Jun 28, 2008

WALL-E Review

I haven't posted a movie review for a while. Mostly I have been putting them on my Rotten Tomatoes site. But this one was too good to not comment.

I don't always want to write my review of good movies right away. I want to dwell on them and twirl them around in my head before I try to distill them into a short(ish) posting. But then I'm torn when I see a fantastic moie because the storyteller in me wants to chat with someone about the piece of art I just saw. I guess waiting until the next morning is enough of a compromise.

Sooner or later, I guess we will stop being surprised by Pixar's genius. I keep hearing people say, "Sooner or later they have to make a flop. They can't keep this up forever." You know what that is starting to sound like? It sounds like sore losers, or people who just cannot enjoy beauty without trying to destroy it. When I walked out of WALL-E yesterday afternoon, I asked my wife, "What do you think the people who make all the OTHER animated films think when they walk out of a Pixar movie? Can they possibly feel good about what they are creating? Did the makers of Barnyard walk out of WALL-E and feel like they had done a good job on their film?"

SIDE NOTE: The animated short Presto was funnier and better made than just about any comedy I've seen in the last ten years. I laughed so hard that I wished they had made a full length version of it. It was in the legacy of Bugs Bunny and the truly classic Looney Tunes - even included a rabbit. If it doesn't win Best Animated Short, I give up on the Oscars.

Pixar long crossed the line of making kids films. Sure, their films are unbelievably popular with kids. And my kids loved WALL-E, running right home to start "playing WALL-E" (which largely consisted of hauling their toys around in boxes and dumping them behind the chairs). But they became full fledged artists with the beauty of Cars. And they proved they can compete with "grown up films" when they were nominated for the Oscar for Best Screenplay for Ratatouille. But, with WALL-E, they went farther. I really think that if there is any justice in the Academy of Awards, WALL-E will be up for Best Picture.

You may laugh to yourself, but I can say this. I love movies. I watch a LOT of movies. And I have only found myself sitting quiet at the end of a movie, just thinking about what I saw a handful of times. That is when I know a movie really hit me where it matters. Henry V, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, The Matrix, Batman Begins. Those are some of the ones that left me speechless and emotional. WALL-E did the same thing to me.

We have gotten so accustomed to the gorgeous animation that it isn't even surprising now. But the thing that I can't get over is the STORYTELLING. Pixar writes amazing stories. This one was so layered and intricate. It was a powerful environmental message, urging us to be more careful about our planet. It was a cautionary warning against materialist excess. It was an unbelievable love story - unlike anything I've seen in a while. I was a reminder that doing what you are told sometimes challenges doing what is right. It was a call to humans to be more than just robots - and to stop living behind screens, missing the beauty and joy of life all around us.

At the heart of the movie is WALL-E, a trash disposal robot left on Earth to clean up after the humans. Supposedly, once the robots cleaned the planet, the humans would return. But that, as we see from the opening zooming shots, is impossible. He is the last working robot and he spends his days working, exploring, interacting with his pet roach, and learning about love - all while being lonely. One day, EVE arrives on a huge, loud, disruptive spaceship. She is looking for something. WALL-E is smitten. EVE soon begins to grow fond of him and his quirks - developing a few of her own. Once her mission is completed, she is picked up and WALL-E cannot bear to see her go, hitching an intergalactic ride.

We soon see that the robots are more human than the humans - giving in to power lust and ego, sectoring off those who are different, developing consciences. The humans have become robots - blindly taking orders, living behind screens, losing their humanity. The story was powerful and convicting. It showed how people are going to be in trouble if we continue to live like we do - addicted to "stuff", hiding from interaction, ignoring warning signs, killing our emotions.

Removing all of that, you are left with a passionate and beautiful love story. You see WALL-E being the kind of person we should all be. He loves life, enjoys his work, find pleasure in the little things. And when he finds someone to love, he does it with everything he is. He loves her unconditionally. He wants her to be the best she can be, even if that means without him. His relentless and pure love affects everyone he sees. I know, as we saw it played out, there were moments where I felt myself wishing I could be more like that with the people I hold dear. I misted up several times as the movie built to its climax. And I felt something that most movies, especially summer ones, think they can do without - genuine emotion. I saw it in my
kids as they responded to scenes.

It was a fabulous experience, and one that made me think about a lot of things. WALL-E is a classic, powerful film. I haven't seen anything like it for a long time. I wish every filmmaker would see it just to be reminded of how films are supposed to be made. Animated or not, WALL-E was a true winner.

Jun 24, 2008

Sad Day for Orlando Pizza Scene

I woke up this morning and checked the news as I usually do.  I was greeted with this horrifying news headline on the Orlando Slantinel.  "Donato's Pizzeria Closes in Orlando, Cuts About 140 Jobs"  I don't want to seem calloused, especially in the economic scene now - but I didn't honestly immediately care about the jobs.  Instead, I went, "WHAT!?!?"  When Heather woke up, I told her and she said, "Noooooo."  What a way to start the day.

Now, before you get the opinion that I have my priorities completely out of whack (or if this merely cements that opinion you already had), let me explain.  Donato's is a pizza chain that started in Ohio.  And we in Orlando have been blessed enough to have 11 Donato's around town since we moved here.  Now, at first I didn't really get the wonder of the chain.  It had some really quirky things going on - you would call from your table back to the kitchen to order your food, they used paper plates and cups.  But I soon began to appreciate the food there - and our whole family loved it.

It is no secret that I love pizza.  It is my favorite food.  Sure, I am a big fan of other foods too (ice cream, a really good steak, lasagna).  But pizza is that food that I can eat multiple times a week.  I'll have it for lunch and still be okay eating it for dinner.  I'll eat it three nights in a row and then get it again the next day for lunch.  You may call that a problem.  I call it food love.  One of my interests is food - I watch Food Network, I love grilling, I love making recipes and having people enjoy them.  Pizza is the top of that heap.  I love Chicago style, New York style, thick crust, thin and crispy, hand tossed, flatbread, french bread.  I even can tolerate mediocre or poor pizza.  

My favorite pizza place is Pizzeria Uno.  It serves deep dish pizza that is UNBELIEVABLE.  There are no Unos in Tampa or Jacksonville.  So it has been a journey of happiness every time I move back to Orlando.  How much do I like Uno?  I went there for my bachelor party.  We ate there on our honeymoon.  I go there most birthdays.  But the problem is that it is not cheap.  Pizza should be cheap.  I have hundreds of coupons for Pizza Hut and Dominos and Papa Johns.  That's the only way I'll order it from those places.  I used to love Pizza Hut - hated the other two of the big three.  But Donato's ruined all of that.  It became our replacement for Uno.

Three things made us become Donato's acolytes.  First, they had a No Dough Pizza that Heather ate when she was pregnant with Gabe and had to fight gestational diabetes.  Second, I got one of those area discount cards from Oviedo High School.  It took $3 off a large pizza at Donato's.  You know how awesome that is?  Knocked the price down to $9.99.  Third, we moved last summer five minutes away from a Donato's.  It was right down the street.  It could deliver in 20 minutes.  I could pick it up at the drive by window in 15 minutes.  So, combine all of that.  We could all eat for $15 (kids split a stromboli) or $19 (kids BOTH get a individual pizza).  The toppings were fresh.  The crust was awesome.  They had fresh mozzarella as a topping.  It was as cheap as McDonald's and it was PIZZA.  Really good pizza.  Their pepperoni was super - guaranteed to have 100 slices on each large pizza.  

And the memories that come with it.  I remember Heather being pregnant with Gabe and Donato's being the one time she felt like she could eat "normal food."  I remember when Josiah stopped ordering the pizza kids meal and wanted to try the stromboli.  It was such a "big boy" food choice.  And he loved it.  I remember eating out on the patio with Toney Sauls one night when our wives were both out of town.  And I remember Heather and I splitting the large pizza (half pepperoni, half fresh mozz) sitting on the bed, watching Friends, while Gabe nursed and napped.  It was more than just losing a pizza place - it was losing something our whole family loved together.  

Now it's gone.  We have to go back to Pizza Hut.  Ugh.  It reminds me of when Red Robin burgers closed down in West Palm Beach when I was in school.  I nearly cried.  That sounds dumb - but I had so many memories there.  I went there every birthday.  Our youth group used to go there all the time.  They had a burger with FRIED EGG on it (before my deadly egg allergy kicked in).  They had the best mozzarella sticks, best seasoned waffle fries, best burgers, AND Mountain Dew.  It was so awesome.  

I found a few Red Robins over the years - one in Allentown, one in California.  We've eaten there and it is never the same.  The mozzarella sticks are still great - but honestly I've found better over the years.  They ditched their waffle fries.  And I can't have the egg on the burger any more.  Last time, I didn't even get Mountain Dew.  Donato's will still be around - and they are expanding into the Carolinas.  We sometimes are up there - I may be up there two or three times before the end of the year.  And I'm sure I'll visit their new "counter service" option.  But I know it won't have the same memories or feel.  That's the thing about losing something like that.  The memories end up making it much better than it ever was.  And I guess that's why I was so sad this morning.  It was closing the book on something special - and knowing we couldn't replace it or get it back.  And I am sad for those employees who did such a great job keeping us happy, making up for their mistakes, and letting us switch the TV to Noggin or Nick when we were alone in the back room.  I hope they can find new jobs - especially with the bad job market.  Well, I guess I should get back to work - I have to find a new pizza place.

Jun 18, 2008

Legends Defined

As if the US Open this past weekend was not impressive enough, we now find out that Tiger Woods played the tournament with a torn ACL and a double stress fracture in his tibia.  In fact, he has had a torn ACL for the last ten months - and has won nine of twelve tournaments during that time (one of the losses was a second place finish in the Masters).  And he did all of this WITH A TORN ACL!?!  I was still trying to get over the fact that he won the US Open less than two months after knee surgery - and that he did that by playing a 91 hole tournament where he had to birdie the 18th hole TWICE to stay in it.  That, my loyal readers, is the definition of a freak.

How demoralizing is this news to the PGA Tour?  They lose Tiger for the rest of the year.  The average ACL surgery knocks a top athlete out for 16-18 months.  That means Tiger should be ready by the Masters next year (10 months).  So now ratings will plummet.  But think of the rest of the golfers on the tour.  They thought that maybe, just maybe, they were getting closer to Woods.  His failure to close out the win at Augusta, the way he barely won the US Open.  Now they find out that he had a TORN ACL the whole time.  

I knew a guy with a torn ACL.  He limped around so bad.  I have had two knee surgeries.  Both of them knocked me out big time.  I was still on crutches after the first surgery six weeks later - the same time Tiger won the US Open.  It was curious that they played the Nike commercial with Tiger and his dad on Sunday during the fourth round.  His dad was talking and saying how he used to knock bags of clubs over when Tiger was in mid-swing as a kid - trying to distract him.  The point of the commercial was the ending, when his dad said that Tiger would never enter a tournament where he was not the mentally strongest competitor.  If that wasn't proven this past weekend, it never will be.  How you could ignore the usual pressure of a tournament ... no wait, a major tournament ... no wait, a major tournament playoff ... no wait, a major tournament sudden death playoff hole ... no wait, a major tournament sudden death playoff with a TORN ACL AND STRESS FRACTURES IN YOUR LEG -- I don't get it.

Compare that with Kobe Bryant.  There has been this big battle over the recent years, trying to convince sports fans that Kobe is as good as Michael Jordan was.  Sports fans think this is ridiculous - unless they are beyond stupid and blind Lakers fans in L.A.  Sports fans watched Michael Jordan and know that there never has been a player like that.  And there probably never will be again.  Not only was he the best player on any court he stepped on, he also was the most mentally prepared player, the most intimidating player, and the most powerful player.  This NBA Finals should put this whole argument to rest forever - in my opinion.
  • Michael Jordan never would have pitched a media hissy fit and demanded a trade before the season - to the point where it nearly happened.
  • Jordan never would have thrown his entire team under the bus to try to show how great he was.  He would have taken them aside in the locker room and eviscerated them there, threatening to maim them if they messed up again.  And then he would have hugged them and said on national television they were the most essential player ever.
  • Jordan would never have allowed one of his teams to lose a game after having a 24 point lead in the 3rd quarter - AT HOME.  He would have put the team on his back and forced them to win.  Kobe just disappeared.
  • And Jordan never ever ever would have let his team get blown out by 39 points in the series clinching game - especially not to their biggest rivals.  He didn't lose Finals.  6-0.  Bryant is 3-2, despite having the stronger team in both of those losses.
I'm sure we'll see a lot of excuses over the next few days about why the Lakers lost.  To me, the biggest reason is that #8, I mean #24 - Kobe "Black Mamba" Bryant - the man who HAD to be the centerpiece of the Lakers and destroyed a legacy to prove it - the man who desperately wants to be as good as Jordan - the man who hates his teammates, his coach, everyone but himself --- they lost because Kobe Bryant let his team down.  He disappeared when it counted.  He choked and did not deliver the goods.  He had no excuses.  The team had made trades to help him out.  He was healthy.  He had the best coach.  They even had better travel back to Boston.  And he couldn't get it done when it mattered.  Again.

Comparing those two stories, that is why Tiger is going to go down as the toughest, strongest, best golfer EVER.  And Kobe, in my opinion, is going to go down as a really good player who should have been better.  

Jun 17, 2008

MUSIC REVIEW: Chris Sligh's Running Back to You

I have been hard on Christian music for many years.  In fact, this has been one characteristic of mine that has really not changed much since high school.  I remember irritating my youth pastor Jimmy Fogleman with my caustic comments about various Christian albums.  That didn't stop in college . . . or in Tampa . . . or in Orlando.  I even have made rude comments about Christian music to my friend Dave Senes - who is the Programming Director for WAY-FM Christian Radio in Nashville.  (He took them well - filed them in the "Ignore what David Says File.")  Why have I been such a jerk over the years?  

I think it is because I love music.  I listen to music whenever I can.  More correctly, I love good music (doesn't explain my Weird Al albums).  It should have good music, and good lyrics.  I want it to be moving and powerful and fun.  Music has always been a part of my life.  I often just find myself singing for no reason as I wander around - songs I know, songs that I change the lyrics to, songs in a bizarre Operatic or choral style that drives Heather nuts.  My kids have heard my singing since they were babies when I would walk and sing them to sleep.  Sadly, due to my acid reflux, my singing voice is much damaged and does not have much range.  But I still love music.  

Here's what I hate about music.  I hate being told who I am supposed to like (David Crowder).  I hate having older artists get by on their laurels for years even after they lose their passion and skill (Point of Grace).  I hate having music executives identify trends and put out clone artists to make money (Whoever the Sarah Bareilles knockoff is on the radio now).  I hate songs being played over and over and over again until you learn to hate them (Chris Tomlin).  I hate contrived and manipulative songs that try to jerk your emotions for no reason other than that they can (Cinderella, Mark Schultz).  Put all those things together, and you can see why I am so hard on Christian music.  The industry as a whole is guilty of all of those things - on a very regular basis.  And Christian radio just perpetuates those problems.  

The problem is that when I don't listen to Christian music, and I am saturated with other music, I begin to find myself drifting.  I don't think there is anything wrong with me listening to U2 or Michael Buble.  But if that is all I do, I drift.  So I have to force myself to listen to Z88.3 - our Orlando Christian station - or to my iPod, which doesn't work right in my car.  After doing that for a few days, I get to the point where I can't take it anymore and find myself listening to Rihanna warbling about her Umbrella-ella-ella or lying boyfriend.  

All of this contributes to why I am so thrilled when I find some high quality Christian music.  A couple weeks ago, I heard a song "Empty Me" on the Z.  It was great - and a familiar voice.  I looked at Heather and asked, "Is that Chris Sligh?"  Sure enough, the DJ announced it was Sligh from his new album.  When it iTunes, I bought it.  And, dang, it is great.  For those of you who don't know, Chris Sligh was in American Idol 2007.  He was the slightly chunky guy with curly longer black hair.  During the early rounds, he sang Mute Math and dcTalk.  And his poking fun at himself and Simon got him early favorite status.  Well, right before the final 12 were named, he started to develop a bit more nasty attitude with Simon - nearly got him booted.

Once the Top 12 started, the fun loving Sligh was nowhere to be seen.  He was still popular enough to make it through the first two shows, but got booted and finished 10th.  His comment was, "I made the AI Tour, which was my goal."  It made us wonder what had happened to him.  And after listening to this CD, maybe a small hint comes out.  His song "Empty Me" talks about how the spotlight is addictive, how quickly your heart can stray, how fast you become a prodigal.  It makes me realize that he may have been battling a lot more than we thought in those contests.

The CD itself is 13 incredible songs - all written by Sligh.  He also plays numerous instruments and does background vocals.  I have not heard an album this good since Kevin Max's "The Blood" CD I mentioned back in January.  Actually, Sligh's is better.  A quick rundown of the CD:
  1. ARISE - Incredible song about God's mercies discovered each morning.
  2. CRY TONIGHT - About the fear involved in trusting God, thanks to all the times we've been hurt by people.
  3. I'M CLEAN - One of the greatest songs I've ever heard about God's forgiveness.  Talks about how God sees us wrapped in Christ's Righteousness.  Difficult concept for people to understand and accept - much less write songs about.
  4. EMPTY ME - "Empty me of me so I can be filled with you."  Sums it up.
  5. SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL - We can't understand the mysteries of God's grace.  We just know they are amazing and beautiful.
  6. LET YOU KNOW - Great music on this one about trying to figure ourselves out.
  7. IN A MOMENT - Christ's love changes everything in a moment.
  8. ARE YOU PLEASED? - My favorite song on the disc.  INCREDIBLE lyrics.  Asking God are you pleased with me?
  9. POTENTIAL - The frustration of when are finally going to grow up and "make it" to a maturity in life.  Great relatable song.
  10. LOADED GUN - Took me a while on this one, then got severely convicted by it.  We claim to be loving, but never make our words match our lives - or our witness.
  11. WAITING FOR YOU - Echoes of Rich Mullins in this question of why God takes so long.
  12. LOVE IS RAINING DOWN - Fun upbeat song about God's love.
  13. VESSEL - Inspired my post on being a Vessel recently.
I know this was a long post that was roundabout in its purpose.  But I have been wanting to write about this album for weeks.  It is amazing.  And I think it would encourage so many people.  Plus, the dude's voice is gorgeous and the music is a fun mix of stuff you would hear on any station on the dial.  In short, it is not locked into "Christian music" genre - even though the words are some of the most Christian I've heard in a loooooong time.  Full of theology and doctrine and wrestling.  In fact, I think I'll listen to it again.

Jun 13, 2008


Sorry that I was not able to keep up with the Wesleyan blogging like I hoped. There was no WIFI at the exhibit hall, so any updates had to be done on my phone, hitting those little tiny keys with my thumbnails. And the battery was not designed for stuff like that. Plus there wasn't all THAT much going on to justify constant updates. And I was tired. And my back hurt. Mah mah, wah wah.

So I decided to just put my thoughts down about the event. Lots of the exhibitors felt let down at the way the hall was set up. There was not a constant flow of traffic, and the people coming through were not people who would be hiring architects or starting capital stewardship campaigns. Personally, I wasn't to upset. It gave me a chance to actually chat with each person. That helped me to explain things better without feeling rushed.

I also got to spend a lot of time talking to my fellow vendors. This included the trio from churchwebworks.com - who have some great web hosting and creation deals. And I got to chat with Mark Kelly from Heritage Foundation. He was really cool. I also got to wander around and meet the representatives from several Wesleyan colleges - who were excited about possibly having Defender come to their campuses.

The best part, though, was getting to talk with the various people who knew Heather's family. Heather's grandparents - John and Eva Blann - served for many many years within the Pilgrim Holiness, and subsequent Wesleyan church. They were missionaries to Africa. They served in churches with John as a pastor. And he also served at the Frankfort Wesleyan Bible College as President. Their daughter, Lois, is my mother-in-law. On Heather's dad's side, her uncle Dr. Dave Babb is on staff with the Wesleyans in the Penn-Jersey District. And that family has been very active in the church.

So, I would talk to various people, and most of them knew at least one of those people. Some knew all of them. One couple had served in Africa with the Blanns. Another remembered babysitting Lois, and were good friends with Uncle Dave. The thing that I noticed is that everyone who knew the Blanns, Babbs, or Crissingers thought so highly of them. They raved about how wonderful they were and the impact they had. It was such an honor to be a part of that family - and representing them in some way. I have never ever been treated as an outsider by my in-laws. From the very outset, I became part of the family and was treated just like a blood relative. They love me, defend me, support me. Uncle Dave was beating the Defender drum to anyone he could. The Blanns - even in their late 80s - cried when I first told them we were starting the ministry because they knew how many people needed to be rescued from the sins we address. And to see how much these families have done through the years serving God was awesome.

The conference as a whole had a wonderful feeling to it. There was love all around. People would reconnect there - look for old pastors or fellow missionaries. They would share stories. There is a genuine love for missions - and missionaries play a vital role in the conference. In fact, most of the older ministers served at some point overseas. Since so many went to the Wesleyan colleges, there is a camaraderie there between alumni. And there is an acceptance of other races - I noticed a large number of African-American pastors and leadership. It was so nice to be there.

It gave me pause when I contrasted it to the Baptist conferences I have been to. I don't want to bash my own denomination. But honestly, I never felt anything like this at anything they have put on. There is a lot of comparisons being tossed around. Who has the biggest budget, best building, biggest attendance, largest membership. It sounds like a high school locker room. There isn't love. There isn't a respect for the elder generation. They are seen as "out of touch" and shoved out as soon as possible. The big shots with the new hot schemes are embraced. But the younger generation - unless they are homegrown superstars with the right name or right assignment - are given the whole "shut up until you pay your dues" treatment. Missions almost exists strictly to satiate some guilt for not wanting to reach out past their own walls. And most of the business done is arguing over petty rules, finding new ways to get the rest of the world rankled, and bloviating over useless points of contention.

I actually was embarrassed and a little upset at the difference. Sure, this post will in and of itself tick off some of my fellow Baptists. They will immediately attack the Wesleyans for their differences in theology (which I am well aware of - having spent eight years living very close to several of their ministers). They will call them liberal and accuse me of selling out. Which kind of goes to prove my point. It was very interesting. I was reading John MacArthur's book The Tale of Two Sons while I was sitting for hours. It was very good. At one point, I was sitting there laughing to myself about the contradictions going on in my booth - a Baptist reading a book written by a Calvinist at a Wesleyan conference. The lessons of the book - about how Jesus was targeting the Pharisees yet again with the story, calling out their hypocrisy and obsessive commitment to useless man-made traditions and rules - really resonated with me this week. I realized how sometimes I am that hypocrite. Sometimes I judge like the older brother. And sometimes I join my denomination in finger pointing and accusing, refusing to go into the party like the older sibling to prove a point. I also thought about how blessed I was to be a part of something so sweet as the Wesleyan celebration. Whatever worries I had slipped away as minister after minster shook my hand and thanked me for doing what I was doing. Person after person said they would pray for us, or wanted to use us -- in numbers unlike anything in my own group of churches. And while I am not going to disavow my church membership or switch places of worship, for those five days I was more than happy, and quite honored, to be invited to their fellowship. In fact, even with the 13 hour days, I was a bit sad to have to leave. I look forward to working with them again.

Jun 9, 2008


I'm posting this using my cell phone. There is no WIFI available to the exhibitors. Well, I'm sure you could pay for it somewhere. There area few things I would report back from yesterday.

- No one knows what Defender Ministries is at first glance. The top guesses have been: Christian Martial Arts, Legal Defense Fund, Home Security, and Computer Security Provider.

- I always am amazed by the Christian heritage of Heather's family. I met the missionaries who served in Africa with her grandparents. Her uncle is on the General Board. I basically can tell most people I am related to the Blanns, Babbs, and Crissingers and get the "oh yeah I know them" nod.

- I met a missionary to Northeast India from New Zealand, several pastors from India, one from England, Barbados, Panama, Belgium, Tanzania, and Jamaica. You have to love it.

- It amazing to me that there are still people who work in the church who think our ministry deals with "non essential" issues.

Keep checking this the rest of the week. If I get bored, I may post again.

Jun 7, 2008


I know that these have always been raving successes - the "live blog" from my various events.  It helps keep you, the single solitary reader, up to date on my exciting life with "so close it will feel like you were there" moments.  I am going to try to do this for my latest escapade:  Running the Defender Ministries Table at The Wesleyan General Assembly Meeting.  You canNOT get more exciting than that.  I know that some of you have Disney passes or go to concerts or travel the world.  But where else can you possibly have more fun that sitting at a six foot table at a conference, waiting to talk to pastors who would rather be out be tourists than talking to you?  

So, here is the first installment.  Ready?
  • 6:00am - Wake up.  That's right.  Wake up at 6:00am on a Saturday.  Why?
  • 8:00am - Show up at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort.  I was told to be there at 8:00am to set up.  I never got an exhibitor packet, so that is what I did.
  • 8:10am - Realize I parked at the opposite end of the convention center.
  • 8:15am - Find the table and begin the set up procedure.  I have done this at a variety of conferences before.  Each time I learn more about how to make your table worth stopping at.  You need to have free stuff.  That's the basic lesson.  So we are giving away - basic lessoans.  People can score free books.  I worked very hard to get all the books all nice and pretty and straight.
  • 8:40am - Talk to Price Gouging Electrician.  I had expressed an interest in having power in my booth so I could charge my laptop battery.  I plan on doing some work during the many hours of loneliness.  When I talked to the Price Gouging Electrician, he proved to not just have a clever name by telling me it would be 120 DOLLARS for power.  Now, mind you, there are power cords running the length of the exhibit hall, with outlets at each booth.  But for me to use it, I have to pay 120 DOLLARS.  Not in a million years.  My plan now is to make sure both my battery and spare battery are charged, and I will recharge during breaks in the lobby with the free electricity.
  • 8:55am - Sit Down to Read Convention Program Guide.  With my table complete, before I busted out the laptop, I decided to look at the program.  Very few exhibitors were even there, let alone set up.  I read through the days and saw that the Saturday session began at 8:00am.  Weird, there didn't seem to be enough cars.  And then nothing else was scheduled for the day.  
  • 9:00am - Re-read Program Guide.  Having successfully read the program guide once, I went to prove my reading prowess by tackling it a second time.  It was this time that I read that the Saturday session begins at 8:00PM.  Uh.....
  • 9:02am - Leave
Now, that sounds fun, huh?  It seems pointless to stick around for 11 hours for nothing.  So I went home, went to a birthday party, stuff like that.  Oh, and as a special bonus corollary to the above recap, here is the recap of my laptop preparation for tomorrow.
  • 10:45am - Sit Down to Charge Up Computer Batteries
  • 10:47am - Pull Spare Laptop Battery Out of Computer Back Pack
  • 10:48am - See This

  • 10:50am - Go Huh?
  • 6:40pm - Show up at the Apple Store for my appointment to see an Apple Genius to Explain the Exploding Battery
  • 7:35pm - Actually See a Genius who has not a faint idea how the battery exploded, but will give me a new one.
So that has been my exciting day.  Tomorrow, I hope to actually have some conversations at the event that we paid to set up an exhibit at.  For now, though, I am going to let the new battery charge whilst I go to sleep.

Jun 6, 2008

Wake Up Call

You know those moments that just stop you in your tracks?  The ones that change your mood for days?  I had one of those last night.  Heather and I were watching So You Think You Can Dance and enjoying it immensely.  (That show is better than American Idol - and I am not anywhere close to a dance fan.)  Anyway, Heather was on Facebook online.  She turns to me and says, "Did someone die at First Baptist today?"  Strange question.  "Uh, what?"  She explained that several people on our friend lists had something in their status about losing a friend and mourning for someone.  We pieced it all together and it looked like a woman named Staci Smith had passed away.

I called someone to check and they verified the news.  When you hear something like that, it is like the air is sucked out of the room.  You just sit there and try to figure out what happened.  Staci was a wonderful person.  She served as the youth secretary for a while, and I worked with her on a couple of events with Defender.  Her sister and I worked together for a while at the church - she was the Education Secretary.  Both of them were in the choir and sang solos.  Staci was beautiful and funny (often at her own expense) - and she battle many of the same demons I do.  She always poked fun of herself and felt bad about her weight - something I do as well.  I really enjoyed talking with her.  And Heather thought she was great.  We never spent a ton of time with her, but the time we spent was more than enough to convince us she was great.

And she was gone - just like that.

Forty-three year old women don't just die.  Their husbands don't come home from work and find them.  Their teenagers don't have to learn how to mourn so fast.  Their daughters shouldn't have to deal with that on their high school graduation day!  That isn't supposed to happen.  Death is supposed to be reserved for people who have lived their lives.  That's what we tell ourselves.  It is a coping mechanism to help us deal with the terrifying concept of death.  When death dare encroach on our comfort zone - when it claims a child or a young person or a mom, that just isn't right.  It throws our entire life into chaos.  We don't like the thought that death is no respecter of person or age or gender.  

Staci's death was a huge shock to everyone.  I was up at First Baptist today for about an hour working on something and everyone was moving a bit slower.  It was like there was a huge cloud over the whole place.  The tragedy was never far from anyone's mind.  And everyone was just trying to figure it all out.  To a person, everyone talked about what a sweet and wonderful person she was, how hard it was to picture her kids dealing with this, how badly her sister Darlene was hurting.  We have no idea how to deal with stuff like this.  It makes you mad - but who are you mad at?  It makes you cry - but what about?  The ones who left or the ones who were left?  

These are the moments I hate as a minister.  I don't have any better understanding of this than anyone else.  I can offer up the reassurance that God has mastered and beaten death.  I can say that at least we know she is in Jesus' presence.  But, seriously, does that help much?  It will help in the healing process.  But today, we all want to know why and how and can it happen to us.  Most of all, we just hurt and want that to stop.  Maybe it is good to have to think about this once in a while - not in a morbid way.  It makes you a little less frivolous with your time.  It makes you be a little more careful to not take your precious ones for granted.  And it makes you a little more aware of people around you - less self-absorbed.  I know that it did all of that for me today.  

And if you think of it, please offer a prayer for Staci's family.  If she was that special to the people around her, I can imagine how hard it is for those closest to her.  

Jun 5, 2008


There are several verses in the Bible that talk about us being vessels.  God is likened to the Potter.  We are called jars of clay.  The thing about being a vessel is that it is pretty much useless unless it is full.  Think about it.  You could have a huge collection of mugs on the wall.  What are they doing?  They are serving as decoration, but they also are not fulfilling their purpose.  They are just sitting there - collecting dust and looking nice.  But that's not what a vessel is for.

I was thinking about this because I have had the image of a vessel pop up quite frequently lately.  Chris Sligh (of American Idol notoriety) put out a Christian album a couple weeks ago.  It was amazing (more on that at another time).  Well, two of his songs deal with being a vessel.  One is called "Vessel" and one is called "Empty Me."  You may have heard the second one in heavy rotation on a Christian radio station.  It is a fabulous song about how we get in our own way and need to be emptied so we can be filled with Christ.  And the first song is about, um, being a vessel.  Pretty straightforward song.

Heather and I were talking about vessels the other day too.  And she made the brilliant comment that we have all different kinds of vessels in the Body of Christ, but they all serve the same purpose.  They all are supposed to be filled with Him and bringing His presence and glory to the world around them.  (Yes, be envious of my brilliant wife.)  It got me thinking about that.

I really believe that each of us could be likened to a vessel.  I did this activity the other day and thought about the different people I knew and what kind of vessels they would be.
  • I worked with a woman at my last church who became a very dear friend.  Cheryl was the first person I thought of in this.  I would call her a ornate alabaster wine glass - I mean, uh, sparkling apple cider glass.  She is just a beautiful lady, very fashionable, very together.  But even though it was a gorgeous vessel, it was also very delicate - something I realized when she got smashed by a very rude and angry person.  When she is filled with Christ it presents a beautiful display of grace and glory.
  • Tony Evans would be a shot glass.  (Keep in mind that I'm not saying these people use these vessels - more linking to the purpose of that particular vessel.)  He's one of those people that bring you the fiery conviction of God in a fast jolt.
  • I know several people who I would liken to a paper cup - like at a marathon or a water cooler.  This is not to imply they are wimpy or anything.  But think about how happy a runner is to see that water table.  They bring refreshment to people whenever they need it.  Whenever you see them you leave feeling better.
  • My father-in-law is a large basin.  There is a stillness to a vessel like that.  And you come to it and find healing and renewal.  And it never seems to empty.  It is always willing to be used without complaint.  It continues to be faithful even when it gets stepped on - not out of weakness, but out of obedience to God.
  • That's just a sample - and don't come asking me to tell you what kind of vessel you are.  I haven't thought it out that far.  :)
I am a big mug - like a stein or a cappuccino mug.  The reason that I think that is that I am a storyteller.  (No sarcastic comments)  I believe this is a role that has existed throughout history - the person who tells the story and keeps memories alive.  I come from a father AND a mother who were both storytellers.  I have said that if my dad was a preacher or teacher, he would have been one of the most popular ever.  He could weave a tale like few others.  I got it from both sides.  And that is where I see my usefulness.  If I am doing what I should be doing, I get filled with God and invite you to sit with me and draw in deep the story of His goodness, love, and grace.  That is why I think I'm a mug.  Imagine sitting in a ski lodge or a huge medieval hall and listening to stories.  I would be the thing holding your warm mead --- which of course was really just ancient Mountain Dew.

The thing is, just like everyone else, if I am not letting God fill me I am just a big clunky useless cup.  I become unwieldy, heavy, space wasting.  I am only good to weigh things down and bludgeon people.  I have been that before in my life - both the damaging and the positive elements.  Trust me, I would much rather be filled and useful.  I want to be filled - let's sit and discuss how good God is, rejoice in His awesomeness, and drink in His glory.  I'll drink to that.  (Pepsi.  That's what I meant - Pepsi.)

Jun 4, 2008

Timing is Everything

There are a ton of cliches out there. But this one is proving itself to be very true. Timing, truly is everything. The longer I live, the more I realize that it is not so much WHAT happens and WHEN it happens. You can find examples all over the place.
  • David Tyree doesn't somehow catch that ball on his helmet in the Super Bowl last year on the game winning drive and he's just another roster cut victim this summer instead of a hero. The Patriots go 19-0. The 1972 Dolphins have to get real jobs.
  • Barack Obama decides to run for Senate in 2010 instead of 2004 and he doesn't get invited to be the keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention in 2004. He doesn't get a ton of national exposure. Clooney doesn't endorse him.  Oprah doesn't endorse him.  He doesn't win the nomination. Hillary wins going away over Edwards.
  • I don't lean back into the van to put something on the seat when getting ready to fuel up, I get out well before my door mysteriously swings closed and my thumb doesn't get crushed in the door. Timing. If I lived my entire life two seconds behind what I did, and I go from being a Klutz Supreme to being a Close Call Artist.
Anyway. Timing is Everything. I applied for a job teaching at a private school in the area. I had my first interview. I had tons of recommendations. Everything looked great. Another application turned in her stuff right before the deadline. She had 15 years of experience. She's now the new Department Head and I'm still looking for a job. Timing.

This becomes a very difficult concept for us to deal with. We live in a time-constrained world. Everything is about time with us. We constantly have a clock running on us. We only have so many hours between when we wake up and go to bed to get our stuff done. And the more stuff that gets dumped on us, the harder it is to feel like we succeeded. So we are constantly stressed and worried, hoping that time works in our favor.

I think that the whole time issue is the worst when we are waiting for something. I can be working or surfing on the internet and time will just roll on. I won't sit there and be conscious of the time ticking away. But if I am in a doctor office, you better believe I know how long I was waiting. My cell phone decided to flip out this week. So I spent about six hours dealing with repair people, sales people, untrained store employees to get it fixed - and then to resync everything once I got a replacement. I knew how much time it wasted.

As anyone who reads this blog or knows me is aware of, I have been waiting and praying for my ministry to take off like I want and need it to. And I am keenly aware of how long it has been. And I wrestle between having faith that things will work out and being miserable at another day going by without an answer. I know you all can relate - it could be waiting on a baby, a job, a spouse, a salvation. Things that are important can take forever. And we hate waiting.

The big thing to remember is that God is not limited by time. He lives outside of our time constraints. He sees the long term approach. The individual blips and bumps don't affect Him. In addition, He sees the ending. So He has a totally different perspective. He knows that there are times He needs to make us wait because the timing is not right. We think it is because we think we are ready - but there is something that is not ready yet. It could be someone else that we are going to interact with is not ready yet. So we sit there frustrated at the wait, and God sits there telling us to be patient and wait because it isn't time yet.

Those of us with kids can understand. Ever tell a kid to wait on dinner when they are hungry? How did that go? My kids will come and tell us that they are "starving." Dinner will be in the oven and not ready yet. But they want it NOW because they are hungry. "I'M HUNGRY! WAAAA!" We know that if we give them that chicken that they will probably get sick and die because it is not fully cooked. But they would go grab it and cram it in their mouths if we didn't stop them. I know this principle, but I forget it all the time when I am in the midst of waiting. I almost have to repeat the mantra: "It isn't time. It isn't time." I just hope that I can learn to wait until the time is right.

On a side note -- I have been thinking about this blog and my writing a lot lately. I am in the process of writing a new book for Defender. Some days I feel like I have so many things swirling around in my head that I have trouble focusing for my work. Today it hit me that just like many things, I need to warm up for my day. That is why I am going to try to write each morning on the blog as my preparation for the day. We'll see how that goes.