Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Have you marked your calendar?

Only 14 days until pitchers and catchers report.

I'm no Cubs fan, but I'm thinking of dropping by to a few games just to make Phillip Johnson envy me. Their spring training site is down the street from me. If Johnson were so lucky to attend Andy Jackson's church, he could wrap up the late service and still be in his seat for a 1 p.m. Sunday game.

I don't know what it is about spring training baseball, but I almost prefer to the real season. It's baseball, I don't stress out about winning, and March weather is idyllic in Arizona. It's sort of like God's reprieve for the American sports fan.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Christian BBQ

I've been thinking about my conversations with unbelievers, their common complaints about Christians, and what parts of my own culture I'm willing to throw into the fire for the sake of advancing the Gospel.

Upon further review, I'm realizing this is a vital part of evangelism, because it prepares me for questions that I haven't always been prepared for. I'm not talking about deep theological discussions here. I mean having to explain the difference between Biblical faith and Christian culture, two entities which, from my point of view, can be in total opposition to each other.

Below is an unordered list of a few things I've conceded, followed by my impromptu apologetics.

  • Christians are sexually repressed.

    The quick answer is, "Of course." Man's natural instinct is to indulge, and as Christians, we are taught to not be slaves to our flesh. The question I often follow with is, "If the Bible is not the center of your sexual understanding, what is your authority of understanding on the topic?" I get a lot of answers, none uniform. Occasionally I hear uncomfortable endorsements of Kinsey, but let's be honest -- Kinsey's research has been debunked by plenty of non-Christians and Kinsey's own personal failings widely exposed for this to be a cultural impact into the future.

    More commonly I witness people justified by their own instinct, because what comes natural and easy is today's standard. The new American secular mindframe defines sin as opposing one's instinct. I then respond by pointing out pedophilia comes "natural" to pedophiles. It's amazing how people who start out arguing against moral standards suddenly develop one, but I think it's a question that requires answering for those who argue in favor of natural instinct.

    Short of leading them back to a Biblical understanding, I have no shame in tossing aBiblical interpretation of sexual standards right into the fire. Sex has more purpose than procreation. It is for the enjoyment between two people in a marriage union blessed by God. After all, even celibate Paul noted the marriage bed was undefiled. I think the issue is sex as just one expression of an intimacy that can and should be expressed in so many other ways. It's the difference between what is satisfying and what is fulfilling -- what appeases the flesh and what nourishes the soul.

  • Christian are anti-intellectual

    This one is hard to understand in light of history, since so many of man's most celebrated thinkers have been Christians. However, if your personal experience with Christians is your neighbors in the suburbs, I can see how this opinion can develop.

    Do many Christians profess a faith without much understanding? Absolutely. Do millions of Christians -- embarrassingly -- think going to church, being sanctimonious, and doing good deeds equates to personal holiness? Yes. No denial here. Do many Christians enter into more intellectual debates on science, art, and literature without so much as a cursory glance at the opposition's material? Frustrating as it is, yes, yes, and yes.

    In the cultural war that is America, too many Christians try to live above, outside, and beyond this world, and I am willing to offer this up to any unbelieving critic. It is wrong to attempt to deconstruct evolution in an academic sense if your only source is X Christian author. The reason is not because evolution has any more merit, but because its unlikely you've been presented the more challenging facts in their entirety or depth. To those who have studied evolution, even in a lay expert fashion, you lose credibility and damage the reputation of other Christians who have studied evolution.

    Another irritating component of this is Christians who get caught up in the anti-cultural media swamp whenever a controversial movie or piece of art becomes part of the public discourse. Am I going to avoid Brokeback Mountain because of its content? Yes. Have I probably sacrificed my right to criticize the movie at length? I think so. Without armed with all the facts, my opinion can only be a regurgitation of someone else's criticism. To do so would lack intellectual honesty and credibility. However, I think the world knows traditional Christians are predisposed against homosexuality, and will not support art that panders a different message. I don't need to beat the issue with my friends who already understand my predisposition, and I don't think I need to preach to the choir, either. Furthermore, I don't think I need to beat Christians who do see the movie around the ears with a Scofield. There are plenty of valid reasons to view and study non-Christian art, although I think there's an added requirement of spiritual maturity. That's a local church issue, though.

  • Christians are hypocrites

    No duh.

    Hypocrite, noun: a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he does not personally practice.

    The implied statement is, All Christians are hypocrites, but the understood statement is, The Christians who've stood out in my life are the obnoxious, meddling, judgmental types who expected me to live up to a standard [as an unbeliever] they couldn't live up to themselves [as alleged believers].

    My common response is, "Yes, I know those people, too." My best response was, "Yep, I'm a hypocrite, too." The latter response leads right into the real Gospel, which is not earned, and the profundity that God doesn't expect us to clean ourselves up before we take a (spiritual) bath.

    I think this is the truth we have to accept. We are sinners who profess the need for a sinless life. It's a paradox that's impossible to explain to the world without explaining the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We preach regeneration, but it is not ours to claim, nor have I have known anyone who was spiritually expleo on their own.

    I acknowledge my hypocrisy and apologize for it, first because I believe that is the Paulinian expectations of the Christian paradox, and second because I believe its that kind of honesty that the Spirit uses to pierce an unbeliever's doubts.

    So what are some of the common conceptions or misconceptions of Christians you freely concede to unbelievers?
  • Witness to an overnight city

    This is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series on a city that was constructed almost overnight. I hope it you find it interesting and informative.

    My grandparents moved to Phoenix in the 1940s, shortly before the birth of my mother. It was a city of about 25,000 and growing, thanks to University of Arizona professors Martin and Paul Thornburg

    Borrowing from 2,000-year-old Egyptian technology where a wet rug is placed over a window to create cool air in arid climates, The Thornburgs mapped designs on a fan that used a common garden hose to create a do-it-yourself air conditioning for the dry Phoenix climate. The evaporative cooler -- swamp cooler to those in other areas -- became the rage as the Thornburgs' designs were passed around the state.

    All of a sudden this vast desert valley, where dirt was cheaper than the travel it took to get here, became tolerable to future millions of people. With the close of WWII, Phoenix became less of a dusty road stop and more of a final destination to anyone looking for easy home ownership and a place to start over.

    When my parents moved me to Phoenix in 1975, it was the biggest city I'd ever lived in. Not that it was a thriving metropolis, but after living in north Jefferson County, Ala., and Flagstaff, Ariz., anything that had more than three McDonalds was foreign to us.

    Maricopa County, the area that engulfs Phoenix and its 24 neighboring incorporated cities and towns, had only recently broken 1 million in population. It was considered a middle-management, medium-sized, overgrown cow town ... not unlike, say, Omaha, Neb., or San Antonio, Tex.

    To say that growth has exploded in this area doesn't quite capture the intensity and rate of consumption of open land.

    Like many families in the area, my parents picked up and moved to the suburbs of Mesa in 1980. Mesa had a population of about 80,000. When it was founded in the early part of the 20th century, it was a day's horse ride to Phoenix. When we moved there, it was a 20 minute freeway drive along newly constructed Superstition Freeway.

    Today, Mesa houses nearly 300,000 people. The Town of Gilbert, the sleepy "Hay Capitol of the World" in 1980, has grown from 2,000 to pushing 200,000 in that time. Nearby Chandler, once home to dozens of dairy farms, has moved from 4,000 to a robust 210,000.

    Gilbert and Chandler can usually be found among the top 5 fastest growing cities in the country over 100,000. Thousands acres still available, but both are on pace for build out in five to seven years.

    A fourth "East Valley" city, college town Tempe, found its own southward growth to reach about 150,000.

    The rapid growth has made anyone who's lived here more than three years real estate experts. While people in the midwest anxiously await that one development to open at the edge of town, locals have learned any available land will have improvements before you can get your boxes unpacked. Master-planned subdivisions go up seemingly overnight. It's rare anyone lives in one house for a generation. Once your neighborhood matures, you sell your house and move 20 miles east or west -- where the "edge" of civilization has migrated.

    Not long ago, Lloyd's of London predicted at the current rate of growth, Phoenix Metro would surpass Los Angeles Metro by 2050. Things like cost of living and quality of life were considered continued advantages to living in Phoenix compared to other cities of its size in the region.

    The cheaper cost of dirt, relatively speaking, will continue to fuel Phoenix's growth for the next 100 years. As impossible as it is think of right now, it's becoming more probable Phoenix Metro could touch Tucson Metro 100 miles to the south by the next turn of the century.

    For a desert that was barely inhabited by humans just 100 years ago, it's one bright flash of history for a city now with more people than 20 states and the District of Columbia.

    Sunday, January 29, 2006

    Faith like a child

    MzEllen & Co discusses paedo faith in an intelligent way. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my father, one of those rare moments of clarity between father and son.

    Shortly after my 12th birthday, he decided to sit me down for a chat. I thought he was sitting me down for a discussion about the birds and the bees. That was to come, but for now he had something heavier to lay on me.

    Before I relate that story, let me digress.

    My Sunday School teacher had led me in the sinner’s prayer when I was 7, a moment that was celebrated throughout the church. Myself and another little boy were hauled up to the front during Sunday night service to offer our testimony. My father, the pastor, pushed me into singing a song, <i>This Little Light of Mine.</i>

    Thinking about a 7-year-old boy offering a testimony in a church that had taken the oratorical art of giving testimonies to new heights is ripe for parody. I don’t think I had much to say in terms of God changing my life. What could I say that could compare to the dramatic nuances of the alcoholics and womanizers that lined our pews?

    <i>My life had hit rock bottom. I was strung out on Pepsi and Pop Rocks and was willing to do anything for just one more corn syrup high. Last week I took the quarter my mother gave me for the offering and used it to get another fix. I knew my life had to change ...</i>

    It was nothing like that, of course. In my own words, I think I confessed it seemed like the right choice at the moment. Then I sang a song and all the women gushed about how cute I was.

    In no way do I look down on that experience, but neither am I convinced that was my moment of conversion. I wish I had listened to my father more closely at age 12.

    He sat me down and explained to me that, by Jewish tradition, I no longer had a free ride to heaven. I had to make my own decisions about the path I followed, and as much as my father would attempt to discipline to keep my on the straight and narrow, he could not force me to believe what he believed.

    I was now flying solo spiritually.

    I took for granted my salvation for the next 7 years. Better said, I didn’t really seem to care about my spiritual state. I cursed God, my family, and the Church for some understandable and some not so understandable reasons. A little push the wrong way and I could have walked away from the church.

    A dramatic experience at age 19 forever changed my course towards a conscious adult decision. I can mark a consistent -- if not constant -- state of regeneration from that day. God has done good work in me. I can testify to that.

    I don’t really know what that moment as a child meant in heaven. Maybe I was truly saved, though my understanding of my sin was limited by lack of experience and knowledge. Maybe God marked another day for me at age 19 because of my family’s attempt to honor Him with their children. Or maybe it meant nothing. I don’t know, because the Bible is relatively silent on when we are capable

    Saturday, January 28, 2006

    Good sports and why my circle is small

    I love to raz people I consider friends, and not because it makes me feel better about myself. Mostly, I just assume those who hang around me assume the world is absurd, and blowing personal characteristics out of proportion for comic effect is sort of like my contribution to absurdity.

    This is important to remember as I have run with a caricature of Dan first instigated by Jared. I can't quite recall Jared's reference verbatim, but it the insinuation was Dan was a modern day John the Baptist, in reference to his consistently challenging posts on the modern state of the church.

    Now, I've never met Dan, but we've exchanged some good natured ribbing since we have a very similar background. I've taken for granted that Dan understands my continued reference to his caricature is out of appreciation for what he does rather than an attempt to belittle his work. His blog should be valued by anyone who loves the Church.

    Walking this line can be precarious and I sometimes don't know when to pull back. Take, for example, my friend Bob, who I tortured (out of love) for years. Bob is a friend of mine from college who, when he contacted me about getting a job at the Republic, I more or less pushed him into a desk on my floor. It was an easy match since he was more than qualified.

    Now, Bob is a unique guy, the kind where people who don't take time to get to know him will make wrong assumptions about him. I know Bob very well, but he worked the night shift and a lot of people on the day shift asked me a lot of questions about him. He's kind of quiet, unless he gets angry with his computer. Then he has a whole array of profanities at his disposal with which to curse the machine to ... this place.

    Bob is also of mixed race -- half Caucasian, half Asian -- of which he is comfortable with until someone asks if he's Filipino. That irritates him. Needless to say, I took note of that. It's fun to aggravate Bob because he's forgiving and he (usually) remembers I think he's the bomb.

    So in the several years Bob and I shared the same work floor I spread rumors to the day shift that Bob:

  • Was a ninja
  • Was a member of a militia under investigation by the ATF
  • Was waiting on delivery of a Russian mail-order bride
  • Was really Filipino, not Thai

    What made these rumors particularly devious was that Bob was into martial arts and the accompanying weapons, proudly owned at least one gun, and joked many times about buying a Russian mail-order bride. I just took his own characteristics and turned them into something absurd.

    It took Bob several years to clear up with everyone on the floor that he was not Filipino. Not that it mattered except he's really proud of his Thai heritage. It was just funny to me to watch him unravel when someone said, "But I thought you were ..."

    If I thought the higher ups wouldn't get the silly nature of the rumors, I wouldn't have done this. If I thought our peers wouldn't have bought it hook, line, and sinker, I wouldn't have done this. If I thought Bob wouldn't get some kind of sick thrill (or provide me with entertainment with his agitation, however real or not), I would've never bothered him.

    I did it because he was my friend and because we shared at least one portion of a worldview that the world is absurd and people's willingness to gossip or be shocked needs to be challenged.

    Or maybe I just get bored easily and this is my way of entertaining myself. I'm still waiting for someone to turn the tables on me. Maybe this makes me off-kilter, but I think I would enjoy the right kind of mischaracterization.
  • Friday, January 27, 2006

    My bio, submitted to The Door website

    Matthew Self, who has been published in The Door once, still insists on his bio taking up bandwidth on this website. Matt, born one month before the Summer of Love, grew up a PK in a hyperfundamentalist Pentecostal church that catered to college students, homeless hippies, and Jesus Freaks.

    He has been confused ever since.

    In 1989 he retreated to a conservative Third Wave church where the pastor exposed him to many heresies, such as Paul’s letter to the Galatians and The Door magazine. It was during this period he discovered all good theology comes equipped with a sense of humor and the license to attach the “ism” suffix to any word.

    Matt sold out his principles changed professional direction in the fall of 2005 for a career in real estate after nearly 12 ungainfully employed personally fulfilling years as a newspaper reporter and editor. His literary work has been roundly dismantled of its power and wit professionally proofed by clumsy ogres editors all over the country, but primarily at The Arizona Republic, where he learned how to say little in as few words as possible write for the reader.

    In addition to his obscured journalism career, Matt failed to impress anyone to pay him well during stints as a session drummer, a paralegal, or a convenience store clerk. If anyone is interested in a lot of unused drum gear, 12 stolen legal pads, or a 7-11 smock, please visit Matt at http://gaddabout.blogspot.com.

    He is married to his wife, Jessica, which is a good thing, since she would generally frown on Matt’s marriage to anyone else. No children, they are currently considering adopting Angelina Jolie’s bank account. They live on the downslope of a bajada in eastern Mesa, Ariz., spring home of the Chicago Cubs and other notoriously mediocre operations.

    Fours meme

    Bill at Out of the Bloo has issued an open invitation to join his "fours" meme. I like these questions, so I'm joining in:

    Four jobs I've had in my life:
  • Graveyard clerk at a 7-11 (best job I've ever had)
  • Professional musician
  • Real estate agent
  • Paralegal

    Four movies I could watch over and over:
  • Shawshank Redemption
  • The Matrix
  • Memento
  • Usual Suspects

    Four places I have lived:
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Phoenix (southside, in the barrio)
  • Mesa, Ariz.
  • Sacramento, Calif.

    Four TV shows I love to watch:
  • My Name Is Earl
    ... and that's about it. I don't watch much TV anymore.

    Four places I have been on vacation:
  • Los Angeles (In hindsight, I don't really know why)
  • San Diego (Greatest city on earth; best place to live)
  • Northern California coast (If you ever get the chance, check out Gualala)
  • New York City (one time was enough)

    Four websites I visit daily:
    (I'll exclude all the blogs on my list)
  • azcentral.com
  • Cactus Ranch ASU football message board
  • Big Mouth Bass 3D fishing game
  • Phoenix Suns message board

    Four favorite foods:
  • Macayo's shredded beef chimi with baja sauce
  • Los Dos Molinos' chile relleno
  • Beef brisket from Waldo's BBQ
  • Kung pao beef from China Gate

    Four places I'd rather be right now:
  • At the movies with my wife
  • On the beach at Rocky Point
  • On the lake in my brother's new boat
  • In the hot tub on the deck of "The Edge" luxury rental home in Gualala, where I spent five days of my honeymoon

    Four people I'm tagging with this meme:
    Anyone who cares to join in.
  • Border case

    I get phone calls.

    Not just from clients or from relatives checking in, but from friends and family who think I must watch illegal immigrants run across my front lawn every morning on their way to stealing a high-paying job without paying taxes.

    This is how the national media has portrayed the border issue, with a particular emphasis on Arizona's expansive (and mostly unguarded) border with Mexico.

    The only immigrants I ever watch run across my lawn in the morning are the pup coyotes who have become quite the predator of cottontail rabbits in our neighborhood. I saw a bobcat with the body of an alley cat and a head the size of a well-hydrated melon the other day, but I didn't stop to ask it for its green card. Truth be told, I wasn't all that inspired to get out of my car for a closer look. (I'll leave that for the joggers).

    My mother has witnessed a small coyote leap a 10-foot fence. How did this wild dog leap a 10-foot fence? Survival was on the other side. It was motivated. It didn't think about the height of the fence, it only knew it had to get to the other side where a large field houses dozens of potential food sources.

    Now, this fence hasn't always been here. It was only constructed about two years ago when a new subdivision was constructed along the northern portion of this high-reaching Sonoran bajada (desert hill side). Coyotes have been roaming these desert hills and floors long before we were ever here, and no matter what obstacles we put in their path, they find some new way to thrive. They don't really have a choice, but when you have 10 millenia of desert instinct pumping through your blood, adjusting does not take generations. It takes just one motivated coyote and the whole pack picks up the new tricks.

    I offer this minor lesson to make a broader point about the impossibility of guarding a border in the Sonoran Desert. This place does not honor arbitrary lines. If it rains in Sonora (the northern Mexico state which borders Arizona), it rains in Tucson and probably Phoenix. If it's a 10-year drought in the southern Arizona desert region, it's a 10-year drought in Nogales. Vegetation and animal life spread their seed without regard to citizenship.

    It's this way because all life comes with a natural will to survive, and in the desert, that will is superior to man's governance of it. One slight change in one cactus that improves its survival will be copied like a hot stock tip. As saline and hard as the soil is in Arizona, those that choose to call the Sonoran Desert home learn to dig deep roots and exist in spite of elements that suggest any other possibility.

    If life is so bad in Mexico that parents can't feed their children, no fence, no wall, and no army is going to stop the continuous flow of migrants from their will to survive.

    I've known many illegals here in Phoenix, and once you get past the language barrier you realize they are here because they are motivated. Deportation is not a limitation, it's just a temporary annoyance. They'll be back.

    This is a way of life in Sonoran Desert, and this desert honors those who most desire to exist.

    Thursday, January 26, 2006

    Lost in the GodBlogosphere

    It seems the TV show Lost is inspiring a lot of deep thought these days, and the show's enjoyment for Christians is a mixed blessing.

    Brian at Sycamore is a little disturbed by his own anxiousness with the show. It has caused him to reflect on more weighty matters. I’m thinking Brian is positioning himself to be Dan’s understudy. This post has that wild-eyed, 40-days-in-the-wilderness feel to it. Brian, if your skin is glowing, either you’re wearing the glory of God or your computer is too close to the window.

    Recently re-Thinkled De objected to the show’s dialogue in which one of the characters stated Jesus was cleansed of his sins when John the Baptist dunked him in the water. Then De backs down and comments on how one looks past stupid television theology on shows that are otherwise entertaining.

    Speaking of Jesus and sin, Mike at Eternal Perspectives has an interesting run on the topic of the paradoxical duality of Jesus in the flesh. Was Jesus capable of sin but more capable of resisting sin, or was He just incapable of sin? I personally focus on the duality. Since Jesus was fully man, I am inclined to believe His flesh was just as capable of weakness as ours. He did bleed. He did suffer pain. He did die in the flesh as we all will, the punishment for original sin. However, Jesus was also fully God, so his flesh was never tainted with impurity. His heart never wavered, his flesh never indulgent for a moment.

    And just in case you haven’t thought long and hard enough about the problem of sin, Brad at Broken Messenger has done a lot of the leg work for us.

    I’m going to go play some Big Mouth Bass fishing at Shockwave now and try and cool the motor on my brain …

    Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    How people get here

    I will never understand the technology behind search engines, but I believe it is related to the flawed spell checkers in the average word processor:

    uncircumsized hollywood actors
    I'd link to this Google search but it brought up a lot of questionable results, including this Blog. I think this is the problem with monthly archives. If I'm in the wrong in my use of these random words, at least this time we can blame it on Paul.

    hermeneutics "heaping hot coals"
    I was surprised to learn I ever even used the word hermeneutics since I have only the vaguest idea what it means. Apparently I once knew what it meant, or at least had enough confidence to pretend that I did.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Jogging rant in E minor

    I'm not against joggers, I just don't care for jogging.

    I think the primary reason is joggers are usually the ones that find the dead bodies. You usually don't find dead bodies when you're at home on the couch sucking down soft drinks while watching the latest news about some jogger finding at some canal near your house.

    And if finding dead bodies isn't gruesome enough, you also have to worry about the mountain lions these days, according to a leading supposed expert website author:

    However, you may not have to worry about taking action to prevent an attack, since mountain lions ordinarily either lie hidden, waiting for prey to approach beneath them, or approach unseen, and then attack and kill by a bite to the back of the neck that severs the spinal cord. This was the modus operandi for the attack on Barbara Schoener.

    So I think the rule for bears is the same for mountain lions: You only have to out-run the next guy. Since jogging is the domain of slow-twitch muscle fiber and an anaerobic exercise that deprives the brain and body of neccesary oxygen, joggers in mid-run aren't going to be the best sprinters under duress.

    The American jogging craze/health nazi rally began sometime in the early 70s, when some hippy discovered there was money to be made in jogging fashion. So bundled in the first line of canvas Nikes was the tacit agreement between the health industry and the new American fashion. The implied message to the American people was empowerment to feel better -- and look good while you just do it.

    We're just now developing the medical science to understand that humans have a limit, and the act of jogging can kill you.

    In fact, jogging health nuts are some of life's best irony, however dark. Consider the exploding heart of jogging zealot Jim Fixx.

    I knew a die-hard long-distance runner in high school who swore by jogging as a mental, spiritual, and physical discipline. It made you a better person, he said. He stopped jogging when he was 17 because his knees had deteriorated by years of abuse on hard pavement. His doctor told him he faced a lifetime of mobility limitations.

    Here's something most people don't hear from their $100-an-hour trainers: Walking is much more effective for weight loss, exaggerated arm motion can create a better cardio workout, and it's just much better for the long-term stability of the joints.

    Don't misunderstand me. I'm not advocating walking like a dork. You've seen these people -- the ones who look like they started out for a long, casual stroll but suddenly remembered they had two bran muffins for breakfast.

    If that's not beyond absurd, someone thought walking like a dork (a.k.a. speed walking) should be a competitive event. We're not talking about Special Olympics here. People with fully-functioning brains and muscles are out there attempting to be the "fastest" dork walker in the world.

    These are the same people who cherish their Little League "participant" ribbon, but I'll get back to my point.

    Walking at a sustainable pace with moderate body motion for about 30 mintues a day is one of the healthiest things you can do. Not only is it unlikely you will explode your heart while walking, but you're more likely to have the stamina to outrun that guy training for the 10K should a mountain lion cross your path.

    Wanted: Qualified civil servants

    I spent nearly two years covering county boards and city councils in California before returning to Arizona in September.

    My first impression was there are some good people doing thankless jobs as civil servants, and I’m not just talking about the city managers who rake in big money to baby sit elected officials. There were many supervisors and council members who impressed me with their integrity and commitment to sound public policy.

    On the other hand, I found there are so few people qualified to serve on a board with such wide-reaching governing powers. Often, these officials are led by the nose by municipal managers who look down on elected officials, and end up establishing most key pieces of policy for a public in which they do not share a common zip code. The problem with policy in the areas I covered wasn’t typically self-interested power brokers as much as it was contracted employees guiding elected officials to a position that had little to do with the best long-term interest of the people who elected them.

    This is especially true in less populated areas. I covered one county that was regularly at the bottom of California’s revenue barrel. Its leaders were bright people whose expertise rested solely in agriculture and agribusiness. On the rare occasion a big developer rolled into a meeting, their high-dollar lawyers were usually allowed to roll over the board. Things like necessary infrastructure and per-capita education standards were often overlooked due to the naiveté of the appointed members of the planning and zoning commission. By the time it got to the board, every presentation highlighted immediate big dollar revenue returns and expertly downplayed the lack of state-mandated acreage for a necessary K-8 school or the fact the aging town did not have the utility infrastructure in place to serve so many new people.

    So in a high-growth cycle like this past real estate explosion, housing developments were approved in areas where things like roads and drainage hadn’t been improved in 60 or 70 years. Environmental impact studies were rubber-stamped because of a dire shortage of people who understood such a technical field. Houses were built within sneezing distance of riparian reserves and active agricultural fields that would later cause great consternation for the state water and environmental agencies. Schools were instantly overcrowded and, with the school district not involved enough to recognize they needed to double impact fees, no funds were readily available to do anything about it for years down the road.

    I’m no liberal, but this is a compounded problem when said county boards and city councils are flooded by well-meaning pro-growth members without an understanding of the process. They only see the immediate benefits of revenue generated by new homeowners. They don’t see the long-term costs of roads and schools and utility infrastructure, not to mention areas nearing build out without a strong retail and commercial base. They don’t think about measuring the liability of putting in 300 new golf-course lot homes 1.5 miles downwind from a mushroom processing plant.

    As a journalist, I was frustrated with the knowledge of dozens of active or retired engineers living in the area without a modicum of interest in public service. We had two former city managers from other areas who wanted nothing to do with municipal government. There were three former corporate executives who loved to criticize political decisions from the golf course but could never be found at a meeting.

    Without mentioning names, I get sort of the same vibe from many bloggers, a great number of which are professionals with extensive knowledge and experience that could be utilized on a local regulatory board or city council or county board. However, I have yet to come across a blog post about someone mentioning their experience in municipal government. Considering the weight and volume with which so many criticize government, it seems a tad hypocritical to me.

    I don’t mean to downplay busy lives. If you’re spending time with your kids so they won’t carjack me in 18 years, I applaud you. However, I do think the educated classes owe something to their local government beyond thinking up new ways to get out of jury duty.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    The Last Temptation of Journalism

    There's a scene in The Paper I find particularly poignant in its depiction of the current mood of the journalism profession.

    Glenn Close, portraying hard-boiled, bottom-line obsessed managing editor Alicia Clark, approaches editor-in-chief Bernie White, expertly played by Robert Duvall. In the scene, Clark barges into White's office pining for another raise after several recent raises. She wants to renegotiate her contract again.

    White is not unsympathetic to Clark's plight, but he is forced to maneuver Clark's attention to the reality of the journalism world. He tells a meandering story about living it up in a pub with other journalists while over seas to cover the Olympics. When the tab comes in it's over $900, and the writers begin arguing with each other over who ordered what and when.

    White explains the group was getting ready to make anxious phone calls home for money when a little man signs a napkin and generously pays their bill. The man was Pablo Picasso.

    "We walk in their world but we don't live in it," White says, finally getting to his point.

    Clark storms out with a promise to take up the issue with the publisher, but she is doomed for failure because journalists simply are never going to live like the people they publish.

    What's true about this scene isn't the mere envy that comes from observing the rich and famous on a regular basis. It's the realization that the rich and famous are rarely more talented or gifted or plucky than the average schmo. If you get close enough to a famous person, whatever magical shine they might have in the glossy pages of print publication is immediately stripped away. They often struggle for the right words and hire publicists to hide their inability to speak coherently.

    Walk in that world long enough and it becomes difficult to understand why you also don't belong there.

    If you've suspected your local journalist treats the world of the famous with a heavy dose of cynicism, this is the likely cause. The average person is rarely confronted with the reality of mediocrity of people living so far above everyone else they don't know what it's like to do their own grocery shopping. Some of them never even look at their checking account balances or have ever stressed about paying the mortgage. The money's just there, and, upon close and regular examination, it was given to them for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

    Sure, you could point to a computer industry icon or financial wizard and find some semblance of reason for their lofty financial status. But even there we see salaries far beyond rational explanation -- CEOs who gather hundreds of millions of dollars while their companies crumble beneath the weight over their own selfish decisions.

    Journalists are forced to capture the stories of these newsmakers without tainting the truth, but it's often difficult to do when your eyes are opened. For example, most people know their politicians only in public appearances in front of the camera, when the charm is in overdrive. Journalists get to watch politicians disassemble the persona when the camera is turned off, and its that kind of disingenuous attitude that will quickly demolish optimism. The cult of personality is rendered ineffective to the journalist.

    I'm not apologizing for cynical journalists, I'm only stating the challenge. Most simply learn to stop looking at the world with emotional attachment. They rely on blind filters they learned in college, the black and white editorial process where there is nothing protected and everything and everyone is forced to play by the same ethical rules. A few try to adapt to the ethics of each story, and that kind of bending usually creates great copy with a lot of factual errors.

    Then there are the Alicia Clarks of the world who stop practicing journalism altogether. Newspapers are a business. We don't need the whole truth today, just what's true right now, because that's most economically feasible model. If it's proven wrong tomorrow, we'll get to it tomorrow and everyone will forget about it and be happy. And its the Alicia Clarks of the world, the ones who just want a taste of the life they witness in person every day, who are running the newsrooms in America today.

    Its the Alicia Clarks that scare me.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    Faith when logic fails

    Several years ago I had a long debate with a Mormon. I was well-equipped, thanks to the likes of Jerald and Sandra Tanner.

    My friend, the Mormon, wanted to talk about Biblical inerrancy. I feared it was going to become more technical than I could handle until he took a wrong turn down transference. He believed we have today's (non-Mormon) Bible by translation from Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English ... or something like that. When I asked him what he thought of the Dead Sea Scrolls or well-established 2nd Century papyri, I might as well have been speaking in Aramaic. They didn't teach him about those in Mormon Sunday School.

    The conversation covered a lot of ground, including history and archeology. The bottom line for this young man was his "testimony" that the Mormon Church was true. His brain then turned off and our conversation was over. At the time, I felt I hadn't seen denial like that since the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

    It was an abrupt lesson for me. As much as I talk about faith, I often treat it as a logical exercise. I still find Mormonism a horrible corruption of the Gospel and this man's refusal to listen to the preponderance of evidence against the very core of his faith as aggravating.

    What I learned is a good argument will only take people so far.

    I cannot say this man had abiding faith, since, by established precedent, I do not believe he has a Biblical faith in Christ. On a more fleshly observation, he was clearly coerced by family and an insulated Mormon culture to arrive at his "faith." This is not really faith at all, but a lesser trust that all his friends and family can't be so wrong. And if they are, well, at least they're wrong together.

    To be totally honest with myself, however, I must confess I am not so far removed from such a scenario. My father was a preacher. I come from a long line of preachers. Both side of my family see through the same Christian lense. On the other hand, I had to totally reject my family's worldview for years before arriving on a faith that settled my conscience. I was not shunned from my family or pressured into believing. They feared pressuring me would lead to a less-than-sincere confession of faith.

    But I did arrive at similar conclusions, even though how I practice it is remarkably different from their methodologies. I think this is why I am so impressed with those who arrive at a Biblical faith in Christ in a family of non-believers. Such strength and conviction is impressive.

    The difference between my faith and my Mormon friend's is one of plausibility. I have history and archeology on my side. As we debated, I think he discovered he really only has his testimony and familial reinforcement.

    Even without plausibility, however, in a totally theoretically realm, I discovered I could also reduce my faith to a similar plane.

    I once had a similar debate with a young gay co-worker who had made a cursory read of the theoretical "Gospel Quelle" or "Gospel Q" or whatever they were calling it in those days. The theory of Gospel Q -- of which there is no proof and only exists in the wildest guesses of a handful of secular academics who are admittedly predisposed against Jesus ever declaring His own deity -- suggests at least two of the New Testament gospels were written by one non-apostolic author based on Christian oral history; authorship, the theory states, was later redistributed hundreds of years later to apostles. My co-worker was questioning every single core tenant of my faith with undeserved confidence. He was understandably hostile to the traditional Gospel message.

    I defended with some technical knowledge, but he quickly reduced me to a single challenge: What if archaeologists dug up some bones this morning and proved it was the dead body of Christ?

    I protested that no one would ask a physicist what he would do if matter suddenly disobeyed physical laws, if one day we woke up and discovered we could walk through walls, but he insisted. So I relented.

    "I would still have my faith."

    It was a horribly unfair theoretical question that I probably should not have answered (I can't say I did the Gospel justice), but, once again, it returned me to an essential question of which the answer has readied a simple motto for my current faith status:

    I trust in what I read in God's word, but I first rely on a faith in what I cannot know and cannot see.

    We are fortunate to have skilled people to provide us with tangible evidence of the intangible, but it is the intangible thing -- the very presence of the eternal God, all three persons, and His desire to interact with us -- that constructs our faith.

    Proverbs 1:7 says fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but I think it best summed in Proverbs 3:5-6:

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

    More on airport/airline wars

    I opened up this morning's Dallas Morning News business section to about 25 inches of good timing. Airlines reported fourth-quarter earnings this week. You tell me which airline is forced to buy politicians and which airline simply wants open markets:

    - American Airlines (AMR Corp.) will report tommorow morning they lost $396 million, which is apparently good news to investors because it's not as bad as expected. Apparently revenue is up. AA has not reported a profit since 2000.

    - Southwest will report a $95 million profit, the 32nd year in a row they've provided an annual ledger in the black.

    AA is being given a pat on the back for cutting flights (supply) by 2.3 percent and raising rates. So consumers had fewer options, paid more, and AA still lost 2/5 of a billion.

    Southwest changed nothing. They just planned better.

    Most airlines have taken a hit the past two years because of outrageous fuel prices. Southwest -- which must have a real prophet on their board -- bought gas in the futures market a few years ago, which have insulated them during this time. It's called fuel hedging, and they look like future kings of the airline industry right now.

    A third airline, Houston-based Contintental, reported a $109 million loss.

    One more thing to consider: Two studies, one by the DOT in 1993 and a more recent one by the Office of Aviation and International Affairs refer to an economic impact called the "Southwest Effect." Basically, in any economy -- even a post-9/11 one -- when Southwest comes to town, flight trips go up and fares go down. The changes are typically between 20 to 30 percent for both figures, but sometimes exceed 100 percent. It's a consistent effect and why people like Sen. Shelby and Missouri's congressional delegation saw it as politically beneficial to overturn their portion of the Wright Amendment.

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Airport Wars

    Fly into Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and you might get lost. Fly into Dallas Love Field and you will be awash in propaganda.

    Signs everywhere implore travelers to "Set Love Free," a political message from Southwest that has implications for free markets everywhere.

    Most people don't know this, but Dallas is the center of the commercial airplane universe. It is home to two of the remaining national heavyweights (airlines not currently under bankruptcy protection), American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Dallas is the ideal central hub for both coasts in the southern U.S. region.

    American Airlines calls the sleek DFW home. Southwest proudly hails from aging Love Field in spite of local hostility.

    The battle between DFW and Love is political, social, emotional, personal, communal, and, above all, the worst kind of corporate pettiness and government interference.

    As a journalist, I love it.

    Here's a short-hand history:

    - Between 1921-1929, a group of tiny mail-carrying airlines are consolidated to form one large aviation group. It grows each decade, eventually becoming one of the largest intercontinental airlines in the world. Today, American Airlines is the standard of ease of travel.

    - in 1967, tiny Southwest Airlines decides to accomodate quaint Love Field by using it for low-fare puddle-jumpers. The idea is to turn a profit by providing low-fare air fare for the common man. AA, among other DFW tenants and parties of interest, tie up the upstart company in lawsuits, nearly bankrupting Southwest before its first flight.

    - A battered Southwest finally takes off in 1971 from Dallas Love Field, unkowingly pitting itself against the sleak corporate giant soon to move in to the south of the city. The 70s become the age of airline deregulation, and Southwest becomes the biggest beneficiary. It is the anti-Pan Am, with an emphasis on slow growth and economic prudence.

    - Several airline officials are indicted for attempting to bankrupt Southwest Airlines.

    - DFW officially opens in 1974. American Airlines officially moves its national headquarters to DFW in 1978 on the cusp of fully formed industry deregulation.

    - U.S. House leader Jim Wright tacks on an addendum to unrelated bill that makes it illegal to fly non-stop out of Love Field beyond its four-state region. Furthermore, it is a felony to advertise connecting flights in the region to or from Love Field. The name of the bill -- and I'm not kidding -- was labeled the International Air Transportation Competition Act of 1979.

    - Three small planes are purchased by enterprising Phoenix locals and form America West. The low-fare common man airlines revolution takes hold. The hole in the dam busts open and small puddle-jumping airlines crop up out of nowhere.

    - Southwest explodes across the country, outlasting all of its upstart cousins on the back of smart management and a legacy of established airlines who waited too long to recognize they were in direct competition. In hindsight, it was probably the only airline that understood how to play the airline game of the late 20th century. However, Southwest operates like tiny charter operation in its home state because of federal anti-competition laws expertly crafted to hinder only Southwest. U.S. Senator Richard Shelby successfully passes an amendment that excludes Alabama from the Wright Amendment provisions. Mississippi and Kansas are added to Shelby's bill.

    - Dallas City Council attempts to put the death knell in Love Field in 2001 by creating a master plan that caps growth at 32 gates. Love Field is neutralized. However, a movement begins around the country to allow Southwest to fly directly from Love Field to their home states. Four years later, Southwest goes public with their attempt to overturn the Wright Amendment, and a slow-burning wick is suddenly becoming a hot national issue. What congressman is going to turn down money to represent a commercial cause that creates competition and lowers air fare for their constituents?

    Locally, however, politicians are desperate to protect their financial investment in DFW. They don't really care about air fare. They want revenue, and DFW is where it's at. There seems to be little gratitude Southwest is one of the state's biggest employers, including 5,500 in Dallas alone, and could easily have set up shop elsewhere. Phoenix Sky Harbor made a lot of sense, but Southwest has remained sold out on Texas -- perhaps in no small spart to spite their enemies. AA consultants have continually testified before Congress that an expanding second airport would hurt the Dallas economy. However, independent economists have been informing local politicos to began preparing for a third airport.

    As Southwest takes this fight to the national stage, it appears it will finally be settled in the next few years. It's the first big free market battle of the 21st Century, and the precedent of the outcome will undoubtedly determine how America views its own economic philosophy for many years to come.

    All business is accounting

    While sitting here in the Baker Bros. American Deli in Addison, Texas, I'm drawing more than a few uncomfortable stares. My father's 21" laptop is not built for stealth, I'm afraid (and neither is it built for a bad back, but I don't want to whine).

    This deli is a nice find and a good escape for me from this morning's brain churner. I realized what I need is not software training, rather, I need accounting training.

    The software is fine. Most of us in the class -- some who have been doing this for 20+ years -- didn't know why things went where, how, and when. One woman from LA was downright adamant her practice of discounting rent for services to the property by the tenant is acceptable.

    In fact, it's illegal by federal law. The IRS says so.

    The woman was correct -- if you discount the rent or simply pay the tenant as a vendor -- the bottomline remains the same. What changes dramatically is money changing hands. The first way skips a taxable event.

    Knowing this and realizing I was thinking in terms of something other than real estate, it dawned on me that all business is accounting.

    Most of us go into business to make money for ourselves and our clients. If it were that simple, we'd have chaos. So we have laws of practice, laws of profession. Even if only those were in place, business would be a pretty straight forward endeavor.

    Put tax law into the mix and now you have a different beast. Most people still want you to help them make money, until they make too much money and have to pay lots of taxes, then they want you to make them less money, and in some cases they want you to lose money.

    So because business is not about luck, pluck, and skill, like they told you in high school economics, you sometimes field this phone call:

    Investor: "Do you have any dogs for sale? Preferably dogs with fleas? I want the ugliest home in the worst neighborhood next to a trash dump. I want to make sure it will always be a dog and I could never possibly turn a profit on it."

    Agent: "We're all out of dogs with fleas, but I have a fixer-upper in an aging market that will probably stall income in two or three years."

    Investor: "No thanks. I'm trying to lose a lot of money real fast here and I can't take a chance the house might appraise for more than I pay for it."

    Such is the business of accounting and the accounting of business.

    Sunday, January 15, 2006

    Dallas high life too much for me

    One thing I've always known about Dallas is there is a lot of moola floating around here.

    That makes it all the more strange that they always want more of mine.

    The boss put me in in a super-swanky Hotel In(ter)continent(al). There's a king size bed in my room, a reading chair and a really expensive glass desk. The art on the wall looks like something I couldn't afford.

    If there are three rowdy, sleepless kids next door, I would never know. We're talking commercial density construction here. Rock solid and super quiet. This seems like the kind of place that might take the kids out back and shoot them and then charge the parents a "handling" fee.

    After a $50 cab ride, I was really looking forward to the fee gratis benefits usually enjoyed by people with a lot more money than me. What would you expect? Free phone calls? A free wi-fi or hi-speed hook-up? A complimentary meal?

    Try none of the above. Right after I signed the ticket for my room, they informed me I should leave the credit card behind for something called "incidentals."

    You know, in case I wanted to breathe the air at $.59 a minute.

    So I returned to my bourgeois ways the moment I walked into the bedroom. The bell hop (they still have those here) told me where the hidden convenience store is (two blocks around the corner, across from the Courtyard and Hooters and other low-brow trappings). I picked a up strong wireless signal from Addison, Tex., public wi-fi and bought a one-month membership -- it costs less than 1 day of Internet here. Got a decent steak sandwhich from Hooters take-out.

    It's just life in the middle lane for me.

    No left turns here

    I'm sitting in the Alb-uh-cracky airport asking myself WWBD. If you've never watched cartoons, you won't get it. Don't even try. It will make your head explode.

    On my way to Dallas, where I'll have three fun-filled days in property management software training. Could they put this on a DVD and allow you train from the comfort of your own home? Of course, but then what would all the company trainers do?

    Airplane travel sucks for big guys, anyway. Our only hope on the cattle call airlines (Southwest, AWA, etc.) is to get the aisle set next to an emergency door. I never get that seat, though. The crazy guy who shows up three hours early always gets that seat. He deserves it, I guess.

    I'll probably have more pithy things to say when I get to Dallas tonight. Stay tuned. I'm betting I'll have plenty of things to whine about this week.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    The equation of salvation

    Galations 2:17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification[c] were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
    Rob has a nice post on Jesus Plusims and drives home the literal Gospel message. The literal Gospel is a paradox to a modernistic mode of thinking, because we receive without merit. It defies the boot-strap mentality often misattributed to Christian culture.

    I've long held to rejecting Jesus Plusisms and a critical understanding of Galations as a first step to maturity, not only because it frees me from a lot of unneccesary spiritual burden, but because it helps me identify those with whom I clearly share a faith. It is virtually impossible to have koininia with anyone who believes salvation is achieved by faith in Jesus + anything else.

    It's the paradox of Christian faith. As much as God desires our obedience, we are still given path to heaven only by faith in Christ. However, we must be careful to avoid Jesus Minusisms as well.

    Jesus + works does not equate to salvation, but Jesus minus works should call into question one's faith. Jesus + doctrine most clearly does not equate to salvation, but Jesus - doctrine is baseless ... Which Jesus do you believe in?

    This is why I think Paul always balanced his profession of the simple Gospel by explaining how the simple Gospel inspires him to passionately pursue physical, emotional, and mental conformity with the nature of God (as perfectly reflected in the life of Christ on earth). In Galations, Paul uses "Gospel" and "grace" interchangably, because grace is the driving factor. As we are saved by grace, we are bondservants to grace, to serve God and man by and with the same grace.

    To Paul, the question never seemed to be "What can I get away with and still get into heaven?" To Paul, the question always seemed to be, "If God has given this perfect act of grace and mercy for me, how could I not hunger to honor him?"

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Dallas meeting?

    I'll be in Dallas on business from Sunday night until Wednesday afternoon. I don't know what my schedule will be like, but I think dinner Monday or Tuesday evening would be doable if any reader here is interested in meeting the idiot behind this blog.

    If interested, e-mail me at matt(at)mattandjess.com.

    It's hard to be a techie anymore

    I've always been a techie. That's techie, not Trekkie, although it used to be difficult to tell one apart from the other.

    At least I've always thought of myself as a techie.

    Lately, I've decided I've probably never been a techie. I'm somewhere out there in the tertiary expanse of techi-ness -- someone who marveled at new toys, but waited until a hint of mainstream to adopt. I have a friend who bought a TV phone in 1998 and is still waiting to meet someone else who has one so he can place a face-to-face phone call.

    My brother and my wife are techies. They just adapt immediately the latest things, and they have the text messaged arthritic thumbs to prove it.

    I discovered my failing techie qualifications recently when my wife decided talking was a waste of breath. She could just message me on our phones, which have unlimited text messaging accounts. I hate it. It's like learning typing all over again, only there is no Mavis Beacon for Kyocera to date.

    I remember gasping when my father told me learning how to type was the surest way to doom a career to a secretarial job. Now he's paying the price at 60, paying through the nose for us computer geeks to teach him every simple thing on the computer.

    I never thought I would follow in my father's shoes, but I find myself becoming more and more distant from the techie fringe. I've listened to MP3s for years, but I've never owned a portable MP3 player. I've learn to hate the ring on my cell phone and text messaging is the bain of my existence. I don't even drink Mountain Dew and I've never been to a rave.

    Am I going to get left behind when the next great technology push advances?

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    A Christian's signature

    John at Blogotional references my post and Lauren's post on Christian civility in The Call To Hospitality.

    John writes:

    Blogging cannot be the church, we lack the ability to fulfil sacramental functions, and I believe the church calls for fleshly human contact - but perhaps we can model this aspect for the the church and it can learn from us.

    Hospitality is, I think the missing ingredient in most churches today, and by hospitality, I do not mean "friendly."

    First, it's ironic that John would mention me in a post on this subject. When I first joined the blogosphere, I didn't give John a fair shake because I didn't understand his perspective. It took about a month of lowering my pride to consider exactly what he was saying before realizing we actually agree on a lot, and I was being an over-sensitive weenie by taking offense to some of his open criticisms (properly aimed at beliefs and practices, not people).

    John is now one of my favorites and daily reads, but God had to punch some holes in my pride first.

    What I see in this growing New Year's call for Christian civility is something I was taught in Sunday School as the Christians signature or calling card: We are supposed to be unique to the world, visibly transformed so that people who don't know Christ will recognize us as positiviely different.

    Just as they will not know us by our Cadillac Escalades, neither will they know us for a our million-dollar theological arguments.

    But being civil among Christians is not just a missional purpose. We miss sight of one of the great benefits of being Christians when we are in constant attack -- allowing the Spirit to work between us, knitting us together. Ignoring this all the time grieves the Spirit, I think.

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    A weighty matter

    Rick has installed me in the weight-loss challenge. The first one to lose 50 lbs. wins.

    Today I weighed in at 337 lbs. It's the heaviest weight I've ever recorded. This means I have a net weight gain of +35 after having a net weight loss of +98 (give or take a few tacos) just three years ago. That can't be good on my heart. That's that's over a 140 lbs. swing.

    I was moving some stuff around the house today and took out the garbage. I was breathing really hard. I've never been this out of shape in my life. I'm 36 now. At age 15 I ran a 5:30 mile and played football. I love to sweat. I just haven't done much of it the last 10 years.

    The only caveat in this competition is I've developed throbbing pains in both of my knees. I saw the doctor last week and we're still waiting on x-rays for a diagnosis. Blood tests were taken and, amazingly, everything looked good, including my blood-sugar and cholesterol. Rheumatoid was ruled out.

    Unfortunately, that could mean having both my knees scoped in the next couple months. That would put me out of action for awhile.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Fresh air in the blogosphere

    I guess I'm something of a snooper. That's how I end up at blogs of people I don't know.

    I followed the link of "Lauren," who commented at my buddy Rick's website and the two appear to have established a blogging connection, not unlike the one I have with Brad.

    The link took me to an interesting blog with a refreshingly honest post..

    Lauren talks about her past year blogging under a different blog title, and how her expectations were dashed once she realized the God Blogs are dominated by people who have God, the Bible, the Church, and all things spiritual in a tightly condensed box called "My Knowledge Trumps Yours."

    Upon first reading, it dawned on me that I'm old enough and experienced enough as a church-going person to have actually met many people like that in real life. I suppose my expectations of God Blogs were really, really low because of that, and so all of you wonderful people I've met since last February have been delightful surprises.

    But that's not really what Lauren's post is about. It's really a confessional, and whether or not Lauren's perception of her own blogging excesses is accurate, her conclusion is breathtaking:

    With this new blog, I entered the blogdom on a different note and with a single goal in mind. I wanted to make friends. You see something had happened to me, that I didn't like at all, the first time around; I lost myself. I was changing in order to try to fit in with the big boys, and I was beginning to lose my sense of humor and my joy of life.

    In a profoundly introspective and simple way, Lauren captures a problem endemic not only in the blogosphere but in the Church at large.

    Blogging was created not as a means for everyone to become their own op-ed columnist. Blogging is not supposed to be a monologue. It was created for the purpose of freely sharing ideas. The understated, underemphasized point is blogging is supposed to engender fellowship. As Christian bloggers, we should be reveling in this concept.

    Furthermore, as Christians, we should be above high school-type social situations. You shouldn't have to wear the right kind of designer theology to join the discussion. As much as Trinity-based, Bible-believing, Gospel-bound Evangelicalism is challenged by people who wish to stretch it too much, we are still supposed to be an inclusive, tolerant bunch. We do not rule by edict or seer, and by such, the grace we profess should cover the excesses of those we should clearly publically and privately recognize as our own.

    When we go to church, we are there to worship God not as individuals, but as a group of believers who hold to the most important doctrine of corporate Church: God commanded us to worship Him in unity.

    No doubt, we are segregated for some very good and some very weak reasons, but the bottom line is we wish to worship God in the ways that best represent our own conscience. I would not expect an SBC member to feel comfortable in my Vineyard any more than I would feel comfortable in the United Methodist church down the street. However, if there is such a thing as Evangelicalism and we do agree on the main and plain things of the Gospel -- and we agree we are part of the corporate Body -- then we are obligated to God to agree to agree whenever we are gathered, however we are gathered, in the interest of the highest form of faith we tell the world is so simple and so fulfilling.

    This does not rule out disagreement, but certainly there is a level of discourse that should be set apart from the nature of this world.

    I'm glad I found Lauren, and I'm glad she has also found this site. This single post has shown me we have a kinship -- a shared spiritual understanding -- that supercedes what other differences we might have.

    These moments are the reason I surely began blogging.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    The Biggest Loser

    This post has nothing to do with a semi-pelagian poopyhead.

    Rick has issued the challenge of the Big Christian Brother Pound Dropping Extravaganza. The first "big boy" to lose 50 lbs. after the official Jan. 8 weigh in is the losing champ of 2006.

    I am accepting the challenge.

    On Jan. 8 I will post my weight and begin a promising weight-loss campaign. It's kind of a bummer because Rick already has some weight loss momentum. I, on the other hand, am in the middle of real estate school and preparing for a business trip to Dallas.

    Professional handicaps aside, I assure you I will prove to be a worthy component, since I could probably hide my TV remotes for a couple weeks and lose 20 lbs.

    Sycamore on Discipline

    Brian Colmery has begun his series on discipline. It's the first in the series, but so far he's produced this gem of a quote:

    Before we can discuss spiritual discipline properly, we have to understand that the purpose in the whole endeavor is to respond to the love that God so lavishly bestows upon us continually in Christ. Our goal is to discipline ourselves to respond properly to that love, to live a life defined by and immersed in that love. Any other purpose will be hypocritical at best and pharasaical at worst.

    Stay tuned. I think Brian's just getting warmed up.

    The bear awakens

    Seems Phillip Johnson has shaken off warm fuzzy holiday feelings to return to his more forceful writing style.

    (Thanks to Glenn for tipping me off, because I'd gotten out of the habit of checking the Pyro on a daily basis).

    Phillip has revisited, as promised, his series on modern-day prophecy, and makes six very strong statements about the topic. I want to highlight No. 6:

    6. Thinking you can discern the will of God by your own feelings is not only perilous; it is positively, carnally sinful.

    This was such a beautifully worded Biblical statement, I disregarded anything else he said. Of course, we disagree on whether God speaks to His people today, but that doesn't change that strength of that last word -- ironically, one that I feel is a prophetic statement to the Church today.

    My own pastor -- I attend a Vineyard, which has been accused of being a feelings-based church -- has said basically the same thing from his own pulpit for 14 years:

    We are not led by what we feel. We are led by what we know, he says while holding up his Bible.

    Now, I still might say something like, "I sense God telling me ...," but that is not a normative statement. That is a statement being weighed, and not one on which I will make life decisions. Short of Biblical direction, however, I always try to leave room for such an occasion that God is leading me down a path I would not choose based on my own understanding of the world.

    I say it this way because of my deep respect for the Word.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006


    It cost me $325, but I've got a functional iBook after 4 mos. of borrowing time on other computers. I can't tell you what a relief it is.

    Turns out the previous owner broke the logic board when he dropped the machine. There was a loose metal nut rolling around the innards, and I suppose I'm lucky I didn't blow the thing up.

    I think a new iBook is going to be in the works, I just haven't decided what I want to do yet. This one's two years old, but as long as I can run OSX and still pick up the Internet, this thing is a beautiful machine.

    After 4 mos. of Win-doze, it feels like a dream using a powerful operating system. I almost forgot how intuitive OSX is. Wow ... a little taste of heaven.