By Christian
Taking a brief hiatus for the Holidays. I plan on making some changes to the site and rocking a new post on Jan 5. Until then, enjoy this video that I saw a couple of months back on basketbrawful. It made me laugh out loud.

Renew and Restore

Good Call

Category: , By Christian
Last Christmas Stacy and I made a strategic family decision. We decided that 2007 would be the last year we would fly out to Portland to celebrate a December Christmas with my family. Flying halfway across the country in December with a toddler was a bit of a circus. We always envisioned a quiet and more nuclear celebration as our kid(s) get older, so something had to give.

Add in the fact that Kansas City, Denver and Chicago (our most likely connecting cities) have precarious weather conditions in December, and a change needed to be made. So last July we traveled out to Portland for our first Christmas in July. It was great. My mom busted out the Christmas decorations. We had our traditional celebrations. The week was very relaxing.

Little did we know the new tradition would pay fast dividends. This year we would have attempted to make it to Portland this past weekend. Funny thing, they were in the middle of cataclysmic winter weather during that very time. It has been 10 days of snow, cold and ice in PDX. Kinda like it's been in Kansas City. And Chicago. And New York. And Boston. Man, it's like everything north of Texas is experiencing weather conditions inverse to those in hell.

I'm convinced we never would have made it to Portland this year. It would be faster to walk across the Rockies. So good call us. It is a far merrier Christmas having not wasted a bunch of money and feeling sad that I was missing out on my annual pilgrimage. That would have been really sad.

Renew and Restore

When It Rains, It Pours

By Christian
Today I went from consumer to contributor.

Over on my sidebar, I have had The Burnside Writer's Collective listed for about a year. The site is "an online magazine presenting an alternative to franchise faith", so you can see why it would appeal to me. After reading for a while I got on my horse and made a couple of submissions. Both were put in the issue this week, which I'm pumped about.

So if you are interested, you can check out Part I of the College Bowl Preview, or a review of Weezer's Christmas album. If you haven't been over to Burnside before, you should bump around on the site and check out the article archives. There are a lot of good social justice articles over there from writers who are way more experienced than I. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Burnside Blog as well. It's a good read.

Renew and Restore

Theologically Astute

Category: , By Christian
Last night at dinner Elli was in a very talkative mood. She told us about her whole day. She reminded us that if the power goes out, the tv will be broken and we will have to light a candle. She provided a running commentary on the contents of her stew.

In between conversations with each other, Stacy and I would ask Elli questions to spur her thinking. At one point, the subject of Christmas came up and Elli mentioned baby Jesus. She has been really interested in our Nativity this year, probably because it is at her eye-level and very attractive. Whenever she is over at the window seat playing with it, we talk about who the different characters are just to increase her awareness of what is going on in the story.

As Elli starts talking about Christmas and Jesus last night, Stacy asked her who Jesus' mommy was. For the first time that evening, Elli is silent. Just blinking her eyes and racking her brain for the right answer. There comes a point where it's obvious she isn't going to get the answer to this one without phoning a friend, so Stacy bails her out and reminds her that Jesus' mommy is none other than Mary.

Now, what you need to understand about the brain of a three year old is that everything is connected. You say one word and it triggers this mechanism where they search for any possible bit of knowledge that relates to what they have just heard. So after Stacy sheds that bit of enlightenment on Elli, she young lady breaks out in song.

"Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb..."

My first instinct was to jump in and straighten the kid's theology out right away. You gotta nip these things in the bud before the kid starts thinking that Jesus drives a sleigh, you know? But just as I was about to say something, I was the beneficiary of a moment of enlightenment.

The lamb and perfection images are actually in the Bible in reference to Jesus.

So maybe the kid was brushing up on her theology when daddy wasn't looking.

Renew and Restore

Straight Posing

Not the best of weather this week. Always cold. Lots of precipitation that makes it difficult to drive. I kinda feel like I'm back in Wisconsin. It's pretty brutal.

My one consolation is that I have not flown off the road yet. Not once. And that's saying a lot, because we only have one Jeep in our family and the lady of the house has dibs. As always, I've been rocking the 1999 Ford Taurus. Don't get me wrong. I love the Taurus. And so do Middle School boys, now that I think of it. Right after I was on Wheel of Fortune, I was driving around with some boys and one of them was really impressed with my ride. "This is a pretty nice car. Did you buy this with your Wheel of Fortune money?"

The Taurus is nice. It's not 30 G's nice, however. Even in light of the fact that it has given us 145k strong miles and counting. But I appreciated the sentiment, considering how much grief I get for driving a family sedan.

But who cares what people think? I'm almost 29, here. Gettin' pretty old. I don't exactly have time to drive some tricked-out ride up and down the plaza. I got stuff to do. So the family sedan will suffice.

What I've learned the past few days is that substance beats style any day. I have seen soooooo many people with their 2wd suv's and trucks sitting in ditches. People who got those cars for no practical reason whatsoever. If you are dropping the extra change on the gas guzzler, you had better at least get the tow package, a trailer hitch and the 4wd. And you better use that mug. Otherwise? You're just faking it. And then the dude in his Taurus chuckles as he passes you on the road when it's snowy. Because he might have 3 hubcaps and a cassette player, but at least he's practical and functional.

Now if you have been shamed into getting an actual SUV that you can use, check this bad boy out. My very Chuck Norris looking friend emailed that ad to me the other day. It's so poetic it almost brought a tear to my eye.

On the other hand, you could always get a Civic. Or a bike.

Renew and Restore

Boy, oh Boy

Category: By Christian
We found out a couple of weeks ago that we are having a little boy.

I know you aren't supposed to say stuff like this out loud, but we were both hoping for a boy.

Before everyone goes nuts, hear me out. There are a lot of guys out there who want a boy because they feel like they "need" that little boy experience. Not so much with me. Quite frankly, the numerous hours I put in with the 13 middle school boys at work each week enough boy time for an army of men.

Elli has actually been a nice juxtaposition to my work day. I have loved having a little girl. It's been fun to do her hair and pick out her outfits and generally spend time with the little lady. I wouldn't have traded it for the world.

But in the end, I think she will be better off with a brother. I'm sure there will be days during her high school years where she will beg to differ. But as annoying as younger brothers can be, in this case it will provide a lot less anxiety for her.

One of the trying aspects of adoption is that people tend to say really stupid stuff. We've been spared a lot of that, because as a mixed ethnicity family there is enough racial ambiguity going on when people see us that it's not completely obvious that Elli is adopted.

What is not ambiguous is the fact that Elli is small for her age. She always has been. When we got to Vietnam to pick her up, she was a 10-pound 9 month old. Part of this was due to her prematurity and 1kg birth weight, but ethnicity played a large role as well. We didn't see too many women in Vietnam who were over 100 lbs. So Elli isn't going to be a large person, and that's fine.

The problem is that people are always pointing it out. It's like a big race to win the award of "Capitan Obvious". The practice was fine when she was little, but she's 3 now. And even though she isn't all that outgoing in public, she has well developed language skills. She is also very self-aware. And my fear is that she's going to develop a complex someday because everyone is always telling her how little she is.

I think having a little brother softens the issue. American babies are big. Really big. I was a fat baby with a huge noggin'. Triple thigh rolls fat. My guess is that it will be way more socially acceptable to have a little brother who is bigger than you are. It would have been really tough for Elli to have a younger sister way bigger than her, and everyone making comparisons all the time. But it would have also been difficult for the younger sister, as everyone would be labelling her de facto fat. In a teenager's mind there isn't a huge difference between "You're so much bigger than your older sister", and "You're such a fat cow".

As parents we will undoubtedly have to deal with a myriad of body image issues throughout the years. When all the cool kids show up airbrushed on the cover of Seventeen and Jennifer Anniston proves her youthful vitality by posing nude on the cover of GQ to celebrate her 40th birthday, we are setting ourselves up for a lot of conversations about what it means to look like an actual real person. Welcome to America, kids. But God did make our job a little bit easier by diversifying our gender portfolio and sparing both kids from damaging comparisons flying unfiltered from the mouths of fools.

So even though I'm not supposed to say it, I will. I'm glad we are having a boy.

Renew and Restore

Proof I'm not Very Cool

Category: By Christian
It's a well-known fact that I love Star Wars. When I was young, it was cute. As a nearly 30-year-old adult, it's probably a little bit dorky. But sometimes you have a hard time letting go of things that were tremendously important to you in your childhood.

Most days I forget that being a Star Wars junkie makes one very un-cool. Then people end up highlighting some of the nerdiest parts of the Star Wars universe (ie Star Wars basketball jerseys), and I remember that not everyone wishes they had a lightsaber.

I'm sure you are saying to yourself, "Star Wars basketball jerseys! Man. How bad can it get? That's really dorky."

Well, within the realm of Star Wars fandom there is one consensus "as bad as it can get" moment. It's a moment that most of us wish never occurred. It just about faded into oblivion, but then youtube came along to chronicle it forever.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is really bad. It tells the story of the mythical "Life Day" and involves cartoons, singing and live action shots. Somehow, they even talked Bea Arthur and Jefferson Starship into hanging out on the show.

I do not advocate that you watch the whole special. It's 2 hours long for crying out loud. TWO HOURS!!!! But you should watch the first two minutes. You get to meet Chewbacca's family. And yes, his wife is actually named "Paula". Don't get me wrong, it's a nice name. But how in the heck do you let Chewy's wife have a nice regular name like "Paula"? At least it's better than his dad's name. Itchy. That's right. Itchy.

So here you go. The Star Wars Holiday special. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me humble.

Renew and Restore

Legendary Dinner

Category: , By Christian
I love memorable meals. Some are planned to be memorable, but then others include surprise experiences that breakthrough and demand a space in the archives of my memory. Last week we had a memorable family dinner at Stix. (It's an Asian eatery out at The Legends, which is a large shopping and entertainment district on the outskirts of Kansas City, KS. We try to do a lot of our shopping out there because it supports our county and state economies, and because for some reason it just feels comfortable when we are out there.)

My expectations for the meal were low. We have enjoyed the sushi and entrees at Stix, but this time we were trying out the Hibachi. We have been to other Hibachi's before, and they are always a good time. 8-10 people sit around a huge grill and a chef comes out and does comedic performance cooking. Tricks with the food. Light ribbing of the customers. Convincing eaters to catch shrimp in their mouths. Lots of funny hahas.

But we have found that most of the Hibachi's in KC are adequate. Not nasty, but not great either. And we had never seen anyone in the Hibachi at Stix, as we usually eat there during off-peak hours. Thus, the low expectations.

Well, the first thing I need to proclaim about the dinner was that it included the tenderest meat I've ever had the pleasure of eating. I went with the filet instead of the KC Strip, and I'm never going back to the strip at a Hibachi. Halfway through the meal I leaned over and told Stacy it was the tenderest steak I'd ever had. She assumed the statement to be either a joke or hyperbole. And then she tried it. It melted in her mouth. She was sold. I don't know what they do to the meat at Stix. They could very well use some kind of illegal meat tenderizing techniques. Perhaps it's some of that meat sacrificed to idols that they are always talking about in the New Testament. Whatever it is, it's the bomb.

In addition to the culinary memory that was forged that night, I also found the sociology of the Hibachi that night to be fascinating. It was very well the most racially diverse place I have ever been since moving to Kansas City. I would venture to say it was close to a 40-40-20 breakdown of white, black and Hispanic customers. (There were also a lot of Asian employees, but no Asian customers. As if. I've been to restraints that have high Asian populations, and they are not this gimmicky/touristy. Just like you aren't going to find any Hispanic folks looking forward to dinner at Carlos O'Kellys).

So one of the cool and sometimes comedic aspects of a Hibachi is that there is a lot of mixing of customers. They try to fill all of the seats around each grill, so unless you are rolling deep there is a good chance you are going to be sitting with strangers. We had 6 in our group and got to eat with a lady and her middle school son.

In a hilarious display of forced segregation, the table across from us had quite the mix of people. There were three Hispanic couples who looked to be pretty urban. Lots of tats. Gold chains. Baggy clothing. Drinking bottles of Bud Light. The works.

After they had been seated for a few minutes, the greeter brings another couple back. They are White. They are clearly suburban. As they grab their seats, one of the Hispanic dudes gives a head nod to the White guy. He uncomfortably nods back.

So it's clearly an unnerving situation for these two. They go out for a date, and the next thing they know they are, perhaps for the first time in their lives, put in a situation where they are the minority. And they are struggling. I'm pretty sure the lady looked down at her food the entire time. All the while, the Hispanic group is just enjoying each other's company. They are telling stories. Laughing.

Finally, the entire table has their food. But the Hispanic group is requesting hot sauce before they will eat. Lots of it. Like a whole bottle. Finally it comes. They pass it around the table and everyone is using generous amounts. When the sixth person gets done with it, he looks at the White guy and holds the bottle up. Dude looks for a second. Takes the bottle. Proceeds to follow the example of his eating neighbors and applies a generous amount to his food.

Now I'm cracking up. No way this guy is going to be able to handle that plate of food now. But he handles it like a pro.

I'm always going to remember that whole exchange. I'll remember it because the white couple didn't get up and leave. I'll remember it because the guys in the group were making efforts to be kind and neighborly to each other, even though it didn't seem like they had much in common. And I'll remember it because I saw a person who before that night didn't know what it felt like to be a minority, handle his first experience of minority with as much grace and dignity as he could muster even though he didn't have any time to prepare himself for the experience.

Renew and Restore

Countdown to U2...Fallibility

Category: By Christian
As I have been counting down to U2's approaching album release (currently rumored to be a Feb drop...we'll see) by highlighting some of the lesser known songs in the collection, I have come to a realization. Observers might think I have deified Bono. For the record...Bono is not Jesus. And sometimes U2 release bad songs. Really bad songs, even. So to prove my objectivity, may I present for your listening torture...Paint it Black.

Man, the Stones have to be pissed. This is horrible. The original is so great. The pounding downbeat. The constant feeling that the song is getting as close as possible to completely spinning out of control without actually doing so. Nice clean guitar parts. Strong vocals.

Yeah, so U2 decided to do an inverse Black and put it on the B-side of one of their singles. What an unmitigated disaster. I'm trying to decide which is worse. The U2 version, or Bruce Willis absolutely butchering the vocals in a live performance and thinking he's the shizz. It's close, but the U2 version probably takes the cake.

To exacerbate matters, this failed experiment opened U2 up to the curse of "What Goes Around, Comes Around". You butcher a great song? Bam. Right back at ya' with a horrible cover of one of your own songs.

Except this ain't no simple measure for measure. This is your own sin being revisited on your head exponentially. I'll warn you. The following link isn't for the faint of heart. It's pretty ugly almost vulgar.

It looks as though The Wiggles did a cover of Angel of Harlem.

The Wiggles have been good to our family. We Tivo them every day on the Disney Channel so that Elli has fresh episodes to watch. But dang. This is almost enough for me to start an all out boycott. Angel of Harlem is a wonderful song when done by U2. But Captain Feathersword rocking the falsetto part? Nothing good can come of this.

I hope you've learned your lesson, U2. You are not infallible.

Renew and Restore

Take the Christ out of Christmas

Category: , By Christian
I keep getting invitations to join the facebook group "Keep the CHRIST in CHRISTmas. So far I have yet to accept. I try not to join very many groups. I especially try to keep groups at arms length whose titles sound like a talking point for a Focus on the Family radio show.

But the invitations have got met thinking: Does Christ want to be kept in Christmas?

This whole movement seems to have started a few years ago when Target, Walmart and other stores moved to a "Happy Holidays" branding in order to be more inclusive. Christians got mad and and declared we wouldn't shop at those stores anymore unless they went back to proclaiming Christmas. Because clearly, Jesus wants to be front-and-center when it comes to corporate branding. But then we realized that would leave us nowhere to shop for our ipods and Christmas lingerie, so we settled for making facebook groups.

Now we have come to this place in our culture where we make a huge deal of "celebrating" the birth of Christ. We do this by not doing things Christ did, but by doing something the wise men did. Except that we don't even get that quite right. Because the wise men brought elaborate gifts to the Christ, and we give elaborate gifts to each other while talking about the Christ.

Is it just me or have we built a cultural crackhouse of consumerism around the manger, and we're trying to duct tape baby Jesus inside so he can't get out? All the while, we're thinking that this is an act of piety. Seems a little crazy to me.

So let's just take the Christ out of Christmas. Let's give ourselves the freedom to be honest and say, "You know what? I love stuff. And I love shopping. And I love Santa. And I love eating to the point of gluttony. And I love being a sloth and sitting around and watching 32 bowl games." It seems like it would be way less disingenuous then the current tension we have going on right now.

We can stop calling it "Christmas". Call it Xmas. The Holidays. Whatever. We will sing all of the carols that don't mention Jesus. We can eat, drink, be merry and do our patriotic duty of buying stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. And yeah, we'll be sinning. But at least we'll be sinning less because we won't be guilty of religious syncratism.

Then, we can choose some other time to celebrate the Birth of Christ. But we won't give it a flashy name. We will set it up in a way that advertisers and business won't want to hijack it because it won't be nearly as sexy as the current celebration.

I propose a two day celebration. A Saturday and a Sunday. First, we will adopt a more Jewish celebration of our New Year and use it as a day of atonement. Then, we will have our two day celebration of Christ's birth a couple of weeks later. The first day will be a Sabbath. We will simply abide in God. We won't consume. We won't create. We will enjoy the presence of our maker.

Then Sunday we can go to church for an early service. And we'll spend the rest of the day serving. Together. As a body. Celebrating the birth and life of Jesus. All the while we can sing the carols that talk about The Christ and the amazing reality of the incarnation. We can be amazed at how the Good News has broken into history and is being lived out 2000 years later.

Then perhaps we would be more prone to actually celebrate Sabbath the rest of the year. Perhaps we would better know what it means to abide in Christ and live in Christ. And perhaps when Xmas rolled around the next time we wouldn't just join Advent Conspiracy facebook groups, but we'd live it out in such a way that it was truly conspiratorial in the sense that it would be undoing deep seated cultural dysfunction.

Quite frankly, fewer people would probably celebrate the birth of Christ under those circumstances. A little too counter-cultural for the masses. But at least we wouldn't have to hold him hostage there.

Renew and Restore.

Double Take of Hilarity

Category: By Christian
There wasn't much on tv the other night. Trusty Tivo. Always an episode of "The Office" or "30 Rock" on there to watch. Currently, a handful of each. I'm a little behind. So I fire up an episode of "The Office", which as a whole was rather disappointing. Not completely dumb, but not consistently strong for 28 min.

What the episode lacked in sustained quality it more than made up for with a rip-roaring opening scene. I was almost in tears the first time I watched it. Then I called Stacy into the room and watched it again. It was even funnier the second time. And I was crying.

Renew and Restore

God Has Heard the Elegant One...Or...Happy Birthday to Elli

Category: , By Christian
Names, names, what is in a name? If our second child is a girl, we have a name picked out. If it is a boy, we are struggling. We have a shortlist, but we aren't in love with any of the choices yet.

The problem is that we have too many stipulations. It can't be too popular. It can't be too "out there". It can't start with D (because the DD initials would be a bit too busty), it can't start with E (we're not trying to have a whole gaggle of E kids), and it can't rhyme with any dirty words that would be highlighted on the grade school playground. We will have no Junior. All Wookie names have been ruled out per Stacy's request.

And the name must mean something good.

I'm not sure what my theology of spirituality consists of in terms of naming. It's tough to pin down. We want our kids to have meaningful names. Not that the meanings will necessarily hold some mystical and prophetically inerrant power. But meaning is important to us as a reminder of what we want our kids to value and who we want them to become.

What we've learned is that girl names tend to have better meanings than boy names. It's almost to the point where we are looking for a meaning-neutral boy name because we can't find enough that meet all of our criteria. But we'll see.

It's hard because Elli's name is perfect. We choose "Elliana" as her first name because it means "God has Heard" or "God has Answered". We felt like it was such a great statement about God hearing us before we even really know what we need or can specifically express it. Our adoption experience was by no means easy, but looking back we see that some (though not all) of the delays we experienced allowed for a timing where Elli could join our family. God closed and opened doors as necessary in a way that was really providential. God was hearing Elli, God was hearing us and God was acting on those cries.

We did not "pick" Elli's middle name, per se. Her given middle name of "Thanh" means "elegant". We thought it was pretty and fine and we wanted to keep it so that she could have a connection to her heritage. But now, on her 3rd birthday, it's so amazing how well it describes her. He is elegance personified. She carries herself with a joy and peace that is elegant in it's resilience. Her tiny stature is elegant in it's beauty. She's an amazing kid.

It's hard to believe she is only 3. It's harder to believe she has only been in our home for 2.25 of those 3 years. But it's been a good ride, and she's been elegantly wonderful and we love her a lot.

Renew and Restore

More Cowbell!!! Less Wammy Bar!!!

Category: , By Christian
I just read on a video game blog I subscribe to (not winning a lot of suave points with this post, clearly) that new downloadable content will soon be dropping for Guitar Hero World Tour. Yessssssssss. Included in the content are a trio of songs by the Eagles. Perhaps you have heard of them.

Thinking about playing more Eagles songs made me chuckle as I thought back to one of our family Guitar Hero mornings a couple of weeks back. That morning, I was reminded of how sometimes my competitive nature keeps me from maximizing my fun.

I hate loosing. I don't like to loose to my friends. I don't like to loose to the computer. I don't like to loose to middle school boys. It's going to be terribly hard for me to not unleash the beast tonight when we take the boys to lazer tag and go karts.

Due to my competitive dysfunction, Stacy and I have learned that it's not a good idea for us to engage in competitive activities when we are together. She doesn't appreciate how I use Jedi mindtricks and incessant trash talk in an attempt to get my opponents to succomb to my strategic desires. And I don't appreciate her ability to enjoy an activity by just participating in it, without regard for complete domination.

So back to GH World Hero. We're playing as a family. I'm on lead guitar. Stacy is on vocals. Elli is bouncing between backup guitar, drums and helping Stacy with vocals. The kid has the musical genius of Prince. Now, one of the quirks of the game is that it is of benefit for the guitarists to work the wammy bar regardless of whether or not it is actually appropriate for a particular song. Thus, I'm working that wammy like my dream job.

The problem is we're playing Hotel California by the Eagles. Not exactly a wammy-riffic diddy.

"No wammy bar on the Eagles songs," declares Stacy.

I respond with "I'm trying to get the high score".

Not to be deterred, she deftly counters with "Well, I'm trying to enjoy the music".

What the Eagles aficionado wants, the Eagles aficionado gets. All I'm saying is that we could have gotten a way better score if we would have tried a little harder.

Renew and Restore

Birthing in the Lap of Luxury

Category: By Christian
On Wed Stacy had to work a stupid OB call shift. Nothing says "suck" like working 24 hours that end at 7am on Thanksgiving morning. The only upsides are that the hospital is cool about letting Elli and I come up to hang for dinner, and that following dinner we could do a little ultrasound action.

Since it was a very quite night on the floor, we ended up doing the ultrasound in one of the labor rooms. It was my first time in one of them, and let me tell you...they are swanky. The hospital is even in the 'hood, but you wouldn't know it by these rooms. Newly remodeled with nice wood laminate flooring. Good furniture. Flat screen TV's. And a jacuzzi tub. That's right. A stinkin' jacuzzi in the room.

As any good husband would, I'm rooting for a labor that is as short as possible without Stacy giving birth in the car on the way to the hospital. But they usually last a little longer than that, so we'll probably have some time in the room.

In order to get an idea for Stacy's preferences, I asked if she would be requiring the services of the Jacuzzi. As of yet, she has not determined any Jacuzzi preference. Something about waiting to see how she feels when she's actually laboring. Fair enough.

I, however, have decided that if she decides to forgo the Jacuzzi, then I get first dibs. I'm totally bringing my swim suit to the hospital in the event that she decides she doesn't want to avail herself to the warmth and comfort of swirling water.

Informed of my intentions, she had a very good question for me. "Are you sure you want to Jacuzzi in a bunch of women's laboring juices?" Good question, and one that I hadn't completely thought through. But the way I see it, it's nothing a few of those Clorox bathroom wipes shouldn't be able to handle. According to the label, they neutralize 99.9% of germs. That's most of them.

So until further notice, we will be packing my swim suit and towel in the hospital overnight bag. If Stacy gives you permission to join us in the laboring room, you may bring yours as well. Just remember. I have first dibs after Stacy.

Renew and Restore.

28 Days of Christmas (Music)

Category: , By Christian
I have very firm standards when it comes to Christmas music. I only start listening to the celebratory tunes on Thanksgiving, and then I cut myself off at 11:59pm on December the 25th. Some years provide a longer listening season than others. It just depends on how the calendar shakes out.

It has come to a point where it takes substantial effort to keep my sacred practice. There seems to be some kind of twisted competition between radio stations in Kansas City to see who can be the first to start playing. I wouldn't be surprised if next year one of them begins on the 4th of July. Without regard to the cultural trend of perpetual Christmas (which I'm convinced is a cagey effort to make us spend more money) I throw absolute fits if anyone plays Christmas music in my presence before Thanksgiving. I'm that serious about protecting the yuletide chastity of my ears.

But once turkey day finally rolls around, it's on. Rockin' the Christmas casbah. I currently have three favorites in my Christmas Playlist.

  • Jewel's Joy: A Holiday Collection - Jewel is an interesting cat. She's done dance/pop. She's done acoustic. Now she's getting ready to drop a country album. I guess that's what happens when you are married to a rodeo stud. This album is about as eclectic as her career. Very creative in her use of vocals and instruments. Classy takes on classic carols. Her Rudolf is fantastic. Her Ave Maria will melt your face off. My favorite Christmas album.
  • Mowtown Christmas - I've never found the actual Mowtown Christmas album cd. My dad had one that spanned two records (actual big black records), that he had then copied onto a cassette tape. One Christmas he, my sister and I sat on the dining room floor and listened to the entire thing. So there is some nostalgia wrapped up in this selection, but I think the music can stand on it's own without the warm memories. The Jackson 5 sing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. There was a version of We Three Kings that was used in A Claymation Christmas. Very snazzy.
  • A Christmas Festival with The Boston Pops and Arthur Fiedler - No voices. Just really good instrumentals. A nice mix of power and grace. Could use a little more Cowbell.
That's pretty much my playlist. We have a Mariah Carey Christmas album, but I can only take one or two songs at a time. The lady just doesn't do subtle. Everything is loud and intense. There is one Mannheim Steamroller song that I always enjoy. Carol of the bells with special guest Metallica, I believe.

Do you have any favorites? I'm always open to suggestions. And aren't we all a little surprised there is no Guitar Hero: Christmas ? I know I sure am.

Renew and Restore.

What I'm Not Thankful For

Category: , By Christian
We've been doing a lot of shopping lately. We already have most things that are needed to take care of a child, but we obviously are missing certain pregnancy related items. Like, all of them.

As Stacy gets more pregnant, she will need different clothes. Maternity things. She's been doing quite a bit of shopping online at Old Navy and Gap, and we have hit up a maternity store or two on our jaunts out and about. Not a ton of surprises in the experience. It's the same type of shopping we always do, just with more adjustable waistbands.

Granted, there are some items on the market I am just now becoming aware of. Case in point: The Bella Band.

For those as ignorant as I, they make these bands that pregnant women can wear around their bellies. When the bellies are at their most ample, the bands provide a little insurance in the event that a shirt comes up short on coverage. It's a nice little invention, especially for ladies like Stacy who aren't into flashing their belly cleavage all over town.

But it gets better. Apparently, the Bella Band is also of use for women who aren't ready to move into full-blown maternity gear. For the lady who just needs a little extra space in los pantalones, the Bella Band allows her to hold out a little longer before moving to the full-blown maternity gear. You just unbutton your pants, and then slide the band over your waist. Your pants stay up, and you get the needed room.

Stacy wisely purchased 2 Bella Bands. Which brings me to what I'm not thankful for today.

I'm not thankful that Stacy won't share her Bella Band with me.

I am going to eat today. Let me rephrase that. I am going to eat A LOT today. All day. Not as much as I do on Meat Day. That would just be silly. But still. I'm going to eat a lot.

The thing is, I'm not going to eat a lot at my house. Were that the case, I'd just spend the afternoon schlepping my clothes around the house as my body struggled to digest all of the food. However, we're having Thanksgiving dinner at Stacy's grandparents house. In the interest of in-law harmony, I try to keep all of my clothes on regardless of how much I eat. Use good manners. Don't belch. Keep your pants buttoned. Don't stink up the lavatory. All good things to keep in mind when you eat dinner at the in-laws.

Thus, it would be great if I could borrow the Bella Band. I could unbutton my pants completely unbeknown to any family. My gut would be happy. I would be happy.

But it will never be. Stacy has forbade my wearing of the Bella Band. And that's just selfish. I even offered to let her have first pick, but noooooooooooooo. No Bella Band for me.

So I'm not thankful. Because I'm going to eat my heart out and then I'll be terribly uncomfortable for the remainder of the evening.

There is always next year.

Renew and Restore

Countdown to U2: North and South of the River

Category: By Christian
My understanding is that U2 didn't write this song. It was penned by a Irish folk singer, and they picked it up. I'm glad they did.

Honestly, this has been my favorite U2 song for the past couple of years. I think there is something to the understatedness of the live version. There is nothing about it that is over the top. Just powerful words of a r conciliatory dream over the backdrop of a simple piano loop and an almost tribal drum beat.

One of the things I have always appreciated about U2 is that there is a balance to their library. Ireland has seen a lot in terms of intra-country strife. So you have a lot of songs in the library that address the pain of that infighting. Then you have another collection of songs that zoom out and address other injustices/conflicts on a more global level.

But then you have another collection of songs that mirror the first two. They are hopeful songs of wholeness that keep you from getting completely incapacitated by the level of brokenness in the world. You have your '40' and your 'Beautiful Day' and your "North and South' that prophetically constructive and stand in contrast to the prophetic damnation of 'Bloody Sunday' and 'Bullet the Blue Sky'.

A bonus of the performance I found of the song is the joy of people watching. Seriously. Can you ever imagine U2 going on a show like this when their album drops next year. No way.

Renew and Restore

I'm Thankful for My Wife

Category: By Christian
There are a lot of reasons to be thankful for Stacy. She's very kind. She laughs at my jokes. She bought me a smoker. On two separate occasions, even.

Currently, the biggest reason to be thankful for her is that she is carrying our child. That's a lot to ask of a person, even if they are joyfully willing (which she is). But this whole pregnancy thing hasn't been all that fun. For the life of her, she can't understand why they call it "morning sickness". Her particular sickness has been no respecter of time. And it hasn't even vacated the premises after the first trimester as is common courtesy. Nope. Just an onslaught of nausea.

At one point she asked me if I wanted to take a turn holding the baby. Man, I would if I could. This pregnancy experience is so much different from adoption. The economy is completely unbalanced, with her doing all of the work. I can be sensitive. I can be nice. I can do as much as I can around the house so that she doesn't have any more on her plate than she needs to have. But it still doesn't measure up to her level of commitment in the process.

I always thought it witty when Ray Ramano demanded more respect for his burden during his wife's...ahem...womanly times. "Hey, it's not unteri. It's uterus." Comedic genius for sure. And while factually correct, the statement misses the mark completely in it's demand for equal sympathy.

When we were adopting Elli, we were far more equally yoked. I was able to do a lot of the paperwork. We were more able to share in the birthing pangs of the process as it drew on longer than we had anticipated. It just felt like we far more in it together. And as a result, I think it drew us a lot closer.

Not that we aren't totally in love right now, because we are. But it's a completely different process from adoption, and one that isn't quite as conducive to a relationship taking that next step due to inequality of the burden. I have to admit. That's been a little bit of a stunner to me.

In my stunned state I still have great admiration for my wife. I am very thankful for her. Thankful that she has kept a good attitude. Thankful that she is a fantastic mother. Thankful that she is perhaps the toughest person I know. And thankful that she has remained remarkably graceful and low-maintenance even as she nurtures a fetus into a fully developed baby within the confines of her (ever growing) uterine incubation chamber.

That's what I'm thankful for.

Renew and Restore

8 Good Minutes: Myron Rolle the Rhodes Scholar

By Christian
I don't watch a ton of Sportscenter anymore. They've gone light on the highlights packages and heavy on the talking heads. It's fine, because they put their highlights packages online, so you can get the stuff on demand. With the exception of PBS however, I don't find talking heads on TV all that appealing.

That doesn't mean I boycott Sportscenter. I still turn it on once in a while to see what's going on. On Saturday, the payoff was huge. Perhaps the best 8 minutes of TV I've watched in a long time. They did a story on Myron Rolle. Coming out of high school, he was one of the top football recruits in the country. Just a stud fooball player.

He had a good head on those studly shoulders. Such a good head that this year he not only started at safety for Florida State University, but he was also a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. He wants to be a brain surgeon.

So carve out the time and watch the video. Even if you don't like sports, you won't be sorry.

I rode the bench for one season of Varsity High School basketball. I've had modest success in academia. Good grades and all, but Oxford certainly isn't banging down my door.

When I think about how much work went into my modest success, I'm amazed that Rolle could be such a high performer in both arenas. He's clearly the beneficiary of a gifting in both areas of life. But he's also undoubtedly worked harder and slept less than just about all of us.

Big ups to Myron Rolle. He did win the Rhodes Scholarship on Saturday. He flew straight to his football game. He got there at halftime. His team won.

I have a feeling I'll be rooting hard for Florida State these next few weeks.

Renew and Restore

Combustibility: Reflecting on Rob Bell's "Jesus Wants to Save Christians"

Category: By Christian
This book has the potential to change everything.

I have to give Rob Bell a lot of credit. It's a risky book for him. It's one thing to write books and preach sermons that are geared at bringing people into (or back to) the church. People will call you emergent and say you don't talk about Jesus enough (both erroneous accusations). But it's a whole new ballgame when you start talking about empire in the Biblical narrative, and how American Christians are power players in the empire. Then people start calling you unAmerican, and level the most popular slur around these days: socialist.

That's clearly a risk that Bell is willing to take with this book. He takes on how much money we spend on military expenditures. He takes on the question of how well people of power can really get at the heart of what a lot of the Biblical narrative is addressing. He takes on the paradigm of loving your enemy.

All of that got me pumped up. There were points where my dog started looking at me funny because I was pumping my fist in the living room. But it was just so exciting to see these ideas go mainstream. I was thrilled that one of the most popular voices in Christian writing right now chose to tackle the difficult subject matter.

Now it will be interesting to see what the reaction is.

Some people will be ticked. And I think a lot of people will agree in principle, but not allow the book to penetrate them to the point where it changes what they do in practice. But I'm convinced that there will be a few who will hear and they will act and it will be powerful. And if an entire group or an entire congregation were to engage with the book and allow it to change how they as a community engage with those around them, it could change everything.

Renew and Restore

Combustibility: 3 Questions for the GOP

Category: By Christian
I hope the GOP gets stronger. We'd all be better off. In a two party system, bad things happen when only one of the parties can manage to be on message, laser focused and effective. Chances are that when one party stagnates, both parties will end up stagnating since the party that is more powerful will loose a lot of their motivation to innovate. Competition is good.

Once the GOP gets through deciding who to throw under the bus, there are some questions that I hope they find effective answers to.

1. How can the GOP make more people feel like they have a seat at the table? The Obama campaign did such a great job of making everyone feel like they were part of the campaign. They brought in a much higher proportion of the Hispanic vote. They got young people fired up. They even motivated a lot of black voter who don't typically vote. I know that in The Hope Center neighborhood, lines on election day were way longer than usual. Some people will contend that it's because there was a black candidate, but it seems like in KC there is always a black candidate. We had a black mayor who is now a congressperson. We also had another black mayoral candidate on the ballot in the last election. But a black candidate on the ballot doesn't necessarily equate to high turnout here.

The day after the election, I was sitting in the hospital lobby waiting for Stacy to meet me so we could grab lunch. There was a guy sitting buy me in his Obama shirt, and he was calling friends who didn't vote and calling them out on the carpet for their apathy. Man, you have to care a lot to call people out for not voting for a candidate who won without their vote.

From what I've been reading and hearing, our country will soon have a "Minority Majority" (more non-whites than whites). As that comes to fruition, the GOP needs to reach out more. As I was watching Palin's speech during the GOP convention, Stacy was sitting by me doing paperwork. She hadn't watched any of the DNC convention, and this was the first part of the GOP that she had caught. After a couple of minutes, she spoke up. "Was the Dem convention this white? This is ridiculous." When a white person says that after two minutes, you have a problem.

2. How Fully Does the GOP Believe in Free Markets? David Brooks was on a Jim Lehrer round table on the bailout one night and blew my mind. He said, "We've effectively socialized risk and privatized profit in the business sector." Wow. I'm an economic novice, but from what I have been learning about free markets I'm becoming more of a fan. But the frustration is that as much as the GOP talks about free markets, you don't really see it play out in real life. Yeah, it's painful when large companies fail. But when those companies are propping themselves up with Monopoly money, they have to blow up for the overall strength of the economy. You want free markets? Do it. But you have to have the stomach to let companies fail.

3. How Will the GOP Encounter the Broadening Ethics of the Evangelical Community? George W. Bush cleaned up in churches. The GOP was able to define the conversation on ethics and then leverage that conversation into a passionate base. But things have changed a lot in the last 8 years. Prominent evangelical voices have emerged, and now the conversation has broadened. The GOP got caught flat-footed on this one, and was late to the game in this election cycle in realizing that a lot of Christians now view the environment, peacemaking and economic justice issues as serious ethical concerns. And then add to that mix that a lot of pro-life folks like myself look at how the GOP has communicated it's pro-life agenda, and we're just not all that impressed. Because if the core of the strategy is to simply outlaw abortion, we're not addressing the underlying issues and complexities that contribute to the problem. Especially in low-income and minority populations. Look, homicide is illegal, right? And yet, every year at least 20 out of every 100,000 blacks in this country are murdered. From 1975-95 that number ranged from 30 to 40 per 100,000. A lot of our worst societal problems are fixable, but it takes more than legislation. When the GOP does a better job of communicating and living out a holistic paradigm, it will get a lot more traction.

For the record, I think the GOP can turn the thing around quickly. You look at the failures that were the Gore and Kerry campaigns in comparison to what Obama was able to pull off. I remember two years ago I was talking to one of my friends who is really involved in grassroots stuff with the Dems. He had just come back from a Dem meeting in DC and was lamenting at how off-topic and poorly led things seemed to be. He was unenthusiastic about the direction of the party and about their ability to put together competitive campaigns.

Well, they seemed to figure that out in short order.

Renew and Restore

Combustibility: A Conversation With Black Kids About a Black President

Category: , , By Christian
The night after the election we our weekly Bible study with our middle school and high school kids. My supervisors felt it was really important that we carve out some significant time to talk about the election. I'm glad they encouraged me to do that, because up until that point I had been pretty guarded in how I talked with the kids about politics. They were so engaged in this election and were asking everyone who they were going to vote for. They were so exited about it that I told them I would tell them who I voted for once the election was actually over. So we had conversations, but I worked hard to ask more questions than give answers because I felt it was important for them to learn how to think.

I was finally able to have a more candid conversation once the outcome had been determined, and it ended up being really helpful. I've put some of their questions/thoughts below in bold, followed by our answers in regular type.

Why were people who wanted Obama to win crying?
For a couple of reasons. Some people were big supporters who worked really hard during the campaign, and they were just really happy. But you had a lot of other people for whom that night was filled with emotion. People who were reliving a lot of raw feelings, and who were seeing something happen that they never thought they'd see in their lifetime. Sometimes it's tough for us to internalize what this really means, because we haven't experienced some of the indignities that our parents and grandparents had to face. Like there was this woman who I heard speak at a conference last week. She was a little older than my mom, but younger than my grandma. She grew up just a couple of hours from here. And when she was younger, she had an experience where people spat on her an urinated on her because of her race. Think about that. In America. When you think about the history of our country and the fact that the first 16 Presidents could have literally owned Barack Obama as property, you see that this is a big deal. A couple of generations ago he wouldn't have been allowed to vote, and now he's been elected President. So between the joy of the present and the pain of the past, a lot of people shed tears.

Yeah, but at the same time, what's really changed?
You're right. Some things are the same. The streets aren't paved with gold this morning just because Obama has been elected President. We still have issues with our schools and our communities and our families and ourselves. But what's changed is that today we really do see that anything is possible. That you guys have tons of opportunities, and now there is a responsibility for you to live up to the possibilities that generations before you have made possible through hard work and suffering. So let me throw it back on you. What changes do you guys need to make? In light of what's happened, how does your community need to change.

We need to stop killing each other. [This is very sobering when it comes from the mouth of a 12-year old. When you sit there and look at him and realize that this kid has seen so much violence that at a young age he has an awareness of things that are very adult and very unhealthy in his own community]

Yeah. But that happens when you guys lead. When you guys show a better way to your peers. And that's a lot of responsibility.

Man, why do people be lying on Obama? I can't stand that.

What do you mean?

Like, they say all this bad stuff about how he supports abortion. And then McCain wants to outlaw birth control. I can't stand that dude.
Ok. Timeout for a second. Let's unpack those things one at a time. First of all, Obama has not been at all pro-life with his voting record. That's fact. And secondly, McCain does not want to outlaw birth control. I'm almost 100% sure he's never ever said anything along those lines. But this raises a good point for us to remember. As Christians, we need to be engaged in politics. We need to be passionate about things. But we also need to be truthful, and we need to be uplifting. There were a lot of lies spread by both sides, and we as Christians need to speak out against that attitude that you can just say whatever you want to get elected. So let's just make sure that we repeat things that are true, and that we don't allow ourselves to be agents of falsehood.

[As an aside, I found it interesting how middle school and high school students engaged with politics this time around. It seemed like a lot of them would hold to the ideas that there parents held to, but then the kids would take it one step further and add all kinds of hyperbole and vitriol to the conversation. So the kids I work with would get all worked up about McCain and say things that are clearly not true, but then on the other side I saw kids from my church using racial slurs on election night and in the days following. So perhaps we should be a little more guarded in how we as adults get caught up in the hype machine, because our kids pick up on that and run with it.]

Ok. Now. Do you have to hate one candidate to support another?

Well. No. But you want your person to win.

Fair enough. But at the same time, we are not called to hate we are called to love. So it sounds like most of you support Obama. But you can't allow yourself to hate McCain. And you really can't allow yourself to fall into the trap of racism when you speak about him. The fact is that McCain loves this country. He has been a good leader for a long time. He will continue to be a leader in this country with his work in the Senate, and we need to support him. So that's a good lesson for us as we continue to be a bigger part of the political process in the future, and as you guys get to vote. Seriously. Some of you will vote in the next election. That's really cool, but there is also great responsibility there in how you vote as well as in how you conduct yourself during the process.

Renew and Restore

Combustibility: Why I Couldn't Quit Church

Category: By Christian
They say there are some things you shouldn't talk about at family gatherings. Combustible subjects. Politics and religion, mostly. I'd also add race, because that's the one that seems to get people really fired up whenever I broach the topic.

With the holidays approaching and all, there are going to be a lot of family gatherings. I guess we had better get the passionate topics out of the way this week so that something crazy doesn't slip out later. Here we go.

A couple of months ago I tried to quit church. We had been going to the same church for 4 years...ever since I started working there. Then I got a different job, but we kept going. But as time went on, there became a wider and wider disconnect between our church experience and the rest of our lives.

We live in the 'hood. We work in the 'hood. We are a multi-ethnic family. But we were driving 20 minutes into one of the wealthiest and whitest parts of the city to go to church each Sunday. There came a point where the whole thing was just surreal. I am living out this understanding about the Kingdom of God where I truly believe that God wants us to live amongst those who are on the underside of the empire, and that in our society a lot of what determines your place in the empire has typically centered on money and race. But then my worship experience was amongst the "haves" and that created a lot of dissonance.

So one Sunday Stacy was on call, and I decided to try a new church. There were a couple near us that I knew were multi-ethnic and that appeared to be mixed income. So Elli and I went. And on one level it was cool. People came from the fringes. People were different colors. A former drug addict gave testimony about how this community gave him the space and freedom to know Christ. But on another level it didn't feel quite right. So I went back with Stacy. Still didn't feel right.

A few weeks go by and we are sitting around one Sunday morning trying to decide where to go to church, and Stacy raises the idea that maybe we shouldn't switch churches. And at first I'm like, pfffffft. But then I figure she has a point. So we load up the car and make our trek to the 'burbs.

Well, there is no happy ending that morning. It still felt strange. Not only that, but it felt stranger than before, because we hadn't been around in a while. So we went back. And we went back again.

As we've been going through that process of coming back I've been trying to listen really hard to what God is telling me. The message comes in pieces, but I think it's something to the effect of...

Christian. You can't just quit church. Now, I might call you away to a different church someday, but that would be a different deal. That would be far less self-righteous, and much more about me than about what feels right to you at any given time. While you have grown a lot in the past two years in your ability to do justice, you have some work to do in the areas of loving mercy and walking humbly with your God. So go back. Because the people at that church have been nothing but good to you. They have shown you nothing but love. And you know they love me. And while it can be very difficult to feel as though you share much with that group of people in terms of paradigm and plane of existence, this is a very safe place for you to learn what it means to challenge popular conventions of power and living out faith. So love my people. Be loved by my people. Push my people. Be pushed by my people. Carry yourself with grace and dignity. Don't contribute to the stratification of your community by leaving a church and making it more homogeneous that it currently is. And don't be a jerk.

Renew and Restore

Best...Video...Ever...Reintroducing Bust a Bucket

Category: , By Christian
Last minute change. I had a serious post all lined up for today. But then I got on facebook this morning, and a high school classmate of mine posted a video that everyone needs to see. Thank you, Amita. You are added to my list of heroes.

Back in 1992, the Blazers were the bomb. One of the best teams in the NBA bomb. Portland was gaga over their favorite team, and it seemed like every radio station was issuing their own Blazers-themed songs. I remember 1190 KEX had a different song for each round of the playoffs. It was musical mayhem.

But the thing about 1190 KEX is that they weren't all that hip to the jive. It was more of a station for middle aged adults, and thus I mostly listened to it because it's what my parents had on in the car. It was fine. I liked the songs. The hosts were funny. Paul Harvey was interesting. And they did broadcast all Blazers games, so they always had the hype machine going. Plus, sports radio hadn't really hit the big time yet, so there weren't a ton of other appealing options on the AM dial.

But on the FM? Back in 1992, everyone at Jackson Middle School knew that all the cool kids listened to Z100. 100.3 on the FM. Pop candy to the max. And being both the barometer and dictator of pop culture, they took the art of the Blazers song to a whole new level.

Mix the early 90's, pop music and athletes and what do you get? Magic. That's what you get.

Z100 concocted a song that is forever burned into my memory. Bust a Bucket celebrated everything great about the Blazers. It was catchy. It was so profound that I taped it off the radio one night, and then used my cassette tape dubber to make a 90-minute mixtape consisting entirely of a single song. Not much of a mixtape, actually. But fantastic, nonetheless.

Thankfully for all of us, Z100 also issued a music video for this song. I'd love to quote my favorite moments and point you toward particularly memorable timestamps in the video, but it's impossible. It's all great. So great that I cannot think of any description that would constitute hyperbole. I watched it three times in a row, and was literally pumping my fists and laughing in fits of joy and nostalgia.

Without further delay, I now present for your viewing and listening enjoyment...

Bust A Bucket. You're welcome.

Renew and Restore

Countdown to U2: If God Will Send His Angels

Category: , By Christian

As we await the drop of the next U2 album, we continue to look at some of the lesser known songs in the U2 library. Today's selection isn't so uplifting. Sorry. But there are a number of lines in the song that just resonate with me. Just really vivid images that I've wrestled with lately. So when the song came up in my itunes shuffle, it got the five stars, because I couldn't stop playing it.

Nobody else here baby
No one here to blame
No one to point the finger
Its just you and me and the rain

Nobody made you do it
No one put words in your mouth
Nobody here taking orders
When love took a train heading south

Broadly speaking, the theme of "God Fix Everything" is pretty pertinent. Because that's how we are, right? If God would just fix it, it would be easier to believe. Nevermind the fact that the brokenness around us just so happens to be a sign of our own habit of not relying on God, now we're like, "prove it".

Its the blind leading the blond

This is going to be a post sometime next week or the week after. But I just have to figure out how to say it without offending people who are very dear to me, and who I have really good relationship with. But one of my big struggles lately is what my place is in the community of believers. Like, how do you balance being a voice for justice while not getting completely embittered by how people are unknowingly contributing to paradigms of injustice? In a city where the rich and poor don't touch all that often, how do you give your all to what you are called to do, while at the same time not completely quitting on people who love Jesus but are blind to their own blindness at the moment? And maybe I'm not even saying it correctly in the moment. That's why it's a post for next week.

Its been a while since we saw that child
Hanging round this neighbourhood
You see his mother dealing in a doorway

I saw that play out a couple of months ago. It wrecked me. Bad. It was one of those moments where I asked myself "What the heck have we gotten ourselves into? And what are we really doing to make sure this does not happen in our society?"

So where is the hope and where is the faith
And the love...whats that you say to me
Does love...light up your christmas tree

This could stand to be in everyone's thanksgiving liturgy.

Jesus never let me down
You know jesus used to show me the score
Then they put jesus in show business
Now its hard to get in the door

'nuff said.

Behold, The Power of Branding

Category: , By Christian
My daughter is so American. She has already been brainwashed by the powers of consumerism and branding, at the ripe age of 2.9 years old.

Even though we don't frequent McDonald's, she proclaims "FRIES!" every time we pass the Golden Arches.

An announcement of "Nuggets" greets the sight of Chic-fil-a.

And anytime we are in the neighborhood of a Target, a joyous "Red Store, Daddy!" greets me from the back seat.

It's even gotten to the point where she threw a minor fit last week when we had to drive past the Red Store to get to an actual grocery store. She insisted on Red Store. I was like, "they don't have groceries." She didn't care.

So I thought Elli would be thrilled on Monday when I had to swing by Target. But as I get ready to unbuckle her from her car seat, she protests.

Elli: No. I want the other Red Store.

Me: What other Red Store?

Elli: The Blue Red Store.

Me: There is no "Blue Red Store". The Red Store is by definition, red.

Elli: Definition red?

Me: Yeah. Let's go.

It then dawns on me that my daughter isn't just rambling incoherently. I start to connect the red dots and blue dots.

Me: Do you mean WalMart?

Elli: Yes.

Granted, Elli answers "yes" to 90% of the questions we ask, regardless of whether or not it's the factually correct answer. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable that she is referring to WalMart.

Me: We don't go to WalMart. We're Dashiells.

Elli: Ok.

I thought about explaining to her that the stance isn't elitist. I thought about explaining globalization and WalMart's habit of crushing small-businesses in little towns. But I thought better of it. No need to raise a jaded child.

Though I am a little worried about the standards we are setting for the future. It's easy to not go to Walmart in the city. But if we ever find ourselves living in rural Kansas, we will be challenged. Because WalMart has effectively choked out all competition in the region, and we will thus be forced to purchase a combine so that we can manufacture our own wheat-based toiletries.

Renew and Restore

Middle School Moment: Ice Cream

Category: By Christian
Last night I was kickin' it with a group of boys who had earned our monthly "Fun Night". We hooked up a couple of Wii's and bonded over Guitar Hero World Tour and Mario Kart Wii. It was super-fun.

(Tangental Side Story that I just remembered, and has nothing to do with ice cream...When we fired up GHWT, we went through a moment where we had to decide which songs we were going to add to our set list. In case you didn't know, I work with adolescent boys from the inner city. So one of said boys puts in a request for Sweet Home Alabama. Unfortunately, that song isn't in this game. The kid responds with, "Man, I thought this game was supposed to have all of the classics." Touche. I never though a guitar game with tons of classic rock would disappoint a hip-hop aficionado due to set-list deficiencies.)

After we had our fill of video games, I busted out a killer ice cream sundae buffet. The boys went nuts, as we let them put whatever they wanted to on their ice cream. They were all taking their sweet time constructing their artistic masterpieces, and going completely overboard.

Finally, they made their way through the line. One of the first boys through was walking past one of his friends, when his boy bumped him. He lost the grip on his bowl of ice cream, and it smacked straight onto the floor.

This immediately elicited cat calls of "5 Second Rule", and the dropper reached down and picked up his tainted concoction. He looked a little bummed, but I just let him sit in that feeling for a minute. I wanted to see how he reacted to his friend who had knocked the ice cream out of his hand, and I also wanted to see if he had a sense of entitlement to a second bowl of ice cream.

Right as I was about to bail him out and let him throw away the bowl he dropped so that he could get a new one, he had an idea.

"Well, I guess I'll just have to get more toppings."

He goes back to the table, puts a bunch of syrup and sprinkles on top of the ice cream that had just been sitting on the floor and proceeds to pound the entire sundae like nothing had happened.

Renew and Restore

Middle School Moment: Scary Jesus

Category: , By Christian
Last night we were doing a Bible study with our Middle School kids. The focus was on the resurrection of Jesus, and we were reading the account in John 20 when Mary Magdelene finds the empty tomb. I had one of our leaders read the story out loud, so that the kids could focus their energy on putting themselves in the shoes of the disciples.

After the passage had been read, I asked the kids what was unique about the state of the tomb when Mary and the disciples started exploring it. I was trying to get at the description of the linens.

3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

So I ask the question and a boy raises his hand. I call on him. He answers (in all seriousness), "Jesus' head was separated from his body."

Well that would have some interesting theological implications. The young man apparently got John's account mixed up with Wes Craven's Nightmare in Jerusalem: The Legend of Ichabod Christ.

Renew and Restore

Interesting Reads

By Christian
Man. Post-election hangover. I didn't even stay up that late, nor did I party. Just too much emotion, maybe.

A couple of good reads from today...

  • A while back, I referenced I followed the site for a few months to see how their election predictions would play out. They nailed it. NAILED IT!!! TV Barn had a nice writeup on it today.
  • Slate broke down how Obama's victory might have helped Prop 8 pass in Cali. Interesting to me, because I had Christian friends who were praying for an Obama defeat and a Prop 8 pass.
  • Leonard Pitts is must read material on historic days. Simple eloquence.
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I Am America

Category: , , By Christian
I didn't vote today. I voted a week ago. I voted while sitting on my couch and watching Sportscenter. Then I tidily folded up my ballot and sent it off in the mail.

Wait in line? Pfffffffffft. As if. I ain't waiting in line for anything if I don't have to. People can feel free to follow me, but I ain't lookin' at nobody's backside for 20 minutes. You crazy, son.

What's that? Oh. Chick-fil-a is giving out free sandwiches since it's Election Day? Holla at ya' boy! That's what I'm talking about. Ok. I'll wait in line for 20 minutes. Becuase I'm American. Because I love convenience almost (but not quite) as much as I love a $3.50 chicken sandwich. That's worth looking at some backside for.

You know what the hardest part of waiting in line for 20 minutes to get free food is? Behaving yourself.

One of the things that cracks me up is how often people have misued the word "socialism" these past few weeks. Like, there is a big difference between big government and socialism, technically speaking. There's a big difference between socializing certain programs and being a socialist country. But we're not generally skilled in the art of nuance when it comes time to vote. We're more the broad-stroke life-or-death kind of people.

So the term has been misused and people are all worked up about it. It's actually turned into a slur of sorts, but this too shall pass.

So anyway, I'm sitting there in line when I see some people with McCain shirts on. And this idea pops into my head.

Wouldn't it be really funny if I raised my fist up in the air and hollered at the top of my lungs, "Free food for the masses. Socialists UNIIIIIIITE."

Now that would freak some people out. But then I remembered that I didn't want to get people all worked up on election day, so I just stood there and played with a straw instead.

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Starbucks Got It Right

Category: , By Christian

I've been critical of Starbucks in the past. But they got one right this weekend. They released the above commercial, and I think it makes a great point. Today, many of us will vote. We will be passionate about that vote. We've waited months to cast that vote.

And tomorrow a little less than half of us will wake up disappointed.

But tomorrow isn't the end. It's the beginning. It is an opportunity for us to take a look at why we voted how we voted, and begin to actually do something about those issues we are passionate about.

This is especially important for those of us who are Christians. Look, we should be involved in the political process. We should be engaged and prayerful voters, because government is a big deal. But we also shouldn't put too much faith in individuals, and we shouldn't lean on the government too heavily to legislate morality. When we do, we miss out on the fact that our calling isn't just to talk or vote in a way that differentiates us from the world around us. We are not just called to give money to organizations that support our passions. We are called to live with distinction.

Most Christians probably factor foreign policy and diplomacy into our voting preferences. But we also factor in domestic issues that we feel to be highly important in our moral and ethical constructs. It would be interesting to see how much healthier Christians could make this country if we really dedicated ourselves to these moral and ethical issues.

Each week, you have 168 hours to fill. What would happen if you spent 2.4% of those hours dedicated to contributing toward a constructive solution for your top voting priority? You wouldn't protest, you wouldn't post videos on the internet, you wouldn't forward emails, you wouldn't increase financial contributions to ministries, you wouldn't change your facebook status. I mean, you could do all of those things. They just wouldn't count toward your 4 hours.

If you voted for a candidate because he pro-life, you would spend 4 hours each week supporting single mothers, or adoptive families. Heck, you might even get really wild and decide to become a foster parent or an adoptive parent.

If you voted for a candidate because you felt his policies could help bridge the gap between rich and poor, you would spend 4 hours each week serving in ways that sustainably empower the poor.

If you voted for a candidate because you felt his policies were pro-environment, you would spend 4 hours contributing toward environmental stability.

If you voted for a candidate because you felt he would help gap the racial divide, you would spend 4 hours each week helping to bridge that divide.

And so on.

Clearly, my point breaks down if you are a Christian who decides who to vote for based on your right to bear arms. Please don't spend 4 hours each week buying guns. And please call me so that we can talk about whether or not Jesus really wants you buying guns.

But on the other points, what could we make this country look like? Practicing what we preach. Putting action to words. Demonstrating that there is substance behind all of our talking and politicking. Realizing that with a little bit of effort, we can collectively be more effective at changing the ethical and moral issues we are allegedly passionate about than a president ever could.

That would be something.

That would be gospel.

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I'm No George Will, That's For Sure

Category: By Christian
This year I have had the opportunity to be a guest columnist for The Kansas City Star. As part of their Midwest Voices panel, I got to write five op-ed pieces this year as well as blog on their op-ed site. My final column dropped on Saturday, and the bulk of my responsibilities are now over.

All in all, I'm glad I did it. I went into the experience with the goal of communicating aspects of my faith that form my ethical paradigms, and I think I did that well. It wasn't easy, though. You can't just write for a newspaper and start preaching. For people to listen, you have to weave your ideas in under the radar and do it concisely. Do you know how hard it is to limit your take on something you are passionate about to 650 words? Way harder than I could have guessed. But for a verbose individual like myself, it was a helpful exercise.

When I look back on my five articles, I think they do a good job summarizing how I try to live out my faith. I started out writing about the boys I work with. I wrote about a coffee shop that my local YWCA runs in an effort to achieve its goal of "eliminating racism and empowering women". I wrote about adopting Elli. I wrote about my city's new recycling program. I finished by writing about the boys. Am I a pro-life environmentalist who strives for racial reconciliation and shalom for the disenfranchised? Yeppers.

An ancillary benefit of my experience this year has been a deeper appreciate for columnists who do a good job of writing thoughtfully. My main inspiration to apply for this gig was Leonard Pitts. I've never met him before, but I've always been very impressed with his ability to graciously tackle tough subjects. He's never been a shill for a single political party. He is able to recognize both sides of an issue and judge them fairly. And now I realize why there aren't more columnists like him. It's way easier to pound out 650 words about why Obama is the incarnation of Mussolini or McCain's real estate than it is to thoughtfully engage issues in a constructive manner.

I've also gained new respect for George Will and David Brooks. I really appreciate how those guys stay on message and keep their arguments above the fray. They write with a depth and nuance that has actually helped me as I go through this process of rethinking a lot of my political assumptions from the past. If the Republicans get swept tomorrow, I hope that they listen to those two guys as they rethink what they are going to be about as a party.

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The Photoshoot

Category: By Christian
I got to see my first live ultrasound of Dashiell Baby Numero Dos yesterday. Dos looked good. The kid is going to be a handful, though. So squirmy in there. Kicking. Sucking the thumb. Generally wiggling and swimming around. But really, what should we expect? The kid has two driven parents, one of whom is a bit of a spaz. I had better get a lot of sleep over the next six months. This one is going to be a firecracker. I can feel it.

Is there anybody out there good at scrap booking? I have a job for you. A huge job. I need you to scrapbook the many pictures we already have of Dos. I've learned that when your mother is a doctor and has both the ability and opportunity to take ultrasounds whenever she wants, you end up collecting a lot of pictures. This kid is going to have the biggest pre-birth scrap book of any child in history. Constant surveillance. I'm sure Dos will revolt, grow up to become a lawyer and fight adamantly for any law that protects the privacy rights of individuals. Either that, or we'll have some kind of glory hog on our hands. Time will tell.

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