Monday, June 30, 2008

Random Thoughts Separated By Ellipses

I've lost 12 pounds on the "diet and exercise" plan. I didn't have to change my lifestyle at all, if you don't count what I eat and my daily schedule. I strongly recommend it both as a new pastor and as someone who has used it with fantastic results...Nine Inch Nails gets me good and angry for my workout...Yesterday I ate Chipotle, ice cream, and a stout beer, and still lost weight. That was a freebie...

I think my new tattoo is my favorite...Maybe some day I'll post pics of all three...Kat Von D is hot...I care less and less every day whether parishioners find out that I have them...I don't get irritated at July 4th like I used to...I think it's because Coffeewife and I get to spend it together these days...

I blatantly stole this post concept from Kamp Krusty...I don't do as much blogreading nowadays...There's a lightning bug on my window...The magnitude of listening to 365 albums over the next year is finally beginning to sink in...Some days, living in the middle of nowhere drives me nuts...Coffeeson gets baptized the end of August...

I really hope that I've matured over the past seven years...I wish I'd told certain people my story sooner...I had a different post up this morning for all of 10 minutes...I hope you didn't see it...My dad did...Coffeewife loves Jon and Kate Plus 8. That show irritates the crap out of me...I have jury duty next week...

You don't need a fancy wedding. Give that money to the homeless instead...I recently read an article noting that more and more people my age are getting M.Divs to help augment careers like social work and less aspire to local church ministry...I couldn't make my annual Conference gathering this past month after I registered, so I just made a $100+ donation to my Conference...So now I've missed out on going to Eden AND Heidelberg this year...

I want to start a new book just because I can't find time to finish the other one...I know how little sense that makes...Our church is going to need a new roof soon...I'm tired of doing this...I think it's time to stop...I wish I had something more profound to write about...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

365 Albums - Week 1

Here we are at the end of Week 1. Here's the rundown of what I heard this week, plus a few notes at the end.

1. Plain White T's, Every Second Counts
- I received this album as a Christmas present and hadn't taken it out of the shrink wrap until this past Sunday morning. This seemed like as good a time as any to give it a listen. Of course, I was well aware of their single, "Hey There Delilah," a staple on every Top 40 radio station. I'd also heard one other song, "Hate (I Really Don't Like You)," on the radio at some point. Otherwise, I'd had no contact with this band's music.

About 45 minutes later, I had become fully aware of why this band appeals to high school girls. Nearly every song features lyrics fretting about, second-guessing, pining for, or rejecting this or that relationship with the emotional depth of a 15-year-old. The aforementioned "Hate" features the study hall note-level chorus, "I really really really really don't like you." The next track, "You and Me" features the gag-worthy refrain, "We make a good you and me." And all of this prosaic tripe set against your garden-variety pop-rock power chords. They even spelled their name wrong. Why do people insist on apostrophes where none are needed? Fail.


2. Kenna, New Sacred Cow - After the musical debacle of the previous day, I wanted to hedge my bets a little and choose something that I had a much better chance at enjoying. I first heard Kenna's song "Hell Bent" my first semester of seminary, when the video was regularly played on MTV2. In fact, hearing the song instantly took me back to my shoebox apartment, with the weather beginning to cool and my own sense of self just beginning to undergo a jarring upheaval that wouldn't right itself for at least a year and a half. For that to be properly told, however, I'll need to write a separate entry.

Musically, Kenna features a combination of rock and electronica, neither of which especially overpowers the other. Kenna himself plays all keyboard/piano parts, and one is able to appreciate this on the understated "Yenah Ababa (Rose)." His lyrics are a vast improvement over the T-apostrophe-s, exploring themes of setting up mental walls to keep others at bay ("Freetime"), trying to keep from allowing carnal pleasure to rule one's life ("Man Fading"), and seeking something stable in which to ground yourself ("Love/Hate Sensation"). I was able to hear "Hell Bent" with fresh ears as the singer tries to come to grips with a new reality: "Naked, broken/My world is crumbling/and I can't find myself/or my way out of here." That speaks perfectly to the beginning of my experience at Eden. It also helps explain my Hess tattoo, if you're still wondering about that.

3. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, This Is Somewhere - I truly had high expectations for this one. Relix Magazine speaks of this band quite highly, and I'd been meaning to check them out for quite a while. Potter and Co. employ a rock-blues-country sound, complete with hints of slide guitar and dirty riffs behind Potter's no-nonsense tone.

That's the good part. I'm surprised that I've been so hung up on lyrics so far, but holy crap. Half of these songs are non-sensical diatribes that seem to be about relationships, or maybe they just rhymed, or maybe they're striving to be profound, or something else. By Track 4, I'd already heard two songs using guns and war as metaphors. On the pseudo-ballad "You May See Me," we're treated to this brilliant couplet: "You got the eyes to look for what you saw/And when you don't win or lose I guess you draw." And how many songs can we write that basically say, "I love you, but it's wrong, but I love you, but it's wrong." I don't know how else to say it: this album annoyed the crap out of me, mostly because I hoped it'd be so much better.

4. Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark - Prior to listening to this CD, I'd only heard the Truckers' song "Let There Be Rock," a tribute of sorts to going to rock shows and the trouble one can get into along the way. These guys (and girl) play their own no-nonsense southern rock, but unlike Potter and the Nocturnals, it's southern rock that means something.

This album is loaded with "day in the life" sorts of tales that are mostly depressing, but can also be quite humorous. The guy in "Two Daughters and a Wife" is wracked with guilt over his family's deaths, while the guy in "The Righteous Path" is trying to keep on the straight and narrow as he balances work, family, bills, and his own sanity. The guy in "Daddy Needs a Drink" uses alcohol as a security blanket while the guy in "The Opening Act" is just trying to make it day to day playing gigs in bars. The Truckers also have a political side, featured on "That Man I Shot" ("That man I shot, I was in his homeland/I was there to help him but he didn't want me there") and "The Home Front" ("Now they're saying on the flat screen/They ain't found a reason yet/We're all bogged down in a quagmire/And there ain't no end to it").

The Truckers chiefly rotate between three songwriters, although two of them take precedence: Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. For this album, I was struck more by Hood's stories; they're the ones that have stuck with me more.

5. Beck, Midnite Vultures - I had two people recommend this one to me, so it had to be good, right? I think so, although what I've already written about lyrics gets muddled when I say that. Let's be honest here: does anyone really know what Beck is singing about most of the time? Take the chorus from "Nicotine and Gravy:" "I think we're going crazy/Her left eye is lazy/She looks so Israeli/Nicotine and gravy." Is this anything other than figuring out what rhymes and running with it?

I'm the type who gives Beck a pass because his unique musical stylings make up for his lyrical weirdness. We have drum machines, horns, slide guitar and banjo...and that's just the first song. Beck will go from hip-hop to rock to bluegrass to '70s R&B in a matter of seconds, if they're not just layered overtop each other. I freaking love that, because he can pull it off. As a total package, Midnite Vultures works for me for that reason. I think that I'd have a tougher time with it if Beck wasn't such a visionary in how he arranges such a diverse sampling of influences (read: if his music was more bland like, oh I don't know, Grace Potter or somebody).

6. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral - I said the other week that I wanted to find some new industrial stuff, so I looked up one of the landmark albums in the genre. This album came out in 1994, which I like to think was my musical-coming-of-age year. It was the year I really got into rock, started teaching myself how to play the drumkit, started dreaming of being in a band. I never really got into NIN during this period - I'd only heard "Closer" and "Hurt." Right when I was about to seriously give this group a listen around 1996, I became a super Evangelical-type Christian and threw away a lot of my "stumbling block" music without really thinking about it. So there's a lot of baggage that comes up as I revisit this album and finally give it a complete listen.

This is definitely an album that super Evangelical-type Christians would consider a "stumbling block." Trent Reznor is not a G-rated guy. Against heavy distortion and drums, he sings/screams about how our desires/addictions control us ("Mr. Self Destruct"), declaring God dead because of atrocities committed in God's name ("Heresy"), a dramatic change in psyche ("The Becoming"), and feeling burnt out and wanting a greater purpose ("I Do Not Want This"), all sprinkled with f-bombs along the way.

Yeah, this would've gone into the burn-box if I'd bought it back in the day. In that sense, I'm glad that I waited until now to listen. Reznor presents plenty of themes to wrestle with and think about, but his presentation isn't going to appeal to everyone. For me, at this stage in my life so many years removed from the kid handing over a big stack of his CDs for the Bonfire O' Righteousness, I hear what Reznor is doing and I like it.

7. Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde - Yeah, I just went from Nine Inch Nails to Bob Dylan. How you like that? Anyway, I tracked down this staple Dylan album to get a better idea of why he's so revered, and I'll be honest...I was very surprised at just how much I liked this album. Seriously. I constantly make fun of his voice, and the words really don't always make that much sense. But here is where music's intangible elements were able to make a connection. I like the way he puts his stuff together. He's got a folk-blues style that caught me off guard with how much I enjoyed it.

We start with "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," with its refrain, "Everyone must get stoned." The song itself has a certain "stoned" quality to it. "Pledging My Time" made me want to rush out and learn how to play the harmonica. "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" looks back over regrets and causes of a break-up. "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" tells a former love that he's not going to take back someone the singer no longer trusts. And all of it against the backdrop of tight arrangements featuring guitar, harmonica, and organ.

I can't get over how much I connected with this album. I just figured that it'd be a token listen of a "classic," and I could just move on. This greatly surpassed my expectations. I certainly "get" Dylan much better than I did before, and I'm going to seek out some of his other stuff.

Album of the Week: Kenna, New Sacred Cow
Song of the Week: Kenna, "Hell Bent" (it seems like a copout, but I gained a whole new appreciation for it here)
Lyric of the Week: "I used to hate the fool in me, but only in the morning/Now I tolerate him all day long." - Drive-By Truckers, "Perfect Timing"
Learn Punctuation, Morons: Plain White T's

Friday, June 27, 2008

Summer Reading Meme

I've been hitting my 365 Albums project pretty hard (Week 1's selections posted tomorrow), plus my new little housemate doesn't like me to get in more than maybe ten pages of a book read at a time. So here comes the RevGals' Friday Five to remind me how neglectful I've been of my reading the past week or more.

1) Do you think of summer as a particularly good season for reading? Why or why not? I do quite enjoy sitting outside in the early evening with a book and beverage, and church stuff usually lightens up. This summer, however, hasn't really produced opportunities for the former, partially because the latter hasn't been true. Also, again, there's the matter of Coffeeson wanting me to pay attention to him. So usually, yes. So far this year, no.

2) Have you ever fallen asleep reading on the beach? I don't read on the beach, but I have nodded off while reading in bed or on the couch.

3) Can you recall a favorite childhood book read in the summertime? The one that I can remember is There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom by Louis Sachar. And lots of Christopher Pike.

4) Do you have a favorite genre for light or relaxing reading? I greatly enjoy collections of short stories. Also, do the Sandman comics count as a genre?

5) What is the next book on your reading list? I've been reading Founding Brothers for weeks now (Coffeeson, ten pages, yadda yadda). When I finally finish that, I'm going to re-read High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

This Day in History

Date: June 25, 1957
Scene:
A group of church members gathering in Cleveland, Ohio


Guy: All right, everyone. We've pretty much worked everything out except one detail. What shall we call this new church of ours? I propose that, since we are a newly united church, we should call ourselves the United Church of Christ.

Second Guy: Um...pardon me for a second.

Guy: Yes, you'd like to speak to the name?

Second Guy: Yeah, about that. Don't you think that if we called ourselves that, people might confuse us with the Church of Christ?

Guy: Why would people do that? It's a totally different church.

Second Guy: Well, yes, but Church of Christ, United Church of Christ...they're pretty similar.

Guy: You answered your own question. Clearly, our name has the word "United" in front of it.

Second Guy: But people might not get that they're different.

Guy: Of course they're different. They're just the Church of Christ. We're the UNITED Church of Christ.

Second Guy: I'm just saying that maybe we should think about something more distinctive...

Guy: We'd have the "United" in front, plus we use organs. No one could ever confuse the two.

Second Guy: I don't know, man...they seem pretty similar to me...

Guy: Not possible. People will be able to tell the difference. Our own members, non-members, the media, the governor of Connecticut...they'll all easily recognize that we're not the same and always call us by our proper name.

Second Guy: I'm not so sure...

Guy: Of course they will. UNITED Church of Christ. It's can't-miss. We'll never ever have to explain to anyone that they're different.

Second Guy: But is adding an extra word going to be enough? They still seem really close...

Guy: All in favor of "United Church of Christ" as our new name, say "Aye!"

Everyone Else: Aye!

Happy birthday, UNITED Church of Christ.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Open Forum: The Pastor With the Visible Tattoo

All posts are open for comments, but Open Forum posts especially ask for feedback from readers...

I've been meaning to write this entry for a year or so, and finally got around to doing it.

There should be no question in the minds of my readership that I am a tattooed pastor. For many, the phrase "tattooed pastor" is an oxymoron, which is part of the reason I love having them so much.


Anyway, my tattoos are not in places that people would be able to see them unless I wanted them to. And as I think about future additions to my body art, I've considered a couple places that would be more likely to be seen if I were to wear shorts or short sleeves. This raises a dilemma for me, because while I believe that tattoos open doors for me as a pastor, I also wonder what doors would be shut with a tattoo in a more visible area.

Thankfully, I came across a new blog earlier this year authored by a Lutheran pastor calling himself Lutherpunk, who does have at least one tattoo that is visible if he wears short sleeves. He writes of his experience in part:

It is interesting how people react to me. The people who know me don’t see a disconnect. Take my tattoo artist: he knows that I am minister and yet he spends hours working on my arms and doesn’t think it odd, just a little different. Most of my parishioners are the same way. They have just sort of become accustomed to all the ink. What has been interesting about that is that I have been told by some parishioners that they feel much more free to discuss some real struggles with me that they wouldn’t have brought to clergy in the past because of fear of being judged. I recently I had a long conversation with a former vice squad officer who has been going through a slow process of confessing the things that he did as part of his job. It is nice that, in some ways, the tattoos actually seem to break down some of the traditional barriers that may be erected between clergy who are often perceived as holier-than-thou and the people. What they care about is that I am there for them, that I lead faithfully, that sort of thing.

For me, the bolded part says it all. It has been my experience that every member of my congregation who has discovered that I sport tattoos has reacted one of two ways: 1) impressed acceptance, or 2) shock that a pastor of all people would have one, followed by impressed acceptance. This comes with one exception, if one can call it that: I once purposefully wore my Evil Skull Tattoo Shop t-shirt to choir practice, which drew some befuddled reactions from a couple people...however, it was my impression that they were reacting more to the "Evil Skull" part, and I was not asked directly about my own tattooed state:

"You don't have an evil skull tattoo, do you?"
"Not of an evil skull, no."

Another church member got me a Miami Ink ballcap and t-shirt for Christmas this year. This was one of the "impressed acceptance" people, obviously.

Even so, there is a certain stigma surrounding those with visible tattoos, mainly those who get them on their forearms or wrists (moreso those with tats on their necks, but there's no way I'm doing that). Tattoos in general carry an image of low class, or is associated with danger, debauchery, or violence. I once participated on a "conservative" Christian forum and painstakingly tried to counter peoples' ideas that tattoos are automatically a sign of sin, sex, drug use, gang membership, and any number of other taboo behaviors with little positive result. I wonder about this stigma as it applies in my own context and any and all future contexts in which I serve. Two thoughts comfort me in this area.

First, I've been where I am for three years now, so people know me well enough to perhaps not react as strongly, if at all.

Second, would I really want to serve in a place that would have such a negative reaction to a tattoo on my arm (and that's the visible one!)?


Here's what prompted my thinking about this to begin with: picture a younger couple that has barely set foot in a church before they began hunting around for a venue for their wedding. They call me and ask if they can set something up, and I give them the lowdown about fees and required pre-marriage meetings. They're okay with that, if for no other reason than as a slightly annoying hoop they have to jump through. They've otherwise experienced the church to be a silly, irrelevant, or judgmental place. They walk in for their first session with me, and there I am in a short-sleeve shirt. As we begin talking, the groom does a double-take as he notices something on my wrist. And something about noticing this relaxes him, because it helps counter his preconceived notions about pastors and even churches.

So really, this is one stigma against another. The opened doors vs. the closed ones. I wonder to which one I give the most leverage.

It's also probably important to mention that I put a lot of thought into what I get. I generally go years in between ink sessions. I don't get tattoos just to get them. So if something did end up in a more visible spot, it would be something I really believe in and because I thought the placement "worked." It wouldn't be just a matter of asking what I can get on my arm so that random people think I'm cool. Know what I mean?

Anyway, have at it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pop Culture Roundup - Farewell Edition

I haven't read any further in my book and I haven't seen any movies this week. In a way, it's fitting that this is the last one. Seems that having a 2-month-old doesn't allow me to crack off a book a week any more. I also used to be about music the way I've been more recently about books anyway. When the shift happened, I don't know. But I'm glad I'm going back. Music has played a longer and stronger role in my life anyway. But I'll write more about that as we get into the new thing.

As I mentioned the other day, this past week I had a strong urge to listen to "Round Here" by Counting Crows, so I popped in August and Everything After, and ended up listening to the entire album as I began to remember how good it is. Coffeeson was in my arms for pretty much the entire thing. He fell asleep as I sang "Round Here." I'll have to remember that. The next day I put in Recovering the Satellites, thinking this might be a full-fledged appreciation for Counting Crows happening, but it's not nearly as good. I like "A Long December" and a few others, but they decided to feature more electric guitar on this one and it's kind of a letdown after listening to AaEA. It's the same reason why I stopped buying Jars of Clay's later albums.


I've also been listening to "Weird Al" Yankovic's Straight Outta Lynwood this week. It's his typical mix of parodies, originals, and the token polka. The polka, as always, is good. His parodies, for the most part, are solid as well. This time around, we get "White & Nerdy" (Chamillionaire's "Ridin' Dirty), "Canadian Idiot" (Green Day's "American Idiot"), "Do I Creep You Out" (Taylor Hicks' "Do I Make You Proud"). His originals are always hit and miss, though. "I'll Sue Ya" is a rap-rock satire of frivolous lawsuits ("I sued Dell Computers 'cause I took a bath with my laptop and now it doesn't work") and "Don't Download This Song" is a "We Are the World"-type song parodying how upset artists get about their music being downloaded ("How else can I afford another solid gold Humvee?"). The rest are mediocre to outright bad.

I've also been listening to Roger Waters' In the Flesh, a live concert CD from 2001. He plays a lot of the classic Floyd stuff, mostly from Animals, Wish You Were Here, The Wall, and Dark Side of the Moon. As I listened, I thought to myself, "Would I rather see Roger Waters in concert solo, or Pink Floyd featuring today's members (not that they've really done anything since 1994)?" And I have to say that I'd take Waters. This is a good concert.

Around the web, I tried to think of something profound to say, this being the end of a 3 1/2-year run of the Pop Culture Roundup. But all I could find was
a video of a dog singing to the Chemical Brothers. Enjoy. And thanks for the memories.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

365 Albums - The Guidelines

As I prepare to embark on this musical adventure, I've come up with some general rules.

1. No albums by bands I'm already a huge fan of.
I think that it'd be a copout for me to listen to a bunch of Dave Matthews, Decemberists, Gov't Mule, Five Iron Frenzy, and so on. The only exceptions to this rule are albums by these artists that I don't already own and/or that I just haven't absorbed. An example of this would be Five Iron Frenzy's last studio album, The End is Near. I often listen to the included recording of their last concert, but have only listened to the album maybe twice.

2. No compilation albums. This includes, but is not limited to, Greatest Hits, soundtracks (excluding original scores), burned mixes, samplers, etc. Sadly, this also includes live albums. I went back and forth about that one, but when it comes down to it, most live albums feature a string of an artist's hits with some other stuff peppered in. So basically, full studio albums only.

3. Albums from formerly favorite artists are acceptable, so long as it's been years since I've listened to it.
I figure that enough time has passed that I can listen to it with fresh ears. An example of this might be dc Talk's Jesus Freak. I used to play it non-stop on my stereo, but I've probably listened to it twice in the last seven years.

4. I reserve the right to shut off an album prior to its completion if I find it unbelievably boring, annoying, craptastic, etc.
But I receive full credit for the effort. And I have to listen to at least five songs before I can exercise this right.

And that's all I could come up with. I'll start on Sunday. And keep the recommendations coming. I've looked up a few of them already.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

365 Albums - The Experiment

So I got a strong craving to listen to "Round Here" by Counting Crows this week. I couldn't tell you why, but I really wanted to. I dusted off my August and Everything After CD, and was surprised by how good I forgot the entire album was.

I do that a lot. I'll listen to an album over and over for up to several years, and then forget about it. It will sit on my shelf, unappreciated.


Everyone, it seems to me, does this to a certain extent. They "outgrow" certain music, or their tastes change, or new favorite albums overshadow past favorite albums. And sometimes, people just get in musical ruts. They listen to the same 15-20 albums over and over for the most part, with new stuff shuffling in and out every once in a while.


Note that I have not fully transitioned into the "iPod age," where you can download songs and mix them however you like, rather than entire albums. For me, something gets lost in the experience. I mean yeah, I was all about mixtapes back in the day and enjoy mixed CDs today, but there's still something about an album start to finish that helps create the experience. Context, man. Context. The other trap is just having all the hits downloaded and missing out on some unknown gems.


Anyway, my re-discovery of August and Everything After coupled with my realization of my own rut brought a question to my mind: what else have I forgotten, or never experienced, because of this rut?

Which leads me to my next crazy scheme.


For the next 365 days, I will listen to an entire album a day. Some stuff on my shelf I've neglected, and new stuff I've never heard. Some stuff I've always been curious about, some stuff I didn't want to give a chance to begin with. Some stuff I've only read about in Relix magazine, some stuff I missed out on during my Christian music phase. Some new stuff, some really really old stuff. Some stuff I forgot I had and some stuff I wonder why I have.

365 albums over the next year.

It'll involve a lot of trips to the public library and raiding friends' collections.

I think there'll be some stories to tell along the way, not just about the particular albums, but also in that way that music has about conjuring emotions and past memories and invites reflection and reaction. In other words, I think this will be as much a spiritual journey as it will be a musical one.

I'll blog my weekly selections, and any stories that come up with them.

In conjunction with this, I have to do one other thing.

Since I'll be blogging this little experiment, that means that the end of an era is approaching.

We will say goodbye to the weekly Pop Culture Roundup. After 3 1/2 years of it, it was probably time for a change anyway. It never seemed to be a particularly popular feature. But, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't still do my year-end roundup.

I figure that the fun will start this Sunday.

P.S. I'm open to recommendations, too. And I'll frequently ask for them throughout this thing.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Standing Inside a Concession Booth with a Hot Dog in My Hand

Note: if anyone can name the song referenced in the title, I'll mail you a cookie.

It was a weekend that put a few things into perspective.


Friday night, a group from my church ran a concession stand at Progressive Field. The Indians invite groups in to do this as a fundraiser - we get a base amount plus a percentage on what we sell. We're signed up for 12 games total; I think Friday was number four, and the first of four games that I'll help with.


The game didn't make it out of the first inning before it started downpouring. Our group was in a part of the park (nosebleeds along the third base line up in the corner) where we could basically watch it roll in. We had some steady business before the game and during the delay...all two hours and 43 minutes of it. We were finally told to start closing down our booth, even though the game hadn't been called.


Eventually, as our group was allowed to disperse, it was revealed that the game was scheduled to start back up again shortly after 10:00. As I made my way toward the exit, I thought to myself, "How awesome of a time would I have if I tracked down an open beer stand and just sat up in the nosebleeds, watching this game to its probable 1:00 a.m. finish?" What a summer memory that would have been.


Pre-Coffeeson, I probably would have. But I had to get home.


Saturday morning, I sit down to check my e-mail. I get one from the 20/30 Clergy Network, a UCC network of young hipster doofuses like me. There is a picture there from some gathering or other that includes two of my partners in crime from Eden, evidently taken at a pub someplace. And I think, "I remember those days, and I can even imagine these two interacting with whoever all these other people are." And I think back to when, at the drop of a hat, it was possible to head out and do that.


Pre-Coffeeson, I would have. Now, I'd have to make proper arrangements first.


The rest of Saturday morning was spent with Coffeeson in my arms. He actually has more and more to say, most of it variations on the word "Goo." He exclaims it, he sighs it, he yawns it, he says it conversationally, he squeals it. And over the past week in particular, I'll be sitting at the office or in a meeting or wherever else, and I can't wait for the next time to hear his little chatter. I think about those "goo"s a lot.


Do I lament missed opportunities, ones I could have taken before Coffeeson came along? Yeah.


Do I regret, in any shape or form, the fact that he's here? Absolutely not.


Am I more limited as a father? Sure.
But "limited" isn't the best word, and I might even suggest that that word is used more by people dreading the thought of having children.

"Changed" is a much better word. Because for every outing that I give up, there's a smile, a "goo," a look of curiosity that I have the chance to see or hear. I may be limited in one sense, but at the same time I'm experiencing something else entirely.
That's not to say that I miss these other things. It just takes some creativity and discernment about how to keep some of them around.

Some. Not all. Let's be honest.


But that's enough.

Something else that I saw at that game on Friday night while standing in that concession both were all the fathers and sons there together. These were kids 4, 5, 6 years old with their first mitts and their little Indians gear, perhaps getting their first taste of a ballpark hot dog and seeing the field in person for the first time.

And I sh*t you not, I teared up a little. Because it made me think of the day when that will be us.

No last-minute chance to stay for a late game, but there will be a chance in just a few years to come with my son.

"Limited" isn't the right word.

"Changed" is.

"Blessed" is even better.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day + 6 Years of Marriage

I can tell you this, that if I'd married some rosy dame and she had given me ten children and they had each given me ten grandchildren, I'd leave them all, on Christmas Eve, on the coldest night of the world, and walk a thousand miles just for the sight of your face, your mother's face. And if I never found you, my comfort would be in that hope, my lonely and singular hope, which could not exist in the whole of Creation except in my heart and in the heart of the Lord. That is just a way of saying I could never thank God sufficiently for the splendor He has hidden from the world--your mother excepted, of course--and revealed to me in your sweetly ordinary face.
-From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Friday, June 13, 2008

Pop Culture Roundup

This week I started reading Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis, a book about America's "Revolutionary Generation:" Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, and Madison, and some of their actions in the earliest years of the U.S. Essentially, Ellis argues that they were far from being of like mind as they led the country's organization, and that the disagreements that they had about personal liberty vs. national oversight were thus woven into this country's fabric. I'm not too far into it yet.

I've honestly never been a huge fan of the Shrek movies. I thought that the first one was pretty good, with its jabs at Disney movies and general send-up of classic fairy tales. I found the second one to be a lot like the first, except different jabs and slightly different send-up, but basically the same schtick. I had little to no interest in seeing Shrek the Third, figuring it to be the same thing a third time around. Well, we watched it the other night, and I was right. This time we add Justin Timberlake voicing Arthur (as in the eventual King Arthur) and Eric Idle as Merlin in Prince Charming's SECOND attempt to rule Far Far Away. There is a funny bit with Pinocchio trying not to lie and a clever reference to one of Julie Andrews' (voice of Fiona's mother) most notable roles, but otherwise it's Same Shrek, Different Day. Meh.

When I first heard that Hairspray was being made into a movie, I asked, out loud, to anyone who'd listen: "Why?" Admittedly, I didn't know anything about the musical, but went ahead and assumed that I'd probably feel about it the same way I generally feel about Grease: cheesy, annoying, ultimately pointless, pop culture won't let it die, and John Travolta is in it. I caught part of it on HBO yesterday, and while it was indeed cheesy and slightly annoying, it actually had a great message about racial integration. I was surprised. Perhaps someday I will watch the entire thing.

When I was in college and before Heidelberg built their snazzy new fitness center, I would work out in the athletic center weight room. Of course, this place was heavily populated by football player/wrestler types, and we would listen to Loud Meathead Music while lifting. As I've returned to a regular routine, I find that such Loud Meathead Music gets the blood pumping more, so I've been listening to my scant collection of industrial metal, which hasn't been updated since college: a lot of Circle of Dust and Klank. It gets the job done. And I'm on the lookout for some newer stuff, too *coughChicagopeoplecough*.

Around the web, the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, is slowly making the transition to his new blog, Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. Check it out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Small Sips: Church as Spiritual Community, A convenient rapture website

Jan at A Church for Starving Artists writes:

When people join a church to be served instead of to serve, the church's most basic identity is diminished. And already our congregations are confused.
  • There are churches that are basically social communities offering great opportunities for meeting new people and nurturing friendships.
  • There are churches that are basically wholesome values communities, teaching adults and children traditional civic values.
  • There are churches that are social services communities housing the homeless and feeding the hungry.

While there is nothing wrong with nurturing friendships or teaching people to be solid citizens or caring for community needs, the church is a spiritual community in which we gather to support and equip each other to serve the world in the likeness of Christ.

Jan makes a great point that churches miss too often, that being what they're supposed to be at their core: communities of Christ's disciples. The fellowship and service that she mentions, it should be noted, can be and are a part of that, but I think that churches need to be more intentional about thinking about why they do it. Is it because it's "a nice thing to do," or because Jesus calls us to do it?

Kamp Krusty presents something from the Fundy Theatre of the Absurd that I had to quote in its entirety:

Q: How do I witness to my hell-bound friends after I'm raptured?

A: With this website.

Q: And does it automatically send out emails to my friends six days after the rapture?

A: Yes.

Q: And do the emails tell my friends that I got raptured, so that's why I didn't show up for pilates, and yes, you can borrow my iPod now?

A: Yes.

Q: And does it only charge me only $40 a year to reach my loved ones for Christ?

A: Yes.

Q: And can we edit our own outgoing memos, to say what we really mean, like, say, "RE: Boo Ya"?

A: Yes.

Q: Could the post-rapture, auto-send feature fail, thereby sending false "I love you, but I've been raptured, and you've been left behind" emails to the person currently sitting next to me in the cubicle?

A: Yes, quite easily.

Q: Is this for real?

A: It's for real.

Q: And, like Annie Dillard, do we sometimes wonder why God doesn't just blow our dancing bear act to smithereens?

A: Every day.

I don't really have anything to add. He pretty much said it all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Meme About Stuff

There really is more actual content coming, but I've yet to be able to sit down and compose it.


1. What was I doing 10 yrs ago?
I had just finished my first year of college and was off to work in an incubator factory for the summer. It was actually one of my favorite jobs that I've ever had.

2. What are 5 things on my to-do list for today (not in any particular order):

~Take Coffeeson to the doctor for some fun shots
~Start writing my sermon
~Take communion to a homebound church member
~Excercise
~Find a ride to Progressive Field for Friday

3. Snacks I enjoy:

~Doritos
~Reese's cups

~Diet Mountain Dew

4. Things I would do if I were a billionaire: Pay off loans, pay off other people's loans, start a Coffeeson college fund, give to NAMI and AIDS research, buy a laptop

5. Three of my bad habits:

~Worrying
~Putting off returning voicemails and e-mails
~Cracking my knuckles

6. 5 places I have lived:

~Farmington, MI
~Brimley, MI

~Galien, MI

~Tiffin, OH

~St. Louis, MO

7. 5 jobs I have had:

~Library page
~Plumbing department in an incubator factory
~Heidelberg College Ambassador (read: tour guide and student go-fer)
~Camp counselor
~Pastor

8. 5 peeps I wanna know more about: The fact that the word "peeps" was used here absolves me from having to list anybody.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Terrains of the Heart

There are places on earth that mean more than words and pictures can explain. Writer Willie Morris called them "terrains of the heart." They are the points on our personal maps where we find our treasured memories and replenish our souls. For me, that was Tiger Stadium. If you're lucky, you have such a place, too, and perhaps you will understand. - from the Introduction to The Final Season by Tom Stanton

Since reading this passage, I've been trying to come up with my own list of possible "terrains of the heart." I'm not sure what to include because the criteria are a little fuzzy to me. For instance, does the place need to hold eternal value, i.e., my soul is replenished every time I go there, even years later?

I think that it has to do with the company you keep while you're there; that each "terrain of the heart" in its physical, material form has a shelf life. Certainly Stanton wouldn't go to Tiger Stadium today and feel replenished. It's an empty shell now, awaiting demolition. There's no team, no people, no activity. It holds memories, yes, but I imagine that it doesn't do for Stanton today what it used to do for his soul. It's changed too much.

For Stanton, Tiger Stadium before the end of the 1999 season was and is his "terrain of the heart." Today, the physical structure is something else. But the memory can still be something more. That being said, I'd probably name three places of different periods of my life as my own "terrains of the heart:"

Tenafly, New Jersey circa 1988-1992. As I mentioned a few days ago, I spent many summers at my grandparents' house with my cousin growing up. I looked forward to that trip all year. The situation there has changed...my grandmother died last year, and my cousin and I have both grown and changed. I still look forward to visiting, but for perhaps different reasons than for what those summers held for me.

Heidelberg College circa 1997-2002. This was certainly a "terrain of the heart" while I was a student, and slightly afterwards while a good deal of friends were still attending, and even to a certain extent while my brother was a student. During my summers I would look forward to returning, to seeing friends and being a part of the campus culture. Now I don't know anyone, save a few active members of my fraternity whom I've met at alumni functions. I'm only truly interested in returning if people I know will be there.

St. Louis, circa 2001-present. I went back and forth about including 2001. That's for another entry. This is my current "terrain of the heart." I was really bummed that I couldn't go back for the annual Herbster event this year and all it would have included: catching up with friends and colleagues, hanging out at our usual haunts, and so on. But as I've alluded, how much of this has to do with the people? Would I be as excited about returning to St. Louis without anyone from my usual group there?

Where are your "terrains of the heart," past or present?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Pop Culture Roundup

What better way to jump back into things than my signature flavor? Well, probably lots of things. But this is the one I chose.

Over the past week, I read two books. The first was The Final Season by Tom Stanton. Stanton is a sports reporter who went to all 81 home games during the last season played at Tiger Stadium. He chronicles not only the major happenings of the games (including every score), but also the larger events around the city as it collectively anticipates the closing of an iconic ballpark. Stanton relates historical snippets of major events and figures and interacts with many of the stadium's staple characters. He also weaves this around what he experiences within his own family during this time as he attempts to reunite his father with some long-lost uncles, and stay connected to his oldest son who has hit That Age where he starts to pull away for a time. This was a fantastic book, one of my favorites of the year so far. It's about mourning a ballpark that was known to many not just for memories of games played, but also for memories of families who bonded and experiences shared. I could easily relate, as my earliest baseball experiences were at Tiger Stadium. Reading this made me sorry that I wasn't more intentional about experiencing a snippet of that final season for myself.

I also read Brian McLaren's latest, Finding Our Way Again, which is actually an introductory book into a series on spiritual practices. McLaren was apparently charged with writing about why these disciplines are important to a life of faith, and I think he does a great job here. Essentially, McLaren's argument is that spiritual practices prepare us for living out our faith, becoming active agents of what we contemplate by ourselves or in community. He doesn't spend a lot of time explaining specific practices (that's for the later books), but instead explains why they're necessary. In the next week or so, I hope to get a full review up of this one.

We watched National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, which definitely wasn't great. It features the same formula: a mix of historical factoids strung together to create a treasure hunt while staving off the bad guy who wants it for himself. This time, Gates wants to clear his family's name after his ancestor is implicated in the assassination of Lincoln. The bad guy's motivation is only really mentioned in passing and thus I had a hard time caring, and the whole movie felt rushed and forced.

On television this past week, I watched this happen:


'Nuff said.

Our minivan has XM radio, and while listening to a punk/ska station I heard a song by a band called The Blue Moon Boys, whom I'd call "new rockabilly," or something. I don't know why this
band stood out to me during an entire show dedicated to this style of music (actually, the term the host used was "Hee Haw Hell")...maybe because it's the one I remembered. It made me want to go out and rent the movie Swingers.

Around the web...I haven't been on the web that much. So I got nothin'.