Tuesday, November 29, 2005

an unexpected opportunity

More from the "Jesse's Life" files...just got an email I didn't expect tonight, in follow-up to something that was sent to me almost two weeks ago. I had skimmed over the first and taken it to be a group-wide call for nominations for leadership team members for Crossroads (the singles group I'm in). One of the current leaders is getting married this summer and another will likely be moving out west around the same time, so I suspect they're looking for two folks to pick up where the current members leave off. Having some ideas but not really knowing anyone well enough to nominate him/her for such a position of responsibility, I simply didn't reply.

But the follow-up was addressed to me directly. And upon further review of the original, it was addressed to me too. And of all surprises...turns out I (of all people) was invited to join the leadership committee, and in my haste I hadn't read the details in the email closely enough to get the hint. So now I only have a couple of days to pray over it and decide. For some this would be almost insignificant--simply another way to lead others--but for someone like myself who has always been content to stay in the crowd and not step out and who has never been "appointed" to a position of spiritual leadership and mentoring, this would be a huge leap.

My first response (jokingly but with a hint of seriousness) is that they must be getting desperate for leaders if the rock has fallen all the way to me. I don't by any stretch view myself as a spiritual leader, especially not someone that a group would look to for insight and direction. I've been rather lazy over the years when it comes to pursuing holiness, having not figured out how to stay consistent in my devotions and prayer life in my eight years of trying. And I sure don't have the strong knowledge of the Bible that I myself usually picture such leaders possessing. I do know some bits of theology here and there, but even that has grown rusty over the years due to my not cultivating my interest in those meat-and-potatoes aspects of Christianity. Most of all, I know I don't live a very godly lifestyle a lot of the time. Perhaps my introspective and general easygoing nature tend to present me as much more "in control" of my own issues than I really am, but I feel like I spend most of my time worrying about nonsense stuff or pursuing things that have no meaning. I may (unintentionally) fool some into believing I'm a spiritual rock of sorts, but I can't fool myself and I sure can't fool God.

Nonetheless, I've actually been praying and wondering about this sort of thing for a while, having come to the humbling realization recently that I ought to be growing much more and giving more back to the Church than I am. (This is especially true after I read that bit in the Packer post about reaching out to others in order to help one's own spiritual state.) I have figured I'll do missions or volunteer stuff or something service-oriented along those lines as oppportunities arise in the coming months, since working and serving seems to be a forte of mine and something I enjoy doing. And I've thought about trying to start some discipleships of some sort, by meeting one-on-one with some men I've gotten to know or through organizing small-group activities like movie/article/missions discussions. But I fear that could be similar to the blind leading the blind; in order to lead someone else one must first have some wisdom and godliness to impart to others. I've been around these folks plenty and haven't been a great example to them so far, but I guess at least I'm aware of that much. But I've been tossing around such things for a while now, so I suspect this could be something I've been praying for without realizing it.

The responsibility is big enough to be a bit scary though. The Bible sets high standards--1 Timothy 3 comes to mind--and issues strong warnings for those who would seek such positions of leadership. I've had some other chances, like scattered opportunities in InterVarsity in college and a co-leader role for a 1 Peter study in which I completely squandered a chance to take Bible teaching seriouly and gain valuable experience in such things. But if nothing else at least I have some experience and perspective (and regret--I'm convinced that can be one of the most powerful motivators for change) now that I didn't have then. I've screwed up plenty of moves in my relatively small number of years, but this is one of those things that just feels more significant and holds implications beyond just me. One's own life is one thing; bearing even a tiny amount of responsibility for the spiritual growth and leadership of others is another entirely. It has a sense of awe and fear to it instead of the worry and futility I often feel about my own situation. But perhaps this is just the chance I need to snap out of my years-long spiritual funk and start following Christ like I ought to be.

So, here goes I guess...unless God makes it obvious to me I shouldn't be doing this I'll commit to it. It should be a great opportunity and it will put me in good company. (Given my tendency to take after those I'm around, that's perhaps the most important piece in this for me personally.) I'm not convinced I'm up to the task, but if I can just rely on He who is then that shouldn't be an issue. The knowledge of what I need to do is there but it's the doing that's been my weak point all along...my prayer is that my slothful ways may finally be giving way to some much-needed diligence and desire to follow God's ways more.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

big bad bears

If one looks at the top teams in the NFC, with 8-3 or better records, one would see three teams: Seattle, Carolina, and...Chicago. Yeah, those same Bears that have sucked almost without exception for the last decade. But suddenly they're one of the teams to beat, with the league's top-rated defense and having just defeated Carolina at home and Tampa Bay in Tampa over the past two weeks. That Lovie Smith is doing a heck of a job as a first-year coach (though he does have one of the softest schedules in the league to work with).

I wouldn't have said that for most of the season so far. I mean, these guys started 1-3, having lost to such bottom feeders as the Redskins and Browns (and Bengals, who at the time had not yet proven themselves to be any different than every other Cincy team in history). So when they started slipping past opponent after opponent--they've only beaten the Vikings and Lions by more than 10 points and neither of those teams has been too scary this season--I chalked it up to an easy schedule. The Bears kept playing a weak bunch of opponents and still needed a shutdown defense every week to escape with wins. I never got the impression they were actually good. Sure, the defense was putting up unreal numbers, but I figured the numbers were inflated due to games against high school offenses like those of Baltimore and San Francisco. And I couldn't figure out why the Bears offense was even bothering to show up on Sundays; they clearly weren't doing anything during the week that might prepare them to actually play football and not just look dumb out there. Somehow, they kept squeaking by and piling up wins. But surely the facade would come to an end and they'd become the usual Bears sometime soon.

Or maybe not. The last two weeks they've stood up to solid teams, and their winning streak is up to seven games. More importantly, they've proven they can beat good teams with their defense as long as the offense doesn't make any big mistakes. So far the offense hasn't been called on to do anything more than just be efficient and not lose games, and they've come through. As long as the defense plays like it has been the Bears are a very mean opponent, similar to the 2000 (I think) Ravens team that rode its defense to a championship. So now they suddenly look legit. And at 8-3 with a tiebreaker over the 8-3 Panthers, they have an inside track for a first-round bye or even homefield advantage in the playoffs. What NFC team is going to want to go to Soldier Field in January to face the Bears, in conditions that would force a defensive contest? That should strike fear into every playoff-bound team in the conference. Such a scenario would be the very definition of homefield advantage--so much so that the Bears could have a good shot at a Stupid Bowl berth if they can keep winning and the 9-2 Seahawks choke (the latter is all but guaranteed).

One thing is for sure: if the Bears are playing in Detroit the last weekend in January, I will be there. I may have to sell a few--or almost all--of my possessions to get there, but the Bears in the Stupid Bowl? Well worth it.

the things you see on nyc streets...

One last thing about NYC--check out this couple of freaks I saw while walking around up there. It was so strange I had to stop and snap a picture. Weird folks, those.

thanksgiving in nyc

Well, almost. I actually spent Friday up there, but that's close enough. Great time, too, and much easier to do (we took a train from somewhere in NJ) than I would have expected. And as with some other things I've done recently, I really enjoyed something that I didn't expect to see. We walked around for a bit (in my case, trying unsuccessfully to stay warm), wandering up Fifth Avenue mostly, before getting to the Rockefeller Plaza and spending an hour or so there, maybe more. I was really looking forward to doing some ice skating and being fast and crazy enough to suffer some injuries, but the timing didn't work out and I wasn't about to plunk down $25 for a half hour or so on the ice. We did get to see some good spills though. After catching an opera (no, this wasn't intentional; see explanation below)--despite my sidetracking us by not paying enough attention to street signs--and grabbing beers at the base of the Empire State Building, we finally got on the train at about midnight or so.

My highlight of the day's activities was seeing Beowulf. (Spamalot--the Monty Python musical--was our preferred theatre thing but the half-price outlet didn't have tickets for it, and Beowulf and The Phantom of the Opera were next on the list.) When I saw the flyer it brought to mind a musical with Irish music, so I was all for that. But it ended up being more of an opera--not as "dramatic" as I would expect an opera to be but all the lines were sung with some background music and harp playing here and there. It was a very good show though, and true to the story as best I remember it (which isn't very well). The best part was the set, as some of the props were simple but ingenious. It brought back memories of Odyssey of the Mind, in which we had to make our own skit setup with only basic resources. But in this case the props were very creative and were done so well that they added a lot to the presentation. The acting and simple music were also very good, by my unsophisticated and unrefined standards.

Overall a great day; I wish I went up there more often. This theatre stuff is probably something I could really get into if I went to more shows. (Why didn't I figure this stuff out years ago so I'd actually know something about it now? This seems to be a recent trend of sorts for me.) But, alas, I don't see that happening soon for several reasons. But at least another NYC trip before the holidays would be cool.

the spread of christianity

The leader of the Knowing God study brought out another great point. In the past, Christianity has almost always advanced by humble means. Rarely has it happened that a leader or powerful figure of some sort made a conversion and then those around or under him followed his example. I'm sure it has happened; Constantine comes to mind, for one. But far more often it is the case that people are converted through relationships with believers, usually in humble circumstances. This was true with Biblical figures like Paul and Christ himself, and also with missionaries like Carey and Taylor and even slaves such as the Moravians that sold themselves into slavery for the sole purpose of witnessing to their new masters or the slave girls taken by the Vikings who evangelized the Norse regions. A missions class I once took devoted much time to this idea of evangelism at a personal level through everyday means. Come to think of it, I'm sure it'd be great to go back and reread some of that stuff.

The leader also pointed out that there are many people who confuse politics with evangelism and laws with morality. How often do we hear, "but if A gets elected then he'll sign X into law and promote the ideas of B and C and then Y will become legal and..." And so the argument goes. It's as if God's plan suffers a setback if the wrong guy gets in office. This line of thinking implies that God is somehow dependent on us to accomplish His plan. Maybe this makes sense to some, but I'm inclined to believe the Bible makes it clear that God's Kingdom will go forth regardless of whether or not we choose to be a part of it and help it advance. We should obey out of a sense of gratitude and humility, not due to fear and burdens for advancing society that we place on our own shoulders. That's not to say politics is useless, but it's best to remember that the Kingdom is far greater than any nation or leader. History even proves that Christianity actually thrives the most when its followers are being persecuted or suppressed. Just look at Africa and Asia today. The underground churches in those regions put our glamour churches here in America to shame.

Moreover, such a focus on legalistic concerns completely misses the point of evangelism. We aren't supposed to regulate those around us into believing a certain way or following a certain set of standards, as if such were even possible. This is basically the method of "conversion" favored by Muslim and Communist countries, but would this work for advancing the truth? Would someone be closer to Christ just because they have to live more like an ideal Christian? Christianity isn't about how many boxes one can check off, it's about what one actually thinks and believes (which will in turn influence how one lives). But actions always come from the heart, not the other way around. And so someone can lead a very "good" life and still be dead to sin. It seems a waste of time to focus so much on making sure our morals win in the political arena when the real battle is taking place on a personal level. Politics are nothing more than an outward expression of someone's worldview and hope (or lack thereof). If Satan has deceived us into thinking we can somehow beat him by passing the right laws and banning unpleasant things, he has succeeded in deflecting our energy into something other than the real struggle for men's souls that he knows matters most. We ought to know that as well.

the true christmas spirit

Today's Sunday school class on Packer's Knowing God was very good, as the classes usually are. But part of it was especially applicable during the holiday season. Packer has some great stuff to say about the Christmas spirit, in the context of his discussion of the mystery of the incarnation and its implications on Christ's diety, power, etc. It's well worth rereading and repeating here:
We talk glibly of the "Christmas spirit," rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of Him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.

It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians--I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians--go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord's parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet them) averting their eyes, and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians--alas, they are many--whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.

The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor--spending and being spent--to enrich their fellow-men, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others--and not just their own friends--in whatever way there seems need. There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be. If God in mercy revives us, one of the things He will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." "I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart."
And Packer wrote that in the early 70's. What must he think now, having seen society slide so much further since then? That bit about the middle-class Christian mindset is especially piercing, but unfortunately it's a very accurate portrayal of American and western "Christianity" these days. His closing point about seeking to act more like Christ in order to know God more is very true. That seems lost on most people, probably more so with Reformed folks like myself who tend to favor theology and head knowledge too strongly over the faith-in-action stuff like empathy and evangelism. But it makes sense, as the Bible of course mandates such a lifestyle and many throughout history we look upon as giants of the faith made their own lives much harder in order to reach others and do God's work.

I always find it funny, in a shameful sort of way, how when the Christmas season comes around people (including myself) start acting nice and paying attention to what's happening around them, as if they have suddenly taken time off from their regular lives to notice they're not the only ones here. It suddenly becomes in vogue to be spiritual and give one's resources to something other than oneself. So we help at soup kitchens, we buy gifts for children, we volunteer at community centers, we go caroling, we write a few extra checks, and on and on. We'll pat ourselves on the back when it's all over and figure we've done our good deeds for the season and helped others. Which we have, but what about the other 11 months of the year? Do those around us only need help or only need to hear the gospel at Christmas time? Our attitude and actions would often imply that this must be what we think.

For me, reading passages like this always drives home how much time I have wasted over the years and how I continue to pursue things that are worthless, either because they don't actually help me live a better life or they would if I'd only pursue them for the right reasons. I spend lots and lots of time with stuff like sports and news and such (or maybe whatever short-term goal I have my sights set on that month), but I've read barely any books at all over the past few years and I can't recall ever getting to know a single neighbor at any apartment complex I've lived at. As I get older I kinda get the sense that God is trying to teach me something and pound some ideas home, and thus I often find myself far away from whatever it is I happen to be pursuing that day. It seems, on a head level anyway, that if I could just get my priorities straight things wouldn't seem so dark all the time. Much easier said than done, though. And unfortunately I'm stubborn enough that I can expect at least another couple of decades or so of this before I get the point. (This is one of those topics I've thought much about and have intended to write a rather long post on but probably never will.)

Anyway, that's perhaps the best piece (from a book other than the Bible) I've read in a long time, and it will be one of the best application pieces I read this Christmas season for sure. Hopefully its application will last year-round, though, as that was Packer's intent. But as with anything, the action part is always much harder than the reading...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

t.o. gets what he deserves

That is, a broad ruling in favor of Philly that will keep him off the field for a few months. Not only do the Eagles not have to worry about him, they can also feed him some of his own medicine by refusing to let him play elsewhere. And we all know they will. Hey, you ruin our season, we'll ruin yours. Fair is fair.

The arbitrator could have set a very bad precendent had he forced the Eagles to let Owens back on the team after his suspension. That would imply that any player who didn't like his current digs could just throw tantrums until the team finally couldn't deal with him anymore and had to release him after a short suspension, and then go hunting for a new home. But as it is, the team has the final say on what to do with a malcontent. And that's the way it ought to be. A contract is a contract, and if a team holds up its end of the deal then no player should be able to weasel his way out of something he decides he doesn't like. If you don't like it don't sign it. And if you don't like the terms then work through that before you sign it, then just shut up and play it out. What makes these guys think they can just decide to change the terms of a deal whenever they want? (Oh yeah, a lot of NFL players probably can't read well enough to understand their own contract. Okay, so get an agent you can trust and let him do the hard stuff like reading and communicating.)

So, bottom line, T.O. got exactly what he had coming to him. He complained, he ranted, he bitched, he moaned, he played hurt, he trashed his teammates, he started locker room fights, he antagonized everyone around him, and finally the Eagles offer a little bit of payback and he can't take it. Too bad. People get what they deserve, Terrell, and you're no different. The only surprise here is that you ever managed to fool anyone into believing a powder keg like you was worth the risk. Congratulations on that much, but you can't run from yourself for long. Looks like your constant stream of stupid behavior has caught up to you.

Almost as pathetic as Owens himself is the fact that some bonehead general manager out there is going to see something worth paying for in this guy and pick him up. He flamed the 49ers on his way out, he trashed Baltimore every chance he had and finally wiggled his way out of that (the Ravens should be the most grateful team in the league, for the so-called football gods certainly smiled upon them that day), he singlehandedly tore down a Super Bowl team, and soon his many talents will be on the market once again. What team will be next in his path of destruction? The Broncos? Atlanta, maybe? Oh please let it be Dallas--I've always hated the Cowgirls. But whoever it is, that team's GM will be without excuse. He's seen the T.O. treatment run its course on all three teams he's come in contact with now, and he only seems to get worse with each victim. So go for it, pick him up and see how long the charade lasts before the real T.O. shows up. I know at least a few of you GM's have already started the process of denial as I type, and come this spring you'll be ready to ignore overwhelming evidence and treat this guy like he's the missing link between you and a Super Bowl. And if you're really quiet you'll hear me laughing all the way from southern Maryland.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

xbox: the new ebay cash cow?

Forget concert tickets, the new Xbox 360's are the way to go. Or so the story goes. Just heard on the way home that they were retailing for about $400 yesterday while they were in stock (which lasted maybe two seconds at any store not already pre-ordered out) and there's now a glut of them on Ebay for hundreds more. So I decided to verify this insane profit margin. A quick Ebay check shows literally thousands on there at prices starting around $600 and going as high as $800 from the few listings I saw. Microshaft's suggested retail price is $299 (at a cost to MS of $75/console). So even if the stores are padding their own profit and marking the price up a hundred bucks there is still room for a few hundred in profit for would-be scalpers. Problem is, one has to come up with one of these things first. Given the rush that always accompanies a gaming console debut, getting a dozen U2 GA's would probably be easier.

So, better money and less risk? Nope, I'm calling BS on that one. The return is much better on good concert tickets, not to mention they're less expensive and easier to come by. And if the strategy backfires you at least have some awesome tickets on your hands instead of an expensive plastic box. Not worth the trouble...although if I happened to see an Xbox on the shelf I'd buy it for sure.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

kerrying our troops

Check out this short excerpt from a recent John O'Neill article. He calls out naysayers like Kerry and Murtha--and of course the media--and puts them in their place. Such fools ignore all of the great successes our military has had over there and instead focus all their attention on a handful of failures, ignoring the fact that no war was ever perfect and occasional setbacks are to be expected in any conflict. Worse, such "Kerrying" only hurts those the Kerryites claim to care so much for--the troops in the field.

He also includes a bit of good history we can all learn from. Thomas Paine addressed exactly this sort of "sunshine patriot" during the American Revolution. Perhaps his "Common Sense" needs to be circulated once again to a new generation of cowards and turncoats. Better yet, how about Dewey's reason for not making an issue of Pearl Harbor in 1944: "I would rather lose the presidency and win the war than the reverse." I don't know much about Dewey but judging by that quote he was probably an upstanding, honorable guy, quite the opposite of the scum that has infiltrated the Democratic ranks these days. Today's idiots need to dust off some history books and learn some basic truths of war before they open their mouths and jeopardize the lives of so many troops. Or better yet, they ought to just sit down, shut up, and let the professionals wage the war.

As a side note, O'Neill introduces a new verb that I hadn't heard before but makes total sense: kerry. Brainster has already put forth a definition from another blog so I won't try to define it here. But given John Kerry's antics its meaning shouldn't be too hard to deduce. Some synonyms that come to mind are backstab and flip-flop (we can credit Johnny Boy for that one too--at least he gave us something useful). Or how about deserter, traitor, summer soldier, sunshine patriot...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

will richardson ever shut up?

Nolan Richardson continues to earn the disrespect of Hog fans everywhere with the latest installment in his ongoing battle against perceived racism at Arkansas. According to Richardson, he was fired because he spoke out against racism on campus, not because of his disappointing coaching performance. His attorney even argued that in the end it didn't matter how his teams had been doing because university officials fired him on the basis of what he said and not what his teams did (or didn't do).

Anyone who has been paying attention to Razorbacks basketball over the last decade or so knows that's crap. After a strong few years in the mid 90's, Richardson's teams slacked off and were never again among the top teams in the NCAA. They managed to slip into the tournament a couple of years in there and even won the SEC tournament one year, but they weren't a staple on the list of basketball powerhouses like they were in their glory years. It seemed at the time that after a successful string of seasons Richardson had just lost his ability to put together contenders. There was talk of needing a coaching change years before his series of outbursts in the latter half of the 2002 season, so to pin much of his firing on his behavior at the end of his career is absurd. As great a coach as he once was, his performance over his last few years warranted his firing. Arkansas needed a good coach and he wasn't willing to resign so he didn't leave the university with many options.

Perhaps even more ludicrous is the following: "Richardson said during the post-game press conference in 2002 that his job was made harder because he was treated as a second-class coach by the university." Excuse me? The guy was the highest paid state employee for many years and is still collecting half a million bucks a year (and will be through 2008) as part of his contract buyout. When he was winning the university built a brand new basketball arena for his teams that's still one of the best in the nation, a rarity that's on the wish list of almost every coach in basketball. He always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder and toward the end of each season would put fans and the university through his annual moaning and complaining, and yet the university still supported him and didn't return his favors. What may be the most telling is that the university put up with this well after his best years were clearly behind him and he had seemingly lost the dedication to winning he once had. The school continued to pay him outrageous sums of money even when his program had long since fallen from the ranks of the elite and folks around the state had started calling for his head. The U of A didn't stab him in the back. It was (and still is) the other way around.

Moreover, look at the environment Richardson was coaching in. Anyone who has ever been associated with the University of Arkansas knows that school lives and dies for athletics. Academic pursuits are a distant second, or third if you include social life in the discussion.* And anyone who has ever spent much time in Arkansas knows that seemingly everyone in the state shares that same devotion. Despite the state's obsession with football, the U of A was known as a basketball school in the 90's and Richardson's "40 minutes of hell" teams were the highlight of the athletic year for Arkansas fans. Even though the fans could be harsh at times, he never went through the kind of constant scrutiny of other top-tier programs and could afford to lose a game or two every so often without his job always being on the line. Believe it or not I think he actually had more respect and loyalty from his fans than many of his counterparts had from theirs. Richardson had no competition in the state for loyalty and was the big man in athletics for the better part of his career at Arkansas. In other words, he had a rather friendly and supportive fan base to work with compared to coaches at a lot of other schools and especially at other top programs.

Yet none of this seems to matter much to Mr. Richardson. In his mind he was mistreated for years and was eventually run out of town by a bunch of bigots just for being black and speaking the truth. Yeah right. Hey Nolan, just sit down and shut up already, and finally accept the fact that you had a great run that us Hog fans will always remember and be thankful for but had become a lousy, overpaid crybaby of a coach that needed to lose his job.

*Having attended another large public university for a few years before transferring to the U of A, I can personally testify that the focus at Arkansas is far beyond obsessive. At least at my former school academics took some precedence. But not at Arkansas. It's like the entire campus and practically the entire city shut down anytime there was some sort of athletic event going on. Great for fans, bad for students.

upcoming missions trip...or so I hope

Just found out today that my church will be sending a team to the Philippines in April. I have kinda been waiting for info on this, as I've heard talk of it here and there and others have said the church has sent a team once ever couple of years or so in the past. And I've wanted to get in on a missions trip for a while now, having missed out on my chance to go to Fairmont, West Virginia last summer due to what I thought would be work schedule problems (turns out that wasn't the case) and having never gone in college when it would have been so much easier to arrange. So this looks like a golden opportunity, not only because it's in a foreign culture but because it's two weeks long instead of just a few days. Two weeks still isn't enough time, I don't think, to really adjust and become part of what's around you, but it would at least be longer than a lot of the one-week stuff I hear about.

What I like most about this is it's being organized in large part through my local church, so those who go will know one another. It's not like a large parachurch thing where interested folks from all over are put through some training together and sent out with people they hadn't met until a few weeks prior. Not that that's such a bad thing, but it wouldn't be my preferred way of going on a first missions trip. I'd much rather go with people I am at least familiar with and who know me well enough to teach me.* And I know from last summer's efforts in Fairmont that the training and preparation will start months in advance. By the time the team goes they'll have spent plenty of time together and will probably have some idea of what they're in for and how they'll need to work with one another.

There are, of course, several issues. The time off is one, but I think this can be worked around with relative ease. My lack of evangelism skills and generally shaky faith and devotion to godliness is another, but this would seem like a terrible reason to not go on something that could help me so much in that area and give me a chance to give back to the Kingdom (something that I ought to do a lot more of anyway). Lack of missionary experience could be another, as this is a different culture and all, but that would also seem like a bad reason to stay off the team. One has to start somewhere and this looks like a great one to start with. None of the potential roadblocks I see now seem to present a real challenge to going.

The real catch, though, is that there is some sort of interview and selection process involved. This is a new thing for me, this idea of having to apply and be selected to go on a missions trip. Every other church and organization I've learned about has been open to anyone who wishes to go and is willing to do their part to arrange the necessary support. I'm not sure what all is entailed in this whole process, whether it's to make sure those who are going are at least Christians who understand what they'd be over there for or if it's to hand pick a core group of church members who will have the most impact. If it's the former I'm not too concerned since I've been attending the church for over a year now and have volunteered for various work days and cleanups several times. I think the church knows who I am and that I'm willing to serve. But if it's the latter then I don't like my prospects. Having never been on a missions trip before and not being on any sort of leadership teams or committees or such groups within the church, I would be easy to pass over in favor of someone more qualified. With such an approach this would make sense for the church, but I admit I'd be more than a little upset if a church I attend and support rejected willing missionaries (me included or not) on the basis of trying to keep the group small. This would seem to indicate an overreliance on man's methods and strategies as opposed to God's will.

So...there are still a lot of things that remain to be seen. I don't know enough details yet but I do know I'm plenty interested enough to start preparing as I can now through prayer and reading. And it really helps that we're going through Acts at church and so I'm learning a bit about Paul's journeys and his approach to missions.* I hope this comes to pass and I end up spending my birthday in the Philippines--how cool would that be? But either way maybe I can at least be on a Fairmont team this coming summer. And if I went on both that'd all but clean out my stash of vacation time for next year, but I'd be hard pressed to think of better ways to use it.

*Given what I've seen in Acts and some Pauline epistles over the past couple of months, investing time and energy in individuals seems to be Paul's preferred method of training missionaries. See Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and even Mark (though they disagreed enough to part company for some time). As I can't think of any examples off-hand where Christ, Paul, or anyone else sent inexperienced believers into a far-off mission field on their own or with others like themselves, I think Paul sets forth a good model of how missionary training ought to work. And sending some newbies such as myself with several older, more mature believers in the same church would seem to be a good example of how this would carry over into modern missions.

the jinx is on

Nine wins into the season and there is already talk on NFL.com about how the Colts could go undefeated. That ends it. Whenever people start spouting off crap like that any chances of such a run are officially history. Kinda like the baseball talk in May when so many idiots start speculating on potential World Series matchups--Beltway Series, Cubs-Sox, and on and on--before any team has come close to proving its worth. Or better yet, remember the Manning vs. Manning nonsense that was all over the airwaves just last week? Eli should thank those talking heads for setting him up for such a terrible game. These folks need to learn to just keep their mouths shut until there's actually credible reason to speculate. Until then quit creating news and drama where there is none.

another potential undertaking

Since I've been in the habit lately of writing about stuff I want to do more of, I'll add another. Listening to my Burlap to Cashmere CD over the past couple of weeks has reminded me of how cool it would be to be able to play a mandolin. I remember seeing some in action when B2C opened at a Jars of Clay concert and thinking it was an awesome instrument then without even knowing what it was. Almost seven years later I still haven't touched one but I'm still thinking it'd be neat to play. And it seems quite versatile, too. It can play the soft classical-sounding stuff, almost like a harp or classical guitar, and it can also fit into fast music and bluegrass, the latter being something I'd really love to immerse myself in a lot more.

If I thought I had the diligence to stay with it and really learn it I'd probably buy one and get going. But I don't even know how hard it is to learn or play. And the last time I bought an instrument (guitar) with the intention of picking up some musical skill, I touched it for all of a few hours and that was it. I don't even know where the thing is now or even if I still have it. Some investment that was. Of course I was in college and dealing with problems far greater than school so maybe things would be different now. Although one thing I've always had plenty of is laziness so maybe not. But I might just go out on a limb and pick one up sometime...if nothing else it'd sure be cool to toy with every now and then.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do

That's one of the few things I learned tonight. But overall it seemed like the dancing this time was HARD compared to the only other time I've been to one of these dance things, back in July. And this wasn't even my first time. The moves were much harder I thought (for those to whom it means anything, they taught the foxtrot and the triple-step swing, the latter being a severe test of coordination and impossible for those of us with little dexterity to work with). Whereas last time I kinda felt like I at least understood what the dances were if I couldn't do them, this time I was pretty much blown away. And, unfortunately, it certainly showed. Forget near-misses, my partner and/or myself collided with other couples almost every time I was on the floor. Granted the floor seemed smaller this time, but it was as if I didn't have any awareness about me. It was very frustrating to keep having to reset myself out there and as the evening went on I actually started feeling kinda sorry for those I was dancing with. It was an enjoyable experience nonetheless; thankfully I learned sometime recently how to laugh at such things, one of those skills that would have been handy the previous quarter century or so. But I feel like I took a few steps backward in my ability (and with what little I went in with I basically have none left now).

I still think this whole dancing thing is something I'll keep doing, as despite the problems it's been fun both times (in my entire life) I've been. If nothing else it at least forces me out of my comfort zone and makes me learn new stuff and I've found that's always a good thing. It's one of those basic facts of life that would have done me worlds of good had I learned it about a decade or so ago. Perhaps had I picked up on this and been more socially active earlier I wouldn't be as inept or timid around people as I am now. But alas, water under the bridge I guess.

Maybe the weirdest and most frightening fallout from my presence at dances is my increasing tolerance--even appreciation--of old tunes like Sinatra stuff and obscure songs from musicals I'd never heard before. I'm not exactly an artsy person or musically inclined in any way, nor do I have any prior experience with such things, so I'm a bit surprised I like the stuff. I guess it's because it means something to me now. I can't say I "get it" but I have a reason to like it and pay attention to it. I don't know much about such music, of course, and it gives me the kind of feeling I have so often nowadays of wishing I had spent more time earlier in life feeding this and other interests.

I suppose I now have a decision to make. I may get into a dance class (...pause to let that soak in...) come early next year, if my work schedule will allow it and I don't have to bring a partner with me. I think I could get around the work stuff, but if I had to ask somebody to join the class with me that could be the end of that. There are so many ways that could come back to bite me it's likely better to just not open that can of worms. Dancing or no dancing that's not the kind of space I see myself getting into just yet. At least not under these circumstances.

Friday, November 18, 2005

the friday night thing

I hate wasting space on this thing with personal stuff, but it's late and I just got in so I not thinky good. Or, even worse than normal might be a better way to put it. And the weekend isn't getting any less hectic from here so I'm not up for any late-night blogging.

The Saturday night thing from last week--that is, bowling--got moved up a day this week. And I hit triple digits in all three games--in my world that's a heck of a good bowling night. More importantly, we finally got over the hump of getting more people involved and managed to round up two lanes worth of players this time. Overall it was more fun, as there was more conversation, more energy, and much more weird and stupid behavior than last week (that last one's always a good thing in crowds). Bowling may be establishing itself as one of my regular activities.

As well as...dancing. (I'll pause for effect here.) ... I've only been to one swing dance thing recently (which turned out to be something I wasn't at all expecting), but I actually enjoyed it and I've been wanting to go regularly for months now. But, of course, it's one of those things that's hard to do alone, and I'm never sure who else is going. And I'm sure not going to try to make my own "arrangements" just yet. So there's my excuse for having not been in a few months. But tonight I unwittingly committed myself to go, as my expressing general interest got me included in a guys head count. So if I don't go then the numbers, if you will, won't match up as expected. Not that I mind so much; this is the sort of thing that makes attending less complicated. Perhaps there will be a core group that enjoys it enough to go regularly--in which case I have a free pass around my barrier to going more often.

And all that after a pre-Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow that I'm not yet prepared for. Should be a good time of fellowship though. And it will present another opportunity to work on those who still need some convincing to come to the dance afterwards. Oh, yeah, and in the morning I need to go to work and pack in some hours to hopefully get going a bit on something I haven't started yet that's due at the end of this month. Joy.

It's kinda funny to think back to just a few months ago when I was usually bored to death on weekends and wishing I had something to do or some folks to hang out with. Yet over the past couple of months or so it's been as if I'm always doing something on weekends, be it afternoon events with other singles group members or evenings of movie watching and spades playing with the guys or whatever. And I'm getting back into reading and studying and such (which has been long overdue for me), so it's not like I have nothing to do anymore. Sometimes I actually feel like I don't have enough down time on weekends, but I like it much more this way. At least I'm doing a lot more with others now, so I'm getting to know people and be comfortable around them to the extent that I'm actually not silent all the time. In my life that's still somewhat of a new experience. Oh well, can't have the best of both worlds I guess.

Monday, November 14, 2005

a precursor of things to come

Colson cuts to the chase:
But time and demographics are on the extremist's side. The French are not reproducing themselves to replace those who are dying. And Islamists are reproducing and immigrating. France, as we know it, will soon disappear.
And he's right. That has been a brewing problem for some time and France will be part of the past in short order. It's too late to reverse the trend and they've got a growing population of unemployed, restless radicals* eager to destroy stuff and susceptible to terrorism influences. The fact that their economy is going down the tubes and the spoiled working folks with 35-hour work weeks and six weeks of paid vacation refuse to do anything about it isn't helping their cause much. I guess they prefer to go down with the ship rather than try to save themselves and their country.

Chuck makes another good point about how the French people's total lack of moral vision is costing them their society, of course primarily through their lack of reproduction. Okay, French, I hope y'all enjoyed your godless debauchery while it lasted. Had you cared to look at history you'd see that societies without a moral compass don't hang around long. Guess that sorta puts you on the clock, doesn't it? If you think your oppressive Judeo-Christian society with all of its stifling social norms was tough to live in, just wait for what's coming. Hey, people get what they deserve.

*Recall that the original cause of all this rioting had nothing to do with the police. A couple of kids thought they were being chased by police and so they hid in a power substation. Uh, yeah, slick move guys. That stuff hurts, doesn't it? Well, suddenly a lot of young types (mostly if not all Muslims) with nothing better to do had a reason to start lashing out at everyone and everything around them. And so the rioting was on. All of this kinda reminds me of less violent radicals in this country who latch on to pet causes too easily and start devoting their otherwise wasted time to something obscure (and, in the grand scheme of things, quite meaningless) like freeing Tibet or protecting their favorite animal they know nothing about.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

week 2: banshees back on track

After a rough opening week that put the Banshees in the cellar to start the season, they took note and started playing some ball. A 7-2 rout of this week's hapless opponent is all but official, and while that won't raise my record to .500 it should serve as a warning to the rest of the league that the Banshees are for real and are a force to be reckoned with. I actually had enough players on the court this week to compete and my totals probably would have handed the Banshees a victory over the majority of teams. In fact, the Banshees put up some downright freakish totals in some stats, if I do say so myself. So I'll still be on the bottom half of the standings but hopefully not for long. And it all comes down to finishing in the top six of nine teams and earning a playoff berth.

The best part of this week is, it just gets better from here. I get the dummy team next and that's a guaranteed 8-1 win with no lineup setting required. That should be enough to propel me up the standings a few spots. So the rest of you losers can either politely step aside and let the Banshees pass or get a lot of something you'll wish you never had!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

the saturday night thing

Perhaps I can actually write a short post now since I have to go somewhere soon. Will be eating out and bowling tonight with some friends...the usual crowd with no commitments on Saturdays. The fellowship is great but we all agree it's kinda funny and sad at the same time, in some ways.

We have often thought of inviting others we don't usually hang out with to come along, but the same issues keep coming up. Who do we invite, since we can't just invite the entire singles group we're in, and not step on any feelings or whatever by leaving some out? How do we cover our bases and make sure we have a good number of people and a good mix such that we all enjoy ourselves? It's like we have to plan stuff to work out just right before we even start. Obviously we haven't figured it out yet because it's still the same few of us with no new faces. Kinda like a guys' night out I guess...never really intended to be that way but it always happens like that nonetheless. I suppose if we were a bit more organized and prepared we'd do some arrangements prior to a few hours before, but that hasn't happened yet. And we'd like to invite some of the women in the group along (not only on this weekly ritual of sorts but on other outings too) but that comes with its own set of complications and pitfalls. But again, there are advantages to spending a few hours with just guys you know well.

Oh well...what's a group of guys to do? It's always enjoyable but I have a feeling we could get more out of it and reach out more if we could just learn how to. Damn social skills, always the problem...

UPDATE: Great time. I had forgotten how cool bowling is. I need to do that more often, and the rest of the guys seemed up for the idea too. Of course I seem to think that about every activity I do nowadays, be it ice skating or dancing or concerts or whatever. It remains to be seen how much of it I'll actually do on a regular basis...I guess the bottom line is I just need to get out more.

Friday, November 11, 2005

a great day for music

Just learned that Scott Stapp, Creed's former frontman, has a solo debut album coming out later this month. Go preview it at his official site and tell me that's not the greatest stuff to come out in a long time. From what I've heard it could be even better than "My Own Prison," which would put it at the top of my all-time favorites list. I've been listening to those clips for about the last hour or so and they keep getting better. I'd say it most resembles "Human Clay" but so far sounds much better--and that's saying a lot. I'll be going well out of my way to pick this on the release date. Heck, I might even do the midnight thing if I can find a store open then.

As with Creed's songs, the lyrics certainly have Christian overtones while stopping short of reading like a praise and worship songbook. For those of us who love strong lyrics with plenty of depth and passion as opposed to the all-positive, touchy-feely type, they're just about perfect. Christians and unbelievers alike can get real meaning from this stuff. And the instrumental music is all there, too. Plenty heavy throughout with some nice softer pieces thrown in to keep it moving. Creed certainly has their own sound, and ever since first hearing it I've thought they had just the right combination of lyrics and pounding instruments. And that continues here. In fact, I may have to change the standard by which I measure other bands by.

It's awesome to see Stapp coming back on the scene. From this new music and the downgrade of Alter Bridge, it's clear that Stapp was the backbone of Creed. He himself is a curious case, having enough knowledge of Christianity to make the lyrics of "My Own Prison" resemble a Christian rock album and yet by his own confession not coming to Christ until late in his stint with Creed (or perhaps after Creed; I don't remember the exact details there). In fact, back in the summer of 2000 I read two cover stories on Creed, in Spin and Rolling Stone, and one feature claimed the band members were Christians while the other said that was a misconception people get from Stapp's lyrical themes. Given the way the band fell apart I'm inclined to believe the latter. But a feature I read in a World magazine a year or so ago made it seem that he had finally found his way after a hard childhood and a few years of wandering. And it's easy to hear the influence his faith had on his new album--at least what I've heard of it.

I've been out of the loop a bit recently with respect to music, and it sure is great to be anticipating an album so much it hurts terribly to have to wait 11 days for it. It reminds me of standing in front of a Wal-Mart CD sampler thing several years ago listening to Creed and not believing what I was hearing, and of course buying the CD on the spot (and listening to it every chance I had the rest of that Christmas break and into the next semester). Much the same experience here except that I have to wait too long to get the whole album.

you sure, jim?

Read something recently in The Week--which has become my source for respectable news coverage--about James Dobson. In general it was a hack job, a bit disappointing from a magazine that usually comes pretty close to presenting both sides equally. But it did get a couple of things right. He is very influential, perhaps more so than any other evangelical, and he has close ties to politics. But it pointed out one area where Dobson makes a spectacular departure from reality.

According to Jim himself, he was saved at age 3. Uhh...what!? Is he serious?? Well, in his words, "I recall crying and asking Jesus to forgive my sins" after his father gave an altar call. So he expects us to believe that at age 3 he had the mental capacity to understand such things as sin and forgiveness, and especially Christ's death. Further, a three-year-old can choose to sin or not to sin on a momentary basis. Even further, that three-year-old has the ability to make a lifelong commitment and hold to it. Ha! Fat freakin' chance. Now admittedly I'm no child psychologist like Dobson, but that one flunks the common sense test by a wide margin.

This reeks of someone knowing he is saved and placing his moment of receiving Christ as far back as he can remember professing allegiance. It makes for a cute story but doesn't do much more than that. To be saved, one must not only know of the salvation he is accepting but also what he is being saved from. The words must be genuine and supported by evidence of the indwelling Spirit. A simple emotional response doesn't do the trick. Dobson's "profession" sure sounds like one based on emotion, and if I may speculate it was probably after one of those heart-tugging appeals laden with loaded words but lacking details on what faith really means and implies.

Don't get me wrong, I still think Dobson's a great guy. He's certainly allowed a mistake here and there, as are all of us. But saved at 3? Give us a break.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

my take on the blackout

I recently participated in a discussion about some aspects of the U.S. power grid, and as in every recent discussion on the grid I've heard, the blackout of 2003 came up. Tthe main presenter--who really knew his stuff, by the way--had something interesting to say about it. The media really hyped the supposed antiquity and reliability of the electrical grid to the virtual exclusion of other issues. But this guy claimed the media overplayed this and grid reliability isn't the huge issue it's made out to be. (I should have known this, with the media's ongoing obsession with flair and scare tactics over real news.) He's probably right; if so then I've had the main cause of the blackout wrong all this time.

As his explanation goes, any piece of equipment, when properly maintained, will last a long, long time. The main issue exposed by the blackout wasn't the age and apparent unreliability of grid components but the cutting back of maintenance and upkeep of utility transmission systems. First Energy had scaled back many basic preventive maintenance operations, including tree trimming, in efforts to save money. And so, when the transmission line that started it all dipped slightly due to heavy loading, it wasn't doing anything too unusual until it came in contact with a tree. The resulting fault tripped a breaker and the domino effect was on. But the problem here wasn't so much the overloading as the presence of a branch so close to the cables. Lines are often loaded at or near capacity or allowed to heat up significantly, especially during peak hours, and no harm is done. Unless, of course, the clearance to allow for this sort of thing isn't maintained. This isn't saying the U.S. power grid doesn't need more care and even some overhauling, but it isn't on the verge of falling apart as some would have us believe.

After all, look at how many components worked just as they were supposed to. The breakers that kept tripping and taking lines out of the network did their job. The lines themselves did what they were supposed to, and even more in many of cases. In my region, fast relay operation on one key interconnect kept our grid operator's territory separate from the affected network and kept the power on for several mid-atlantic states. The vast majority of electrical equipment out there functioned as intended. In fact, the part that didn't work right was the new and advanced computer monitoring system First Energy thought they were using to keep an eye on grid conditions until they realized it was down. Go figure.

So let me lay this out as I understand it. It seems the real root cause here is a lack of attention to the grid by a particular utility and the resulting degradation of some carriers. The cause of that was a desire to save money, and the cause of that was a deregulated environment that encourages utilities to cut corners wherever possible instead of allocating resources for adequate maintenance. Our grid was fine as long as utilities could invest in their systems and keep them in good working order. There were the rare problems we heard about but nothing that wouldn't be expected from unpredictable and unavoidable failures. But in a competitive world who's going to waste money on small stuff when you can use it to gain an advantage over your competitors? So it appears we have a system that works well when given proper care but perhaps doesn't work so well when neglected. Should we be surprised? The bigger question is, who thinks such practices are unique to a lone utility?

So the media might just be right on one thing. There are probably other near-misses out there that could eventually reveal themselves in the form of another event. They're not due to old equipment and poor craftsmanship, but to choices made and risks taken by people trying to turn a profit. The electrical grid was put in place to provide services and was not intended to be a cash cow. Something's gotta give.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

a real coach

Man, three NFL posts in a row. Either I'm on a roll or I need to get out more and come up with some new ideas. But the game last night got me thinking, and this one also ties in with that bit on evangelism back there. For all I can tell, anyway. I don't know the guy too well but he sure gives the appearance of someone who "gets it." And that's always worth writing about.

For those cavedwellers who haven't heard of Tony Dungy, he's the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. I don't think there's anyone in the NFL I respect more than him. While most coaches spend the game yelling at players, arguing with referees, or fretting over each and every play, Dungy just stands over there with the same straight face, seemingly unmoved by what's happening on the field. It's almost like he's not even paying attention. And yet his Colts are the best team in the league and the only one still without a loss. Clearly he's doing something right and has been for years. He may not be the most exciting coach in the league but he's one of the best.

He's a real coach, too, not just a guy that can produce wins. Look at the (lack of) discipline problems the Colts have had over the years. Certainly not all of that can be attributed to Dungy, not with vets like Manning and Harrison around, but I bet a lot of it can. It's been said that a team takes on the personality of its coach and Dungy's personality speaks volumes about how players--and anyone else--should conduct themselves. A guy like that would be easy to follow and trust. Perhaps that's one reason the Colts are a perennial playoff team and why they have a solid reputation on and off the field. Even players you might expect trouble from seem to more or less behave themselves.*

My point here is he's one of those guys that just looks and acts Christian so it should be no surprise that he is. He is the type that you suspect is a follower of Christ long before you know. He's very humble and soft-spoken, to the extent that he's all but unnoticed in a league full of egos and attitude problems. He's not one to run to the mike and preach every chance he gets either. He'll give his opinion when asked, such as when he rightfully chastised the league for its association with the shameless Desperate Housewives ad last year, but I've never known him to get on his soapbox and offer it to anyone who's listening. He's loyal to those around him. He goes about his business and takes whatever praise and criticism people throw at him in stride. And the list goes on. One can't help but wonder sometimes at how great he is despite the fact that his personality runs contrary to so many of the core values of modern professional sports.

Just by his presence, Tony Dungy speaks volumes about leadership and character. He's proof that actions speak much louder than words. The rest of us could learn a lot more from him than how to win football games.

More here, here, and here.

*Case in point: Edgerrin James. The guy's a flake and even he fits into the mold and doesn't hurt his team like so many other basketcases. That says a lot.

Monday, November 07, 2005

didn't you used to be the champs?

Perhaps it's time to step aside, Pats? Just saw the MNF score...time to put that crap about the Colts being overrated to rest. Say what you want about an easy schedule or their offense dropping off a few levels this year, but also know that any team that smokes the Pats in Foxborough is for real, period. Forty points against Belichick's D? There's that Colts firepower we're used to. The defense didn't hold up as well this week, but who needs D when you have 40 points? So the Colts can win with offense or defense, and with both it's a rout. If the rest of the league wasn't on notice before they sure are now.

And to top it all off, I entered the evening behind by 21 points in fantasy football and needing a huge game from Marvin Harrison to even make it interesting. And he came through with 24 points. Needless to say he's my new favorite wide receiver and will be for a while. So the Razorbacks, despite their miniscule points total thus far this season, are 4-5 and only one game behind the division leader. We don't put up lots of points but we get 'em when it counts.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

welcome back, t.o.

It appears the real T.O. we all knew was out there has returned. It was bound to happen eventually. Terrell Owens has always been an emotional land mine, ready to explode as soon as the slightest thing encroached upon his galactic ego. I'm amazed he managed to fool so many* for almost an entire season last year while the Eagles were dominating the NFC, only showing evidence of his true self with his late-season sidelines meltdown with his favorite quarterback to hate. But for the record, I immediately thought that signing was the most obvious dumb move by an organization in years. I'm shocked he didn't stab them in the back much sooner.

But, alas, the honeymoon is over. The Eagles were insane to sign that guy in the first place, and since the Stupid Bowl they've only gotten what they should have seen coming to them. First the bit about McNabb's SB performance, then the contract saga, and now this--a fistfight with a former defensive end. Note to T.O.: If you're gonna pick a fight with a guy to prove a point, choose someone other than a defensive end who made his living off cheap shots at quarterbacks and would love nothing more than to eat you for lunch. You're lucky you didn't get killed.

What a great teammate. What a leader to have in the locker room when the going gets tough. Somebody forgot to tell this pathetic waste of talent that good players are needed most when the team is struggling. If you can catch 12 balls a game and rack up stratospheric yardage while your team is doing well, good for you. But you're paid big money to be there when the team really needs you, not to just add some excitement to a win. Owens has never understood this concept and so it seems so stupid for a Stupid Bowl contender to pick up such a volatile hot potato.

So maybe we should feel sorry for the Eagles and all the crap this guy is putting them through, but then again they're the ones who signed him in the first place. Put your common sense caps on and do your homework next time, guys.

*The one and only Bill Simmons had a great piece on this a while back, using an analogy about a friend dating some chick way out of his league. Sometimes he'll make it work long enough that those around him who know better and were shocked he pulled anything off in the first place actually start believing it could last, and just then the impending disaster hits and the thing blows up in his face. Hilarious. But the same applies here. We all knew T.O. would never hold up on his end of the bargain and yet so many bought into the hype and thought he'd finally found a home in Philly. In hindsight we see how utterly moronic that idea really was.

wise words on evangelism from chuck

Colson is always on the money with any non-theological commentary he offers, and the following piece from a recent BreakPoint is no different. He was discussing Wicca but toward the end moved into unbelievers in general.
So how should we as Christians reach out to Wiccans? For one thing, we can take time to study and understand what they believe and the issues that are really important to them—issues like the environment. We don't have to worship the earth to understand why many Wiccans are so concerned about it. But even more importantly, we must live out our own worldview through our actions, treating all people with love and respect. He whom you would change, remember, you must first love, as Martin Luther King, Jr., taught us.
He brings out two great points: (1) we must know not only what we ourselves believe but also what others believe and how they think to meet them on their ground and reach out to them, and (2) we need to actually live like Christians and not some cut-off sect of society that is too concerned about its own well-being to see the rest of the world. Yet both seem lost to a great degree in today's church.

The first point implies, to me, that an understanding of other worldviews is vital for effective evangelism. This comes not only through study but also through really becoming involved in someone's life. It's not enough to just to tell someone what the Bible says about them and how great their life can be with Christ. If we want to get through to a person and help them truly understand the implications of living for or against Christ, we must understand how and why they're where they are in life. This seems like basic fact to me; if I can figure this out then I know the rest of the church can as well.

Yet it seems that modern evangelism focuses heavily on firehose witnessing and "decisions" as opposed to the kind of deep interpersonal relationships that not only produce Christians but also help them grow. I see so much on techniques for presenting the gospel, when and where to present it, who to present it to, and on and on. This may have some positive results, such as bringing people into the church and exposing them to the Word, but is this the best we can do to care for people and build strong believers? What about just faithfully living out a Christian lifestyle and letting God bring people into his kingdom through your influence in their life? In other words, don't go trying to create witnessing moments where they don't exist. Just focus on living a holy lifestyle and reaching out to others as opportunities present themselves. If God is working in someone's heart they'll eventually seek counsel from those they know to be godly. And when they do they'll be eager to hear and learn, as opposed to mildly interested in something that may or may not be of value to them at the time. This seems to me like a much better method of evangelizing. The numbers on paper might not be as high but I think the number of true believers and especially the spiritual growth and sustaining of those believers would be better.

In the end I just can't buy into today's popular evangelistic movements. God's church is built one person at a time and through strong bonds among believers, not one crowd or stranger at a time through nifty tactics and strategies. I know a lot of good people who support these modern methods so I can't condemn them outright. And I must admit there could be Biblical precedent for them, such as Christ speaking to crowds of inquirers and Peter's preaching at Pentecost. But I don't see how today's "reach out" methodology bears much resemblance to events in the Bible and I certainly don't see how it's benefitting the church a great deal.

The second point rolls in with the first in that we actually need to be in the world and in people's lives to be effective witnesses for Christ. It seems that everywhere we look we can find a Christian version of just about anything--music, novels, clothing, pens, you name it. While some of this is certainly good, is it wise to surround ourselves with Christianity to the extent that we're in a bubble and unable to relate to the world on its terms? I think you can guess my answer. That's one reason people turn from Christianity to false religions and worldviews. If all you see in Christians are people staying in their own groups and creating their own version of what's around them, why should you want to be a part of that? Why not go where people are at least willing to accept you as you are and relate to you on your terms? Speaking from personal experience, it wasn't until I went to college that I met Christians who seemed to be like me, dealing with the same issues in life and willing to accept me without my cutting myself off from my old life first. Until then what I saw was a separate group of people living by some strict set of rules that acted as a wall between my life and whatever they were doing. They seemed to have some sort of purity standard they were constantly trying to achieve and it didn't leave them any room for doing the kinds of normal things I liked to do.

Such is a terribly unwise approach I think. We do need to focus on our own spiritual growth and be careful to not let worldly influences gain a foothold in our life such that they block out holiness. But we don't need to go overboard and start avoiding many ideas or situations simply because they make us uncomfortable. I don't recall God saying to put up our own fortress so the world can't get to us; quite the opposite, actually. It's vital to be able to see and understand the world as it is and not as someone says it is or as one's rosy bubble surroundings portray it as. How can we reach out to a world we don't associate with? So while we may not like some things we must be exposed to them to learn what they are and how to deal with them, especially in regard to others' lives. Examples like secular movies and music are easy to point out; there are countless others.

Overall, we need to do less gimmicky stuff and more caring stuff. The Bible and history both testify strongly to this. Look at Christ's preferred method of evangelizing to people and how much time he invested in the lives of individuals. Then look at how much the spiritual health of the western church has benefitted from modern means over the last few decades. For all this push for new believers, the church has been severely watered down and weakened, and its numbers and influence are decreasing. Do we want that trend to continue? Trust in God's means and calling, not man's.

Last but not least, that MLK Jr. quote is worth repeating. He whom you would change, you must first love.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

on the rise!

Sweet! Just realized I've made the jump to Multicellular Microorganism in the TTLB Ecosystem. Yeah, that's actually a step up. (See the links at the bottom of the left column.) But it also means there must be mystery visitors passing through every now and then. So leave a comment or two, folks! Especially if you haven't before. My fragile ego needs the reminder that people are aware of my existence, you know...

scalito (i hope) and miers

That's a nickname anyone should be proud to have. It's nice to see Bush step up to the plate after that unexplainable Miers blunder. What a freakish pick...I mean, she was so far from a sound choice that one is left to ponder what could have caused so much absurdity. So ponder we shall.

Perhaps the Bushites planned for things to go this way. Maybe as a distractor? Maybe to make us conservatives think he's listening to us and adjusting his actions when we make ourselves heard? Who knows. But there are several reasons he could have wanted things to happen as they did even if he had to burn some short-term political capital in the process. Politically he has emerged stronger than he was before I think, having not only chosen two nominees who give the appearance of trustworthy constitutionalists but also rallied his conservative base and tricked many leftard groups into using some of their arsenal on a decoy. Most importantly, he finally has a fight he knows he can beat the Democraps in after a rough few months.

Or maybe Dubya actually picked Miers in earnest, fully intending for her to be the next Supreme Court justice. We all know Bush is a politician and a cronies-only kinda guy. He's been proven to rely far too much on those he knows and trusts, a la Brownie, which isn't so bad as long as the buddies are capable of doing the jobs he assigns them to. Unfortunately that often hasn't been the case and he's rightfully suffering for it.

To break it down, I see three possibilities here: (1) Bush actually intended for Miers to be his first choice and his plan fell apart, (2) Bush didn't intend for Miers to get to the Court and used her as part of a ploy of some sort, in which case the events were at least somewhat planned, or (3) Bush is just a clumsy buffoon who botched the pick so badly he didn't know what to expect and was basically flying by the seat of his pants until Miers rescued him by dropping out. I'm inclined to think it's (2) but all three are plenty believeable. Tough call.

On to Alito. This guy sure looks solid to me, even better than Roberts. He drew a strong negative reaction from the usual suspects and that's generally a good litmus test to trust in I think. He's a well-known conservative with a long track record of sound legal decisions. He's young enough to have a lasting impact on the Court. He has the soft-spoken, big-stick personality that a good justice ought to have to keep the Court as fair as possible. And best of all, he's a constitutionalist who's willing to go against his personal beliefs in order to uphold an existing law or principle. That's solid stuff.

One thing that particularly impresses me is his record on abortion. Yeah, that's an overhyped issue that all sides like to focus on and base litmus tests on for some stupid reason, but he's shows some real principle here. He went against the abhorrent Casey decision* and yet later sided with the majority to strike down a partial-birth abortion ban on constitutional grounds. Like it or not that's what a judge who truly values the written law of the land ought to do. This proves he can have opinions on an issue and still be a fair and law-abiding judge. Such is invaluable at any level of the judiciary and especially on the Court.

I can't wait until things really get going on this one. Republicans and conservatives are lining up to beat down a Democrapic insurrection, so I dearly hope the Dems try their luck and suffer the political consequences. When even the mild-mannered Frist isn't mincing threats, you know it's on. Reid? Schumer? Billary? Step up and get yours, whinebags. You've had it coming for so long so don't go soft and back down now. Take your medicine and like it.

Enough hot air, let's get this party started!

*If fathers don't even have to be notified before their child is killed, the obvious implication is that they bear no rights or responsibilities with respect to the child. So forced child support should be illegal by extension. It's ridiculous that so many people can ignore such an obvious logical fallacy in our laws. Hey, whatever feels right in each case I guess. What a bunch of bullbleep.

somewhere brian is smiling

Earlier today I read this article about autism perhaps being linked to the extreme male brain. Interesting stuff, and it includes reassurance that there are still academics somewhere in the world who believe that male and female brains are--gasp!--inherently different. For you senseless idiots who think otherwise, take a brief look at world history or preschool children and get back to me on what you see.

Anyway, the point here is that all this stuff I read today about behaviors and such has reminded me of something I read in a Week magazine sometime back. According to the blurb, psychopaths make better lawyers, stock traders, executives, and CEO's than the average person because they are easily able to disconnect their emotions from their decisions. Thus they rely on reason and rationale instead of letting their emotions sway them. (I wouldn't mind having this ability, but I'm not so sure I'd want to be a psychopath. But maybe I already am and so I might as well make use of my hidden strengths.) Assuming this is true, I can confidently predict that Brian will be stinking rich one day. And the good thing about that is he'll use his psycho mind to spend and ration it wisely. Being psychotic has its advantages.

why speeding is allowed

Even encouraged, in a way. That last post reminded me of something I meant to post up here weeks ago. I recently heard a very good argument as to why police don't use technology to crack down on speeding more. The guy doing the talking was a geek who had discussed with the state of New Jersey the possibility of doing some cheap (or so he said) work for them to curb the notorious speeding on Jersey turnpikes. His plan was to use some basic software tools to automatically calculate someone's average speed on the turnpike by dividing the distance between two toll booths by the difference in time between the driver's stops at the booths. If this average is higher than a given value--say, 10 mph above the speed limit--then the state has conclusive evidence the driver was speeding and they ticket him. No police or radar guns are needed, every driver is checked, and every speeder can be fined. But they rejected the offer on the basis that if such a sure-fire system were enacted almost nobody would speed and they'd lose too much ticket revenue. In other words, they actually need us speeders so they can take our money. As the talker put it, that's why police departments have entire units devoted to traffic violations and smaller departments devote such an large amount of their force to clocking speeders on highways.

Whether or not the story is actually true, it makes perfect sense and the logic behind it can be applied anywhere in the country. Speeding tickets are a source of income, plain and simple. The goal isn't so much to protect us drivers or they'd do what's necessary and achieveable to do it. It's not because the police have nothing better to do--unless it's a small town we're talking about--because there are plenty of more heinous crimes taking place daily that police don't even try to stop. It's all about the benjamins, period. And if nobody broke speed limits then where would they get their easy money?

So the next time you get pulled over, just remember that the guy doing the stopping is protecting his own income more than anything else. Comforting, isn't it?

crime prevention, vegas style

I guess since they can't prosecute businesses for grand theft out there, they have to get their kicks somehow. But they found a good way to do it.
Here we have a government official actually proposing some real punishment. "'I'm saying maybe you put them on TV and cut off a thumb,' the mayor added. 'That may be the right thing to do.'" Enough of this slap on the wrist stuff. It's kinda hard to use a spray paint can when ya ain't got a thumb to hold it with, eh? And he goes on to say "whippings or canings should be brought back for children who get into trouble." I like this Oscar Goodman feller. Anyone who drops those lines and then adds "I'm dead serious" just to make sure folks get the idea is one cool dude. Same vein as Tom Tancredo if a bit more extreme. You want to deal with some malefactors? Give 'em something to really be afraid of and they'll play nice. Or at least they'll only break that law once. Okay, they have two thumbs, but no more than twice.

Think about it this way. When I speed (i.e., when I drive) the opposing threat is the negligible chance that I fly by a cop and he pulls me over and he gives me a ticket or warning. Yeah, some deterrent. But if I knew the cops would impound my car if I got caught, I ain't speedin' if there's one cop in the entire state. That's a threat with teeth. Again, if you want to play games and just slow crime down slightly, you impose weak penalties that people scoff at. If you want to stop crime, you give people a good reason to obey the law.

Gotta love that Old World justice, baby. It's fantastic!

see, anger is good

This proves it. See there, all my anger is just my way of staying healthy. If there's much truth to this then I've got at least 120 years in me. Some people eat smart, other people stay active, still others manage their stress well, I get mad. To each his own, right?

But wait, there's more--unfortunately. It's not quite the license to ignore my anger management problem so I'm not out of the woods here yet. The opening statement includes the disclaimer "as long as you keep it below a boil." Darn, that removes me from the pool. And if that's not enough, we later find that "chronic, explosive anger or a hostile outlook on the world is still bad for you." What, me? Explosive anger? Hostile attitude toward just about everything? Nah, never. So it seems this article is talking to those who actually have some control over their temper. Oh well, next...

There are some other interesting bits in there though. The way they did the research is pretty cool. It does, however, lead one to wonder how many poor grad students got the crap beat out of them during these tests. I mean, we know a few of those people must have snapped. I'd have probably been one of the ones who started with disgust then moved into the anger category and finally lost it so badly that my data would have been thrown out for being outside the bounds of previously observed human behavior.

And how about this for telling us what we already know:
So in maddening situations in which anger or indignation are justified, anger is not a bad idea, the thinking goes. In fact, it's adaptive, Lerner says, and it's a healthier response than fear.
Well, ya think? Fear is a negative emotion, period. And righteous anger is good; even the Bible says so. These academics treat that comparison as if the answer is somehow not known. Guess they got thumped on the head a few too many times by some of their subjects.

Finally, in closing we have "Paul Ekman is the master of observing emotions on people's faces. He has even identified rare, super-sensitive people who are expert face readers and can accurately tell when people are lying." Now that would be one crazy cool ability to have. Unlike most of my dream abilities it actually exists...I wonder if one can gain it through practice. I need to meet this guy...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

let the season begin...

Finally! The NBA is here! Not that I'm a big fan of the NBA itself, but with it comes the far more important fantasy basketball season. And after last night's draft the Banshees* are as ready as ever to punish this year's pack of inferiors.

Overall the draft didn't treat me too badly. I'm not the most dominant on paper and I didn't get the Lebron pick, but I ended up with Wade at six (!!!) in the first round and Elton Brand in the second. And Joe Johnson in the fourth should produce too. Not too shabby. My team isn't the most overwhelming in the league but the Banshees could be the toughest to beat. They're stacked to control a few categories, and if I can just scrap for one or two more each week I'll keep winning. Plus, it's the playoffs that really count. I figure I should be able to finish in the top six (out of nine teams) and make it into the championship bracket, and then it's on. The Banshees will be in their element. Blowouts and dominating scores won't count for anything; it'll only be about winning week to week. And that's where the Banshees will shine. The trick worked okay last year and, barring catastrophic injury problems, I expect it will work this year. Banshees in '06, baby!

*That's my team name. For those of you who are tragically unenlightened to the world of Dungeons and Dragons, the Banshee is one of the most feared enemies in the game. Its scream has lethal or near-lethal effects--I don't remember exactly what it does, only that one should avoid hearing it at all costs--so it should fit my team well in that the incessant screaming will come in the form of trash talk. The other teams will get tired of it after they realize they're in over their heads. :)

UPDATE 11/3: The Banshees are off to a very slow start. I take that back; the Banshees are unaware that the season has started and haven't begun playing basketball yet. As it stands now I'm dangerously close to getting blanked 9-0 in the opener, and the underwhelming output of my players so far doesn't give me much hope that they'll close any gaps. Could be a rocky few weeks until I get some guys back from injuries and figure out who stays and who goes. But the season's long and there are plenty of weeks left to make up for the imminent rout. No need to put my hand on the panic button yet...

UPDATE 11/5: Unfreakinbelieveable. The Banshees are right on the edge of getting shut out 9-0 to begin the season. This is just ugly. Or some combination of ugly, pathetic, sick, and disgusting. It seems half my team is injured or otherwise skipping out on games. A slow few weeks I can deal with, but an 0-9 start? That'd be beyond shameful.