Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Funniest Man I Know

I've been privileged to know and be friends with some extremely gifted, brilliant, engaging, and fun to be around people in my life. OK, so not many hit ALL of those traits (save for my trusty 7-or-so on again, off again blog readers!). But I've been fortunate to have people in my life that I enjoy, and that I think enjoy my company as well.

I met Tony Johnson many years ago. My dad coached the East Ward Greenwave football team, and Tony and I probably met as 5th graders. He actually attended East Ward school; I went elsewhere, but could play for the mighty Greenwave only because my dad was the coach. Tony and I got to know each other from that experience, and a small group of us hung out together off & on throughout Jr. High and High School. And he's always been the funniest man I've ever met.

Granted, its been since approx. 1986 since we've talked. I did attempt to find him once (go ahead, try Googling "Tony Johnson" and see just how many come up), but lost track. Last week, we both managed to make it to our 20th High School Reunion. It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I went and reconnected with that great group of people.

I didn't realize the Kramer-esque life that my friend Tony had led for the last 20 years, many of those spent as a college student! I knew he was nuts, I just assumed he probably had left some of that behind and moved on with his professional life (which turns out to be an oral surgeon).

Well, he has moved on with the aforementioned professional life, but he's still nuts. And still the funniest man I know.

When time permits, I will attempt to tell his story that started with this line: "Then there was the time my mom tried to poison the Japanese guys." It's a true story that could easily have happened in the apartment across the hall from Jerry Seinfeld. My jaws still hurt from laughing!
As for the reunion itself, it was fun. It was my first such event, having missed the previous one at 11 years (please, no Kentucky jokes...there were reasons for having it year 11, some of which have to do with the aforementioned friend who didn't realize he was class president and didn't pursue reunion plans...), and have had conflicts with the college reunions. So I was skeptical as most people are, but very impressed with our class (at least with the 30 or so who could come), and very glad I went.

I can't say that I've burned bridges with those from my past, but I didn't do so hot at keeping them active. I have lost track with many from HS and college, and wish now that I had done better. I'll make some efforts to keep communication lines open with these newly-discovered friends, and look for opportunities to "touch base" more often. Life is meant to be lived in community with others, so I'll do that better!

Polarizing People 101

I've come to the conclusion that the easiest way to completely polarize people is to become the pastor of a mega-church. OK, so the "becoming a pastor of the mega-church" is admittedly difficult. But it appears that once you're there, you become a lightning rod of criticism. Not from the secular media or those on the outiside (though they do tend to look for faults), but mostly from the Christian community.

I suppose its the "if you're growing, you must be doing something wrong" mindset. I've heard more than a few make this arguement over the years. That these churches must be compromising truth in some way to explain such growth.

I'm not saying that there isn't some validity to those concerns. I sat and watched Mr. Osteen in the inaugural session for his church in the former Compaq Center in Houston, and still have concerns. He's a solid motivational speaker, says some awfully happy things, might reference scripture once in a sermon (only if it backs up his point...not the other way around...and only if its a 'happy' scripture...none of this suffering for the cause stuff), but I can't help but feel he's trying to persuade me to go for the sports car with the bucket seats and finance it through GMAC. After all, no time like right now for my best life, right?

I do know many who beat these guys up, and have made some observations...

  • often, its pastors themselves who are the ones being critical...and often, their churches aren't large or influential or noticed
  • usually, their basis of criticism is based on news reports or other Christian-slanted publications that help them decide what they think, not any personal experience
  • many of the Christian critics have never visited these churches, talked to a member, or read a book from the author/pastor in question

Suppose we should be a little less critical? If we do choose to speak up (it is America, we should hold each other accountable, etc.), think maybe doing our homework a little might be in order? Actually find out what Willow, Saddleback, Southeast Christian and Lakewood (easiest - they're on 3 of my 9 TV stations...) are all about first?

Here are a couple of fascinating articles if you have the time. The first one is rather lengthy. Rick Warren speaks to a bunch of journalists about myths regarding the mega church. A couple of others are on the panel, and then they field questions. It's long, but interesting. Here's a guy who's legitimately making some things happen. But he is extremely polarizing! Before you click to read the rest of the article, read a few of the "responses" at the end. People seem awfully mad at Rick (perhaps they're theory). Hey, if my book sales were such that I could pay the church back for all of the salary they've given me, and could work salary free, and could live off 10% of my book income and give 90% of it away, I would do it too (or would I?) Anyway, read this if you have time at Rick Warren on Myths of the Mega Church (and other things); they print a little of the article, and you have to hit a link to go to the rest. Interesting thoughts nonetheless.

The second article that floated through this week regarding the 50 Most Influential Churches. A much shorter read, but full of interesting stuff, and plenty of pastors who "polarize" pretty well. Enjoy; interested to know what you think!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


I played in a tennis tournament Sunday, the first one in my life. I almost died.

A little background...I was visiting my family in KY for the weekend, and had gotten home late (1:00 am) on Saturday night from my 20-year HS reunion (much, much more to come on that topic). We got up really early, hit the road and drove straight home to get my son and wife packed for a work camp in Missouri that pulled out at 2:30 that afternoon.

I had signed up for the annual city tennis tourney the week before, and had put on my application that I would be gone the Friday and Saturday that the tourney was to begin, and asked if there was any possibility I could be scheduled to play another time.

I checked the tourney draw before leaving town, and sure enough, I was scheduled for Friday night. I made a call, asked for consideration in rescheduling, and was told they would do what they could do and call me back.

Well, no one called me back. I arrived home at approx. 12:00 on Sunday, and thought I should pull up the ol' tourney draw on the Internet and see if, by chance, there was a change.

Much to my surprise, I was scheduled to play at one-freaking-thirty! Yikes! I hadn't touched a tennis racquet in about 5 days, I just drove 5 hours, my wife and son were leaving town, and most importantly, we were in the beginning stages of ONE OF THE WORST HEAT WAVES IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND. Or at least that's what I'm calling it.

Needless to say, I was unprepared. I took water, but not enough - it was gone somewhere after the 4th game. Didn't even think of Gatorade. Probably should have eaten some lunch (I did have a bananna and a power-bar-type thing). Oh, and that 30-40 pounds I oughta lose? I didn't lose that, either. It was excruciating for all involved, mostly for those who were watching me try to play tennis. And avoid dying.

All in all, I did well. I won the first set, after going up 5-0 and letting my opponent, a nice kid named Jason who was my younger by approx. 15 years, come back and tie the set. I won the tie-breaker.

The next set was impossible. I didn't even want to win it. My strategy was to hit only the balls came my way, and to exert only the necessary energy to look like I was playing tennis. And to make Jason run and chase balls. If he wins the set, we're tied, and we get to play a 10-point tiebreaker. My strategy was to store up a little something extra for the tiebreaker.

Sure enough, the second set was Jason's @ 6-3. It was all I could do not to just let him have the victory and retreat to my air-conditioned car. But I was close, and thought 10 points were within reach.

Did I mention the heat index was 112 at 3:00 on Sunday afternoon?

I had it. Victory was within reach. My first victory in my first competitive tennis match ever was in sight. Winning in Round 1 of the "Men's C" division in the city tournament was a mere couple of points away. Hey, its no Lance Armstrong achievement, but considering my lackluster athletic pursuits, this was something.

If only I could have gotten to 10 before Jason did. I had him 8-4, and couldn't put it to bed. He crushed me 10-8. I retreated to my car with my free bottled water and my complimentary T-shirt between my legs, happier than you can imagine that I wouldn't have to play in round 2, a little over 24 hours away.

I learned a couple of things. First, I wasn't prepared. I was Gatorade-less, tight, and just not ready. Second, it was really a little dangerous to be out there in the first place. There's a time and a place for everything, and quite frankly the heat was scary (even the pros struggle, i.e. the final match of the RCA Championship in Indianapolis on the same day....dude quit in the middle because of the heat.) There certainly are more important things. There's something to be said for retreating and recouperating when you're taking a beating, to perhaps come out swinging rested and better prepared.

I'll leave it to you, all 7 of my on-again, off-again readers, to make your own spiritual applications.

Ten Degrees Below Mitchum

Over the years I have performed what might be considered a non-scientific survey regarding a few commonplace toiletry items. It seems that over time, my body develops some sort of immunity to certain hygenic items if I stick with the same brand for too long. Their effectiveness wanes, and a swith (albeit temporary at times) is in order. The three culprits seem to include shampoo, deodorant, and tootpaste.

Tonight it was time to change deodorant. The timing was perfect - I was completely out of my "regular" kind, which I was starting to lose confidence in anyway. I had used a replacement brand a couple of times that I bought on sale. Sometimes, maybe things are on sale for a reason. This was an Arm & Hammer brand. I'm thinking it might work better sitting in the back of my fridge than it was working in my armpits. I vowed not to use it again, so a new anti-perspirant was in order.

Lucky for me, there was a coupon for Mitchum in the Sunday paper. OK, so I'm a coupon nerd. I prefer to think of it as good stewardship, stretching my dollar, etc. The coupon was in my pocket in case I had opportunity to stop in to my friendly neighborhood grocery store.

I was out late and on my way home at approx. 11:15 pm when I stopped to get deodorant and postage stamps at the 24-hour grocer. Perfect time to shop - very few people in sight. I proceeded to the checkout area where one solitary employee was stationed as though monitoring the entire store. I put my Mitchum down on the conveyor belt, laid the coupon next to it and my grocery savings card, and started to shuffle through my wallet looking for payment.

I had seen the cashier before. She is probably in her mid to late 50's. Friendly enough, and usually there on the late crew. Her name is Alma, though I had never noticed her nametag before. But tonight, we bonded. In a weird way. The following is a re-enactment of our brief conversation. A= Alma; M= Me.

A: I'm wearing Mitchum tonight. I bought some today with that same coupon from Sunday's paper.
M: Hmmmmm....
A: Do you find that you have to change deodorants every once in a while?
M: As a matter of fact, I do. This is a new one for me.
A: Yes, it just seems like they stop working after awhile, and you have to try a different brand.
M: Yeah, I've thought the same thing.
A: I usually use Degree, but now I'm wearing Mitchum.
M: That's odd, I'm just coming off of a Degree cycle as well.
A: Yeah, I really like Arrid and Sure, but I like to change it up a little.
M: Seems like a good idea.
A: Well, this Mitchum is so good you only need it every two or three days.
M: I'm sort of an every day guy. Sometimes more than that.
A: Well, me too. I'm just saying, you could go a couple of days...

Admittedly, I'm not sure what else happened after that. I was on deo-overload. I did notice the nametag, somewhat on purpose. Alma and I shared the immunity of anti-perspirants, both just finished using Degree, and both are starting anew with Mitchum. And as bizarre as that converasation is at 11:15 in a giant grocery store between two strangers, I feel like I know Alma. Will we chat again, perhaps sharing opinions about toothpaste, tuna fish brands, or hair gels? Time will tell. But once you've shared your deodorant brand choice with others, you've bonded. No longer is she just the teller scanning my grocery cart contents. She's a real person. With a real name. And real armpits.

I can't wait to stop at Speedway to buy gas in the morning. Wonder where that conversation might go?

(PS - If you look at a container of Mitchum, their byline is "So Effective You Could Skip A Day" - seems Alma is on to something...)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Napoleon Figurines Coming Soon!

OK, so the movie is a hit at our house. I'm close to quoting the whole thing. I predict these figurines will be the Christmas gift to get. Imagine a "Tickle Me Napoleon." How can I invest? Check out this article; you can get a glimpse of what the figures will look like, too! Also, check out this video clip of Napoleon doing the Top 10 Signs You're Not The Most Popular Guy In High School....

What Makes A Movie "Christian?"

Good question. Stumbled across a series of arguments from two Christians who happen to be filmakers. Both make good points. Hopefully, both have nothing to do with the majority of "Christian" films that have come along. But I enjoyed their debate, and you might too. Click HERE to get to this series of 4 emails...(I hear if you read these and pass them to 10 friends, you get a FREE copy of the Left Behind movie! Perfect for propping open that pesky screen door or giving to the neighborhood cat).

Movies That Expand My View I

I'm compiling a list of movies, shorts, etc. that help me, and hopefully others, see the world in a different way. Specifically, the way the world really is, as compared to how most Americans think the world really is. There are a ton, and two that I've seen recently (one as recent as late last night since I couldn't sleep!) are:

Beyond Borders starring Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen. Rated R for language and violence, but those pale in comparison to some of the images of famine, starvation, internal politics and guerrilla tactics that limit the ability of relief organizations to really help people in need. Very eye-opening and emotion-stirring, but not the kind of movie that wins any awards or is jumping off the Blockbuster shelves (that honor is apparently reserved for some cross-dressing dude in Diary Of A Mad Black Woman...) Critics ripped it and rightly so; however, you can't help but get something from it.

Other recent film that broadened my horizons was Hotel Rwanda with Don Cheadle. It's PG-13 for violence and disturbing images. Real disturbing, I might add. I had heard little about the film, and knew little about what had gone on in Rwanda (and what continues to happen in many other countries). Brian McLaren's article made me put it on my "must watch" list, and I'm glad I did. You should see this movie. And read McLaren's thoughts too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Chasing Waterfalls

I get a daily email letter from Christianity Today, full of news items, articles, and stuff. I often scroll through the headlines, and one today sort of caught my attention. It said...

'With the Waterfalls, This Really Feels Like a Sanctuary'

So I was hooked! Hey, who wouldn't be impressed by waterfalls in a sanctuary? Oh, I don't know...maybe the several billion people around the world who would just like to eat tonight?

But that's just a thought. The article itself was about Joel Osteen-tatious and his new church facility, the Houston Rocket's former home, Compaq Arena. In fairness, the quote was from a random attender, not Osteen himself. And though I'm not one to beat up the mega-church movement, something about his theology just sort of makes me scratch my head a little. Sometimes, you just don't have "your best" (Uh, try Job, the hundreds of thousands of Christian martyrs through the centuries, the religious oppression that goes on in 90% of the world that apparently isn't in Houston, etc.)

This quote from the article sort of sums it up for me:
Psychological well-being, for Osteen, seems to mean being positive. "The idea of suffering as a Christian virtue is not part of his worldview," said Lynn Mitchell, director of religious studies at the University of Houston. "Some call it Christianity Lite—you get all the benefits, but don't pay attention to the fact that Jesus called for suffering. He doesn't tackle many of the problems of the world."

For what its worth. Maybe I'm just jealous. If only I could be more positive.

Not Your Father's Church

For a number of years now, I've been aware of the ministry of and their efforts to highlight the destructive nature of pornography. To say that these guys are over the top is an understatement! They have Pete the Porno Puppet, Wally the Weiner, they drive a car called the Porn Mobile, and have a documentary that is currently hitting the film festival circuit entitled "Missionary Positions."

I know, I know, I'm still trying to get my conservative little brain around it all. I'm glad these guys are doing what they're doing - after all, how can you knock a couple of pastors who travel to conventions like Erotica LA (with permission from their wives) and set up a booth to tell porn stars & filmmakers that Jesus loves them? That's pretty radical. And exactly the kind of thing that the Church has fallen asleep on in the past 100 years.

Many don't see porn as a big problem. Think again. A few stats...
  • 25 million Americans visit cybersex sites between 1-10 hours per week (MSNBC Survey 2000)
  • 9 in 10 kids 8-16 yrs. have viewed porn online, mostly accidentally while doing homework (UK News Telegraph, NOP Research Group, 1/07/02)
  • According to the Justice Department, in 1998 there were 28,000 X-rated websites, generating $925 million in revenue. Now, only three years later, there are 280,000 X- rated websites, generating over $10-20 billion in revenue (The Wall Street Journal 26 Nov. 2001)

What really caught my attention today was a letter entitled "Porn Completely Destroyed Me" that came as a link from a newsletter. It happens to be on the XXXchurch site. The letter is interesting, and sad. The comments posted by others are worth the time, too.

Again, this sort of ministry framework is way outside my small town, conservative model. But I'm glad these guys are out there. The Internet has brought porn to a new level, and made it accessible to millions more. I applaud the XXXchurch guys for their efforts to minister in an extremely turbulent and tempting environment (they have a very tight accountability structure built around their ministry). They have some great tools to help us all, particularly their accountability software (free download) that lets your accountability partner(s) know on a monthly basis where you've "surfed." Over 150,000 have already downloaded the software and currently use it!

Now that's engaging the culture and making a difference in my book.

News articles about the XXXchurch guys:

Article from Press Enterprise

Fox News Story

New York Times story

Good Morning America interview

Friday, July 15, 2005

Cash Cow Part II

If you get a chance to grab the USA weekend edition dated July 15th, there's a "great" story on page 11A (it's a short read) about the Christian Retail Show going on this week in Denver. I admit, I was bothered on several accounts.
First thing that catches your attention is the picture that's used in the story. It's a display from the convention entitled "Scripture Candy: Reaching The World One Piece At A Time." I read this while eating lunch, and I almost saw my lunch again. This is about as embarassing as it gets, right up there with the whole Tammy Faye thing (fill in the blank with whatever part of the whole fiasco that is TF that suits your fancy), along with the Prayer of Jabez paperweights and boxers. Come on, do we really think candy will lead people to God? I guess the same people believe that who think non-Christians watch or listen to Christian media.

The remainder of the article highlights much of the "Jesus Junk" that is available at your local Christian bookstore. I am well aware that this stuff exists, since I visit these type of stores on occassion. But I also know that non-Christians DON'T usually visit these stores. It was my hope that we could all avoid some level of embarrassment if the average person didn't know about the wide array of Jesus Junk that is available. Now, millions who might pause and laugh at the Scripture Candy picture in their USA TODAY and who happen to read about some of the ludicrous products being hawked in the Christian subculture, well, they'll probably just laugh like they often do at the Christian community. I guess when you're in an industry that just grew to $4.34 billion in 2004, you don't care a lot about what others might think. Or the fact that we might just be able to take a couple of steps forward if it weren't for the giant leaps backward we inevitably manage to do.

Anybody got a Testa-mint? My breath is awful...