 40 minutes. Apparently, most people can't read the ticker going on at the bottom of the screen. Take 2 minutes to tell me that you haven't seen a tornado yet, and then leave until you really spot one! Avoiding the local news might be worth the cost of cable. I hate the weather man.


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Thursday, July 31, 2008

I've Been Godin'd!

I love Seth Godin. I think he is an innovative genius for his ability to simply express remarkable ideas. (He really likes the term "remarkable," maybe I can score some points with him if I use if a few times in my blog.)

I subscribe to his blog and read it daily. But this one I just didn't get, maybe you can help me:

"Imagine that half the cars in the US get 10 miles per gallon. And half get 40 miles per gallon. Further stipulate that all cars are driven the same number of miles per year.

Now, you get one wish. You can give every low-mileage car a new set of spark plugs that will increase fuel efficiency by 5 mpg, up to 15. Or you can replace every 40 mpg car with a car that gets 75 mpg, an increase of 35 miles for every gallon driven.

Which is better?

Here is his answer:

It turns out that the 5 mpg increase is far better for overall mileage than the 35 mpg increase, even though it's smaller both as a percentage and absolutely. That's because the 10 mpg hogs use up so much gas. They're the low-hanging fruit, not just easy to fix, but worth fixing.

OK, math wizards, here is what this question looks like to me. You have 100 cars. 50 of them get 40 mpg (car X) and 50 of them get 10 miles per gallon (car Y). You can add 35 mpg to car X or 5 mpg to car Y. To me you get a higher overall mpg if you add 35 mpg to car A and you are saving more gasoline. So Just Don't Get It. Learn me something here.

Now, if you want to talk about what might be more efficient or what might get you more bang for the buck, that is a different question. Buying a $5 spark plug to improve 5 mpg rather than spending $20,000 for half of the cars might make economic sense, as well as an easy way to make an improvement that matters.

So I get the point that we can look for easy ways to improve what we are doing. I'm all over that point. And this is my easy way to improve my consternation - rather than spending weeks fretting over it (OK, I really wouldn't do that but it helps with my point), I can do the easy thing and ask the knowledgeable readers out there.


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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

You Bought What?

How do you choose what you are going to buy? Let's face it, you didn't just buy that _________ because it was the only one available and you desperately needed it. Did you realize that you just participated in building meaning into a cultural symbol? All those cliques and groups from high school are alive and well, with maybe a few more wrinkles and scars. You're still trying to take your school lunch and sit at the table with the geeks/jocks/cheerleaders/kickers/goths/etc. No one likes sitting alone.

Rob Walker, in Buying In (5), says that there are basically only a few rational (rational is a big assumption, but let's just go with it) ways to choose a product:

1) Price
2) Convenience
3) Quality
4) Pleasure
1/2) Ethics (more on this later)

What happens when there is very little difference between the products among these rational ways of choosing? For example, how much difference is there really among handbags? At, there are 32,363 choices. Is there a clear choice of number one based on quality? Apparently there is:

"Buying a $5,000 handbag just because it's a status symbol is a sign of weakness," states fashion icon Miuccia Prada (5).

Most of what you purchase, if you live in the USA, is based on your perceived identity, and thus brands. You might as well tattoo them on your head, Stephon Marbury style, 'cause you're already wearing them, carrying them, talking/listening to them, driving in them.

You can't really escape it, but you can be aware of it, and choose thoughtfully rather than as if you're trying to push your way onto that last seat at an already crowded table.


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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A New Word For Our Times

Occasionally I've posted on my daughter's creativity (such as here and here). But the other day she came up with a good one that seems appropriate to describe everything from presidential elections and Olympic fervor to teen-age girls. The word:

"Drama-matic." I really don't know if she meant to say it, but I like it. Rather, I like the word, but I'm not usually up for automatic-drama. Such as:

  • Telling my three kids to pick one movie - drama-matic
  • Leaving a cake in the office fridge with a note to leave it alone - drama-matic
  • Going shopping. Period. Drama-matic
I'm sure you can come up with a longer list of drama-matic moments. They're like appendicitis - something useless that hurts anyway.


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Monday, July 28, 2008

White Knights?

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight:

Bruce Wayne: That man in Burma, did you ever catch him?
Alfred Pennyworth: Oh yes.
Bruce Wayne: How?
Alfred Pennyworth: We burned the forest.

One of the big questions in the movie is: Do the ends justify the means? Perhaps you've heard of that question before. Honestly, I'm not sure many of us are sure of what ends we are even surely heading for.

When you think of Enron, when you think of the Rwanda genocide, (you should think of coltan), when you think of oil, its easy to see that sometimes we make deals with the devil so we can have what we want.

Hey, I know it's easy for me to say. I complain about $4/gallon as much as anybody. But maybe it isn't an either/or situation. Maybe there are ways that we can continue to grow in wealth without it being at the expense of others. Maybe there are ways that we can have our industrialized society without it being at the expense of the earth. Maybe we can still have good and fast transportation without fighting over a finite commodity. It's possible, and it's happening in some corners. Maybe we could do something great without having to be famous.

There are no ends that are worth sacrificing the value of people and our environment. But maybe we don't have to. So often we justify our own darkness to use it against the other darkness. We need more "white knights" out there that can help us with the ends without sacrificing our humanity with the means.


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Friday, July 25, 2008

You Are In Control

In the book Buying In, Walker quotes the experts as saying that the "new consumer" is now in control of the marketplace. We have all the information, we have the power to choose rather than a brand being foisted upon us. Really?

Walker goes on to ask:

So what would constitute proof that the consumer is "boss" and "in control" in some way that's new and unprededented? Lower credit card balances? A conspicuous absence of logoed apparel on city streets and in malls? A disappearance of consumer fads, trends, and crazes? A decreasing amount of advertising? Shrinking landfills? Bigger and more effective boycotts of unhealthy or ethically suspect products? Increased saving rates? Maybe - but of course, none of this is happening. Instead, one thing did happen between 2000 and 2006 - right as the new consumer was said to be bossing corporate America around like never before - was that the profits of Fortune 500 companies soared; indeed, companies in the "consumer staples" category of that famous index saw their profits more than double. This despite the fact that the real wages of most Americans were, at best, flat. During precisely the same period, the personal savings rate actually fell into negative territory for the first time since the Great Depression.

I don't know about you, but that depresses me. I think I need to go buy some Twinkies, or maybe some new jump-man sneaker, to make me feel better...

But here is the thing - you are in control. No, really. I may not be the trendiest guy ever (probably not even in your top 25 trendiest people you know), but my guess is that buying practically may even be its own trend. In a future post, we'll chat about Walker's point that there really isn't much difference between the products, so then it becomes a matter of which brand do I want to associate myself with.

We have so many choices, that sometimes it can be paralyzing; this is the subject of the book The Paradox of Choice. Apparently, the thought never enters our head that we don't have to buy at all.

How many boxes of stuff do you have that you never use anymore? What if you got rid of everything you didn't use in the last month? Heresy! Next week we'll chat about how to decide to buy something.


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Addicted To Secrets

Every week I go to PostSecret. The basic gist is this: people send in an anonymous postcard with images and words that tell a secret of their life. I'm not sure exactly how I feel reading these deep secrets - the closest thing may be like how you stare at an auto accident as you drive by.

Some of the secrets make you just hurt for people, some are joyful, and some make you cringe. But you almost can't help but wish that your secret was right there with them.

Reading that blog is like being at an archaeological dig, uncovering a culture. Except that culture is your neighborhood, maybe even inside your home.

Telling your secrets isn't a new thing. It's mandated by the letter from James in the New Testament! The problem is trusting the people around us with this part of us, that part that isn't the smiley face and "How ya doin' Just fine."

What's the worst that could happen if you really just told people that secret? Rejection. It's just another indicator of how much we need community, yet at the same time we hold back from full communal envelopment.

Do you have someone that you feel you could tell anything? Do it. If you have to, send a postcard first. You are definitely not alone.


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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's A Dark Knight

Wow, just saw the movie and it was stunning. I didn't think I would go see a movie based on a comic book hero and it actually make me think. It's a good thing, and a great movie. But it was dark and disturbing.

Definitely not one for the kiddos. The Joker is not just a weirdo with makeup, but a demon trying to help people off the ledge. I could understand why someone would have a few nightmares filling in his shoes for a while. They outdid the last movie (we are a long way from Mister Mom wearing a cape!); it will be interesting to see how far they go the next time.

It was interesting in that it explored just how depraved we as a society are, and it barely gives a glimmer of hope (we don't ultimately blow each other up, but we would like to). It seems to want to bring up that old question - is humanity getting better or worse? - but I don't think it goes in one direction or the other, or even sits in the middle. It is not an either/or answer, but a both/and. We have our moments when we have that spark of goodness light up, but there is an ocean of darkness around it.

The Joker may get the spotlight, but TwoFace is the symbol - we want to be good, but sometimes it's just easier not to.


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Monday, July 21, 2008

String Theory and My Lost Socks

I've enjoyed listening to a number of TED talks lately, and today was no different. Brian Greene, a physicist, gave a talk on string theory. It is basically the search for a unification theory for the universe. Apparently, the answer doesn't revolve around ice cream sundaes on a warm summer evening. At least, for physicists.

Being a former physics genius (I once taught, or maybe a better word is "stumbled through" a basic physics lab for one semester), let me give you a basic summary: there are more dimensions out there than the three dimensions of space + time. How do we know this? Because it makes our cool looking calculations work if there are 11 dimensions.

I'm all for it. I mean, those socks go somewhere. And they reappear as lint in places that must come from some freaky dimension. If anyone asks me why I'm investing in the company Little Miss Matched, I say it's because there are too many dimensions for me to keep track of.

As if 4 wasn't enough. Just watching people drive should convince us to at least go back to 3.

Anyway, apparently below the atoms and within all that empty space of neutrons and protons and those zippy electrons, there are vibrating strings at the core of everything. These strings vibrate in different ways to produce what we are. This is actually a pretty cool image - Jimmy Hendrix is himself a complex guitar. It also gives me something to say the next time I blow it: "I'm just a little out of tune at the moment."


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Dialogue With Stuff

I've had previous posts about dialogue - a must for us humans. But I've just started reading the new book Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy And Who We Are by Rob Walker.

I really haven't thought about having a dialogue with stuff. When I go to the grocery store, I don't think "Sorry Kellog, but General Mills and I have been having an affair - I'm secretly addicted to those Lucky Charms." It is somewhat of a boring chat at times, but I suppose what I buy not only says something about me, but I'm communicating something back to the marketplace and to the public. It is certainly true that I'm communicating something when I wave my new iPhone in front of my jealous Mac friends.

Listen to this quote (p. xii):

I use the word dialogue because what I'm talking about is not a one-way process. It's not simply about the intrinsic elements of, say, Red Bull. It's not just about what a product is made of or what it's supposed to do. Nor is it just about a brand image that is invented by experts and foisted on the masses, who swallow it whole. Any product or brand that catches on in the marketplace does so because of us: because enough of us decided that it had value or meaning and chose to participate. Because of the dialogue between consumer and consumed.

What if you made a list of what you've bought over the last week or month and handed it to someone? What would they deduce about you? It might be a fascinating social experiment to post that list and see what people have to say; and it might not be what you are trying to communicate.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Last week I was at a conference for my profession, but I'll leave the conference unnamed. As has been the case for most conferences that I have attended, several sessions were very good, several were ok, and a number of them were real snoozers. One of the especially irritating aspects is that one very well known minister and author (who has written a book that was on the best-selling list for quite a while) spoke one night - the exact same speech he did at a different conference last year. At least at that particular session, I was far more productive going into the lobby and writing notes on changes that I would like to see in my own context. The best part of a conference is finding the one or two great sessions and using the others to map out your thoughts.

What is the best conference that you have attended?


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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Kids Re-Writing Beloved Stories

We were at a elementary school fair last night - millions of elementary students running through the halls yelling and screaming, throwing mini-frisbees, climbing on stuff - oh yeah, it was something.

I was roaming the hallways with my kindergarten son, staying to the sides so I wouldn't get hurt. While he was in line for a game, I was reading some of the work that was posted on the lockers. One class had rewritten the ending to a Little Bear story.

Are you familiar with Little Bear? He is the cute little bear cub that has wonderful little friends like duck and cat, and a loving stay-at-home mom and a dad that is a ship's captain (not sure about that one). His stories are generally about playing with his friends and using his imagination, like pretending to go to the moon. I have been blessed that not only do we have Little Bear books, but a few Little Bear movies.

Anyway, in this particular story Little Bear is playing with his human friend Emily. Most of the rewritten stories are like "They played, went home, the end." But here are some excerpts from a few of the best:

A girl's version: Little Bear went out to play with Emily the next day but couldn't find her. Emily had moved far away and Little Bear was very sad.

A boy's version: Little Bear and Emily sat down to eat and Little Bear ate so much that he got fat and couldn't play anymore.

The best (guess whether a boy or a girl wrote this one): Little Bear said to Emily, "Would you like to play?" She said OK and then he ate her.

When I was in graduate school and was subbing, I would try to substitute in an elementary school. If we had some free time, I would play a story game similar to rewriting stories. I would start off with a line like: "I was walking down the beach..." and then the next kid fills in some action. Before two or three kids in, I'm getting eaten by a shark, chased by a dog, and other dangers right at my heels. I no longer ask why grownups act the way they do - those stories are still going on in their head!


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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Cheesy Motivational Poster That Got Me

I have a love/hate relationship with inspirational posters. OK, maybe most people don't take them serious enough to even have a relationship with them, but this is one of those things that you spend way too much time thinking about and you're not quite sure why. Maybe for you it's why there is braille in drive-thru's. Since you are now wondering, here is an answer that I found (because after I wrote the question, it was bothering me): it's there because of Federal law. the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Public Law 101-336, requires it. This is also why there are braille instructions and labels in elevators. Now the nagging question is why does our government make laws so that braille is on drive-thru's.

I was at my son's school for some kid program when I saw this motivational poster that went something like this: To have things you never had, you have to do things you have never done before.

It's actually been bugging me for about a week now, enough that I am now putting it down on screen paper so that maybe it will bug you too.

That saying is the antithesis of complaining. I don't generally like complaining, even when I do it. In theory, it makes sense and is easily done: I don't like the way things are, so I'd better do something different.

But the alternative solution, as suggested by that pithy saying, is that people should do something different. But the rub - it is just easier to complain.

Maybe this is why there seems to be few powerful people, and "power" meant not in the ability to buy or forcefully coerce people into doing what you want, but powerful in that they are doing what we know we should be doing but can't get the gumption to do so.

I'm interested: anyone have something that they want different, but haven't done anything about it?


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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Review of "Peter and the Starcatchers" by a couple of people

I'll admit this right at the front - there is a lot of good junior fiction out there. And since I have kids that read junior fiction, it is fun to read it with them.

Another confession - Peter Pan is just cool. What young guy out there didn't dream of leading a pack of guys on adventures, flying, fighting pirates, and being adored by all the young women, even if some of them are fairies and mermaids?

And in the book you find out how it all got started. Where did Peter come from? What's the deal with the island? Why is the pirate so angry (not that most pirates are angry, they may be fun-loving people for all I know)? Is Smee always that dumb?

I give it a thumbs up, it was a well written book with constant action and tension. Not all the history was given out, there are still some mysteries to be solved, but of course there are other books in the series...

Honestly, I was a little hesitant at first because Dave Barry, the quirky journalist known for his exaggerated stories of life, is one of the two authors. I was hoping it wouldn't be written with that same style, and it wasn't. I like Dave Barry in doses, but four-hundred-something pages at a time would be a little much.

My daughter and I are now off to Never-land to see what happens in the next story...


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Review of "ScreamFree Parenting" by Hal Edward Runkel

Of course I'm not a scream-er. Maybe the occasional raise-the-voice type, a grab-the-hair frustrated bloke that is working on the toughest job - parenting. Which is what this book is about, rather than, as Hal puts it, "kidding."

I liked the ideas enough that we are bringing out Hal and his pals for a seminar in our area on May 10. Here is the basic gist - the best way to parent is NOT to try and control your kids or make them behave, but by controlling yourself and making YOU behave. It's a concept that is not about tricks that make your kids do the right things, but about being the person you need to be and helping your kids become good decision makers.

It's actually not a very long book. But the concepts are worth thinking about, discussing with friends, and incorporating into your life.

Actually, the idea that you can, or should even try, to control others is something we need to seriously reconsider. Anytime you are generally frustrated with someone, it is because they are not behaving like you want them to. But the only thing you can control is how you respond, or engage, and that is what being human is about.

What other parenting books are recommendable?


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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


This week people at our church have been going through training on relationships. The most important part is learning that conflict will happen whenever the status quo is disturbed because one person or group in the relationship is dissatisfied or some stress has entered into the relationship. The difficult part for us to understand is that conflict can be good if it is handled in a way that honors both groups in the relationship because it can make both parties reassess the relationship and the assumptions underlying it. It can be bad conflict if one or both of the parties handles the conflict in a dysfunctional way, such as using demeaning or derogatory language.

Ironically, our announcement to do relationship training caused conflict, and unfortunately one person decided to respond divisively and with derogatory comments.

I might have mentioned this before, but a great little book, "Jesus Asked" by Conrad Gempf, pointed out that Jesus was rarely in conversations that lacked conflict. While we tend to have to have this image of Jesus just walking around laying down pithy statements, most of his conversations were questions that asked people to decide something. Not everyone left happy. But it was conflict handled in a loving way - intending to lift people up. People sought conversations with him, especially those considered "sinners." I think we underestimate the ministry of dialogue and good conversation.

While not wanting to stay in a constant state of conflict, it can be a good thing if both parties are learning and maturing from the experience. Just check out the Psalms if you want to see some real conflict happening...


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Monday, March 17, 2008


My family and I went on a trip across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware over the weekend. We spent Saturday mostly in Philly checking out the historical sights and grabbing a great cheesesteak, and Saturday night and Sunday in Delaware. New Jersey was just an accident (you can fill in your own sly remarks on that phrase), missing an exit and traveling down through Jersey to get to Newark, DE.

It was a personal history trip in many different forms.

My oldest son Jonathan just had done some historical research in his fifth grade class on the American Revolution, so it was fun watching him see the history before his eyes. We stood in the hall where people signed their lives to a cause that might cost them their lives, we saw the chair in which Benjamin Franklin said that sun is now rising, and we gazed at the bell that rang and has this scripture inscribed on it: "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants" (Leviticus 25:10). But the best part was the people who dressed and spoke as if they were still there in the late 1700s, interacting with people from today. Our kids were particularly tickled when one man, acting the part of a delegate to the convention of 1776, kept arguing with a tourist about whether Washington was a state or a man.

What choices would I have made, faced with those circumstances? The search for meaning is a large part of my ponderations these days, and if it is true that a life worth living must be worth dying for, then: What do I fight for, and at what cost? (You could argue against the assertion that you need to be willing to die for something to have a meaningful life, and maybe we'll do that in a different post.)

This would be a interesting fill-in-the-blank: [Your Name] is fighting for _______.

But let's continue on the trip. Delaware is where I spent, as a local friend puts it, my "misguided youth." I was able to see people that I had not seen in up to twenty years, learn the happenings of people that I spent time with as a teenager, and catch up on local tales.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how my choices turned out, decisions that I should have made, actions I shouldn't have taken, what could have been and what is. The problem is that any one choice would leave me in a different situation now, and I can gladly say that my wife and kids are worth the pain and lost moments.

But it all comes at a price. Looking back, I sometimes feel like a bull in destiny's china shop. And it reminds me of the importance of decisions, actions, and most of all ideas.


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Monday, March 10, 2008

Pickleball and Online Degrees

My friend Joe and I had our first real tournament game in doubles pickleball last Thursday. We played two housewives who were very nice, and very new to the game. Both of us are tennis players, so there wasn't a whole lot of excitement until the last game. In fact, we only lost one point in the two games that meant something.

My form of entertainment during the games was talking to Joe about how we could use mental tactics to win the games against these very nice ladies, such as yelling at them while they are swinging at the ball, hitting the ball hard at one of them to send a message, hitting the ball way out of bounds and insisting that they get it, etc. Needless to say, we didn't actually do any of that, but it was funny talking about it.

For the last game, we decided to switch partners so that it might be a little more even. During the game, Joe hit a ball moderately hard at me when I was at the net. We both laughed about it. At the end of our time, when there was less than a minute left, Joe came to the net and hit the ball to me. I decided to have a little fun as well and just whaled the ball directly at him. Watching him flail at this high-speed wiffle ball that hit him was the highlight of my evening, and I couldn't stop laughing about it. Joe, fortunately, is good-natured.

Found out later on that Joe and a different friend were hanging around, and through conversations found out that one of the ladies was a elementary school teacher of Joe's friend's kid. When the teacher found out that I was a minister, she jokingly asked if I got my degree online. She admitted that she had an enjoyable time playing with us, but I thought the "online degree" comment was a great line.


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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Review of a book

What do you think of when you see this line:

He refuses to accept their will over his own. He refuses to live by rules set up by others, rules which condemn him to a defeated life. But his ultimate aim is to enter that society with a certain power since society doesn't really protect its members who do not have their own individual power. In the meantime he operates on a code of ethics he considers far superior to the legal structures of society.

Did you really first think of The Godfather, by Mario Puzo?
It was a long book, but it was great. Few books can totally wrap you up into their world such as this one. I'll have to admit that is has been about twenty years since I last saw the movie, so when a friend saw that I was reading the book we are looking forward to watching it on his home theater.

And the idea of "cosa nostra," Italian for our concerns, our world, has me sitting back and really digging it. Don't we all live in some world in which the rules of engagement are set and we try to succeed within its parameters? And we do choose which world it is that we join. This world may impact, may bend, and may envelope and overlap other worlds, but we live and die in this world, and how we view even our own worth depends on which world we see ourselves living in. This also has a huge impact on how I view expectations of how others should behave.

I am certainly no Don - just ask my wife and kids. My kingdom does not reach out very far. But there is a kingdom that I long to be a part of, that is even now reaching out. How I live as a Christ-follower shows my view of this kingdom.

I also was fascinated with the picture of loyalty and treachery, of favors and honor. All of these are still in effect today, but in such different ways in a different world.


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Monday, March 03, 2008

Disorientation and Honesty

What songs are you singing? I'm not really asking what you have currently dialed in on your radio station in your car, or the most played on your iPod. I'm more or less asking if you're humming a tune that all is right with this world, or if you are a part-time blues singer.

Ponder this quote from Walter Brueggemann:

“It is a curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented…It is my judgment that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life…Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination for passionate Bible users, given the larger number of psalms that are songs of lament, protest, and complaint about an incoherence that is experienced in the world…I believe that serious religious use of the lament psalms has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity” (The Message of the Psalms, 1984, pp. 51-52).

As followers of Jesus, we should have a sense that not all is right with this world - I believe what Brueggemann calls the "disorientation." But so many don't seem to have any outward signs of disorientation - in fact, we (I will lump myself in here as someone trying to reorient my worldview) are hanging tenaciously onto what we have, onto the way things are, because we perceive that there is so much to lose. In the process, we are losing our souls.

Not that there aren't moments when we get a little taste of heaven. Tonight my daughter called me into the room to say goodnight. She asked me this question: "Am I special?" I actually teared up as I told her how much I loved her, how there is only one little girl in the world just like her, and that she is more special than she will ever realize. It was a good moment.

But at the same time, we are in a world that calls into question the special-ness of little girls, that special-ness is earned through looks or what she can provide. A world in which a little girl has to even ask that question, and that will continually question her worth based on any kind of scale, is so broken.

Maybe it does have something to do with the music, and the songs that we sing. What is some of the music that you would recommend?


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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Review of "No Country For Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy

You might have been expecting a movie about people chasing each other. There was some of that in there. You might have been expecting a movie about good guys and bad guys. There were definitely bad guys; but "good guys"? I don't know. Reckon it might depend on what kind of low standard you have for good. Everybody was supporting cast, except one - Death.

My brother and I watched the movie recently, expecting something good from the Coen brothers, who know a good story (beyond the two scripts that make up most of what is produced these days). Loved it. Shots were great, pacing was great, and it deserved the awards it received. Javier Bardem was one amazing psychopath.

Here is what I think is the best tagline from the movie: You can't stop what's coming.

I liked it so much I got the book it was based on and just finished it; wanted to get more into the story. The movie is about as close as most get to the actual book, beyond some depth. Some of my favorite lines that give the flavor of what's coming:

Where did you get that?
From the gettin' place.

You all dont be makin light of the dead thataway, Bell said.
Wendell nodded. Yessir, he said. You're right. I might be one myself one day.

[Speaking of people on death row] Quite a few people didnt believe in it. Even them that worked on the row. You'd be surprised. Some of em I think had at one time. You see somebody ever day sometimes for years and then one day you walk that man down the hallway and put him to death. Well. That'll take some of the cackle out of just about anybody. I dont care who it is. And of course some of them boys was not very bright. Chaplain Pickett told me about one he ministered to and he ate his last meal and he'd ordered this dessert, ever what it was. And it come time to go and Pickett he asked him didnt he want his dessert and the old boy told him he was savin it for when he come back. I dont know what to say about that. Pickett didnt neither.

She got her cigarettes out and lit one and turned her face and blew the smoke out into the room. Bell watched her. How do you think this is goin to end? he said.
I dont know. I dont know how nothin is goin to end. Do you?
I know how it aint.

Here a year or two back me and Loretta went to a conference in Corpus Christi and I got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talkin about the right wing this and the right wing that. I aint even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that's a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I dont like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I dont think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt but what she'll be able to have an abortion. I'm goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.

So if the real conflict in the story is not that somebody took some money and others want to have it (which by the end of the book you are saying in west Texas lingo: That boy must be dumber'n dirt; you don't spit in the wind), then what is the real conflict? It is the fight against destiny, the fight against the end of the journey, and believin that somehow, someway, that this myth expressed in the following conversation will come true:
We dont have problems. When we have problems we fix em.

Here is what you do know: you might grow old in this country, but it won't last long...


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Stanley Hauerwas and the Abolition of War

For those of you about to Podcast, I salute you! At least to check out this podcast from Stanley Hauerwas on his article on the Abolition of War. To listen to it, you'll need the latest version of iTunes. Go to the iTunes Store, and then to iTunes U. At Duke University, his two-part broadcast is located under "Our Daily Bread." There is about 2 minutes of dead space at the beginning, but it is well worth listening to - unless you are pro-war.

And I hope that the vast majority of people are against going to war. One point that Dr. Hauerwas makes is that it isn't middle-aged people like myself that go to war, it is our kids that are put on the sacrificial table to kill or be killed for certain beliefs that are not always spelled out. He, a pacifist (or in his preferred lingo, a peace-maker), wrote the article with a person who is a just-war advocate.

It doesn't matter who you are, war should be an evil thing. In the case of just-war advocates, it is a method of last resort and only under certain conditions. Part 2 is particularly fascinating because he talks about how hard it is to speak against war, even though war is about killing other human beings, no matter how we justify it, because it creates its own justification by our relations with people involved in it. Think about how hard it is to say something negative against the war in Iraq. If you say it is an unjustified war, then there is the perception that you are belittling the people who lost their lives in the war, rather than saying something about the people who made the decision to put these kids lives on the line for a particular reason.

This is one post that I would probably prefer that people not respond, because print is such a hard medium to have a conversation. But I do believe that conversations should be had. Are there alternative possible decisions, other than violence, for those that claim to follow Christ when it comes to making peace?


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I am way more excited about this than I should be - this evening a friend and I are joining a league for pickleball doubles at the local YMCA. I know this shouldn't rank among top events to celebrate in one's life, but it is at least above getting a new book, which is a big event for me but not too big because I get one a month, definitely bigger than watching the superbowl (although it was a pretty great party) and even bigger than going to my favorite restaurant.

Perhaps you've never heard of pickleball? It is a mix of tennis and pingpong on a badminton court - a swell combination if you ask me. Somebody was bored, had a paddle and actually wanted to do something with it than mash a sibling.

So what, do you do when your bored? What have you been excited about lately?


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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Review of "American Shaolin" by Matthew Polly

The cover is worth the price of checking it out of the library: "Flying kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China" with a picture of a monk carrying a Burger King bag. Now that's good.

And it really was an entertaining read. Basically the story of a boy becoming a man, and I didn't even have to think that up - he tells you. He is marking off his list of obstacles to becoming the Matt that he should be. What drives him to China and a shaolin temple is number 3 on the list: "cowardly." He goes on a journey hoping to learn some kung-fu from some tough Asian brothers, and discovers much more.

Just reading about real life in China, that extremely large elephant in the kitchen of global power, is fascinating by itself, especially told from the viewpoint of a common traveler meeting with common Chinese people (admittedly, a person who can take a kick in the crotch is not all that common). It is also an interesting read from the anthropological view - we see the commonality and the vast cultural differences from the eyes of someone that hasn't yet formed a crusty layer of rigidity in how relationships work across boundaries.

Overall, a good, quick read. Not a classic, but worth checking out.

What is even more interesting to me is the list. Matt makes a list of what he needs to do to become a "man." Where did he get the picture of what a "man" should be like? How do you determine what is your final goal of what you should be, and how do you assess it?

My own goal, in those frank moments when I squirm while thinking of my incompetencies, is "fully human," admittedly from the viewpoint of a follower of Jesus. From this viewpoint, I will one day be there and at the moment I'm a work in process. I love conversations in which we discuss the characteristics of someone fully human. I do have my own list of obstacles:

1. Patience

I honestly have much work to do, and more than this blog could hold. Patience is at the moment my number one.

So what are your lists? How are you working on them? I have asked a gentleman older than myself to meet with me occasionally so we can talk about my goals, and who I can bounce ideas. It's been great for me, but you'll have to ask him how much he likes me bugging him every week...


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